Lakers have big problems versus Mavs

LOS ANGELES -- Dirk Nowitzki knows how Pau Gasol feels and Tyson Chandler can certainly sympathize with Andrew Bynum.

If they weren't battling each other in the paint in the postseason, they could probably bond over similar stories of being called "soft" by pundits half their size.

The skilled 7-foot Europeans and the straight-out-of-high-school centers have been dealing with comparable stereotypes for most of their careers and they all seemed to spend a good part of Monday's Game 1 trying to break those labels overnight.

There was Gasol pushing Chandler out of bounds after a foul shot and Chandler hitting him in the back on the other end of the floor.

There was Nowitzki picking up a technical foul for elbowing Ron Artest in the head and Bynum shoving Brendan Haywood after a play.

A Los Angeles Lakers team that normally waits to get punched before retaliating was acting as the aggressor early on against a Dallas Mavericks team that knew exactly what they were dealing with and seemed to know exactly how to handle it.

"We thought if we stuck with our game plan we'd eventually wear down on them," Chandler said.

The game plan for the Mavericks in their 96-94 victory was quite simple. Keep Bynum and Gasol as far away from the basket as possible by being as physical with them as possible. If it sounded like a familiar game plan it's because it was the exact same strategy imposed by the New Orleans Hornets in the first round.

Except the Mavericks, unlike the Hornets, actually have a couple of 7-footers in their starting lineup and can go to another capable one in Haywood off the bench.

"I think we match up well with their bigs," said Chandler, who had 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots in Game 1. "I like our chances. We got to constantly keep bodies on those guys. Pau is one of the more skilled big men in the league and Bynum is one of the bigger big men in the league so we have to keep them away from the basket and keep them away from easy things."

There were certainly no easy baskets available for Gasol and Bynum. While Gasol played a solid game, finishing with 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, Bynum struggled from the opening tip and had only eight points and five rebounds after the most productive playoff series of his career against New Orleans. As much of a nuisance as the undersized Carl Landry and Emeka Okafor were in the first round, Chandler and Haywood pose a far bigger problem for him with their size and height.

"One of the biggest things is when you're on the weak side you can't relax with him," Haywood said. "You have to stay into his body and make him work for every inch that he gets on that court because if you step over to help a little bit, he takes over that space and he's right at the basket he's dunking it and making great plays for their team."

Gasol also made things easier for the Mavericks at the end of the game. He reached for a bad foul on Nowitzki and hit him on the head while trying to swat away an inbounds ball with 19.5 seconds left. Nowitzki's two free throws gave the Mavericks a 95-94 lead they wouldn't relinquish. Gasol then lost the ball when Jason Kidd prevented Kobe Bryant from getting a pass intended for him.

"It was questionable call. S--- happens," Gasol said.

A visibly irritated Bynum vowed he would be more physical in Wednesday's Game 2 and wouldn't allow Chandler and Haywood to stop him from going where he wanted on the court.

"I'm just going to be so much more aggressive," Bynum said. "I felt like I wasn't aggressive at all in getting in low-post position, nothing. I kept letting them hit me first. It's going to be different."

Anytime Gasol or Bynum have a quiet night and their opponent talks about playing them aggressively, the "soft" stereotype undoubtedly rears its ugly head. It's something Chandler has become accustomed to since arriving in Dallas and knows will probably come up again if the Mavericks don't play as well on Wednesday.

"I'm honestly sick of hearing it," Chandler said. "Ever since I've been here it's, 'The Mavs have been soft. The Mavs have been soft. What are you going to bring? What's going to be different?' To me, when you play basketball, nobody's fighting out there. So I don't necessarily understand how you can punk somebody."

Chandler was referring to the comments Lakers forward Matt Barnes made about the Mavericks after getting into an altercation with Mavericks guard Jason Terry during the regular season last month. Barnes went to Twitter and said the blueprint for beating the Mavericks in the playoffs is to, "PUNK'EM."

"When guys are getting physical and setting hard screens and when guys get into it, [the Mavericks] normally back down," Chandler said. "But now? No. It's different. You look forward to that. When guys get up like that you have to get more competitive and change the nature of the game."

Gasol and Bynum believe they still have the advantage in the frontcourt and plan on using their size and physicality early in Game 2. It's an advantage both felt could have been used more often in Game 1 when the Lakers squandered their 16-point third-quarter lead.

"We have to exploit it and be consistent throughout the game and punish them as much as we can," Gasol said.

For one night, the Mavericks broke the stereotype that they can be pushed around and will fold under pressure as previous teams have. While this team might be different than previous ones, which have bowed out of the playoffs early, Chandler doesn't expect that stigma will change until they finally prove themselves during the course of an entire postseason and not just a single game.

But don't expect to see that team anytime soon.

"This is not the same old Mavs in the past where you'd beat them up and we give up. Where you get aggressive and they back down," Chandler said. "This is a different team. A different squad, different players, different look and hopefully we'll get a different outcome."

Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.