If the Los Angeles Lakers want to advance to the Western Conference Finals they will have to make history. 98 times a team has been down 0-3 and not once has that team came back to win the series. Dirk Nowitzki was unstoppable in game 3 scoring 32 points on 12-19 shooting. All series LA has no answer for Nowitzki. Through 3 games he is averaging 28 points 10 rebounds and is shooting 56% from the field. Dallas also got 42 points from their bench compared to LA's 12 bench points. The Lakers have struggled in the fourth quarter of every game this series. Through the first 3 games Dallas has outscored LA by a combined 28 points in the 4th quarter. In game 3 the Lakers led 87-81 and gave up a 17-5 Mavericks run to end the game. Down the stretch Dallas scored on 11 of their 13 final possessions.
The Lakers made some key errors defensively in game 3. With a bigger lineup out there they had a difficult time defending Dallas shooters. Peja Stojakovic and Jason Terry were terrific off the bench and hit big 3's down the stretch. Laker defenders also made the mistake of leaving Stojakovic and Terry open to rotate onto Jason Kidd. The Lakers have had no answers for the Mavericks small lineup.. Although Odom played well with 18 points, LA missed Artest's perimeter defense in the 4th quarter. By having to play a bigger lineup the Lakers offense became stagnant in the 4th quarter and only posted 20 points. LA stopped looking to get the ball inside and instead Kobe tried to play 1 on 1 and missed on long jump shots.
Game 4 Adjustments
1. The Lakers need to do a better job on the defensive end in game 4. Nowitzki has been unguardable but the Lakers have hurt themselves by going to double him. LA has gotten killed when they go to double Dirk and leave Stojakovic and Terry open for good looks from beyond the arc. If they are going to double Dirk they need to do so off of Tyson Chanlder, DeShawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion, or even Jason Kidd. They can not afford to send help and leave Terry and Stojakovic open from 3. On the rotations off the double team the Lakers defenders have to know who they can leave open for 3's and who they can not leave open. The Lakers 4th quarter defense has been especially poor this series. In game 3 the Mavericks scored 32 points in the 4th quarter and just a combined 37 points in quarters 2 and 3. The Lakers size in this series has actually hurt them on the defensive end. Most of the Mavericks scoring comes from the perimeter and the Lakers bigger defenders have had difficulty closing out on the shooters.
2. Phil Jackson may want to go to a smaller lineup down the stretch in game 4. By going small it would allow better coverage of the Mavericks shooters and better pick and roll team defense. The smaller lineup would also have a better chance of keeping Jose Juan Barea out of the paint. The Lakers should not be concerned with getting pounded inside due to a smaller lineup. In game 3 Dallas only had 20 points in the paint. Also with a smaller lineup the Lakers could go to the Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol pick and roll more often. They would be able to space the court better with shooters and force the Mavericks defense to spread out.
3. Kobe Bryant needs to step his game up. In the first 3 games vs Dallas Kobe has averaged 25 points on 47% shooting. So far that has not be enough for the Lakers to win. In game 4 look for Kobe to try to take over the game and be more aggressive on the offensive end. Bryant is the one of the few players that can really dominant a game. The Lakers need a few monster games out of him to get back I this series. Bryant also needs to stop settling for contested jump shots and instead get to the rim. This series Kobe has not been in attack mode, a prime example is in game 3 when down the stretch he was satisfied taking long 2 point jumpers. I expect Bryant to look to put his team on his shoulders and get out to a hot start in game 4.
4. The Dallas Mavericks have a great chance of sweeping the Lakers if they can limit their points in the paint. Chanlder and Haywood need to do a better job making their presence felt in game 4. In game 3 Dallas allowed 56 points in the paint and gave up 13 offensive rebounds. As a team Dallas needs to do a better job keeping the Lakers drivers from getting into the gaps of the defense. The Dallas big men need to do a better job making Gasol and Andrew Bynum further out from the rim. The Lakers are at their best when they are getting the ball inside and if the Dallas defense can take this away the LA offense will struggle. Shawn Marion also needs to do a better job digging down and helping in the post and then crashing the boards.
5. At this point in the series the Lakers have nothing to lose. They need to come out in game 4 and leave it all on the floor. From the start their defensive intensity needs to be off the charts. Many teams in this situation would just roll over and die. Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson need to take it upon themselves to get this Los Angeles team ready to play. If LA can pull out a win on Sunday all the pressure will be on Dallas. In game 5 Dallas would have to go back to LA's home court and would certainly feel the pressure. The Lakers are a very dangerous team and many people still think that this Dallas team is soft.
Prediction: Dallas Mavericks win game 4