Things looked great for the Dallas Mavericks as they prepped for their Wednesday prime-time matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. With Dirk Nowitzki averaging 28.5 points per game during the team's four-game winning streak, the Lakers on the tail end of a back-to-back, and having a perfect 10-0 record against opponents under those circumstances, all signs pointed to a home win for Dallas. Things did not go according to plan. Shawn Marion sat out and Dirk hit only 4-of-15 shots outside of the paint, while Kobe Bryant dropped 30 points, Pau Gasol added 27 and Ramon Sessions kicked in 17 points and nine assists in a 109-93 Lakers win.
The big problems came on the defensive end for Dallas, as it allowed LA to shoot 58.4 percent from the field. Shawn Marion missed his third consecutive game due to left knee pain, and it left a fatal void in the Mavs' defense. Marion bothered Kobe with his length in both games earlier this season, and held Bryant well under his normal averages. In fact, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN noted that the Jason Kidd / Vince Carter / Shawn Marion / Dirk Nowitzki / Brendan Haywood lineup has been the best defensive unit in the entire NBA this season. Check out this Kobe vs. Marion graphic from NBA.com Stats Cube if you need more proof that Dallas could have used Marion on Wednesday night:
Here's what happened when Mark Cuban looked at those numbers and realized Marion couldn't play :
Without the lanky explosiveness of Marion to bother him, Kobe crafted a wonderful offensive performance. Not only did he break the 30-point barrier for the 21st time this season, he also turned his third-most efficient 30+ point game by posting a 71.1 TS%. Mamba's traditional line looked like this: 30 points, 11-18 FG, 7-7 FT, four assists, four turnovers. Kobe clearly felt more comfortable with his pull-up game against Jason Kidd and Vince Carter. He splashed in 10 of his 11 made field goals from 15 feet and beyond, and his only basket in the paint looked like this:
The best part for the Lakers? Pau Gasol put together an even better game and Ramon Sessions caused all kinds of problems in pick-and-roll. Gasol has turned unstoppable in his face-up game and pick-and-pop looks, as he drained 8-of-10 shots from longer than 15 feet. He worked well with Sessions and made the defense pay whenever rotations cluster towards Ramon or Kobe. As for Sessions, he consistently blasted into the paint and created havoc for the Mavs' defense. When they collapsed, he worked the draw-and-kick game. When they provided an angle, he attacked the rim with conviction. All told, the Sessions / Bryant / Gasol trio combined for 74 points on 73.8 percent shooting with 19 rebounds and 14 assists. The fact that Los Angeles only scored 28 points in the paint truly didn't matter, because those three men rained down enough pure jumpers to buoy a hyper-efficient offensive attack.
The Mavs never led after intermission, even with 6-for-11 shooting and 16 points from Dirk in second half and 11 more from Jason Terry. Offensive problems reared their head in a disastrous second quarter where Dallas shot 5-for-20 and couldn't muster a single assist, but the points flowed well enough for the rest of the night. Nowitzki finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds, while Terry added 23 on 8-for-14 shooting. Unfortunately, Jason Kidd and Vince Carter couldn't bother Kobe's shot, Rodrigue Beaubois got badly outplayed by Ramon Sessions and Dirk gave everything he earned on offense and then some back to Gasol on the other end.
Fans started to trickle out American Airlines Center long before the buzzer, and considering that Dallas pulled the Lakers' lead under 10 points for just 15 seconds in the fourth quarter, they made the right decision to beat traffic.
The Mavs fell to 27-21 in the loss and currently hold the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference playoff bracket, while the Lakers improved to 29-18 overall and occupy the No. 3 slot out west.
For more on the Mavericks, be sure to head over to Mavs Moneyball. Lakers fans can head to Silver Screen And Roll. For more news and notes from around the NBA head over to SB Nation's NBA Basketball page.