Updated: February 24, 2010, 10:59 PM ET

NBA Minute: Bucher's Deadline Leftovers

Game A Measuring Stick For Revitalized Mavs

By Jeff Caplan
ESPN Dallas

DALLAS -- Kobe Bryant speaks fluently in English, Spanish, Italian and hype.

Surely the latter is what Bryant was speaking when he suggested that the Dallas Mavericks' acquisition of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood had put the Mavs on par with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.


Butler, a former teammate and close friend of Bryant, said he takes the Mavs-killer at his word.

"Kobe wouldn't say anything that he wouldn't mean. He's one of those guys," said Butler, whose stay in Los Angeles was limited to the 2004-05 season before he was traded to Washington for Kwame Brown. "I have a great deal of respect for him. I'm like a little brother to him and he's like a big brother. That meant a lot, but I know when that day comes and we compete against him, he's going to try to bury us."

That day is here. The West's runaway leaders and their resident superstar, who made his return from left leg and ankle injuries Tuesday night at Memphis, visit the American Airlines Center on Wednesday for the last of four regular-season meetings.

This one is noteworthy on several fronts. The Mavs (36-21) are shooting for their third five-game win streak of the season and first in more than two months. They can knot the season series with the Lakers at 2-2. And most interesting, it's the first of the four meetings in which both teams enter the game with the meat of their respective lineups intact, with a couple of caveats.

Bryant remains on the mend, and he could be limited coming off Tuesday's game, his first since Feb. 5. Mavs center Erick Dampier, a key defender against the Lakers' huge front line, is out with a dislocated finger. Haywood's acquisition tempers that loss, although the Mavs would love to see how they function with both big bodies available.

The retooled Mavs, led by the re-energized Jason Kidd to a 4-1 record since the blockbuster trade, have had just one full practice to work in Butler and Haywood. Still, Butler called Wednesday's matchup a "meaningful" game.

It's safe to assume more meaningful for the recharged Mavs than the coasting Lakers, who won four of five without Bryant.

"Whether he meant it or not, he knows that we are a viable team right now, especially now that you bring these guys in," guard Jason Terry said of Bryant's comment. "It isn't going to matter until the playoffs, so we'll see what happens if we face them there.

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