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#2 Los Angeles Lakers (61-27) vs. #3 Dallas Mavericks (61-27)
Just like last year, the second-seeded Los Angeles Lakers (61-27) endured some early challenges from a lower seed in the first round of the playoffs before finishing strong. Now the two-time defending NBA champions will face a similar team in the third-seeded Dallas Mavericks (61-27), who also struggled at times but ultimately used outstanding defense and rode their star player to close out their opening-round opponent on the road.
The Lakers (-6 in Game 1) won two of the three regular-season meetings between the teams, with the last one on March 31 deciding home court in this second-round series. The Mavericks lost that game 110-82 at the Staples Center after two fairly competitive meetings earlier in the season. LA had four of its five starters score in double figures compared to Dallas, with Dirk Nowitzki (team-high 27 points) the only member of the starting five to total more than nine.
Many predicted that the Mavs would lose in the first round to the sixth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, who were younger and perhaps hungrier. That obviously did not turn out to be the case, as Portland could not find a way to score more than 97 points in six games. Dallas somehow found a way to keep the games close enough for Nowitzki to win down the stretch while other role players like Jason Terry also stepped up and turned in impressive performances.
Terry won Sixth Man of the Year honors two years ago while Lakers swingman Lamar Odom recently won the award for this past season, and both players will play critical roles in this series. Odom has been able to give Los Angeles a nice offensive boost off the bench, scoring in double figures in five of the six games against the New Orleans Hornets in the first round. His two worst games happened to take place in LA's two losses in the series, and he also averaged nearly eight rebounds in the four wins.
The Mavericks do not have the same major advantage at point guard, which makes Odom's play even more important since he will likely be allowed to bring the ball up more as a point forward. Jason Kidd will never be mistaken for New Orleans star Chris Paul in this day and age, making life a little easier on Lakers veteran Derek Fisher. Kidd will not demand the same defensive attention of LA star Kobe Bryant, who is dealing with a sprained ankle and should be able to take it easy in this series before facing a tougher challenge in the next round.
Series Pick: Los Angeles Lakers (-360 at Bookmaker) in 5
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