The Dallas Mavericks cruise into town tonight in a game televised on CSNNW beginning at 7:00 p.m. Here's what you need to know about the Mavs: win or lose, they're in the business of scoring points. They've topped 100 in 8 straight games now, exceeding 110 in 5 of those contests.
The Mavericks like the fast break, 3rd in the league in that category. They're less accomplished in points in the paint when you consider the entire season, but in this recent run they've surpassed their season average every game, including multiple 50-point efforts in the paint. They're pretty good jump shooters, their big men can convert. If they lack anything it's an explosive, off-the-dribble guy getting to the rim. All the ball-handlers are heavy on perimeter action. But hey, if they convert them...
Dirk Nowitzki, 17 games on returning from injury, is struggling...one of the only Mavs falling short. Points, rebounds, free throws drawn are all down by per-minute and per-game standards. Field goal, three-point, and free throw percentages have fallen precipitously. He's not scored more than 20 points this year. 4 of his best 6 scoring outings were losses for the Mavs.
Fortunately Nowitzki's teammates developed identity and confidence without him which they've salvaged to this point. O.J. Mayo is their break-out guy, shooting 46% from the field, 42% from the arc, scoring 18 per game. Fellow starter Darren Collison shoots a respectable 48% and 38%, though he's not taking many shots or racking up assists. The ball spends too much time out of his hands so he can't shine beyond the occasional hot streak. Still, for a mostly jump-shooting pair these guys do well.
Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, and Dahntay Jones platoon at small forward. Marion and Carter are about what you'd expect: old, but smart enough to make up for it, at least on offense. Marion is also a good rebounder.
Nowitzki plays power forward but the Mavericks field a melange of bigs alongside him. Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, and Bernard James started their last three games. Brandan Wright, returning from a quad injury, is in the mix as well. Kaman may be the most dangerous to the Blazers because of the combination of size, experience, and offensive ability. The others are converted power fowards against whom J.J. Hickson should be able to match up. It's a quantity over quality corps at this point, but the depth alone could spell trouble for the Blazers if those "centers" make it their mission to pound Hickson into fatigue.
Dallas' big issue is that all of these guys are either old, offensive-minded players, or both. Their best offensive players aren't able to produce as they once did, certainly not enough to make up for the lack of defense and rebounding. The Mavs keep the paint fairly clean but the cost is leaving the three-point arc open. They're often slow in transition defense as well. Continuing the theme of "not quite quick enough anymore" they foul more than most anybody in the league. Nor are they great rebounders overall.
This is where the plan falls apart for them. They've scored 100 and 110 consistently in the last few weeks, but they also need to score 100 and 110 consistently to keep the 6-2 record they've posted in that span. Otherwise the record looks more like, well...19-25 (their overall record with that streak included).
The Trail Blazers have to realize that even with some decent offensive players in the fold, the Mavs' offense isn't that efficient overall. Portland will need to get back in transition to cut off their easy looks. Taking care of the ball is an obvious corollary. If the Blazers can manage those two things, the only ingredient left is to avoid giving Dallas tons of shots...the quantity over quality theme extended to offensive possessions. Make them work for their buckets, don't give them offensive rebounds (or those extra possessions via turnovers). They might shoot well but they won't score enough to put the game out of reach. Then the Blazers look to their own offense, Dallas' inability to move or defend the arc, and possibilities open up.
This game will feature fascinating matchups across the board. You can't swing a cat without hitting an intriguing question. Which starting backcourt will prove more potent? How will Nicolas Batum fare against those veteran players...still a vulnerability of his? Aldridge-Nowitzki needs no explanation. How about Hickson against the four-headed center? You even get Coach Terry Stotts against his most recent team. For that reason alone this game will be worth watching.
If we see the energetic, unselfish Blazers squad we've marked during wins and good games, this could turn into a win as well despite Dallas' current streak. Portland has the ability to hit the Mavericks where they're weak. But if we see a Cleveland/Washington/Toronto kind of effort, prepare for Dallas to put up 116 and walk off with the victory. Portland doesn't have the depth or raw offensive ability to keep up with that kind of scoring.
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