Portland Trail Blazers (40-19, No. 3 in the West)
Thursday, March 5
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:30 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: TNT; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: | Out for the Mavericks: Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler (probable)
SBN Affiliate: Mavs Moneyball | Timmay's Viewing Guide | Blazer's Edge Night
From time to time, Blazer's Edge collaborates with blogs that cover other NBA teams to get an in-depth view of Trail Blazers opponents from the people who follow them most. Today we'd like to welcome Mavs Moneyball contributor Bailey Rogers to preview tonight's Blazers-Mavericks matchup.
Blazer's Edge: We all knew that Rajon Rondo probably wouldn't be a seamless integration into Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle's offense, but I think it's fair to say that most predicted better on-court results at this point. The win-loss column hasn't been drastically affected, but Dallas went from No. 1 in the NBA in Offensive Rating before the trade in mid-December to No. 10 since. How big of a deal is this? Do you think the Mavs will be able to get their offense completely sorted out by the playoffs?
Bailey Rogers: While there are a healthy contingent of us who are really hard on Rajon Rondo's offensive game, the honest answer is that we really don't have enough information to answer this question. Since the trade, Rondo, Tyson Chandler, and Chandler Parsons have all missed multiple games due to injury, and there is a sense that Monta Ellis also has some lingering issues from a hip strain last month. Throw all that on top of Rondo being dropped into a new system mid-season and butting heads with his coach, and of course the offense is going to suffer some.
All in all, having the 10th best offense in the NBA is nothing to sneeze at. And the defensive improvement has been drastic. Over the past month, Dallas has one of the NBA's best defenses, and that certainly was never going to be the case pre-Rondo. Not all of that is attributable to Rondo alone, but his presence, however challenging, has clearly been a net asset. Having one of the best offenses of all time is a ton of fun, but it won't necessarily get you anywhere in the playoffs.
So to answer the question, I don't think it is a big deal. The team is less fun to watch perhaps, but from a big picture standpoint, Dallas is in a much better place in terms of making noise in the playoffs. And there's good reason to believe that once everyone is healthy and Rondo gets settled in, the offense will improve. Dallas has been as disjointed and uncomfortable on offense as I've seen them in a very long time, and they are still putting up a ton of points. So there's definitely hope.
BE: Dirk Nowitzki is still a very productive power forward, but his numbers have slightly fallen off across the board as he's gotten further into his 30s. What is his role in Carlisle's offense at this stage? Is Monta Ellis now the top-dog in Dallas?
BR: Offensively, yes, Monta is the top dog now. Monta leads the team in scoring and is second behind Rondo in assists. However, his role may not quite be the same with Rondo around. It has been something of a struggle to figure out how two ball-dominant guards work together in an offense, and the injuries aren't helping that get figured out. Regardless, Monta has had 8 games this season in which he scored 30 or more points, and more often than not when the Mavs need points at the end of the game, Monta is the guy they turn to.
As for Dirk, he acts more as a decoy than ever before in his career. While his numbers are down a bit this season, he still gets more than a few double teams. Defenders still fear him. And he is still an excellent weapon in the pick and roll and pick and pop, especially with Monta Ellis. And that's primarily his roll in the offense now. Just the threat of Dirk still tends to suck the defense in a bit and allows his teammates more opportunities around him. However, he will still take full advantage if a smaller defender gets switched on him, and Dallas does sometimes force him the ball more if the offense is slumping.
One other thing to point out is that Dirk is playing fewer minutes than ever before in his career, so that accounts for a portion of his decreased stats, He's gone through a couple of pretty major slumps as well, but has been playing really well lately. If the Mavs need to lean on him against Portland, you can expect him to be the same old Dirk, more or less.
BE: The Mavericks sometimes struggle to grab rebounds. The Blazers, on the other hand, are usually pretty solid on the boards. Tyson Chandler is questionable for the matchup as of this writing...do you think Dallas can compete with Portland on the glass? Who will be the players to watch if Chandler does indeed miss the game?
BR: Tyson is officially probable for this game, so I feel a lot better about the Mavs' chances on the boards. Behind Tyson, Dallas essentially gets rebounds by committee, with 7 different guys getting between 4 and 6 rebounds a night. Two of Dallas's better rebound-getters are Al-Farouq Aminu and Rondo. Everyone knows that Rondo is one of the best rebounding guards in the NBA, though he is averaging 3 rebounds a game less than he was earlier this season in Boston. Aminu is easily my favorite Mav off the bench, and this is largely because of his energy and tenacity. The stats don't quite show it, but it really feels like he is always pulling down offensive rebounds at just the moments Dallas needs them most. Amar'e Stoudemire is a guy who also has the potential to get some big boards. He was averaging almost 7 a game in New York, but is still finding his role in Dallas.
Overall, I would say the most likely scenario is that Portland wins the rebounding battle, but not by much unless Tyson's minutes are severely limited. Something interesting to look for is offensive rebounds. Dallas is prone to giving them up, but Tyson Chandler is also the master of the tap out.
BE: Dallas dropped 24 fastbreak points on the Blazers the last time the two teams met, winning 111-101 in OT. The Mavs have played at a fairly average pace since Rondo joined the team..should we expect Dallas to again push the tempo tonight, or were they just being opportunistic with Portland's 22 turnovers in the last matchup?
BR: Since adding Rondo, Dallas's pace seems almost entirely dependent on turnovers. For all the issues there have been integrating Rondo into Carlisle's offense, the team is fantastic on the fast break. If the Blazers give up 20+ turnovers again, expect a similar result. Rondo, Monta, and Devin Harris are all excellent facilitators in transition, and Tyson, Aminu, and Amar'e can all throw it down. Add to that Dirk, Richard Jefferson, and (in spots) Charlie Villanueva, all of whom can knock down a catch-and-shoot transition three-pointer, and the Mavs are downright deadly if you cough the ball up. Hell, even Dirk had a killer transition dunk last week.
On the flip side, if Dallas isn't getting turnovers, expect the pace to be slower. As a general rule, the post-Rondo Mavs are much more of a grind-it-out defensive team than the high-octane version of the team that had everyone talking earlier this season. "Opportunistic" is a good word to describe the Mavs, and many of the Mavs' perimeter players have a penchant for poking the ball out. This is a team that seems to genuinely enjoy forcing turnovers, and they will look to do so as much as possible.
BE: How has Carlisle's bench rotation looked since the Rondo trade? It looks like he goes about nine or 10-deep most games, with a few fringe contributors getting minutes here and there. Which reserves should the Blazers watch out for tonight?
BR: As I mentioned in an earlier response, the Mavs have had some major injuries to overcome while also trying to integrate two pretty big acquisitions in Rondo and Stoudemire. So it's hard to really say anything about Carlisle's bench rotation yet. Devin Harris, Al-Farouq Aminu, Richard Jefferson, and Amar'e Stoudemire will all play a good chunk of minutes. Expect Jefferson to start in place of Chandler Parsons, who will be out against the Blazers. J.J. Barea and Charlie Villanueva may also get some burn when Dallas needs an offensive spark off the bench. And expect at least one whacky, "really what on earth is he doing here" lineup from Carlisle.
As for who to look out for, Harris and Aminu are Carlisle's best bench weapons. Harris has been on fire lately and has really fed off of the pick and roll with Amar'e Stoudemire. Harris backs up both guard spots, so you could see him next to either Monta or Rondo, and Carlisle will sometimes even go with all three. Aminu is the energy guy. Lineups with him and Tyson Chandler are Dallas's best defensive units, and the team just seems to try that much harder when he is on the court. As an example of the kind of influence Aminu can have, check out what he did against Houston a couple of weeks ago: 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks, while defending James Harden, Josh Smith, and multiple others. Dude is genuinely one of my favorite role players to watch in a long time. So watch out!
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
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