Chandler restores Mavericks' edge
LOS ANGELES -- Forget about Matt Barnes, Mavericks fans.
The Lakers' small forward might have called your team soft back on March 31, when he traded barbs via Twitter with Dallas shooting guard Jason Terry after their latest matchup. But as it turns out, one of your own players shares his opinion.
Or at least Tyson Chandler used to.
"I definitely did," the Mavericks' center said on Tuesday. "That was one of the things when I came here that I wanted to turn around. I knew if that was my mindset, then it was probably some other people's mindset, too."
It's not the mindset anymore.
The season-long story of how the forgotten player helped the Mavericks forget their unflattering identity continued in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Monday, when Chandler clogged the middle and consequently kept the Lakers on their heels throughout Dallas' 96-94 win. Andrew Bynum, the center whom Chandler has listed third in his personal rankings at the position, never got comfortable and was hardly involved, finishing with eight points and five rebounds.
The Lakers hit just 42.9 percent of their shots, their lowest mark in the playoffs. Chandler, who was traded from Charlotte last July and had been defined for so long by his infamous toe injury, was putting the "D" in Dallas like always, while contributing 11 points (5-of-8 shooting), nine rebounds and three blocks.
That's the part where Barnes was wrong in his assessment of these Mavericks. They've been anything but soft all season long, with their gritty play in a first-round win over Portland maintaining the trend and the 16-point, second-half comeback in Game 1 here doing nothing to break it.
"I feel Tyson has been our anchor defensively all season long, when he's healthy, protecting the paint, running the floor, rebounding, guarding big guys, blocking shots, changing shots," said Dirk Nowitzki, whose team ended the season ranked eighth in both field-goal defense and defensive efficiency. "I think that's when we're at our best. He brings a toughness to our paint defense and an athleticism that I haven't seen at the '5' spot since I've been a Maverick."
The Lakers spent Tuesday thinking long and hard about the team formerly known as soft. They're well aware this is a different challenge than the first-round faux pas against New Orleans, when their Game 1 loss could only be taken so seriously because of the competitive gap that had to be bridged between the two teams. The Mavs and the Lakers, on the other hand, shared identical 57-25 records this season and clearly swim in the same talent pools.
Any fear factor of playing at Staples Center disappeared in the series opener, too. Dallas had lost 18 of its last 22 games on the Lakers' turf but is now buoyed by the belief that it can get this done.
"I believe we can do anything, to be honest with you," Chandler said. "I'm not afraid of any teams that are out there. If we play hard and we compete, we match up with any team. I feel like we have the personnel to go all the way."
The Southern California native was part of the Mavericks' ill-fated postseason history that followed their loss to Miami in the 2006 Finals when Chandler's New Orleans team upset Dallas in the first round in 2008.
"I said [in 2008] that they were the better team," Chandler said. "They were better than we were talent-wise, but we had three dogs that wouldn't go down to them [Chandler, Chris Paul and David West]. That's the type of personality I try to bring here. We've got the personnel. We're probably more talented than just about any other team in the league."
Just as Chandler did with Paul back in his Hornets days, he's hoping to continue teaming with Jason Kidd to hurt the Lakers with his trademark, acrobatic pick-and-roll sets more often in Wednesday's Game 2 (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
"Back in the day when I was with the Hornets, we used to have a great time on the pick-and-roll with the Lakers because of their bigs, and our guards' quickness in being able to penetrate," Chandler said. "I told the guys in this series, it's the same thing. We come in, set good picks, get penetration, make their bigs jump off to me and I'll finish. I feel like we'll have a lot more opportunities like that in this series."
A series that wouldn't be the same without Chandler.