Seriously, how has this not happened before?
The Dallas Mavericks have been to the playoffs 11 consecutive years reaching all the NBA finals one time. The Lakers have been the Lakers in that same time, having been one of the most dominant teams in the NBA.
Yet there has been no playoff meetings between these teams since the 1988 Western Conference finals, when Mark Aguirre and Rolando Blackman were leading the Mavs.
In recent years, the Lakers have dominated regular season meetings, winning 2-of-3 this season, because like everyone else the Mavericks have struggled to deal with the Lakers length up front.
Which makes Tyson Chandler the biggest key to this series for Dallas. He is arguably the best defensive center in the game and he will play the role of Sisyphus in this series, given the task of slowing the Lakers in the paint. Sure, he will get Andrew Bynum primarily while Dirk Nowitzki will get time on Pau Gasol, but in the end Chandler is the backstop. He has to alter shots from whomever is hot and clean up the glass or Dallas is in trouble.
Dallas has another problem — Kobe Bryant. Another problem no team has an easy time with, but Dallas has the added issue of not having a good defensive matchup for him. Not the older Jason Kidd for sure, and if Jason Terry is on him Kobe will go straight to the post and attack him. (Portland went at Terry and they don’t have a Kobe-like talent.) Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson will split time, but both of those are not ideal either (because of matchup problems for Marion and offense problems for Stevenson).
On offense, Dallas needs to space out the floor by hitting threes, and they have to get to the free throw line. Two things they struggle to do against the Lakers in the regular season, but they have to find a way in this series.
Dallas also is going to need a big series from Dirk Nowitzki, but he will be guarded by the long Gasol and Lamar Odom. He has to get his no matter what, and still be efficient.
Dallas is going to need someone to make plays at the point — that is the Lakers weakness. But can Jason Kidd do that? Is it J.J. Barea off the bench?
The real secret chance for Dallas is Rodrigue Beaubois. He missed most of the season recovering from a foot injury and was never right. He missed the start of the first round of the playoffs and was almost moot. But he is the kind of quick, slashing guard that gives the Lakers trouble. Dallas will need him.
These games are going to be close — they almost always are when these teams meet. But in the end the Lakers pull out the win. Consistently. And Game 1 might be just like that.