Being able to overpower their opponents has been the main reason why the Los Angeles Lakers are the two-time defending NBA champions. It was illustrated during the first-round of this year's playoff series against the New Orleans Hornets. Although the athleticism of Trevor Ariza and the craftiness of Chris Paul kept the team competitive and extended that series to a surprising six games, the sheer size and force eventually wore down the Hornets. Leading the way in that close-out game was Andrew Bynum who had 18 points and 12 rebounds, and he anchored a stingy Laker defense that kept Ariza and Paul from driving to the basket at will, in contrast to Games 1 and 4 of that series.
Switching to Game 1 of the series with the Dallas Mavericks; with the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood to offset the length and size of Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, the Lakers will have to rely on an unexpected source to win their series with the Mavericks, their bench. Despite dogged questions about the Mavericks' lack of toughness in the playoffs, many people fail to remember that the Mavericks were up 2-0 against the Miami Heat in the 2006 NBA Finals. Indeed, the Mavericks have showed signs of fading down the stretch in April and May (losing to an eighth seeded Golden State Warrior team in the opening round of the 2007 playoffs), however, their pride (well, Mark Cuban's pride at least) will not allow them to back down, especially considering what happened the last time the two teams played each other.
What will determine the winner of this series is the bench-play of each team. If Kobe Bryant has to score 30 points plus per game this series as he did in Game 1, the Lakers' chances to three-peat are not good. In Game 1, the Mavericks' bench outscored the Lakers' bench, 40-25, with Jason Terry leading the way with 15 and Peja Stojakovic adding 10. If this occurs on a nightly basis during this series, then the Lakers might as well start preparing their farewell speeches to Phil Jackson and start making plans for their summer vacation. Now, it's time for Steve Blake and Matt Barnes to show their worth. This is the moment that Mitch Kupchak envisioned last summer when he signed these two men to shore up an inconsistent bench.
As of now, they have yet to prove themselves. Fortunately for them, the series is just beginning.