Game Time 7:00 p.m. TV: KGW and NBATV
Portland Trail Blazers fans got pretty excited when their team managed to win six straight games a few weeks ago. Imagine how stoked they'd be if the Blazers had pulled off a feat like the Dallas Mavericks, embarking on a 18-1 run from January 22nd through March 4th of this year. And that one game they lost was by a single point. The same margin has decided 2 of their 3 losses since. In short, had the Mavericks managed to score a dozen more points over the last seven weeks they'd have won 24 straight games. That is some Vatican assassin, tiger-blooded winning. Even with those close losses at 47-19 overall the sheen hasn't worn off yet.
The Dallas story is pretty simple on offense. They'll take the break when they can get it. Failing that they shoot jumpers. They're not going to score in the paint. They're not going to offensive rebound. Take every center on the roster, sew them together, combine their aggregate attempts into one, and this patchwork golem pivot is still going to finish sixth on the team in shots taken per game. However with Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Jose Juan Barea, and Rodrigue Beaubois this team is very good at hitting those jumpers. They can screen. The can cut. They can draw you in and pass to the open man. They know how to get good shots and they don't miss. They're also good from the three-point arc taking out Marion and probably Beaubois from that list but adding in Jason Kidd and occasionally DeShawn Stevenson. They can all hit the triple and none of them are afraid to take it. Their smarts, accuracy, and range make them a tougher problem to solve than your usual jump-shot heavy team. You have to guard the Mavericks everywhere at just about every position. Being able to pass from multiple positions helps. Your center can run free a little bit if he's mobile enough. That's it.
Defensively the Mavericks are right down the middle of the league in nearly every category. They don't foul much, they don't force turnovers, and they're not great shot blockers. Everything else is pretty basic...good enough to make that nice shooting percentage of theirs tell. Hold the fort, keep the opponent in check, let your talent show.
Cementing their reputation as the Elephant Graveyard for small forwards the Mavericks obtained Peja Stojakovic about a month ago to hold them through while Caron Butler (himself a replacement for the now-departed Michael Finley) recovered from knee problems and Beaubois healed a broken foot. Beaubois is back more or less but Stojakovic is now out. Fortunately for them Shawn Marion has been doing a heroic job off the bench. As long as he's playing well the Mavericks are fine. The Blazers may want to get in his grill and see if they can't disrupt his rhythm. They'd certainly have more success there than they've had against Nowitzki, who at times looks unguardable by anyone in red and black. A heavy dose of denying Dirk the ball is probably in order tonight. Portland will probably live with anything the Dallas guards can do as long as the forwards don't have free rein.
Portland's defense versus Dallas' offense should be the story of the night. The Blazers will be able to score against the Mavs. The Blazers should be able to rebound if they put the energy in. But Portland will look to turn the game scrappy on the defensive end against a team that plays polished. They'll look to force turnovers against a team that doesn't make them. They'll look to push outside a team that fares well on the perimeter. Portland's greatest defensive strengths could be hard to capitalize upon. I could see a never-ending supply of energetic Portland defenders hopping between Nowitzki and the ball while everyone else switches on every screened shooter and denies the open look. I could also see the Blazers scrambling to cover against Nowitzki, leaving shooters open and paying the price. In the second instance I don't give Portland much of a chance no matter how much they score.
On the offensive end hitting open jumpers is the second-most important thing that can happen right behind LaMarcus Aldridge making whichever Dallas defender dares to approach him pay. Aldridge will probably have to be a Nowitzki-level threat tonight to free up teammates from experienced defenders.
This will be another of those games that shows how serious the Blazers are about making a push for a halfway-decent playoff seed. Dallas is a very good team but Portland is at home and Portland has the tools to make life tough on them. The Blazers won their last opportunity game, defeating the Orlando Magic when they were Howard-less and vulnerable. The Blazers then beat the Miami Heat before promptly giving both games back, losing to Charlotte and Atlanta. You can pretty much flip a coin to see which Portland team will show up: the dark-horse world-beaters or the mixed-up eggbeaters, the latter just running around in circles to little effect. The world-beaters need to show up tonight. With 16 games left the chances to make a mark on the schedule are dwindling.
The excellently-written Mavs Moneyball is your key to Dallas doings.
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