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Game 79 Preview: Mavericks vs. Blazers

Game Time:  7:00 p.m. Pacific  TV:  Comcast and NBA TV

The Blazers just played the Mavericks a couple weeks ago.  If you need a glimpse into what kind of team Dallas is you can check out the preview for that game here.  The updates:  Dallas is now 51-27, they've lost 2 of their last 3 but won three straight before that, making their trend 4 of 6 in the win column.  Shawn Marion sat out their last game with an oblique strain and is listed as day-to-day.

Who the Mavericks are and their recent trends may not be as telling tonight as what this game means to them.  They're in a nasty, deadlocked, four-way race for the 2nd through 5th seeds in the playoffs.  Portland has beaten the Mavs in all of their previous contests this season.  Dallas may end up facing the Blazers in the playoffs.  Even if they don't they need to show themselves and the world that they can win against anyone.  Walking out of here with another loss to Portland would be a psychological blow and a hit in the standings.  Dallas is going to want this win pretty badly.

A victory tonight could also do great things for the Blazers.  Yes, vanquising the Mavericks for the season would be a feather in Portland's cap.  But this win would also help the Blazers in their own playoff seeding race in ways both obvious and subtle.  Portland is neck and neck with San Antonio and Oklahoma City in the standings.  A win gets them closer to the top of that pile.  A win tonight also guarantees that Monday's game against the Thunder will mean everything in the battle between the two teams.

Portland and OKC are exactly even in the standings.  Portland holds a 2-1 series lead against the Thunder with Monday's game left.  Portland has two games this weekend:  Dallas tonight and the L*kers in L.A. on Sunday.  The Thunder have two games as well:  Phoenix at home tonight and the Warriors by the Bay on Sunday.  If the Blazers win tonight there's no way Oklahoma City can run ahead in the standings no matter what else happens.  If the Blazers go 1-1 over the weekend the Thunder would only move a single game ahead even if they won both of their games.  In that case the Blazers would pull them back into a tie with a win on Monday.  At that point Portland would also own the tiebreaker 3-1 and the Blazers would only need to defeat Golden State at home in the final game of the season to guarantee they'd finish ahead of Oklahoma City, and thus out of the fatal 8th spot, in the seeding race.   The only way Monday's game loses its luster is if the Blazers lose both games this weekend while the Thunder win both of theirs.  A victory tonight is the easiest way to prevent that from happening.

In short, this game means a ton to both teams.  It ought to be something special.  The Blazers need to play like their destinies are on the line, earn their way forward, and take advantage of this opportunity.  In times like this you look to your key players:  Roy, Aldridge, Miller with helping hands from Camby and Batum.  The big question mark will be whether anybody off of Portland's bench can make headway against a relatively deep Dallas squad.  But this will be played like a playoff game, which probably includes playoff rotations.  Portland had a day off before this game and has another off after.   If six guys take all the minutes, so be it.  Whoever can help us win needs to play.  The pressure comes off Sunday's game in L.A. then and everybody can prepare mentally for Monday's titanic contest.

This is it.  You play all year to put yourself in position to play the kind of meaningful games Portland will see in the next four days.  Let's hope the Blazers are ready.

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--Dave (