With an 0-8 preseason in the books, Kobe Bryant nursing a foot injury and training camp a bust as a platform for building chemistry, it would be difficult to claim the new-look Lakers are kicking off the games that count on a high note. Fortunately, the scheduling gods decided to hook them up. The Dallas Mavericks' radical offseason facelift required players to wear name tags during training camp, so they're negotiating continuity issues of their own. In the meantime, two starters -- Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman -- are out with respective knee and calf injuries. Throw in the uncertain vibes following their exceptionally uninspiring defense, and the Mavs enter Staples Center with plenty of questions swirling about.
For some local knowledge about the Mavericks, I conducted an IM conversation with Tim MacMahon, who covers the squad for ESPN Dallas. Below is the transcript.
Andy Kamenetzky: What's been your impression of the new-look Mavs, injuries and new faces acknowledged?
Tim MacMahon: It's been an absolute mess. Dirk's knee scope isn't even the biggest concern. Nor is Chris Kaman's strained calf. This could be a chemistry experiment that completely blows up in the Mavs' face. They've already suspended Delonte West twice, and there was a heated argument between two other teammates after a preseason loss last week. It's a volatile mix of potluck players in contract years. (Editor's note: The Mavs waived West after this conversation concluded.)
The only real bright spot is it looks like the Mavs got a steal in second-round pick Jae Crowder. But it's far from a good thing that he's probably starting Tuesday night.
AK: Doesn't sound like a fun locker room, but has it been just as bad on the court?
TM: Well, it's been entertaining. It's not like the Mavs have a bunch of bad guys. It's just an awkward situation. On the floor, the Mavs in their current state are short, can't shoot and commit turnovers by the bunches. Other than that, they look great.
By the way, are the loaded Lakers ever gonna win a game?
AK: Tuesday, apparently.
TM: I dunno about that. Eddy Curry is coming for Dwight Howard.
AK: That is a game-changer. All kidding aside, these guys should be fine once they get all the core players on the floor for an extended period to get in sync. They've added a bunch of new players, a new offense, and the preseason has featured six games missed by Dwight Howard, five by Jordan Hill, three by Kobe and one by Pau Gasol. It's hampered Mike Brown's ability to decide on a rotation, and put the team-wide learning curve behind the 8 ball. However, the actual starting five looked unguardable in the one game they played together.
TM: Just put the ball in Steve Nash's hands and let my favorite PG of this era do his thing.
AK: Well, he's facing adjustments, too. He'll be playing off ball more often, by design, to lessen his burden. He'll be running pick-and-roll less exclusively. He has fewer shooters, more big men, and more Kobes. He's been a bit tentative throughout training camp, as if trying to avoid stepping on toes. Ultimately, I think he'll be fine, but I wouldn't expect him to start looking like "Steve Nash" for maybe a month or so.
You mentioned Jae Crowder as a surprise this preseason. What's he like as a player, and how much run do you expect him to get?
TM: He's only about 6-4 1/2, but he's playing both forward positions, is a pretty good spot-up shooter and does a ton of dirty work. Mark Cuban takes credit for the pick, saying some of his computer geek stat formulas had Crowder as a top-3 player in the draft. He looks like a rotation lock that might start until Dirk returns.
AK: Speaking (in a roundabout way) of Dirk's absence, Cuban and Rick Carlisle have both talked up O.J. Mayo as a potential star this season. Will he be primary scorer with Dirk out?
TM: The company line is that the Mavs will be a team of go-to guys with Dirk gone. The reality is that Mayo better be the guy. He didn't have a good preseason, though. He shot in the 30s and was awful defensively.
Gotta get in a Dwight Howard question for the Dallas folks. The Mavs have all this financial flexibility and nobody to pay. Any way Howard doesn't stay in L.A. long term?
AK: I'd be pretty stunned. He seems genuinely excited to be in L.A., and Kobe's going out of his way to mentor and groom Howard for the eventual "face of the franchise" torch pass. Dwight loves the camera, and there are a LOT of cameras in L.A. Obviously, never say never. If the Lakers have a bad season or being forced to make a decision prompts another bout with flakiness, I suppose it's possible he'd leave. But I seriously doubt it.
So what matchup, if any, strikes you as most intriguing?
TM: Dwight vs. Eddy!!! Seriously, I am curious to see Darren Collison vs. Nash. Collison has the kind of quicks that could give Nash some trouble. The Mavs need Collison to take a pretty big leap from what he was in Indy.
AK: That was my pick as well. I'm also curious to see how much pressure he puts on Collison on the defensive end. Nash is no picnic to guard, for anyone.
TM: No doubt ... and let's just say that Curry's performance as a pick-and-roll defender in his preseason audition left a lot to be desired.
AK: So he's already in mid-season form, in that respect. And finally, the prediction! Who you got?
TM: Pretty safe saying the Lakers will manage to pull out a win over a Mavs squad starting Eddy Curry and a second-round rookie.
AK: I concur. The Lakers have been shaky throughout the preseason, and have a ways to go before firing on all cylinders. However, the Mavs are dealing with the same problems, and the players aren't as good. Kobe may not play, but neither will Dirk, so that's essentially a wash. Throw in the excitement and energy from Nash and Howard making their regular season debuts, and I'm guessing the Lakers start the campaign 1-0.