The Mavericks come in at 3-1, their lone loss of the year coming by one point to the Spurs on opening night. Since then, Dallas has defeated the Jazz, Pelicans and Celtics, its offense humming along in spectacular fashion.
Just how good is the Mavericks offense this year? Hal Brown, editor of Mavs Moneyball, looked at Dallas' first four games of the season and, after acknowledging the small sample-size, extrapolated several stats to predict how efficient this Mavericks offense could be.
As it turns out, Brown wrote, Dallas could be on pace to finish with a historically productive offense:
Four games into the season, the Mavs have scored an absolutely insane, league-leading, 118.1 points per 100 possessions. For reference, the best offense in the league last season -- the Clippers -- scored 109 points per 100 possessions, all per NBA.com/stats. That number will come down eventually, but right now, it's just stupid.
The Mavericks are the highest-scoring team in the NBA right now, with an average of 111.8 points per game -- 2.3 points more than the next best scoring team, the Warriors -- and are shooting a scorching 52.4 percent from the field, also tops in the league.
The leading scorer for the Mavs this season is 36-year-old power forward Dirk Nowitzki, who, in between recording a rap song with teammates Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons, refined his shooting release this past summer in order to get shots off quicker.
Nowitzki's offseason work on his shot has paid dividends four games into the season, as he's scored 20.8 points on 57.9 percent field goal shooting so far, including 42.9 percent from deep. Over half of Nowitzki's offense comes in catch-and-shoot situations, much of it coming in the midrange, where he's made almost 64 percent of his field goal attempts. In three games against the Blazers last year, Nowitzki averaged 23.3 points on 45.8 percent shooting from the floor.
Ellis, starting at shooting guard, has been trying to shake the label of an inefficient scorer since he signed with the Mavericks in the summer of 2013. So far this year, he's been horrible at shooting from outside but has limited his three-point attempts to just 1.3 a game, and has been taking about a third of his shots from 10-15 feet out, with the rest mostly coming in the key. Ellis hasn't finished particularly well at the rim, but his floater has been accurate and his jumper reliable, with most of his offense coming off-the-dribble.
Center Tyson Chandler and his backup, Brandan Wright, have been the recipients of solid pick-and-roll action with guards Jameer Nelson and Devin Harris, leading to plenty of lobs to the big men, both of whom are averaging double-figures in scoring. Nelson and Harris are shooting 44.4 and 40.9 percent, respectively, from deep this year.
Parsons, small forward, makes his first return of the season to the court where he allowed Blazers point guard Damian Lillard enough space to hit a series-winning three-pointer with 0.9 seconds left in Game 6 of Portland's first-round matchup with the Rockets last spring. Parsons has been a big part of Dallas' offense since signing with the team in July, averaging 18.8 points on 50 percent field goal shooting and 44.4 percent from deep this season.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle's bench rotation of Wright, Harris, guard J.J. Barea and forwards Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson has been among the league's most productive offensively, averaging 37 points a night.
After a couple of tough losses last week, the Blazers took out the Cavaliers Tuesday night while Lillard had his best game of the season, registering 27 points, seven assists and six rebounds after a slow start to the year. In three games against Dallas last season, Lillard often deferred to power forward LaMarcus Aldridge on offense, taking only a dozen shots a game.
Aldridge averaged 26.3 points and 14 rebounds in three games against the Mavs last year. In four 2014-15 outings, Aldridge has been an efficient scorer at the rim, in the key and from the midrange, where two-thirds of his shot attempts come from. Expect a big night again from the three-time All-Star, because Aldridge is always fired up to face the Mavericks, a team that plays in his hometown of Dallas.
The Blazers featured their best ball movement of the year in the 19-point win over the Cavs Tuesday night, thanks in large part to wings Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum.
Matthews, who's carried a huge portion of Portland's offensive load this season, has made 54.5 percent of his field goals and scored 19.3 points a night through the Blazers' first four games. Most likely matching up against Ellis and Harris in the backcourt tonight -- both stand 6-foot-3 -- it's probably safe to expect a decent amount of postups from Matthews. He largely struggled against the Mavs last year, though, and will have his hands full defensively keeping up with Ellis.
Batum only had seven points Tuesday night, but got his teammates involved with five assists. He shot 52.8 percent from the field against Dallas last year, good for 17.3 points a night in three games. This could be the night Batum wakes up offensively, as the Mavericks are No. 21 in the NBA in team field goal percentage allowed (45.3 percent) and No. 28 at defending the three-point line (40.7 percent).
Blazers center Robin Lopez hit 8-of-11 shots against the Cavs Tuesday night, many of them coming on jumpers outside the paint. That kind of performance shouldn't be expected on a nightly basis from Lopez, but he did establish himself as a respectable weapon if left open by the defense. He should have the attention of the Mavs tonight, a team that has held opponents to 38 points in the paint per game (No. 9 in the NBA) so far this year, but allows opposing teams to score fairly easily otherwise.
Center Chris Kaman, guard Steve Blake, wing Will Barton and forward Thomas Robinson have comprised Blazers coach Terry Stotts' bench rotation the last couple games. Kaman has been the team's most consistent reserve scorer in its first four games, while Blake has largely facilitated others when running the offense and pushes the tempo. Barton and Robinson have had limited field goal attempts -- perhaps both showing a bit more patience with the ball -- and noticeably affect the pace of the game. When Portland was struggling to keep up with forward Tristan Thompson's energy on Tuesday, Stotts inserted Robinson into the game and watched him match Thompson's hustle, helping keep the Blazers close until they eventually pulled away in the final frame.
Portland is the better rebounding team on both sides of the ball, as Dallas is a middling team rebounding under their own basket and the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA. The Blazers should make the Mavs pay tonight by grabbing their own misses and extending possessions, keeping the ball out of the hands of Dallas' high-powered offense as often as possible. Aminu, Chandler and Wright are the Mavericks' best individual rebounders, but their Blazers counterparts are all more effective on the glass. Portland should be able to scoop up plenty of offensive boards tonight against Dallas -- they allow 15 a game -- and score some easy second-chance points, which will be important against a Mavericks offense that leads the league in scoring.
To beat Dallas, the Blazers should feed Aldridge often, get some ball movement going and attack from behind the arc. The Mavs have had no answer for Aldridge in the past, and have been using their elite offensive production to mask a pretty poor defense.
In Dallas' only loss this year, the Spurs launched 28 threes (making half) and had an advantage in both rebounds and assists. The Mavericks might boast the league's most productive offense through four games, but the Blazers are built in a way that should allow them to capitalize on Dallas' defensive weaknesses to keep the game close. For some reason, the Mavericks come out of halftime incredibly slow, so the the Blazers should make every effort to gain as much ground as possible to start the second half.
Crisp ball movement, heady rebounding and solid three-point shooting could help Portland get the win tonight. Without exploiting some of the Mavs' deficiencies, though, Portland will have a tough time trying to contain Carlisle's league-leading offense led by Ellis, Nowitzki and Parsons.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter