The Portland Trail Blazers take their shiny 2-1 record into Dallas tonight to face the Mavericks in each team's fourth game of the season. The game starts at 5:30 p.m. Pacific and will be televised on CSNNW locally.
The Mavericks started their season by beating the Lakers when beating the Lakers was still a distinguishing trait for teams in this league. With L.A. at 1-3 now seeing them get beat is kind of like seeing your grandma do the Macarena. It's cute, but the thrill is gone. The hip kids will have to get their jollies some other way.
Side note: Rumor has it that cameras caught Dwight Howard making a speech when he and Steve Nash joined the club. He said something about "Not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven. And when I say that, I really believe it."
Nash was all like, "Championships?"
Dwight replied, "Nah, Dawg. Wins."
In any case, if the playoffs started today the Blazers would be seeded 3rd in the conference, playing the Houston Rockets. The opponent tonight, Dallas, would be locked in a tight 5-4 matchup with the Clippers. The Lakers would finish 13th in the conference, well out of the playoffs. Cuz, you know, it's never too early to start that kind of talk.
Now what were we chatting about? Ah, yes.
The Portland Trail Blazers take their shiny 2-1 record into Dallas tonight to face the Mavericks in each team's fourth game of the season. Dallas defeated the Lakers but lost handily to the Jazz, both on the road. Then they came home and swamped the Bobcats in their home opener. The games they've won featured plenty of points in the paint and reasonable rebounding. The Mavs shot well from distance in the Utah debacle but couldn't hit anywhere else. Their defense was also suspect against the Jazz, allowing double the three-point percentage they've given to any other team and sending Utah to the free throw line an astonishing 42 times. Lesson so far: when the Mavericks pay attention they're doing well but if they slack off they're going to get shellacked.
Part of this dichotomy comes from the lack of Dirk Nowitzki. He's not expected back until the holidays, leaving all his little elves to make do in the meantime. Dallas also lacks veteran stalwarts from years past like Jason Kidd and Jason Terry. Instead they've gone with a semi-youth movement at guard, nabbing Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo in the off-season. Collison is scoring the heck out of the ball in a Damian Lillard-like display of prowess. Mayo has been up and down but went 7-10 from distance in the Bobcats win. Both fall in the "if you don't defend them, they will burn you" category.
Veteran forwards Shawn Marion and Elton Brand provide plenty of rebounding but their scoring has been non-existent so far this year, partly because that's not their main role anymore and partly because those guards are pretty happy when they score themselves. Young Brandan Wright starts at center. He's been incredibly efficient offensively and has blocked some shots but he's much less of a rebounder than the forwards.
When you start stacking starting lineup versus starting lineup--keeping in mind the Mavericks are missing their best player in Nowitzki--you can't help but think the Blazers match up decently versus this team. Lillard and Collison is a battle of swift scoring point guards. Mayo is the offensive yin to Wesley Matthews' defensive yang. Both are mercurial scorers but Matthews' ball-hawking is fairly reliable. Two years ago Marion would have been favored against Nicolas Batum but now it's a toss-up even on a down night from Batum. Brand vs. LaMarcus Aldridge has to go Portland's way at this point. Both Wright and J.J. Hickson are converted forwards playing the pivot. Wright will shoot better but Hickson will rebound more. What's not to like here? The huge advantage for Dallas comes in experience. They know how to play and they showed it against the Lakers. But unless those guards get red hot (and one would expect the Blazers to shadow them with Batum and Matthews if that happened) Portland has a decent chance of outscoring them.
Then we move to the bench.
Dallas' big name is Vince Carter who, while ancient, can still fill it up when needed. The Blazers won't want any of their bench players watching him. Guarding Portland's reserves in turn would be a free ride for Carter unless the youngsters make a concerted effort to outrun him. Rookie Jae Crowder is also getting serious minutes and has demonstrated a decent shooting touch from the arc. Point guard Rodrigue Beaubois would hold an advantage over his Portland counterparts but he's a game-time decision at the time of this writing due to an ankle injury. Rookie Jared Cunningham plays behind him, bringing much less of a natural advantage. Chris Kaman scored 16 as he returned to action at center in Dallas' last game, supplanting rookie Bernard James as the primary reserve. The Mavs also signed veteran power forward Troy Murphy on Friday, showing center Eddy Curry the door.
If injuries aren't a factor you can find at least three players who could give Portland's reserves serious trouble. The Blazers will likely pursue the most obvious solution: play their starters as many minutes as humanly possible. Carter and Beaubois don't look nearly as scary against real players. Kaman might but Portland will live with that. They'll also hope that those nagging injuries will limit duty for the key Maverick reserves, allowing Portland to play their inexperienced bench squad against equally suspect counterparts.
As has been the case in all these early-season games, the Blazers will need to watch out for inside points, fast break points, and rebounding by the opponent. Stay close in these areas and Portland's distance shooting will tell. Fall apart and you're praying that your outside points can counterbalance the other guy's inside attempts...a bad bet. The Blazers should also be aware of the speed gap in the Mavericks' lineup. Most of those guards want to run. Many of the big men and some of the reserves do not. Portland's bigs should be able to beat their counterparts down the floor, one of the bastions of the new offense. That assumes that those rebounds are secure. If Dallas can threaten with offensive rebounds all night the Blazers lose a potential advantage in the running game. Naturally Portland's guards will have to be alert getting back against those streaky Dallas players. One of the worst things you can do is get Collison and Mayo off early because you gave up easy, quick buckets. Both have shown that once the tap starts running it's hard to shut off.
In the end, this game may pivot around which team gets the easier points. Fast breaks and offensive rebounds for Dallas will make Portland's paint defense look even worse and may doom the Blazers in this game. It goes without saying that turnovers in the hands of the Dallas backcourt would do the same thing. But making those guards work hard for shots, keeping the forwards off the glass, and running out could make this game look, if not easy, at least comfortable for the Blazers. Those creaky Dallas forwards should have a devil of a time chasing LaMarcus Aldridge around the court. The Blazers just need to play well enough in those other areas to make that advantage tell.
Be sure and join us for the GameDay Open Thread beginning an hour before game time and continuing until the post-game recap goes up. We'll have analysis after that, plus all the news from the game.
The Jersey Contest form has been fixed. Thursday night's game against the Clippers will be the first real run of the news season.
Blazer tickets for all upcoming games, including this one, are available from Blazer's Edge sponsor TiqIQ.
P.S. 3-1 would sound really nice, wouldn't it?