The Lakers, two games back of the Houston Rockets for the eight spot in the Western Conference, have heavy hearts after Hall of Fame owner Jerry Buss passed away. Kobe Bryant has used the death of Buss as a motivational chip, asking his teammates to fight for the cause rather than worry about the many struggles that have plagued a team whose roster has disappointed despite its own Hall of Fame pedigree.
Bryant has also used a self-motivational tactic in making a guarantee that Los Angeles will make the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks (25-29) don't have such emotional wood to keep that fire to stay in the playoff hunt alive. But behind Los Angeles by only one game, a win against the Lakers in Dallas on Sunday afternoon would tie the teams up in the conference standings. Dallas players have assumed a no-shave policy until the team reaches .500.
A win for the Mavericks would be pivotal, evening the field by jumping into a tie with the Lakers while separating themselves from Portland, which is a half-game behind Dallas in the standings heading into Sunday.
Dwight hones in on winning
Lakers center Dwight Howard has taken his lumps this season, admitting that his conditioning has hampered him following the recovery from offseason back surgery. As of late, he's put aside the excuses and produced, writes Silver Screen and Roll's Drew Garrison:
This is a game where Dwight Howard can shine. After hanging 24 points and 12 rebounds on the C's, he added another 19 points and 16 rebounds against the Blazers, and has been movin' and groovin'. Against the Blazers he had perhaps his most efficient game from the post this season for the Lakers, hitting isolation post hooks over Portland's smaller frontline.
Winning the turnover battle
Both the Lakers and Mavs are in the top-five in pace, according to Basketball-Reference.com. With that said, turnovers could be key for the Mavericks, who could use their relative speed against the slower Lakers to gain the advantage.
At 14.1 turnovers per game, Dallas is in the top-five in the NBA in that category, but Los Angeles is 26th in the league at 15.6 turnovers per outing. The Lakers are second-to-last in turnover differential, as their defense only forces opponents into 13.3 turnovers per game.
Time: 1 p.m. ET
Odds: Dallas opened as a 5-point favorite.