The Los Angeles Lakers begin a three-game road trip against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday afternoon. Any game involving LeBron James and Luka Doncic is special, but this is James’ first meeting with Kyrie Irving this season. Get ready for the big game with our NBA betting preview.

It comes at a critical juncture in the season for both teams, but especially the Lakers, who are attempting to leapfrog three Western Conference teams that have all lost multiple games in recent days. A win on Sunday would tie the Lakers for 11th in the West with the Portland Trail Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Lakers of Los Angeles

After the All-Star Game, James told reporters that the final stretch of the season will be the most important regular-season games of his career. This puts this game under the microscope because the Lakers need to beat talented teams like the Mavericks if they want to make the playoffs. Competing and losing heartbreakers in the final minutes, as Los Angeles did in its overtime loss in January, will no longer suffice.

The Lakers’ roster is completely different from the last two meetings between these two teams. On paper, this Lakers team appears to be more balanced on both sides of the ball.

According to Cleaning the Glass, the Lakers ranked 18th in Offensive Rating (114.0) and 21st in Defensive Rating (115.6) prior to the trade. Since the trade (small sample size), the Lakers have the third-best Defensive Rating and have allowed only 108.8 points per 100 possessions when garbage time minutes are excluded. Anthony Davis is a big part of that success; the Lakers allow 5.8 fewer points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court than when he’s not.

The offense isn’t as potent, and the numbers show it — their Offensive Rating dropped to 111.2 in the five games following the trade deadline — but James missed three of them, and one of their newcomers was also absent. However, the team they have now, with multiple shooters surrounding their stars, fits much better than the previous version.

Unfortunately, the Lakers will be without D’Angelo Russell (questionable), who suffered an ankle sprain on Thursday night. That means Dennis Schroder and LeBron James, two players who enjoy getting into the paint, will be the Lakers’ primary ball-handlers for the majority of the game.

It should have an effect on their spacing and outside shooting, but their role players (Malik Beasley, Troy Brown, and Austin Reaves) can hit shots off passes from James and Schroder when they get into the paint and kick out to the wings.

Finally, I believe Davis will be a player to watch in this matchup. He was injured for both games earlier this season, but his size allows him to dominate the Mavericks’ front line. The Mavericks won’t have much of an answer defensively if James and Schroder can get downhill with Davis rolling to the basket.

Mavericks of Dallas

When the Mavericks acquired Irving, they effectively punted on defense for the remainder of the season. They still have solid wingers — Josh Green has been a revelation this season — but their interior defense is non-existent.

Prior to the trade, the Mavericks ranked 14th in the NBA in points allowed in the paint, allowing 49.4 points per game. Since the trade, they have ranked dead last in the NBA, allowing 59.7 points in the paint per game. It’s not just their interior defense; since losing their best defensive player, Dorian Finney-Smith, they’ve allowed 2.7 more points on defense per 100 possessions in non-garbage time minutes.

The good news for the Mavericks is that Irving is a one-man offense. The Mavericks have arguably the most dangerous duo in the NBA when paired with Doncic, and the Mavs are second in the league with a 123.5 Offensive Rating since the move. To me, this appears to be a fair trade.

There are still some kinks to work out with two high-usage players sharing the floor, but the offense can be overwhelming even with just one of those two stars on the floor.

The Mavericks had a nine-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter against the Spurs (yes, I’m referring to the terrible Spurs, but bear with me) and were up by 30 with five minutes left in the quarter with Doncic on the bench. During that stretch, Irving scored more points (13) than the Spurs as a team (12).

It won’t be easy against better teams that are actually trying to compete for the postseason, but having a player who can go on a run like that without your MVP candidate on the floor is huge. Join in on the excitement with NBA online betting PH.

NBA Betting Preview | Pick: Lakers vs. Mavericks

After hearing about how good the Mavericks’ offense has been and how stingy the Lakers’ defense has been, I want no part of this total. The Lakers prefer to play fast — they rank second in Pace this season — and the Mavericks are pushing the ball more with Irving on the team. Having said that, both James and Doncic enjoy slowing things down and working the clock, so we could see a mix of both styles at various points throughout the game.

This season, the Lakers have struggled in the early going. The Lakers are 2-4 against the spread in games that start before 7 p.m. ET, including their Christmas Day loss to the Mavericks. However, you may recall that the Lakers were leading that game at the half. That’s where I believe we’ll find the most value in this game.

NBA Betting Preview | Lakers vs Mavericks

This season, the Lakers are 34-26 against the spread in the first half, including 25-18 as underdogs. In the first half, the Mavericks are 24-35-2 ATS and 16-23-2 as favorites.

The Lakers were 5-1 ATS in the first half of those games that started before 7 p.m. ET. With L.A. coming off a few days rest, I believe James and company will come out with a sense of urgency. I’m betting them at +1.5 and will also wager on the Lakers’ first-half moneyline at a profit. Check out our OKBET Sports Betting for more expert analysis on tonight’s games.