Game Time: 5:30 p.m. Pacific TV: CSNNW
After a mostly-successful home stand the Portland Trail Blazers hit the road tonight to visit the World Champion Dallas Mavericks. Granted, few people think that appellation will apply after June, 2012 but the Mavericks are still 31-24, 6th in the Western Conference while the Blazers sit at 26-29, good for 11th place. Simple math tabs these teams as being 5 losses apart but the gulf between them might as well be the Grand Canyon tonight. Dallas is sporting a nearly-full veteran roster (Jason Kidd has a groin injury and will miss the game), a shiny 20-9 home record, and plenty of confidence. The Blazers field a cobbled-together lineup, a 7-19 road record, and a "Let's see what happens" attitude towards every game. Long story short: if Dallas wants this game they'll be able to take it. The Blazers have to hope something goes wrong in Mavericks-land and then get on a confidence/energy-building roll themselves. Even then they have to hope it's not close down the stretch with Dirk Nowitzki providing the difference. It's a tall order for Portland. They'll need plenty of help to win.
Not that Dallas has been bulletproof this season. Far from it. They're having trouble scoring, lacking points in the paint, fast breaks, free-throw attempts...anything resembling an easy shot. Their shooting percentage and three-point percentage are bottom-third in the league. Their free-throw shooting is only average even when they get the attempts. Their offensive rebounding is non-existent. "Anemic" is the best word to describe this offense. They lack the sheen their championship status implies. It comes out occasionally, but mostly it's buried under the patina of mediocrity. Their only claim to fame on offense is that they don't turn over the ball much. But with all the labored sets, they might as well. The clank of the rim plus no rebound is a turnover by default.
Their defense looks slightly better. They give up fast break points, as you'd expect from an older team. But their points in the paint allowed are quite modest and they're downright parsimonious with their shooting percentage and three-point percentage allowed. They force steals, block shots...they make you think and they make you work. They're also quite good at rebounding on the defensive end. It's not that they have more energy or athleticism when defending. They just play basic and smart...pretty much what's required of a winning team.
Dirk Nowitzki has recovered from his early-season nosedive and is now shooting respectable percentages and scoring 21 per game. Jason Terry, as always, is his second at 15 per game. After that the roster starts looking pale. Shawn Marion and Vince Carter average 11 and 10 respectively. Nobody else is in double digits, though to be fair Rick Carlisle plays 10 guys in the regular rotation and the shots get spread around. Still, for every bright spot like Brandan Wright and Ian Mahinmi there's an underachiever like Lamar Odom or Rodrigue Beaubois. Stack it all together and you have a good team on some nights, average on others. Still, with the Blazers like a box of chocolates (you never know what you're going to get) average might be enough.
If Portland hopes to play Evel Kneivel and leap the Grand-Canyon-sized gulf between these two squads, energy will be the key. They need to run on the Mavs when possible, taking advantage of the dual lack of offensive rebounding and transition defense. They need to make make Dallas pay for defending with Brendan Haywood inside instead of Tyson Chandler. Plus they need to hit those floor-spreading outside shots they've been canning lately at home. If all of that goes right, the Blazers have a chance. Given the weird lineup and limbo-esque situation the Blazers are in, a chance against the champs on the road is good enough.
Mavs Moneyball will have your Dallas perspective.
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