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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Dallas Mavericks Preview

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The Blazers look to make it three in a row against a struggling Mavericks team.

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NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (24-21) vs. Dallas Mavericks (15-30)

Saturday, January 20th - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Shabazz Napier (probable)
Mavericks injuries: J.J. Barea (out), Nerlens Noel (out), Seth Curry (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Mavs Moneyball

The Blazers look to keep things rolling against the Mavericks after winning two in a row at home over the Indiana Pacers and Phoenix Suns. The recent home wins are welcomed after a three-game road losing streak.

Dallas comes into the Moda Center with only 15 wins—fewer than all but Sacramento, Atlanta and Orlando. The Mavericks have played better lately, but have lost several close games. After a four-game winning streak to end the year, they are 2-5 in January.

What to watch for

  • An explosive rookie. It looks like the Mavericks have themselves a future star in Dennis Smith Jr., the ninth pick in last year’s draft. The rookie from NC State began his career with a 16-point, 10-assist night in Dallas’ home opener. He’s averaging 14.5 points and 4.5 assists per game this season, but it’s his athleticism that really has Mavs fans excited. Smith Jr. is one of the fastest players in the league and is a candidate to participate in next month’s dunk contest.
  • Harrison Barnes. The former Golden State Warrior leads Dallas in scoring and rebounding with 18.7 and 6.7 per game. Barnes has been consistent, starting all 45 games for the Mavs and scoring in double figures in all but two outings. In his last eight games he’s averaged 20.5 points per game while shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 45.9 percent on 3-pointers.
  • Rebounding discrepancy. The Blazers have been a good rebounding team all season, ranking in the top 10 in total rebounds per game and ranking eighth in rebounding percentage. The Mavericks are one of the worst teams at rebounding the ball this year, ranking in the bottom five in total rebounds per game and dead last in rebounding percentage. Look for Portland to win the battle of the boards.

What they’re saying

Colin Ward-Henninger of CBS Sports ranked Dennis Smith Jr. second in his weekly rookie power rankings:

Stats this week: 24.0 points, 4.0 assists, 2.0 rebounds

Smith’s biggest weakness as a rookie has been his efficiency, and this week we got a glimpse of the kind of player he could turn into if he starts to figure it out. He shot 51 percent from the field this week while maintaining his massive usage rate of 31.4 percent, second among rookies only to Mitchell’s 33.8. Smith’s percentages have gone up partly thanks to his improved finishing ability in transition. He’s become a more effective scorer in transition by doing one thing particularly well -- SLOWING DOWN. Smith is so incredibly fast that for much of his career so far he’s been like a runaway train on the break, unable to control himself when he gets near the basket.

But this week he was much more deliberate on the break, making sure to compose himself before putting up the shot.

Smith’s blazing speed is unteachable, but he can continue to work on getting more controlled shots on the fast break to improve his transition efficiency.

Dirk Nowitzki may no longer be the player he was in his prime, but it’s still worth appreciating what the 39-year-old lifetime Maverick brings in his 20th season. Josh Bowe of Mavs Moneyball wrote about Nowitzki’s season on Thursday:

He’s shooting 41.2 from three, which would be third best mark of his career. Third best in 20 years! That’s crazy. He’s also up to 46.5 percent overall, which would be the best number from the field since his under-the-radar great year back in 2014 when he almost posted a 50-40-90 season at season 16.

It’s kind of incredible to see how comfortable Dirk looks on the offensive end. Dirk’s played every game this season, including every back-to-back. While he’s sitting late in fourth quarters to allow Smith and Harrison Barnes to close games, he’s still averaging right about 25 minutes per game. Again, Dirk isn’t a token starter or a ceremonial player — he’s playing a lot, he’s involved and since the week before Thanksgiving, he’s helping the team be competitive in games, despite the overall poor record.