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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Dallas Mavericks Preview

The Blazers are in Texas this weekend for a back-to-back set of games, starting tonight against the Dallas Mavericks.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (34-16, No. 4 in the West) vs. Dallas Mavericks (34-18, No. 5 in the West)
Saturday, February 7
American Airlines Center; Dallas, TX | 5:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Joel Freeland, Chris Kaman (questionable) | Out for the Mavericks: Rajon Rondo
SBN Affiliate: Mavs Moneyball Timmay's Viewing Guide | Blazer's Edge Night

The Blazers kick off a back-to-back set of games in Texas tonight against the Dallas Mavericks. Point guard Rajon Rondo won't be available, as he suffered two fractures in his face during last week's win over the Magic.

The Mavericks employ a flex-motion offense that emphasizes ball movement to create open looks, particularly around the perimeter. With Rondo out, point guard J.J. Barea is running the show, along with starting backcourt mate Monta Ellis.

Dallas has looked pretty good offensively lately, at or near the top of the league the last five games in points and assists per game, along with field goal and three-point shooting percentages. They're not a super fast-paced team, but the Mavs will get out on the fast break if given the opportunity.

Ellis generates a lot of Dallas' offense with either his scoring or passing. He can get to the rim where he's a great finisher, also kicking it out to teammates via his penatration. Ellis' jumper is solid right now, and most of his offense is created off the dribble. Over the last several games, he's also shot from outside slightly better than he has all season, up to 36.4 percent the last five games.

The Mavs' two starting forwards -- Chandler Parsons and Dirk Nowitzki -- are both on fire right now from deep, each one hitting 45.5 percent of his three-pointers the last couple weeks. Parsons is also taking it to the hole quite frequently, and he's been able to hit over 71 percent of his attempts at the rim the last five games. Curiously, though, he's unable to score inside just a few feet further from the basket.

When Nowitzki's not burying threes off the catch, he opts for the midrange, where he's been decent. He rarely takes the ball all the way to the rim anymore these days. The last time these two teams met three months ago, Nowitzki finished just 6-of-17 from the floor and 2-of-7 from deep. He'll be rested tonight for the Blazers, as he sat out Thursday against the Kings in the second half of a back-to-back.

Center Tyson Chandler is devastating in pick-and-rolls, able to cut to the rim and finish with authority. He's made 79.5 percent of his field goals the last five games, up from an already-impressive 68.5 percent on the season, and he dropped 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting against Sacramento a couple nights ago. Chandler might be playing his best basketball of the season right now, which is pretty timely considering the Rondo injury.

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle's reserve unit is headlined by forward Al-Farouq Aminu who, while limited offensively, has been in the right place at the right time lately after languishing on the bench for a portion of January. He's not a threat with his jumper but has a decent touch around the rim and scores on plenty of hustle plays, extending possessions for his team with offensive rebounds.

Backup point guard Devin Harris has canned 44.4 percent of his threes the last five games, and he's also an adept passer who rarely turns it over. Forwards Charlie Villanueva and Richard Jefferson played big minutes in the absence of Nowitzki on Thursday night, but one of them is likely to feel the squeeze as the 17-year vet returns to the lineup tonight. You may think Villanueva, with a 34 percent field goal percentage the last five games, would take a backseat to Jefferson, who's nailed 54.2 percent of his field goals and 58.3 percent of his threes in the same span. That said, Carlisle apparently has Villanueva ahead in the rotation, so expect to see a bit more of him than Jefferson, who's shooting much more effectively lately. Forward Greg Smith should play, but he contributes mostly on the glass.

Former Blazer and fan-favorite Raymond Felton, point guard, has been (sort of) moved into the rotation due to Rondo's injury. Carrying season averages of 2.3 points and 1.4 assists into tonight's game, Felton isn't likely to be much of an impact player, especially considering his 14.3 percent shooting percentage the last five games.

The Mavs' defense has been pretty stellar lately, as they've been limiting easy ball movement, causing turnovers and contesting shots well both within and beyond the arc. Chandler is a huge part of how Dallas plays defense, anchoring the team down low. He's not a huge shot-blocker, but does alter opposing teams' shots in the paint and affects plenty of attempts inside.

The Blazers, fresh off a blowout win over the Suns on Thursday night, are looking to go into the All-Star break next Thursday on a high note after losing three straight last week. Against Phoenix, Portland had an uncharacteristic 23 fast break points and 52 points in the paint. Dallas struggles to defend in transition, so the Blazers could find some more success tonight pushing the ball.

Point guard Damian Lillard has missed his last 17 three-point attempts and is shooting 35.6 percent from the field the last five games. Still, he's created some nifty penetration in that time and has been able to convert at the rim convincingly. His 3.2 turnovers the last several games are a bit of a concern, especially against an opportunistic defense like Dallas', but Lillard has also created shots for his teammates lately. The weakest point of the Mav's defense is from the perimeter, so if Lillard is going to have a bounceback game with his outside shooting, now is as good a night as any.

Dallas is All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge's hometown, and he always seems to get up for games against the Mavs.

Remember this game-winner against them a couple years ago?

At any rate, Aldridge has gone on to hit over half his total shots the last five games, including 56.9 percent of his midrange jumpers. The last time these two teams met, he shot 10-of-16 from the floor for 20 points.

Guard Wesley Matthews has hit 40.5 percent of his threes the last several games, but his quiver was nearly empty against Phoenix, as he hit just two of his eight outside attempts. His size advantage over most of Dallas' backcourt could prove advantageous tonight.

Forward Nicolas Batum got back on track -- or at least shot much better than he has lately -- two nights ago against the Suns, hitting 6-of-13 shots. Aminu is a good defender, though, so Batum will have to work for his points against the Mavs. Many are attributing Batum's uptick in play to the return of center Robin Lopez, who generally opens things up for the Blazers with his size. He's a reliable option down low, going 5-for-10 against Phoenix. Watch for the two-man game between Batum and Lopez, particularly when it's initiated from the wing.

Blazers coach Terry Stotts played a short bench rotation of guards Steve Blake and CJ McCollum along with big man Meyers Leonard on Thursday night. Blake hit a three and picked up four assists, but was otherwise quiet. McCollum's aggressiveness and ability to get to the rim powered Portland's offense for a short stretch against Phoenix, as the second-year guard shot 4-for-7 on the night and ended with 12 points. Leonard is now a legit offensive option off the bench, hitting 60 percent of his shots the last five games. He's best right at the rim but also has range that extends beyond the three-point line, which could be useful against a frontcourt like that of Dallas, which only has one true center in Chandler.

Center Chris Kaman didn't see the floor on Thursday and is questionable tonight with a sore back. Guard Will Barton has been ineffective lately and wing Allen Crabbe hasn't picked up much time. Forwards Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson have been used sparingly in Stotts' rotation the last several games.

Portland's defense led the way on Thursday, as the Suns hit just 38.6 percent of their field goals and 26.1 percent of their threes, scoring 44 points in the paint. The Blazers' defense is night-and-day better with Lopez on the court, as a rim protector who hangs back and challenges shots. He'll be huge tonight against Chandler and Ellis, who are both elite pick-and-roll players who can finish strongly at the rim. The Mavs will also throw up plenty of outside shots, so Portland's perimeter defenders need to be ready to cover the three-point line. With Lopez hanging back, the Blazers backcourt defenders can feel more comfortable going over screens and playing aggressively, knowing they have help behind them if they get beat.

The Blazers dominated the boards against the Suns, 57-42, and they've been rebounding pretty well as a team lately. The Mavs aren't a great rebounding team, though Aminu and Chandler are both great individually. Portland should try for offensive rebounds and put-backs for second-chance points, especially when Chandler's not in the game, as Dallas sometimes struggles to clean up the defensive glass.

The Blazers need to be ready for the Mavs' high-octane offense, which takes advantage of the spacing created by its outside shooters and penetration from Ellis. Even if they slow him down, though, Parsons, Nowitzki, Harris, Barea and Jefferson are all good-to-great perimeter shooters. Portland held Nowitzki, Parsons and Ellis to 11-for-43 shooting the last time these two teams met in November, forcing the Mavs into their lowest point total of the season. That's not entirely likely to happen again tonight, however, so the Blazers should have to put up plenty of offense of their own to pick up a win in Dallas.

-- Chris Lucia | | Twitter

Check out a Q&A with Mavs Moneyball discussing tonight's contest.

Sam Tongue's Key Matchup: