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Game 26 Preview: Trail Blazers vs. Mavericks

Game Time:  6:30 p.m. Pacific  TV:  CSNNW and ESPN

With the Blazers coming off of two flat road losses  the 19-5 Mavericks are a tough draw.  They're no longer on a dozen-game winning streak, having fallen to the Bucks on Monday.  A second straight home loss to a mediocre team is not on their agenda. 

The Dallas lineup will look familiar to anyone who's seen them play the last couple of seasons.  Dirk Nowitzki leads the team in minutes and shot attempts and carries the highest shooting percentage outside of the low-post centers.  Jason Terry, Caron Butler, and Shawn Marion support him.  The Mavs don't get full production out of either of the small forwards but each remains a threat, particularly against intermittently-played defense.  Jason Kidd and Jose Juan Barea man the point.  Kidd is having a fine year, Barea not so much.  DeShawn Stevenson plays shooting guard and is focusing more on his distance game.  Erick Dampier has departed but Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood fill the center minutes, Chandler turning in extraordinary rebounding efforts and defending, Haywood mostly rebounding.  That 9-man rotation is strong enough that you recognize every name without much explanation.  They've been playing like it too.

Unlike last-gen Dallas teams these Mavericks don't rely solely on offense to win.  They're in the middle of the pack in fast break points, dead last in points in the paint scored.  Their overall field goal percentage is high but their three-point percentage is mediocre and their number of foul shots drawn bad.  They're only scoring 98.8 per game.   But they're also 5th in the league in field goal percentage allowed and right down the middle in most other significant defensive categories.  They're not stocked with stoppers but they're not the pushovers they once were.

The key to Portland's performance against Dallas has always been handling Nowitzki.  If the Blazers can single-cover him with Aldridge most of the time they're able to keep a lid on the Mavs.  As soon as help is required he either makes a move before the defender gets there or uses his height to pass the ball around them.  At that point everybody scores and the Blazers are toast.  Portland's best chance at a win is making Kidd/Barea or Butler/Marion become the offensive focus.  Outside of Barea they can handle it but the team suffers when they try.  The Mavericks don't cover the three that well.  Yet again that's a Portland wildcard.  The Blazers shoot poorly from distance overall but they have guys who can make it and spread the floor.  On a lucky night...

The other thing the Blazers have going for them is their tendency to win the toughest games just when you think they're down for the count.   They lose to Washington and Philly but play Boston tough and beat Orlando.  Everything points to a loss for Portland today, which is usually the sign that it'll be closer than you think.  That's a pretty thin thread on which to hang hope, but it's what the Blazers have right now.

See the excellent writing at Mavs Moneyball.

Enter tonight's Jersey Contest form over here.

--Dave (