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Game 28 Preview: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Dallas Mavericks

Game Time: 5:30 p.m. TV: CSNNW

The Portland Trail Blazers face the World Champions tonight. Given the course of Portland's season you'd expect that to be a tall order. It probably still is, but the Mavericks aren't in any better position than the Blazers right now. Their home record is an anemic 9-5. Their overall record puts them on a par with Portland.

The unimpressive (given the standards) start has been directly attributable to a couple of factors. Superstar Dirk Nowitzki has so far treated the season more like a victory lap than a quest to repeat. His production has dropped precipitously...per minute, per game, it's been bad in every category. His scoring has dropped from 23 per game to below 18. His shooting percentage has plunged from 52% to 46%. His three-point percentage was 39% last year. It's 21% this year. You read that right. Dallas fans used to chant "MVP" every time he took the floor. Now they're chanting new initials. The first two are "WT..." You can fill in the last. On the upside he's had three straight impressive games, so maybe he's back in gear. If not the Mavericks aren't going anywhere no matter what the rest of the roster reads.

Tyson Chandler, the backstop of Dallas' defense, is now in New York. Brendan Haywood rebounds better and has a more varied offensive attack but he's not the defender or intimidating force Chandler was. Ian Mahinmi is hit and miss at center. They're OK at center but not anywhere near as potent as they were with Chandler.

Dallas' smaller players fare better. Jason Terry and Shawn Marion are reliable enough at shooting guard and small forward, though Marion is missing the incredible touch from the field he showed last season. Both can connect on threes to spread the floor, as can Vince Carter and Delonte West. They're certainly not challenged for alternate scorers. Though none of these players retain the vigor or production of their youth it's pretty certain at least a couple of them will be in tune on any given night.

The Mavs had reasonable hopes for Lamar Odom, considering he was 6th Man of the Year last season with the Lakers. This year he's apparently going for 10th Man of the Year, shooting a wretched 35% from the field (almost 20% lower than last year's average), grabbing fewer rebounds...heck, the best way to explain it is his PER going from 19.4 to 9.8. That's like failing art class: theoretically possible but pretty hard to do.

Also somewhat disappoint has been young guard Rodrigue Beaubois, With each of his three years his minutes have increased while his production decreased. Defense has been his only area of improvement after his promising rookie season. He's neither consistent nor productive enough to trust, especially with veterans ahead of him at his position. No doubt the Mavericks still have hopes for him but either the mix or the player is wrong.

Brandan Wright has had a few good games and provides counterpoint to the disappointment of Odom and Beaubois. Portland will need to watch his energy.

And that's been typical of Dallas' start. The names are right. Talent, if a little aged, is plentiful. But confusion at the top of the rotation and rot at the bottom are exposing, rather than covering up for, the weaknesses of the guys in the middle.

Unsurprisingly last year's highly-efficient offense has become middle-of-the-road this season. The Mavericks aren't scoring in the paint and are only average on the break. Lack of any dependable attack in the middle, either in the post or off the dribble, has left them relying on the jumper. That's OK when the ball moves and the right people receive it but too often they're stuck shooting deep bail-out shots. Despite the four good three-point shooters mentioned above the Mavericks are only 21st in the league in three-point percentage and they take a bunch of them. They're only fair drawing foul shots. They don't rebound on the offensive end. They're just not getting enough easy buckets, enough extra points, enough extra chances to generate a dominant offense.

On defense the Dallas philosophy is simple: they want you away from the rim. They'll let you shoot all the threes you want. They'll let you pull up too. You can get past their exterior defenders for a step or two but they'll collapse on you before you hit the paint. They want a shot over their heads and a rebound in their hands. They get steals, a few blocks, and they also commit fouls in the process. It's basic old-man, conserving energy, play the percentages defense. It's not a bad scheme though. They're the 7th most efficient defense in the league...far better than their offensive standing.

Like Portland, Dallas is playing their second game of a back-to-back with travel. Like Dallas, Portland has chronic weaknesses and always battles the temptation to succumb to stagnation. Either team has the talent to play great. Neither team does on a consistent basis. This game may come down to energy, one team exploiting and tiring out the other. Whichever team comes out with fire, vicious rebounding, an effective driving attack, and the capacity to hit a few jumpers will have an enormous advantage. Your guess is as good as mine which that will be. Likely Dallas, I suppose, but it doesn't have to be that way if the Blazers are willing to play.

MavsMoneyball will have your Dallas look.

You can find the Jersey Contest form for this game here.

--Dave (