Game 77 Preview: Mavericks vs. Trail Blazers

Game Time  6:00 p.m.   TV:  CSNNW

It's out of the frying pan and into the...wait a minute.  Technically the Blazers weren't really in the frying pan, were they?  When the Thunder tried to shove them in it they took the pan and whapped it upside the head of Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and company.  Woot!  Woot!  Hollah!  Werd.  Now the Blazers just need to douse the fire of the Dallas Mavericks who were on a five-game winning streak recently until getting reality-checked by the Lakers in a game in which everybody and their uncle got feisty and threw down.  The Mavs may not be in the best frame of mind following that incident and the loss, but whatever frame they're in Portland needs to bear down on them hard.

I've heard talk of jockeying for playoff position/opponent, perhaps considering a loss here or there as a hidden victory, bringing a favored seed instead of strictly a higher one.  I don't buy it.  Your job in this situation is simple:  win as many games as you can, earn the highest seed that you can.  These games--more than any other you'll find in the regular season--resemble a playoff atmosphere.  A team struggling to find its rhythm and confidence--a team fighting to prove itself on a playoff level--cannot waste these opportunities.  The only way to get rhythm and establish confidence against the best teams is to beat the best teams.  Furthermore if you head into the playoffs thinking you could succeed in a certain scenario but you'll likely fail in another, you've already lost.  Seven-game playoff series go to teams who already know they're going to win them no matter what.  If you don't have the mentality that you will beat anyone, anywhere you won't survive the post-season, particularly not in the 5-8 seeds when you start and finish on the road.  The Blazers should want this game as much as any.  The Blazers should take this game away from Dallas to keep their run rolling.  Once that ball goes in the air there's no other way of thinking about it.

Success against the Mavericks recently has boiled down to a few simple matters:

1.  Keep up with them in the rebounding department.

2.  Be able to hit a three when open.

3.  Both LaMarcus Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki are likely to have great games.  The question is, who will shine in the fourth?  The Mavs go to Dirk all over the place with the game on the line.  When the Blazers make him take time and work for shots they prosper even when he hits them.  When he starts looking like Superman the Blazers are in trouble.  Aldridge does similar things to Dallas.  The question there is whether he'll keep up the energetic, determined attack into the latter stages of the game or whether he'll surrender to tough shots.  Whichever star has the last laugh usually brings victory to his team.

With Caron Butler out the Mavs rely heavily on three supporting players:  Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, and Tyson Chandler.  Marion causes the Blazers trouble as many athletic small forwards do.  Terry used to cause the Blazers trouble but has had a harder time since Portland's defense at the smaller positions improved.  Chandler theoretically should be a huge issue but isn't in practice.  Part of that is Portland's lack of inside scoring.  What's he going to defend against?  Either Aldridge or Marcus Camby draw him out on the perimeter, hamstringing him.  Part of it is also Chandler's long history of getting frustrated and out of control against the Blazers.  He doesn't play a game against Portland where he doesn't do something stupid.  Once upon a time Joel Przybilla would drive him up a tree but even the ghost of Przybilla seems to suffice now.  Chandler is so far in his own head that he needs GPS to get out.  Behind him stands Brendan Haywood, another guy who hasn't hurt Portland much and not near the defender that Chandler is.  In practice the Mavs tend to go smaller against the Blazers once Chandler exits the game which plays into Portland's hands.

Dallas' offense consists of a lot of passing and a lot of jump shots.  The Blazers need to be mobile and prepared for anyone to shoot.  That's the Mavericks' secret.  Jose Juan Barea...he'll shoot it.  Rodrigue Beaubois...he'll shoot it.  Peja Stojakovic...you know he'll shoot it.  Jason Kidd...he'll shoot it if it's a three.  Their main cast of characters outside of Chandler will also shoot at a moment's notice.  Anything you leave open is going to be fired up.  This can actually be an advantage if you're closing out well and rebounding well.  But if you're the least bit slow in either category the Mavs will eat...you...up.  And THEN they'll trot out the Nowitzki offense.  If the Blazers all play like Gerald Wallace they can take this game and look good in the process.  If they play more like Rasheed Wallace (in his final months anyway) Dallas knows how to make them pay.  The Mavs playing last night in Oakland against the fast-paced Warriors won't hurt in this department, but even though they've been known to give back leads it would be better for the Blazers not to let them build one in the first place.  Against some teams you can get away with letting them shoot 70% for a quarter and 60% for a half.  Do that against Dallas and you could end up so far buried you'd be keeping company with Tyson Chandler's head.

Mavs Moneyball will tell you all about the Mavs.

No Jersey Contest form tonight.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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