Following a 32-point thumping of the Utah Jazz last night, the Blazers stay in Portland to take on the Dallas Mavericks tonight in the second game of a home back-to-back set.
The Mavericks sit at 12-8, good for the No. 6 spot out West behind the always-reliable power forward Dirk Nowitzki and the offseason free-agent acquisition of guard Monta Ellis, a volume-shooter and scorer.
Dallas features a potent three-point attack when they have the ball. Nowitzki, Ellis, guards Jose Calderon and Vince Carter and forwards Jae Crowder and Shawn Marion all sink the outside shot with some regularity, all converting at 35 percent or above for the season. Lately, Calderon has been the Mavericks' most accurate marksman from deep, hitting half of the 6.5 three-pointers he's attempted a night over the last couple weeks.
Ellis is playing his typical style of basketball -- lots of drives, a ton of shots and bulk scoring, all while using his ability to get past his defender to set up his teammates, as well. In fact, Ellis is leading Dallas in assists this year and his 5.8 average for the season is close to his career-best. He's also leading the team in scoring due to him having one of his best year's shooting the ball both inside and outside of the arc. Ellis is definitely not efficient, as his shooting percentages are pretty mediocre and he takes a ton of shots to get his points, but his drive-and-kick ability and passing out of pick-n-roll situations has been stellar as of late, netting him seven assists a night in his last five games. The majority of Dallas' threes have been in catch-and-shoot situations, too.
Nowitzki is up to his old tricks, taking a bunch of shots inside and outside, drawing fouls and hitting at decent percentages across the board. Ellis may have come to town not seeing a shot he didn't like, but at the age of 35 and in his sixteenth season, Nowitzki still commands a ton of touches and pours in almost 21 points a contest.
The rest of the Mavericks' scoring is usually provided by Calderon, Carter, Marion or center DeJaun Blair, who has been hitting the boards hard and also converting his shots at a solid percentage. The three main secondary scorers for Dallas -- Calderon, Carter and Marion -- do a lot of their damage from the perimeter, launching more three-pointers than anyone else on the team and making a good portion of them.
Outside of the aforementioned rotation players for Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, the Mavericks have struggled and don't feature a very deep bench. Young guards Shane Larkin and Gal Mekel register decent minutes and pass the ball pretty well, but both are horribly inefficient shooting it.
The Mavericks shoot reasonably well, pass the ball okay and don't commit a ton of turnovers. Their biggest weaknesses are drawing fouls, scoring inside and rebounding.
Dallas doesn't feature any great individual rebounders, though Blair has been on a bit of a tear lately. The starters and sixth-man Carter basically all pitch in and contribute a little to the overall rebounding numbers. The lack of a consistently good individual rebounder in the lineup has hurt the Mavericks in that department, and the Blazers should at least be able to clean up the offensive glass tonight behind the efforts of frontcourt players LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, Joel Freeland and Thomas Robinson, all good-to-great individual rebounders in their own right who contribute to the team's totals on the boards. This teamwork has allowed wings Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum to clean up the scraps, both having career years rebounding the ball.
Portland should be able to neutralize Dallas' outside attack relatively effectively with their defense of the arc, but whoever's guarding Ellis will probably be chasing him down all night. Still, staying at home on their assignments, going over screens and not sagging too much to help inside should be effective against the Mavericks. If Ellis can't break down a defense with penetration, his passing ability loses a bit of its potency and he can't be relied upon to keep his team in the game -- at least, probably not against Portland, one of the better teams in the NBA right now -- with his own inefficient shooting. Ellis' numbers have plummeted in recent weeks. He'll hit a few shots tonight, no doubt, but the Blazers should try and make it difficult for him to find the open man off the dribble if they want to limit his repertoire.
When Portland has the ball, they should have no difficulty finding open looks. The Mavericks are either average or bad in most defensive areas besides forcing steals and turnovers. Dallas does not stop the fastbreak, they can be passed against fairly easily, they're wretched at guarding the paint, allow a ton of easy shots close to the hoop and they don't defend the arc particularly well.
Really, the Blazers should be able to work their normal offense against Dallas and should expect the usual results -- a ton of open looks for teammates on the perimeter when Aldridge passes out of the post or when Lillard finds guys off the dribble. The crisp passing and swinging of the ball across the court should be on full display tonight, as the Mavericks possess an average age of over 33 years old in their main rotation, with three guys topping the 35-year mark. Portland's ball-movement should keep Dallas' defense active and force them to be engaged, likely inducing fatigue at some point. If the outside shots aren't falling, Aldridge has been automatic with his jumper lately. Dallas' frontcourt also doesn't stand much of a chance at defending him effectively one-on-one, either.
Right now, the Blazers are rolling; Offensively, they are a well-oiled machine just 20 games into the season. It seems like between Aldridge, Lillard and Matthews, someone steps up almost every single night to will the team to victory. Batum has been an important hub to the offense, hitting some open looks but largely distributing the ball and mixing it up on the boards a little. Center Robin Lopez scores opportunistically when opposing defenses collapse on drivers or close out jump-shooters, often with his man leaving him open enough to have the ball dumped to him down low, close to the basket where his old-school hook shot has been surprisingly effective thus far into the season.
Off the bench, backup guard Mo Williams should be able to continue his hot streak shooting outside, because Dallas' guard rotation isn't exactly full of elite defenders.
The Mavericks will present much more of a challenge than Utah last night. They have bona-fide scorers in Ellis, Nowitzki, Calderon, Marion and Carter. Dallas also has a much more potent outside attack featuring the previously mentioned players and Crowder. The Mavericks are a team full of veterans, they play with pride and they're looking to solidify their spot in the crowded Western Conference playoff picture where third-place and ninth-place are only separated by three wins. Dallas is a playoff team right now, and the Blazers need to maintain just as much effort tonight as ever because any one of the Mavericks' first six or so rotational players is capable of scoring in droves and feeding his team's energy, particularly Ellis against Lillard's improved-but-still-shaky individual defense.
Still, the Blazers have played with purpose almost the length of the season so far, and will likely come out focused and ready to add to their 9-1 home record. Expect a much closer game tonight, but if Portland continues their hot play -- solid defensive execution, great team effort offensively behind the star play of Aldridge and Lillard and consistent outings from the supporting cast -- the Mavericks will have a hard time preventing the Blazers from imposing their style of play and earning another victory in front of the home crowd.
-- Chris Lucia | Twitter