As the Western Conference inch closer and closer, we continue digging deeper and deeper into the matchup at hand against the Dallas Mavericks. This time, it's a conversation with Tim MacMahon, who covers the team for ESPNDallas.com. The talking points included:
- Just as the Lakers still deal with the "soft" tag, so goes the "choke" tag for the Mavericks. And just like the Lakers, the Mavs have grown rather sick of being asked about their respective reputation. Thus, as MacMahon shares, advancing past the first round -- despite a Game 4 collapse against Portland-- means something for Dallas on a psychological level. Even if Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are the only remaining members of a 2007 squad ousted in the first round oust as a No. 1 seed, the cloud looms, fairly or not.
- "I think he pretty much has to be absolutely dominant," answered McMahon when asked how well Dirk needs to play for the Mavs to pull the upset. "I think for the Mavericks to have a chance in this series, Dirk clearly has to be the best player on the floor for at least four games."
- MacMahon points to Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion as supporting cast members who must step up in support of Nowitzki. He also says he thinks the confirmed unavailability of Caron Butler hurts. The ex-Laker has been out a while, but were he somehow able to recapture his old form in a hurry, Butler has been the best No. 2 scoring option alongside Nowitzki in quite some time.
- How will the Mavs go about defending Kobe Bryant? In MacMahon's estimation, not particularly well. DeShawn Stevenson is a decent enough option but plays only limited minutes as a starter. If you eventually put Marion on Kobe, that leaves "Pick your undersized Player X" to get bullied by Ron Artest. As for matchups favoring the Mavs, MacMahon says he thinks the backup backcourt of Terry and Jose Barea could provide some fits, but at the end of the day, it's mostly about Dirk being the best big on the floor.
- So what to expect in this series from Mark Cuban and his rarely shut mouth? Beyond "fun" jabs at Artest and Phil Jackson, MacMahon predicted another scenario with the potential to send the billionaire's lips into motion:
"Any time the Mavericks lose, be on the look out for lessons about officiating and journalism, because those are the things that seem to cost the Mavericks a ton of games."
Speaking of patterns, there is a decided rhythm to whenever Cuban decides to embark on an anti-journalism crusade: Mavericks will lose a few straight games, then Cuban will take issue with the press. In 2008, after slow dividends to the Jason Kidd deal, Cuban imposed a brief locker room lockout for any blogger, even those attached to a major newspaper. This pitted MacMahon (then with the Dallas Morning News) and me (then with the L.A. Times) as quasi-political prisoners during a Lakers-Mavs game in Dallas. It also led to my open letter to Cuban calling shenanigans on this nonsense.
Ah, Memory Lane!
- Predictions! MacMahon offers a skeptical"Lakers in 7," while Brian and I both see the Lakers closing out in Game 6.
- With MacMahon gone, Brian and I discuss more Lakers-Mavericks matchups and whether the Lakers can resist the bait that is Dallas' zone defense.