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Portland Trail Blazers at Dallas Mavericks Preview

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Losers of five of their last six, the Blazers will try to rediscover how to play D in Big D.

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Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers (13-10) at Dallas Mavericks (11-10)

Tuesday, December 4 - 5:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Evan Turner (probable)
Mavericks injuries: Luka Doncic (questionable), J. J. Barea (questionable), Dennis Smith Jr. (questionable), Dwight Powell (questionable), Salah Mejri (questionable), Maxi Kleber (questionable), Dirk Nowitzki (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 Portland Trail Blazers are in a bit of a rut, and it’s all about the lack of defense. Teams are putting up crazy-high shooting percentages against Terry Stotts’ men and the losses are starting to pile up. The schedule doesn’t get any easier this month, so it is starting to feel like Portland needs to right the ship quickly. If not, the fine start to the season will be nothing but a distant memory come Christmas.

For the Dallas Mavericks, Christmas it seems has come early. While most pundits expected another rebuilding year, the Mavericks find themselves currently sitting in a playoff spot, playing good basketball and confident of good things in their future. Dallas’ first-round draft pick, Luka Doncic, looks to be the real deal, already leading the team in scoring with 18.5 points per game. The Mavericks’ future looks bright, but the present doesn’t look too shabby either.

What to watch for

  • Bench points. Over their last five games Dallas is getting an average of 44.2 points from their bench per game. The Blazers have only gotten an average of 26 points per game over their last five games. Portland’s bench production doesn’t need to surpass Dallas’ production, but barring a superhuman effort from Lillard and/or McCollum, the Blazers’ bench can’t afford to fall behind the Mavericks’ bench by much more than single digits.
  • Dallas will try to get to the line. The Mavericks are tied for first in the NBA in fouls drawn at 25 per game. The Blazers in contrast draw only 20.5. That type of discrepancy could be a real problem, especially if it turns out to be a tight contest. Portland is in a tough spot. They know they need to be more aggressive on defense, but they are playing against a team that is great at drawing fouls. How well the Blazers deal with that conundrum could be a huge factor.
  • Can the Blazers chase anybody off of the 3 point line? Over the last five games opponents have shot a nearly unimaginable 46.2% from deep against the Blazers. To put that figure in perspective, over half of the NBA has shot a lower percentage overall from the field during that time span. It’s really pretty simple: if the Blazers can’t improve their perimeter defense they will lose against Dallas... and most of the teams they face until they can figure it out.

What they’re saying

One month ago few would have picked the Mavericks for a playoff spot, but they currently sit in eighth and aren’t looking over their shoulder. How did they do it? Jordan Brodess of Mavs Moneyball gives a good primer on how the Mavs turned it around.

It begins with chemistry. Multiple players, both newcomers and returning, have been learning new roles, at-large and in specific lineups. And that just takes time. Early in the season the Mavericks were without core starter Harrison Barnes. And while he hasn’t come in and dominated many games, his absence forced other players (namely Wesley Matthews), into odd responsibilities. As those issues have been ironed out, and players readjust to new roles, the team looks more cohesive.

The Mavericks are outworking teams. Dennis Smith Jr. is one of the reasons why according to Doyle Rader of Forbes:

Late in the third quarter, Smith went to the ground on the offensive end to protect the basketball. In the process, Patrick Beverley leapt on him, knocking out one of Smith’s teeth with his elbow. After no foul was assessed on the play, Smith was forced to jump for the ball sans tooth. He won the jump ball and then headed back to the locker room for treatment.

For many players, losing a tooth would mean calling it quits for the night. Not for Smith. He made his way back to the court soon thereafter. The Mavericks are lucky he did. His best play was yet to come.

Kohl Rast of the Smoking Cuban writes that Dallas’ bench is getting it done and Devin Harris is a big part of the reason why:

Harris also currently has his career high in win shares, box plus/minus, offensive rating, defensive rating (both based on per 100 possessions), as well as a career high three-point percentage. Obviously a lot of these are advanced statistics, but it shows that Harris is playing at a level we haven’t seen from him before.