Here we go again... Can they do it? Will we witness the Dallas Mavericks finally getting over the hump? Most critics thought they would lose to Portland. They shut us up. So now, can they become the team we thought they were pre All-Star break?

We can’t measure them by their struggles against Portland. Everyone struggles against Portland – including the Lakers.

L.A. has run this marathon for the last four years and just like with any marathon you have a pace yourself. The Lakers were the poster kids for pacing during the season and now we will find out if they can start the sprint with 12 more victories needed.

I felt coming into this season the Lakers would run out of gas. Dallas must force L.A. to start that sprint to see if that comes to fruition.

The key for the Lakers is to rely on a player that’s young and should not be worn down and that is Andrew Bynum. He played great against New Orleans and he is definitely the key in this series.

Dallas has to commit to Tyson Chandler guarding him one-on-one. If that works, they could be home free. If not, they are in serious trouble. Why? Because I see Kobe Bryant destroying them offensively and Bynum is the help he needs.

Dirk Nowitzki will outproduce Pau Gasol and the Dallas bench is just too powerful compared to the Lakers' one.

So it rests with the intangibles of loose balls, rebounds, blocked shots and steals. That is why the Mavericks have to sprint now. This is their championship. Are the Lakers ready to turn on the motors? Do they have the energy to accomplish the feat.

KEYS

The Lakers will win if...

- Andrew Bynum continues to play great all-around basketball.

- Derek Fisher and Ron Artest shoot well because they will be left open.

- Bench led by Lamar Odom can match an explosive Dallas reserve unit.

The Mavericks will win if...

- Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood can guard Bynum without help.

- The Mavericks rebound effectively and score enough paint points.

- Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion average double-doubles for the series.

PREDICTION

- I will stay with my prevailing thought at the start of this season. The Lakers are a tired team and the energized Mavericks will take advantage. LA Lakers 2, Dallas 4.

SCHEDULE: May 2, May 4, May 6, May 8, May 10, May 12 and May 15 / Los Angeles Lakers won the regular season series 2-1.

REST OF SERIES: CHI - ATL / MIA - BOSOKC - MEM

2. LOS ANGELES LAKERS

3. DALLAS MAVERICKS

15

Ron Artest

F

Data

G

Jose Barea

11

9

Matt Barnes

F

G

Rodrigue Beaubois

3

5

Steve Blake

G

101.5

Points scored

100.2

F

Corey Brewer

13

12

Shannon Brown

G

95.4

Points allowed

96.0

F

Caron Butler

4

24

Kobe Bryant

G

46.3

Field Goal %

47.5

F

Brian Cardinal

35

17

Andrew Bynum

C

35.2

3 pt. FG %

36.5

C

Tyson Chandler

6

45

Derrick Caracter

F

77.9

Free Throw %

77.7

C

Brendan Haywood

33

3

Devin Ebanks

F

44.0

Rebounds

41.4

G

Jason Kidd

2

2

Derek Fisher

G

22.0

Assists

23.8

F

Shawn Marion

0

16

Pau Gasol

F-C

5.2

Blocks

4.3

F

Dirk Nowitzki

41

7

Lamar Odom

F

7.3

Steals

6.8

G

DeShawn Stevenson

92

1

Joe Smith

F-C

13.1

Turnovers

14.0

F

Peja Stojakovic

16

4

Luke Walton

F

1,018

Accumulated playoff games

636

G

Jason Terry

31

TEAM LEADERS

Kobe Bryant

25.3

Points

23.0

Dirk Nowitzki

Pau Gasol

10.2

Rebounds

9.4

Tyson Chandler

Kobe Bryant

4.7

Assists

8.2

Jason Kidd

Andrew Bynum

1.9

Blocks

1.0

Tyson Chandler

Ron Artest

1.5

Steals

1.7

Jason Kidd