Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lakers & Kobe offer chance to move up

If the Mavs are going to make up ground in the Western Conference, beating teams ahead of them in the standings is crucial. Especially with West teams cannibalizing themselves on a nightly basis as contenders square off.

The Mavs can move ahead of San Antonio into sixth place in the West with a win. So how important is tonight’s tilt with the Lakers, currently second in the conference, at American Airlines Center?

“It’s important from the standpoint we don’t have many games left in the season, but no more important than the games or the teams we’ve played,” Avery Johnson said today. “We’re playing against a really good team tonight. We’re very aware of it with a terrific player that’s been terrific in our league for a long time. We didn’t guard him particularly well the last game.”

Johnson didn’t have to name that player. Kobe Bryant lit up the Mavs for 52 in the double-OT win earlier this month. He made 27 trips to the line, knocking down 20. Josh Howard starts against Bryant, but he’ll only be part of the team approach that includes Jason Kidd, Jerry Stackhouse, Devean George and possibly Antoine Wright.

“Anybody that gets to the free throw line almost 30 times put any team in our league in a bind,” Johnson said. “So we’re going to have to do a better job of defending and being physical without any of the cheap fouls.”

There could be another way to slow Bryant down.

“If he got sick and maybe didn’t put on a uniform,” Jason Kidd joked. “Even if he gets sick, he’s going to put on a uniform. He’s that type of competitor.

“The biggest thing is just trying to make it as tough as possible. He’s the best player in the league, so you’re not going to stop him. You just try to make it as tough as possible and at the end of the night you hope you have more points as a team.’

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