The Los Angeles Lakers’ acquisition of Pau Gasol set off a flurry of moves by Western Conference contenders before last month’s trade deadline. The Dallas Mavericks’ trade for Jason Kidd was one of the follow-ups.
Gasol and the Lakers host Kidd and the Mavericks on Sunday in a matchup between West powers hoping their new-look lineups can carry them to an NBA title.
Three weeks before the Feb. 21 trade deadline, Los Angeles pulled off a deal that sent Kwame Brown’s expiring contract, rookie point guard Javaris Crittenton and two first-round draft picks to Memphis for Gasol, a former All-Star and one of the most talented big men in the league.
The deal prompted a series of responses from the Lakers’ fellow contenders in the West. Phoenix acquired Shaquille O’Neal from Miami and San Antonio traded for Kurt Thomas for help with interior defense and rebounding.
While Dallas didn’t make a similar move to get tougher inside, it did make some of the biggest headlines by sending rising star Devin Harris and four other players to New Jersey for Kidd, who played the first two-plus seasons of his career with the Mavericks from 1994-1996.
The Lakers (41-18) are 11-2 since Gasol’s debut with the team Feb. 5, while the Mavericks (39-20) have won four of six since acquiring Kidd.
“I think anytime you’re on the run trying to make adjustments it’s hard in this league,” Kidd said after Dallas beat Sacramento 115-106 on Friday night. “In this league, everybody is a professional and they’re not going to wait around until you get it. We’ve been together for six games and we’re doing a pretty good job.
“So I think as a whole there still are some areas that we have to tighten up, but I think we’re going in the right direction. We’re building and each time we go out on the floor we believe in one another and I think that’s a big thing. I’ve always said if you believe in one another you can have success.”
Kidd, whom the Lakers tried to acquire before last season’s trade deadline, had a season-high 21 points in Friday’s win and added 11 rebounds and nine assists, falling one assist shy of his 100th career triple-double and first with Dallas this season.
The Mavericks have told Kidd he should look to shoot more, even though he is making a career-worst 37.8 percent from the field this season.
“It was fun to watch Kidd all over the court,” said Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki, who had 34 points and 10 rebounds Friday. “He scored points in the post like we need him to do. He needs to become a scorer.”
Los Angeles had its season-high 10-game win streak snapped with a 119-111 loss at Portland on Friday night. Kobe Bryant had 33 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but the Lakers went 5-for-27 from 3-point range and allowed the Blazers to shoot 52.9 percent from the field - the highest mark by a Los Angeles opponent this season.
“You know fatigue has an effect on the ball game, but you don’t use it as an excuse,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, whose team won at home the previous night. “You know you are going to lose (eventually), but you hope to not have a slippage of fundamentals, or things like that.”
Bryant had 40 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in Los Angeles’ first meeting with Dallas on Jan. 25, but the Mavericks got 26 points and 10 rebounds from both Nowitzki and Josh Howard in their 112-105 home win. It was Dallas’ fifth victory in the last six games in the series.
Bryant is averaging 35.0 points in his last 12 games against the Mavs. In that stretch, he has four games with at least 40 points, including a 62-point performance on Dec. 20, 2005.