Commentary

Lakers simply need to win in Dallas

L.A. is good at shrugging off losses, but it hopes to avoid this one against Mavs

Updated: March 12, 2011, 4:32 PM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

DALLAS -- After the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Miami Heat on Thursday, coach Phil Jackson was almost as short with the media as he was in his now infamous six-second walk-off statement after the loss in Charlotte before the All-Star break.

Jackson later emerged from the coaches' office in the visitor's locker room to answer more questions, though flickering on the television behind him was the Dallas Mavericks' games against the New York Knicks.

It was symbolic, showing just how fast the Lakers had put the loss to the Heat behind them, shifting their focus to the Mavericks, a team L.A. trails in the Western Conference standings by 1 1/2 games for the No. 2 seed.

[+] EnlargePhil Jackson
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty ImagesPhil Jackson made it clear that home-court advantage in the playoffs over Dallas is important to him.

Kobe Bryant was more dramatic in displaying his change in focus by going back on the court at American Airlines Arena floor afterward for more than an hour of extra shooting.

Bryant's approach might not be for everybody.

When asked about Bryant's extra late-night work, a smiling Jackson said, "I don't want to think about it. I really don't. Whatever."

While Pau Gasol chimed in, "Usually I'm hungry after a game, so I need to hurry and go to dinner." He also suggested not every opposing player would be given such a welcome wagon when requesting to practice in a road arena under such unusual circumstances as Bryant did.

No matter their individual ways of getting there, the Lakers remain on the same page when it comes to making sure they're prepared for the Mavs.

"We only play Dallas three times this year," Jackson said before practice Friday. "The chances of us being in a tie are great at this level. With a three-game season series, there's going to be a 2-1 winner out of that. So that's a whole lot of sway whether they can win the game [Saturday] or not. ... It becomes an important game in the race for positions more or less."

There could be a 3-0 winner of the season series actually if the Mavs win Saturday. They already won the first game 109-100 in January and would have a chance to go for the sweep in L.A. at the end of the month.

If all things remain equal, the outcome of Saturday's game and the next meeting between the Lakers and Mavericks could basically decide which team has the higher seed when the postseason arrives.

"I just wouldn't want Mark [Cuban] to have another home-court game against us, that's all," joked Jackson, who kept up his public banter with the Mavs owner.

Then he got serious.

"We want home-court advantage," Jackson said. "That's important."

What's also important is for the Lakers to learn from the lessons laid out before them earlier this season.

The Mavs came into the first meeting with a sense of desperation having lost six games in a row, much the same way the Heat were a different animal Thursday having lost five straight before the Lakers came to town.

Even though the loss to the Heat is only one game, the Lakers can aspire to the refuse-to-lose mentality that Dallas and Miami showed in those two games against L.A.

Plus, a loss to the Mavs would provide the Lakers with some difficult road déjà vu.

The Lakers' last extended trip began with a 4-0 start through New Orleans, Memphis, Boston and New York before skidding to an 0-3 ending through Orlando, Charlotte and Cleveland.

L.A. doesn't want to lose the momentum it built with an 8-0 record coming out of the All-Star break and a 2-0 start to its current four-game trip by following impressive wins against San Antonio and Atlanta with disappointing losses to Miami and Dallas.

The Lakers' current trip began with so much promise because they were able to break through for the first time against a San Antonio team that was 2-0 against them this season. The Mavs are 1-0 so far, meaning Saturday's game will provide the same opportunity for L.A. to prove itself against a team for the first time this season and remind Dallas who the champs are because they could meet them down the road again in the postseason.

"I think the team really felt that they had to play well coming out of the All-Star break, there were so many negative things said about the team after the loss to Cleveland that I think they felt that their championship pride was kind of hurt," Jackson said. "They had to go out and play harder, better and more focused, and they've done that."

They played harder, better and more focused in the Miami loss than in many of their other losses this season. An improved effort won't cut it against Dallas, however. It's a rare regular-season example for a team that has made three NBA Finals appearances in a row where they simply just need to win.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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