Individual matchups don't get much bigger than Pau Gasol vs. Dirk Nowitzki

He missed all five shots he took in the half, didn't get going until the third quarter and appeared to be hampered by a foot injury.

No, that wasn't Kobe Bryant, last week's edition.

It was Pau Gasol, five years ago in his first playoff game against Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks, in the days when Gasol made his living in Memphis. The Mavericks swept the Grizzlies in that series and went on to lose in the NBA Finals to Miami.

You might say just a little has changed since then. Gasol has won two NBA titles with the Lakers and Nowitzki has not been to the Finals since that 2006 appearance.

As much as things have changed, Gasol vs. Nowitzki remains a primary positional matchup, a key component in the upcoming second-round playoff series between the Lakers and Dallas. Game 1 is Monday night at Staples Center.

"It should be challenging," Gasol said before quickly amending his response. "It will be challenging."

Will guarding Nowitzki take anything away from his role in the offense?

"Hopefully not," Gasol said. "Obviously, my main concern will be to try to change his shots a little bit and lower his percentage and keep him off the line. He's such a great free-throw shooter. If you keep him off the line, that's to your benefit.

"And then play my game offensively. Make him work defensively too, so he doesn't feel always as comfortable or as fresh at the other end."

Nowitzki is averaging 27.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in the playoffs, shooting 89% from the free-throw line. Gasol averaged 13.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in the first-round playoff series against New Orleans.

"It's a big challenge for Pau," Bryant said. "It's different than guarding anybody else that he's played. Dirk can post up, can face up, can handle and obviously he shoots the three ball. It's a big challenge defensively.

"But it's a challenge for Dirk down at the other end as well. You're not going to find another guy in the league like Pau that can shoot with both hands, and post up and face up as well. It's a very interesting matchup."

History lessons

Matt Barnes was doing his very best not to wade into any controversial territory, as he did after getting ejected in the Lakers' last regular-season meeting against Dallas. He then was suspended for a game.

He ripped the Mavericks on his Twitter account and then started peddling T-shirts with the statement: "Matt Barnes Will Kill You If Ron Artest Doesn't First."

"I'm not carrying anything over," he said. "I'm not trying to go out there and get in trouble and get technical fouls and hurt my team in any way. We're just going out there to win."

He teased the media about trying to draw him into trouble.

But, hey, T-shirt sales are going well. Barnes was asked if they helped offset the fine.

"Way past that," he said. ". . . The line is not necessarily a T-shirt line but it's a casual clothing line. But that was just something I came up with and talked to guys on the team about and they liked it. . . . Ron loved the idea."

Bryant update

The word of the day was "fine."

Bryant used it five times in about six seconds when he was asked about the status of his sprained left ankle. He didn't practice Saturday, saying: "I'm fine. Finished off Game 4 [against the Hornets] fine. Played Game 5 fine. Game 6 fine. Fine."

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, meanwhile, did not use the word fine. Both responses were predictable.

"It still affects him a lot," Jackson said. "This is not going to go away anytime soon. We're just going to have to be very close to what he's doing. Monitor it a lot. I think he'll have a limited amount of practice time.

"It's tender to the touch. He's still limping when he walks. It's a limited amount of improvement."

And finally

Jackson's opening comments about the Mavericks included this thought: "They're the best team money can buy, really."

He came back to that later on when asked about the remark, drawing laughter by saying, "We are too."

Jackson didn't talk about the water quality of Dallas but had a funny line. "Dallas, with all those steers laying around on the lawns in their city?" he said.

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