Two players have been most responsible for killing the Los Angeles Lakers in the team's NBA Playoffs series against the Dallas Mavericks: Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol. Dirk is averaging 28 points on 56 percent shooting and 10 rebounds per game. Most of that is because Pau is usually the Laker guarding him. Now Dirk isn't known as an all-world defender. But on the other end, Gasol is averaging 13 points per game on 43 percent shooting.
Pau is losing his matchup completely.
The stunning part isn't that Nowitzki has been so good; he's a former MVP and -- except for one infamous series -- a stunningly good playoff performer. But Gasol has looked like a rookie space cadet on the floor. He guards Dirk tightly (as required) to prevent Nowitzki from receiving the ball ... until the Mavericks set a screen to free him.
Several times during Game 3 on Friday, Gasol floated into no man's land or to the rim once Dallas set a pick and Dirk slid to open space behind the arc. Pau knows he needs to be in Dirk's face ASAP once the pick comes. But once he goes under the screen, he shows zero urgency in recovering. That's what is getting Phil Jackson so upset.
Tom Haberstroh reports that Nowitzki has shot 19-25 (76 percent) when guarded by Gasol in this series. Against other Lakers -- Ron Artest and Lamar Odom, largely -- Dirk is 13-32 (41 percent). On the one hand, why is Jackson leaving Gasol on Nowitzki at all? But Phil should be able to trust his No. 2 player to play smart defense, even if he gets burned a little. Instead, Gasol is doing no better than, say, Derrick Caracter would. (That's not good.)
By the time this series is over, is anyone even going to remember the amazing playoff run Gasol had last year? Nowitzki is still working to clear his name after the 2007 debacle. The Mavericks are on the precipice of becoming Gasol's Warriors.