x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

LA Lakers may be meeting their match against Dallas Mavericks

The Los Angeles Lakers will have to pick on somebody their own size to make it to another Western Conference finals.

Pau Gasol, right, says games will get physical when his Laker teammates face Dallas.
Pau Gasol, right, says games will get physical when his Laker teammates face Dallas.

The Los Angeles Lakers will have to pick on somebody their own size to make it to another Western Conference finals.

For all of Kobe Bryant's brilliance, the Lakers' back-to-back title runs were built on the defensive dominance and offensive mismatches created by Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, their two 7-footers. Few teams can match Los Angeles' size when 6ft 10 ins Lamar Odom is in the mix.

But their second-round opponents are the Dallas Mavericks, whose roster is stacked with three 7-footers: Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood and superstar Dirk Nowitzki. Although the Mavs do different things with their size, Gasol knows the Lakers probably will not push anybody around in the next two weeks.

Gasol is facing a long series keeping up with Nowitzki — and hopefully forcing the German to keep up with him.

"We always have an advantage inside, as far as our size and our skills, [but] we just have to work to make it work," Gasol said. "I expect a physical series, because that's what it's going to take. I'm sure there's going to be physical plays."

Phil Jackson, the Lakers coach, emphasised what his club should expect from the series by tucking a photograph of a huge longhorn steer inside his players' game plans.

Indeed, beef will be a key when the Lakers attempt to play from the inside out in this meeting of two perennial play-off teams that somehow have not faced each other in the post-season since 1988.

Nowitzki and Gasol have a healthy mutual respect after several years of regular meetings, including two games won by the Lakers in the last six weeks of the regular season. Gasol praises Nowitzki as a unique player with his famed mix of size and delicate shooting touch. Nowitzki is impressed by Gasol's offensive versatility and passing skills.

"They've got a bunch of guys who can score," Nowitzki said. "That's why they're one of the deepest teams, especially the front line. Gasol is long. He's been working on his mid-range shot. He can [shoot with] both hands and he's a great scorer on the block. So yeah, I've got to play both ends of the floor in this series."

Game 1 in Los Angeles is tonight, giving both teams an extra day to recover from draining six-game victories in the first round.

The week in the NBA

Players of the week

• Zach Randolph, Memphis. Averaged 21.5 points and 9.2 rebounds, while shooting 50 per cent to lead the Grizzlies to victory over San Antonio.
• Derrick Rose, Chicago. Rose, below, averaged 27.6 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds as the Bulls made quick work of Indiana.
• Chris Paul, New Orleans. The Hornets pushed the Los Angeles Lakers to six games behind Paul’s 22 points, 11.5 assists and 6.7 rebounds.

Teams of the week

• Memphis. The Grizzlies became only the second eighth-seeded team to knock off a No 1 seed with their six-game defeat of San Antonio.
• Atlanta. The Hawks were the only other lower-seeded team to win in the first round.
• Boston. The New York Knicks thought they could give the Celtics a first-round surprise – but the Celtics swept four games.

Duds of the week

• Amar’e Stoudemire, New York. He was handled by Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics – 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds, decent but hardly superstar material.
• Wilson Chandler, Denver. As the Nuggets were bounced in five games by Oklahoma City, Chandler shot 27.6 per cent and averaged 4.8 points.

Games of the week

• Memphis v Oklahoma City, today and Saturday. One of these designated up-and-coming teams are going home in the second round.
• Boston v Miami, today and Saturday. Easily the best second-round series, with the potential to be epic.