Inside Skinny: Chasing Kobe Bryant

The Lakers are the two-time defending champs because they have an abundance of stars, they’re huge along the frontline, they can play smothering defense, and they have one of the most prodigious scorers of the last 30 years. They can do it all.

It’s frightening to watch how aggressively Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest can play defense on the perimeter knowing they have a couple of trees behind them eating up space.

The impact a healthy Andrew Bynum has had on the Lakers team defense has led many to call him the most important or indispensable Laker. And while I appreciate his importance, you’re nuts if you think a backcourt of Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown gets you very far in the NBA regardless of who’s on the floor with them.

Yes, Bynum is tough when he gets deep paint touches ad he kills you on the offensive glass and he shrinks the paint defensively. But being able to challenge Kobe is still a huge ordeal. And since the Mavericks don’t really have anybody that forces Kobe to put in work on the defensive end, it’s going to be big for three key guys to make life as difficult as possible on Bryant.

DeShawn Stevenson: He’s been a part of two big home wins against the Lakers the last two seasons in which he got the start and Caron Butler was unable to go -- a closer representation of this particular Mavs team. Of the three games Dallas and LA has played this season, Stevenson only paid a role in Dallas' lone victory. He’ll start on Bryant and his sole purpose will be to get after him junkyard dog style. If both players stay within their average minutes of the first round, that means Bryant will have a little over 20 minutes in which he’s not checked by Stevenson. DeShawn has got to make the game as difficult as possible on Bryant, but the good news is that he’s had success in that regard in a Mavs uniform before.

Shawn Marion: He had a couple of 20-plus point games against LA this season but his most important role will be on the glass and as a defender. You’d like to rely on Marion in a heavier minute role on Kobe, but he’s also extremely valuable checking both Artest and Lamar Odom (arguably the toughest matchup for Dallas). He’ll get a lot of minutes on Bryant, but it’s very possible that the presence of Odom late in games forces Dallas to go with ...

Jason Kidd: The veteran has had some solid stretches against Bryant in the past, but it’s way less than ideal. And if Jason Terry is on the floor late in games for his offense (especially if he continues to play the way he did against the Blazers), then Kidd will find himself in the position of having to check Bryant. We saw the importance of fresh legs with J-Kidd in Round 1. If he’s forced to cover Kobe late, then making sure he’s got plenty left for late will be of paramount importance.

Zone: Though the Lakers aren’t a great 3-point shooting team (ranking 18th in percentage), they’re tough to zone because they have so many talented, highly skilled bigs capable of collapsing the defense by flashing to the high post. Odom and Pau Gasol are both really strong in this regard. The Lakers can also kill you on the offensive glass, making a zone difficult as well. I’m sure we’ll see some zone, but it’ll be interesting to see how patient the Mavericks are with it when you consider the different ways in which LA can exploit it.