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Mavs-Lakers Preview: Lakers in 5

Some of us have waited 23 years to "Beat L.A.!" Sorry, I don't see it happening in 2011 either.

When the Lakers and Mavs begin their best-of-seven Western Conference Semifinal series tonight at 9:30 in Staples Center, there is an undeniable fact that overrides any and all X's and O's:

The two-time defending champs are bigger, better and they possess not only Kobe Bryant, but also homecourt advantage.

Ouch.

Because of the Lakers' size advantage -- with 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and 6-10 Lamar Odom -- and the Mavs' inability to penetrate via the dribble, Dallas will have to produce an almost perfect shooting series in order to win. Without Caron Butler's defensive toughness on Kobe or Roddy Beaubois' creative offense, the Mavs' margin for error is skinnier than Shawn Bradley.

And, oh yeah, the Lakers have zero fear of the Mavs. In the March 31 game that basically determined the West's No. 2 seed and home court in this series, L.A. won by 28.

Can the Mavs win? Sure.

Will the Mavs win? ...

Point Guard -- The Hornets forced a 2-2 first-round series with L.A. because of penetrating point guard Chris Paul. With 38-year-old Jason Kidd, the Mavs have no such player to exploit Derek Fisher's defensive liability. You gotta think at least one game will be decided on a clutch play by one of these grizzled veterans. Edge: Mavericks.

Shooting Guard -- Gimpy ankle or no, Kobe Bryant will be by far the best player on the court. Dallas' only hope is for DeShawn Stevenson to get him out of rhythm with early-game antagonism. Look for Dallas to play lots of zone defense. Edge: Lakers.

Small Forward -- This is where "soft" comes into play. The playoffs are always increased intensity, and the more physical the game the bigger the edge for Ron Artest over the finesse game of Dallas' Shawn Marion. Edge: Lakers.

Power Forward -- Dirk Nowitzki will get his 25+ points against Pau Gasol, but the Lakers' 7-footer also makes Dirk work defensively in the paint at the other end. Edge: Mavericks.

Center -- With a 40-pound edge and better refined low-post skills, Andrew Bynum has eaten up Tyson Chandler this year to the average tune of 20 points, 14 rebounds. L.A. is often fueled by extra possessions thanks to his offensive rebounding. Edge: Lakers.

Bench -- Lamar Odom won Sixth Man of the Year and gives Dallas fits because he's a big who can handle the ball on the perimeter. Like it was against Portland, Jason Terry's jumper must be going down for the Mavs to have a chance. After no-showing in the first round and basically since arriving in Dallas, maybe Corey Brewer gets a shot to check Kobe? Guaranteed at some point Matt Barnes will piss you off. Dallas' Brendan Heywood and Peja Stojakovic need to be better than they've been all season as far as rebounding and 3-point shooting. Edge: Mavericks.

Coaching -- Rick Carlisle got two third-place votes in Coach of the Year balloting. Phil Jackson has 11 championship rings. Through the years Jackson's teams are an astounding 48-0 when winning Game 1. Edge: Lakers.

Intangibles -- In the March 31 showdown the Mavs became frazzled, then frustrated. Terry lost his composure, shoving Steve Blake in the back before assistant Terry Stotts inexplicably tried to harness Barnes along Dallas' bench. At some point the Lakers will mischeivously flick the Mavs' ear, just to see how they'll respond. Edge: Lakers.

Prediction -- If Game 1 was in American Airlines Center I'd give the Mavs a 49 percent chance of winning this series. As is, it's about 19 percent. Lakers in 5.


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