Portland Trail Blazers (36-35) vs Dallas Mavericks (35-35)
Wednesday, March 23
Moda Center | 7:00 p.m. PDT | Local TV/Radio: KGW; 620 AM
Portland injury report: Meyers Leonard (Out - Shoulder), Allen Crabbe (Probable - Illness | Dallas injury report: Jeremy Evans (Out - Shoulder), Chandler Parsons (Out - Knee surgery)
SBN Affiliate: Mavs Moneyball
The Portland Trail Blazers face off against the Dallas Mavericks tonight in the Moda Center. Today's game will be the second in four nights between these teams - the Mavs won the previous contest in Dallas on Sunday night 132-120.
The game on Sunday was highlighted by a throwback 40-point performance from 18-year veteran Dirk Nowitzki. He dazzled the Dallas crowd with a variety of trademark rainbow fall-aways over virtually every player on the Portland roster. With the scoring outbreak, Nowitzki joined an exclusive club, becoming the first player since Karl Malone in 2003 to score 40 or more points after his 37th birthday.
Only 4 players over the last 50 years 37 or older have scored 40 points in a game - Jordan, Kareem, Malone and now Dirk— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 20, 2016
On the other side of the ball, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Allen Crabbe combined for 72 of the Blazers' 120 points. Mason Plumlee chipped in 14 points and 19 rebounds.
Since Sunday's game, the Mavericks have announced that Chandler Parsons will undergo knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus and will miss the rest of the season. The Mavericks signed Parsons in 2014, expecting him to continue his emergence as a fringe All-Star. Instead Parsons has largely been a disappointment this season, averaging only 13.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in 61 games.
For the Blazers, Crabbe is officially listed as probable with an upper respiratory infection. Luis Montero and Cliff Alexander have re-joined the team after a successful stint with the D-League's Santa Cruz Warriors.
Given that the teams already played this week we will not be writing a traditional preview. If you'd like a full breakdown of the matchup check out Peter Sampson's game preview and Dave Deckard's postgame analysis from Sunday.
In lieu of the usual full preview, here are three storylines to watch tonight, and a quick rundown of playoff implications:
How will the Blazers guard Nowitzki?
Much to the chagrin of some fans, the Blazers spent three quarters willingly switching on pick-and-rolls involving Dirk Nowitzki on Sunday. That led to eight field goal attempts with McCollum, Lillard, Crabbe, or Gerald Henderson as a primary defender. Not surprisingly, Nowitzki shot effortlessly over the shorter Blazers.
Late in the game Blazers Coach Terry Stotts did switch up his strategy and had Al-Farouq Aminu stay on Nowitzki in pick-and-roll situations. But Nowitzki is a master of sliding into the open spot on the court, and regularly punished the Blazers when Aminu failed to recover quickly after a screen. Aminu doesn't have to get up on Dirk like he's guarding Curry, but he will certainly need to keep better track of the big German tonight.
There's also the matter of figuring out who to use to cover Nowitzki while Aminu is out of the game. Ed Davis and Mason Plumlee are big enough and probably capable enough, but the Blazers will lose rebounding presence sending either of those players to the perimeter. Terry Stotts tried Moe Harkless at times on Sunday, but Harkless struggled mightily to hang with Nowizki off the ball. Noah Vonleh was similarly in over his head.
Have other teams started to adjust to Aminu's below average-ish 3-point shooting?
Aminu shoots only 34 percent on 3-point attempts this season when the defender is more than four feet away and only 30.2 percent when the defender is more than six feet away.
The Mavericks tailored their game plan around that stat by having their players nearly ignore Aminu on the perimeter. This led to congestion in the lane, which impacted the penetration of Portland's guards. Observe this series where Wesley Matthews slides away from Aminu and becomes an extra defender in the lane:
The extra interior defender leads to a pass-off for a missed three on the first play, and a blocked layup attempt on the second play.
Matthews would also sag off when Aminu had the ball on the perimeter, basically becoming a "free safety" who could disrupt passing lanes. Watch Matthews on this play; He's more concerned with disrupting cutters than Aminu's shot even though he's playing several feet off the ball:
Seeing how Stotts adjusts to teams catching on to Aminu's shooting weakness will be an ongoing subplot as the season concludes.
Who plays at center for the Mavericks?
The Mavericks have experimented with their center rotation in recent weeks. After a successful early season, former starter Zaza Pachulia has fallen out of the rotation in favor of smallball lineups featuring David Lee or Dirk Nowitzki at center and Chandler Parsons at power forward.
But Rick Carlisle debuted a new option against the Blazers on Sunday: Salah Mejri. The first Tunisian player in NBA history acquitted himself well, collecting 13 points, 14 rebounds, and six blocks in 33 minutes. His primary strengths are rim protection and rebounding which Carlisle used to further clog the lane for Portland's cutters and drivers. Stotts may look into various small ball lineups tonight that could spread the court and mitigate the effectiveness of Mejri.
By virtue of victories in the first two of three games between these teams, the Mavericks have already won the head-to-head tiebreaker if Portland and Dallas finish the season in a two-way tie. However, tonight's matchup is a conference game and so it could become relevant for tiebreakers against teams Portland split the seasons series with (i.e. Grizzlies and Rockets). Dallas can also clinch a win in any three-way tiebreakers involving the Blazers and a third team with a win tonight.
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