Back in the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks are huge 'dogs in their semifinal matchup with the Chicago Bulls.
This is the city, Los Angeles, California. There are 75,000 rapists, murderers and thieves, some of them also playing professional basketball. I was cruising the beach and catching some rays in El Segundo when the boys in Vegas called and assigned me to the Lakers, Dallas Mavericks Game 1 case.
This is their story. None of the names have been changed to protect anyone, innocent or guilty.
Welcome to the Jack Webb Appreciation Society, or as it's also called the preview of Monday's Western Conference semifinal matchup between LA and Dallas. The best-of-7 set tips Monday night at Staples Center; TNT will begin its broadcast at 7:30 p.m. (PT).
The Lakers opened as 6-point Game 1 favorites and the line has been stuck there since. Monday's total started at 189-189½ but has since come down to 188½ at most NBA betting outlets.
As my colleague Adam Markowitz pointed out in his series preview, this would be a very tight series if it was played in a statistical vacuum. Dallas and Los Angeles enter with identical win totals on the season, 61 counting their playoff triumphs, their offensive and defensive numbers are comparable and the rosters are also similar in makeup.
But make no mistake, the stats are where the analogous proceedings begin and end. Setting aside intangibles like franchise histories and the home-court advantage Los Angeles begins the series with, the outcome comes down to a game of inside-outside. Simply put, the Lakers have the big edge inside with their deep front court and the Mavericks will have to shine outside the paint or it's going to be a short series.
Dirk Nowitzki can negate some of LA's inside strength by dragging one of the Lakers' Big 3 – Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom – from under the bucket. But that won't be enough for the Mavs to win the series or even Game 1.
Ironically, Nowitzki's worst statistical effort vs. the Lakers this season (14 points, 8 rebounds) resulted in Dallas' only win in the three regular season meetings. He averaged 26 points and 11.5 boards in the two Mavericks losses.
Tyson Chandler has to stay out of foul trouble in order to remain on the floor at least 75 percent of the time in this series. Jason Kidd is also going to have to make his shots. He won't have to make a lot like he did in scoring 24 and 18 points respectively in Games 1 and 2 vs. the Blazers, but he'll have to find the net with more consistency than he did in the ensuing four games.
After popping 9-of-16 three's to start that series, Kidd cooled and made just 6-of-22 from long range.
Likewise, Los Angeles can't just sit back and wait for the big guys to take over the game. Disrupting Dallas' half-court offense will fall on the shoulders of Ron Artest and Derek Fisher.
Health is always crucial this time of the season, especially in a series that figures to be 6-on-6. News surfaced this week that Dallas could get forward Caron Butler back for the LA series, but that appears to have been nothing more than wishful thinking on Butler's part. The 10-year veteran out of UConn is not expected to suit up for the series according to the Don Best injury report as well as his coach, Rick Carlisle.
Kobe Bryant is reportedly still hobbling on a bum ankle, that injury suffered in Game 5 of the Lakers' series with the Hornets. I'm not buying into that. Bynum is ok to go now, but is one awkward landing on his right knee away from dramatically affecting the matchups in this series.
Dallas has cashed 10 straight spread wagers after sweeping the NBA odds in the Portland series. The Lakers were 3-3 ATS in their 6-game battle with New Orleans after closing the regular season 1-6 ATS.
Los Angeles begins the series as 2/1 favorites to three-peat as NBA champions. The Lakers are 2/3 chalk to win the conference title and nearly 1/4 to win this series. Dallas enters 15/2 to raise its first league banner, 7/2 to tame the wild west and a 3/1 underdog to take four games over the next week or two from LA.
Tuesday's off day is followed by Game 2 of the series on Wednesday. TNT will have that broadcast at 7:30 p.m. (PT). The series will shift to Dallas for Game 3 this Friday and Game 4 on Sunday.