Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol

Two NBA champions from recent years find themselves looking for a way back to the top. At the moment, the Dallas Mavericks seem a lot closer to finding their way than the Los Angeles Lakers.

Surprisingly, the Lakers are 2-2 this season with wins against the Clippers and the Hawks. However, it’s hard to say they’ve been playing consistent basketball or getting too much from their supposed key players. Pau Gasol is averaging 15.8 points and 11 rebounds per game, but he’s shooting 40.4% from the field, and the defense looks awful with him defending the paint.

Steve Nash has been much worse, averaging only 7 points and adding 5.3 assists while shooting 29.3% from the field. The Lakers have plenty of backups to him in Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar, but there doesn’t seem to be a coherent rotation or plan. It’s simply Mike D’Antoni going with the flow, and hoping some of his changes work.

The one player that’s been a pleasant surprise so far has been Xavier Henry. The Belgium-born player is averaging 14.3 points per game, and the Lakers have been much better with him on the floor than with Nick Young, as the two exchanged their places in the lineup and on the bench.

The Dallas Mavericks are 2-1, and simply go where Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki take them. Both of them are averaging 23.3 points per game, so there’s not too much trouble when it comes to scoring. The problems begin with Jose Calderon who is one huge hole on defense and has been taking too many shots so far, and the team’s problem with scoring in the paint. Shawn Marion and Samuel Dalembert aren’t a solution to that problem, and DeJuan Blair, averaging 9.3 points per game, might be needed during more minutes on the floor.

A big issue is going to be the rebounding. Despite losing Dwight Howard, the Lakers are even in their rebounding battles so far this season (47.5-47.5). The Mavs usually lose their rebounding battles, so a better performance from them tonight in that aspect might be the key to allowing their superior talent to win.

Prediction – The Lakers aren’t going to beat playoff-caliber teams too many times this season, and their six-game winning streak against the Mavs is going to end this time.

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