"What an evil fortune! And I am already weary."
Yes, a Balrog is come. Or at least Dirk Nowitzki, provided he plays. He sat out their last game with elbow problems and is a game-day decision at last report. Dallas is 20-8 on the season and managed to muster enough oomph to beat Cleveland on Sunday, so whether the Blazers get to say "Fröhliches Schlechteshaartag!" to Mr. Nowitzki or not, they're in for a fight as this worst-case-scenario road trip continues.
It'll take considerable wizardry for Portland to overcome Dallas' multi-pronged attack. You already know about Dirk and his offensive brilliance. He's been all-but unstoppable for the Blazers since early in his career. But the Mavs also rely on Shawn Marion and the recently-returned Josh Howard, both of whom can step up the scoring when needed and both of whom have been in strong double-figures the last four games. Jason Terry is either on or off nowadays but when he's on he's as dangerous as ever, especially to a team that has problems defending perimeter guys. Jason Kidd and Jose Juan Barea also lurk in the Dallas backcourt, each of whom has given the Blazers trouble in the past. Up front they have Erick Dampier to body Joel Przybilla, Drew Gooden, and Tim Thomas, who just scored 22 against the Cavs subbing in for Nowitzki. All of them see playing time and you can't take any of them lightly. These are veterans, for the most part decorated, and they know how to win any type of game from any position.
The hallmark of Dallas' attack is versatility. They can score from any range. They will run whenever they can but are plenty good in the halfcourt as well. Whenever you apply pressure they'll find the open man and live with his shot. They play 9-10 guys and don't tire. They'll try to take out the middle on defense and live with your jumpers. What they lack in defensive chops they make up for by being a good rebounding team. They block shots, create turnovers, hit free throws...all of the little things that bolster their point margin enough to make them dominant. It's hard to find a real weakness overall except to say that the teams that tend to blitz them for 48 minutes find the most success. Energy and a quick attack can sometimes bowl them over. Just facing them mano-a-mano seldom succeeds. Unfortunately that's just how the Blazers usually operate. That's why tonight is not likely to be fun.
Keys to the Game
1. "You...shall not...pass!"
The Mavs depend on you to commit to a player (usually Nowitzki) and throw extra men at him. Then they drop the ball to whoever you left and take advantage of your scrambling. Especially if Dirk is out the Blazers have to stop the ball from moving around. Play the passing lanes. Live with a single guy scoring if that means everybody else gets short shrift. Only Nowitzki will beat you by himself on this roster. Everybody else needs everybody else.
2. "A wizard is never late, Frodo Baggins. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to."
Since most of the main players can hit from a variety of places you're not free to sag off of them and depend on getting back to their sweet spots before they make it there. To the extent that you do rotate and help (which the Blazers do a ton) you must get back quickly. The idea is to commit fully and execute whether you're coming in to help or recovering. Getting caught in no-man's-land against this team is a bad idea.
3. "Fly you fools!"
Dallas doesn't need a bunch of fast break points to win but they'll sure take them. Like the Fellowship at the bridge the Blazers need to get back on defense.
4. "Fool of a Took! Throw yourself in next time, and rid us of your stupidity."
The Mavericks will let you score on them but you have to be smart about how you do it. They're a good defensive rebounding team which means you can't count on second-chance points to bail you out. The Blazers have to shoot a high percentage which means moving the ball themselves, probing, drawing attention, and then finding the open man...pretty much the same thing Dallas will try. Brandon Roy needs to have an efficient game and draw coverage and the Blazers need to take advantage from there. If Roy is missing a ton or if the Blazers hold the ball or settle for taking people one-on-one this game is going to be hard to win.
5. "Even the very wise cannot see all ends."
Anybody can beat anybody on a given night. The Mavericks have lost to some sub-par teams this year. Don't assume the game is easier if Nowitzki doesn't play. Don't assume the win is out of reach if he does. Put in the energy, execute, and see what happens.
Check out the Dallas point of view at the venerable MavsMoneyball.
Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form here.
P.S. Oops! Almost forgot: Game Time: 5:30 PM Pacific TV: Comcast