As the Lakers and Mavericks prepare to begin their 2011 NBA playoff series Monday night in Game 1 at Staples Center, all signs point to a memorable series. There are two teams that finished 57-25 this season, each at times looking like the best team in the league. There is the specter of the first-ever playoff meeting between Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki, and of course the always entertaining rivalry and war of words between Phil Jackson and Mark Cuban.
As Derek Fishmore noted at Silver Screen and Roll, both teams are fighting to keep that ever-elusive championship window open:
The stakes are huge. For the Mavs, the curtain is starting to fall on the Nowitzki era. It's not all the way down yet, but if they're going to win a title with Dirk, they'd better get on with it. Knocking out the Lakers would invest them with a sense that history's finally turning their way. Beat the defending champs on their own court, and there's no one left in the field you can't handle.
As for the Lakers, they're playing for immortality. They can become one of the few teams to win their conference four years in a row and of course, one of the few teams in any sport to three-peat. A loss to Dallas would bring this grand vision to a crushing end and would send Phil Jackson into retirement on an unspeakably sour note. Imagine, if you can, Phil's final game being a loss to the Mavericks in the second round. Imagine him walking off the court under the smug, triumphant gaze of Mark Cuban. Needless to say, this can't be allowed to happen.
For more news on this second-round matchup, be sure to stay tuned to this story stream at SB Nation Los Angeles. For more NBA playoff coverage, check out SB Nation's playoff bracket and schedule. For more news and information on the Lakers, be sure to read the SB Nation blog Silver Screen and Roll.