It’s not all Lakers mistakes.
Yes, the Lakers are making mistakes. But the narrative of this series has focused on those errors, and that has stolen a deserved spotlight from the Dallas Mavericks — they are winning this series because they are doing things well. Dallas is making plays, forcing tough decisions, then executing when the Lakers give them even a sliver of room.
Dallas is doing so many things right, and they deserve credit for it.
That starts with their defense in the paint — the Lakers simply overwhelm most teams with size. But with three 7-footers of their own — Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood — they can match the Lakers’ size. The Lakers shot only 50 percent inside 10 feet in Game 2, having their shots altered. Also, Dallas has held its own on the glass against the Lakers.
That size, combined with Kobe Bryant’s gimpy ankle, have made the Lakers’ most feared weapon a jump shooter — Kobe has one shot at the rim in two games.
On offense, the Mavericks’ ball movement has been spectacular. The knock on the Mavericks is that they are a jump-shooting team, but against the Lakers those shots have been good looks that have come off well-designed plays. This is not isolation sets that end in contested jumpers; it is good looks.
At the top of that pyramid is Nowitzki, one of the most unstoppable players the NBA has seen on offense. He is a 7-footer who hits rainbow fadeaways from a variety of spots on the floor. The Lakers have tried Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and briefly Ron Artest but none has been able to slow Nowitzki, who is playing some of the best ball of his career.
But Dallas is more than that. It is J.J. Barea and Nowitzki noticing how the Lakers were defending the pick-and-roll (hesitantly), pulling it out 30 feet from the rim, then letting the speedy Barea attack the paint at the end of Game 2 (always to the side of the floor where shooters made it dangerous for help to drop down). Force Bynum to either protect the paint and leave his man open or give up layups to Barea.
The narrative of this series is that the Lakers have blown those defensive assignments. But a more accurate one is that Dallas has found a weakness and exploited it — exactly how the Lakers won their two rings.
The Lakers will make adjustments. This is a talented and prideful team that will make plays, that will not surrender.
But make no mistake about the first two games — Dallas won those. Take nothing away from the Mavericks. They have been the better team, by both design and execution. And don’t for a second underestimate their talent.