I asked Mavericks backup point guard J.J. Barea what he was thinking as the ball left Kobe Bryant's hand on the potential game-winning 3-pointer in Monday's Game 1 at Staples Center.
"I wasn't thinking," Barea said. "I was praying."
Despite playing 44 minutes of superb basketball -- the four minutes of what-the-what going into and coming out of halftime notwithstanding -- the Mavs needed some luck to beat L.A. A couple of calls here and a wide-open Kobe miss there and a sigh of relief turned into a shocking 1-0 lead.
It'll take more than pleading for divine intervention to win tonight's Game 2.
By admitting that he's "highly concerned" about playing a Mavs team that "can beat us," Bryant has put his team on alert. There's not exactly panic amongst a group that's won the last two NBA titles and that, remember, also trailed the Hornets 1-0 in the first round. But at the very least a Dallas that L.A. might have been dismissing before the series certainly has the Lakers' attention.
Barea says the key for Dallas tonight is to remain competitive on the boards, push the pace so L.A.'s half-court defense can't dig in, and exploit its advantage via a superior bench.
"Our bench is better," said Barea, who hit a crucial 3-pointer late in the third quarter of Game 1 to keep the Mavs within striking distance, and then made a lefty layup to pull them within one down the stretch. "We think we can win this series based on what we give our team down the bench. We didn't play a perfect game (Monday). We can play a lot better."
Just like that, the Mavs have won as many road playoff games (2) in the last five days as they did in the previous five years. The Game 1 blueprint, however, will be difficult to duplicate.
Right, Bob Ortegel?
The Mavs shot 49 percent, made nine 3-pointers and were only minus-4 in rebounding in Game 1. And on defense -- let's face it -- the Lakers made themselves easy to guard.
While Kobe was going off for 36 points, the other four Lakers were basically standing in place, spectating.
"Oh, in Game 2 I expect you'll see a heavy dose of the triangle offense," said Ortegel, who these days is just a really savvy fan after his 23-year run as the Mavs' TV analyst abruptly and unceremoniously ended in February. "Kobe getting 36 isn't a problem for Dallas when no one else is getting 20. It's when the Lakers are moving and cutting and spreading the ball that they're so tough. They got away from that in the second half, in the fourth quarter especially. I'm sure Phil Jackson will remind them of that."
While the Lakers return to their offensive roots and ratchet up the defensive intensity, the Mavs can play better by getting out in transition and by injecting more Corey Brewer and less DeShawn Stevenson.
The Lakers will be a desperate defending champ tonight. Will the Mavs remain hungry, or simply play like a team satisfied with a split?
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