Three things to look for Friday night in the Mavs' ESPN showdown against the mighty Lakers:
It has to be better facing the Lakers when they're Pau-less compared to when they do have him. Doesn't it?
With Gasol in the lineup and Lamar Odom coming off the bench, L.A. has two long-limbed defenders to send at Dirk Nowitzki ... and both have had some success harassing him over the years. They do it in different ways -- Gasol with his sheer length and Odom with a more physical approach -- so it should help Nowitzki to know going in that he only has to prepare for one of them.
It remains to be seen how much Ron Artest will actually be assigned to Nowitzki, but both Gasol and Odom have historically proven to be better Dirk defenders than Artest.
Gasol's absence, meanwhile, probably helps Dallas even more at the other end. Because Odom rarely operates out of the post for the Lakers like he used to in Miami, Andrew Bynum will be the only other down-low threat to concern the Mavs in this one.
The most stunning/disappointing aspect of the Mavs' season-opening loss to Washington was how flat they looked in the first real game after a summer of roster retooling that raised expectations around town.
It was pretty clear that the Mavs thought they could win merely by showing up after running up 123 points against the Wiz on the road in the exhibition season and with Jamison sidelined by a shoulder injury.You tend to think that the embarrassing nature of the loss would ensure that energy won't be a problem again, knowing that Dallas must be desperate to at least come away with a split of its Friday/Saturday back-to-back against the Lakers and Clippers to avoid an 0-3 start.
Dallas won 50 games last season after a 2-7 start. The Mavs won 67 games in 2006-07 after an 0-4 start. You have to believe that one of these years they're not going to recover so smoothly from a bad launch.
If you're hoping for a better defensive showing from the Mavs, after they got shredded on the perimeter by the size and speed of Gilbert Arenas and Randy Foye, keep a close eye on the Mavs' first-quarter offense.
We repeat: Offense.
The Mavs' early shooting, specifically.
For all the emphasis placed on picking up their defense this season, starting with the addition of Shawn Marion, Dallas is still a team whose demeanor is fueled by its offensive success. Getting some of those early jumpers to go down drives everything else confidence-wise for the Mavs.
On Tuesday night, Dallas fell behind, then got stagnant and panicky with its offense and shot selection when the Wiz stubbornly wouldn't fade, settling into a depressing reliance on rushed jumpers, although it certainly didn't help that Marion lost some game shape when he was forced to skipped the final three exhibition games to rest his sore right calf.
Marc Stein covers the NBA for ESPN.com and contributes to ESPNDallas.com.