Dirk Nowitzki walked out of the shower, sat down at his locker and thought he was Randy Newman.
“I love L.A.,” Nowitzki belted.
If Nowitzki has any hope of performing an encore rendition of “We are the Champions” from the American Airlines Center’s South Plaza balcony in two months, he and the Dallas Mavericks look like they’re going to have to figure out a way to win in Los Angeles once again.
Or beat the Lakers anywhere. With or without Kobe Bryant.
In Sunday afternoon’s nationally televised disaster, in which the Mavs lost a 10-point lead in the second quarter and finally succumbed to the Kobe-less Lakers in overtime, 112-108, Nowitzki and then Jason Terry failed to snatch a much-needed road win on last-chance possessions in regulation and overtime.
And so the jockeying for playoff seeding continues. But the Mavs — stop the presses — aren’t going anywhere with the way Nowitzki is shooting lately. His 9-of-28 from the floor wasn’t without some big rainbow 3-pointers and another massive one-legged bank, but also included large chunks of rim — and even some rare air.
“My fourth shot was an airball out of the corner where I was wide open,” said Nowitzki, who was 2-of-11 in the first half. “Just had a rough night.”
Nowitzki’s had more than one lately. He’s 36-of-95 from the floor in the past five games. And the Lakers, who have made it clear with a 4-0 regular-season sweep that they haven’t forgotten about that other sweep in May, might be thinking they’ve got something going defensively on Dirk.
The varied approaches of the 7-foot Pau Gasol, the meaty Metta World Peace and the rangy, in-your-grill Matt Barnes have limited Nowitzki to 40 percent shooting (36-of-90) in the four games this season, while allowing him to get to the free-throw line an average of just five times a game.
Nowitzki has averaged 24.0 points in the four games, but the Lakers will take that average if it comes on what Nowitzki termed “volume” shooting after he put up a season-high number of attempts Sunday.
“He had some opportunities that he missed,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “Look, got to get him some better looks, 9-for-28 is not a Dirk Nowitzki night.”
Nowitzki’s shooting is just the beginning of the Mavs’ concerns if they open the playoffs back here at Staples against the Lakers, and Sunday’s result moved that matchup a little bit closer.
The Mavs certainly aren’t locked into the sixth seed and they’ll face a tough test Monday night against a desperate Utah Jazz unit. But, Dallas holds tiebreakers over Denver and Houston with just five games left.
The Lakers took a big step toward capturing the No. 3 seed, but they still have two games against the Spurs and one against Oklahoma City.
If the Mavs and Lakers do meet again in consecutive postseasons, two major dynamics have shifted in favor of the Lakers — at the point and in the paint.
The Tyson Chandler–Brendan Haywood tandem was huge last season for Dallas in battlingAndrew Bynum. Now, the Mavs are reliant on Haywood with the smaller Ian Mahinmi behind him. Wiry Brandan Wright has been productive off the bench lately but is relegated to a last-resort option against super-sized L.A.
Fisher gave the Mavs a rare advantage in backcourt matchups because it allowed Jason Kidd to stay at home. Sessions provides a massive change of pace. He finished with 22 points and five assists Sunday and has averaged 19.5 and seven in the two games, while knocking down 15-of-23 shots, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range.
He stole the show from Delonte West, who was brilliant early and scored 16 of his 20 points in the first half. Sessions was 5-of-7 from the floor for 12 points in the second half and overtime.
“He’s good,” Shawn Marion said. “Oh my god, what he was doing out there, he’s been doing some good things for them, making it tough for guys. He’s been doing a great job.”
Back to Bynum, the Mavs have few answers. The 7-foot, 285-pounder was slowed by an upper respiratory issue and started the game 1-of-8. He finished 9-of-24 for 23 points, but with 16 rebounds, five offensive, for his third double-double in the four games.
In Bynum’s only non-double-double against Dallas, Haywood was sidelined with an injury and the Mavs threw constant double-teams at him. Bynum passed to Gasol, Bryant and Sessions for 74 points between the three of them.
In the three games with Haywood in the lineup, Bynum has averaged 19.7 points and 15.0 rebounds.
“He’s definitely a good player, but like you’ve seen tonight, he got 24 shots,” Haywood said. “When you get that many shots, it puts you in position to have a lot of good nights, a lot of opportunities and his game has come a long way. He’s a tough matchup for anybody and he’s developed. He’s gotten better and better every year.”
The matchup puts a ton of pressure on Haywood, who had nine points and five rebounds in 38 minutes to Bynum’s 23 and 16 in 44 minutes, with little reinforcement behind him. Mahinmi played just seven minutes and Wright was limited to less than nine. Those two combined for four points and a single rebound.
During one of the few stints in which Wright was on the floor with Bynum midway through the fourth quarter, the big fella drew an and-1 foul on Wright and then threw down a monster putback in about an 80-second span. Haywood was immediately put back in the game.
That means the Mavs lose a big part of their depth in a series against L.A. With Lamar Odom taking the rest of the season off and the athletically gifted, but lightweight Wright basically forced out of the lineup, the Bynum effect becomes even more damaging for the Mavs.
“What can you say?” Haywood said. “If we play him we’re going to play him tough. I hope he goes 9-for-24.”
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