Update (10:17 AM): ESPNDallas.com reports that Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki has been ruled out for tonight.
Update (11:01 AM): The Blazers also report that center Joel Przybilla will play after missing the last two weeks with an ankle sprain.
Game Time: 5:30 p.m. Pacific TV: CSNNW
Fresh off a passel of nice wins versus Western Conference opponents the Blazers head on a short Texas road trip, facing the Dallas Mavericks tonight. The last time these two teams played (just two weeks ago) the Blazers played a sloppy first half but then took advantage of Dallas' tendency to drop leads like the Easter Bunny drops candy, streaking back in the second half to make it a game. Portland's inability to defend Dirk Nowitzki in the final, critical plays of the game proved their undoing but the game was closer than expected, and this at a time when the Blazers weren't playing as well as they are currently. Dallas' current injuries provide further hope for the Blazers. Dirk Nowitzki has missed four games with a bum knee but is expected to return tonight. After ripping tendons in his knee, Caron Butler is not. Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and Tyson Chandler provide plenty of support provided Nowitzki plays. They're not enough to buoy the team on their own if he doesn't.
The 2010-11 Mavericks trade on being decent at just about everything. They're pretty good defenders, pretty good rebounders, pretty good scorers. They don't make many points in the paint, draw fouls, or even shoot threes all that well, yet their high field goal percentage makes up for the lack of easy points and extra points like. They're not dominant, but they're professional and more than good enough to beat the Blazers...again, as long as Nowitzki plays. Dallas does suffer from an old bugaboo, though: if you out-hustle them and want the game more, they'll probably let you have it. Playing smoothly and effectively does not always equate to winning.
The key to beating the Mavs, at least as far as the Blazers are concerned, has always been Nowitzki control. In Portland losses he's usually peppering the net with jumpers, looking unstoppable. In Portland wins he's having a hard time getting clear of LaMarcus Aldridge, having a hard time dribbling around Nicolas Batum, or getting swarmed with double teams, forced to watch his teammates miss. Control the head and the body will follow. The Blazers will need to solve Dirk tonight and press their point incessantly to have a chance.
As long as they play with the same continuity we've seen in the last week or so, the Blazers do have that chance. Their airtight rebounding and perimeter defense should play well against a jump-shooting team. The Blazers never give up a ton of fastbreak points, don't foul outside, and Dallas won't prosecute the comparatively weak interior defense the Blazers sport. Thus the footing between the two teams isn't as uneven as the records (25-8 versus 18-16) indicate. Dallas will probably win, but the Blazers shouldn't give up until the final buzzer sounds. This team isn't insurmountable. Right now they're not even that intimidating. If the Blazers can paste some hurt on them, it should be an interesting night.
See the fine writing over at Mavs Moneyball.
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