This game starts at 5:30 pm on CSN locally and on NBA TV nationwide.
After drawing to an inside straight on the river and walking away with the whole pot on Monday night the Blazers are basically playing with house money for the rest of this trip. Any team can beat any other team on a given night but a loss to the Thunder on Friday would go down as one of the bigger letdowns of the season. That means that tonight the Blazers are in a favorable situation. If they lose it's probably going to be a good road trip. If they win it's probably going to be a great one. That last sentence is the one to concentrate on. The Blazers are on a nice little run right now. Frankly that was expected in February as the schedule was more favorable. But the Blazers can exceed expectations with a win tonight and a follow-up on Friday. They can transform this from a nice little run into the stretch that eventually secured their playoff seeding. It's time to go from "doing pretty well" to "downright hot". This will be the game that makes that distinction.
A Look at the Mavericks
Winning tonight will not be an easy task. The Mavericks are also on a nice little roll, having won 3 in a row and 6 of their last 8. They've scored 105 or more in 5 of those 6 wins. Their offense is through the roof. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry are ripping it up. They have been all season really. Josh Howard hasn't contributed as much as expected but he's been shooting quite well lately despite being under his scoring average in the last two games. Jason Kidd remains the assist man (8.3) plus he's throwing in some rebounds (6.4) and he retains the deadly three-point aim he discovered upon his arrival in Dallas. Between those four guys the Mavericks want to overwhelm you, putting so much pressure on your defense that somebody gets an open look. That's been an effective strategy against the Blazers this year. If Portland loses containment on one of Dallas' main scorers and the defense has to bail into rotations all night the Mavericks will probably kill us.
The Mavs are missing a couple names you might be used to seeing. Jerry Stackhouse has been out most of the season, taking a scoring weapon away from their bench. Desagana Diop was traded to the Charlotte Bobcats a couple weeks ago. They still retain a couple of strong frontcourt players in Erick Dampier and Brandon Bass. Both are up and down but either can make it a long night for you on the boards. Bass can also score. Shooting guard Antoine Wright plays the nominal starting role. Though he's an active guy and a nice defender he's scoring-challenged and Terry takes the spotlight from him. Jose Juan Barea backs up at point and veteran Devean George fills some small forward minutes. Outside of Terry it's an adequate bench, potent on some nights and flimsy others.
When these two teams met on Christmas the Blazers got drubbed soundly. It was one of those horrible free-throw shooting nights that come upon occasion for no reason. The Mavericks also hammered us on the offensive boards. We wasted a lot of defense and eventually ran out of steam. This will be a key area tonight. It all goes back to that containment we just mentioned. Dallas has good rebounders up and down the roster but their issue has always been a lack of effort and desire. If you keep a body on everybody and really bring the action to them they will eventually cede the glass to you. However if, as was the case in December, your defense goes in scramble mode and your players get out of position, leaving somebody uncovered, the Mavericks will pick off rebounds all night long. They're too good of an offensive team to give that kind of advantage.
Keys to the Game
1. This game starts with point-of-attack defense. We've just explained why. Wherever the ball goes we need a credible defender able to stay in front of his man without needing help. The real weakness in Portland's armor is point guard, but in this case it's to our advantage if Jason Kidd becomes a scoring beast so we won't worry too much there. However Lamarcus Aldridge and Travis Outlaw have got to play well against Dirk Nowitzki and Roy, Batum, and Rudy have all got to stay in front of Jason Terry and Josh Howard. If they manage that then Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla can stay near the rim and the rebounding should be at least even if not in Portland's favor. If you see a lot of Blazers running to help then the Mavericks will simply pass to the open man, hit the shot most of the time, and grab the rebound when they don't. That's going to be a recipe for another 105+ point night for them and I do not believe the Blazers can keep pace for 48 minutes with that kind of scoring.
2. Some of the same big names for the Mavericks on offense will also prove to be defensive liabilities IF you attack them. If you let Nowitzki, Terry, Kidd, and Dampier cruise on defense by not moving the ball and by shooting jumpers then they can be quite effective. They can use their mobility to trap you and they can set their rebounders as well. However if you get them scrambling they will not like to follow you all game long. Dallas usually does a good job of limiting their opponents but they've also given up some mammoth scoring totals this season. The common denominators of most of those high-scoring opponents have been multiple threats on offense, quick ball movement, and relentless attack. Portland is capable of playing that kind of game as we saw against New Orleans. They need to start before the fourth quarter this time though.
3. Get back in transition.
4. Move your feet on defense and don't get lazy by committing fouls. This is a great free-throw shooting team that doesn't draw many. Don't help them out.
5. This feels like a Brandon Roy/Lamarcus Aldridge night. We've been getting a lot of contributions from others lately but the platform for this victory will be built on the shoulders of our two bona fide stars.
I'm actually pretty geeked for this game. We owe Dallas one. It also feels more important than the schedule makes it seem.
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