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Lillard and Company Can’t Mimic a Complete Roster vs. Mavericks

Dallas proves too big and too long for Portland to handle.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Portland Trail Blazers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers entered their game against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night shy two starters and every big man off their bench. The Mavericks entered it without All-Star Luka Doncic, but center Kristaps Porzingis was still in uniform. Porzingis’ height and skill were enough to wreck every plan the cobbled-together Blazers could concoct on defense. That left Dallas in firm control of a 132-117 victory.

If you missed the game and want quarter-by-quarter details, you can find them in our instant recap here. After that, here are some tidbits of analysis.

A Wee Bit Short

It’s almost not fair to analyze the Blazers as, like much of the NBA, they’re playing with wholly unfamiliar lineups due to absences from COVID-19. Imagine going into Golden Corral to find that, while they have the classic chicken you love and the soft serve machine still works, but beside them are trays of sliced radishes, an unopened can of tapioca pudding, and a completely raw potato. The problem isn’t the ingredients. They’re actually food. They’re just not ready to be called dinner.

That’s the same effect as watching the Trail Blazers with Damian Lillard, Norman Powell, and not much of anybody else. The team tried hard tonight, but their defensive sets were broken before they started. This was particularly true when Dallas went to their big men, which was just about every play. The Mavericks weren’t stupid. They knew Larry Nance, Jr. wasn’t going to stop anybody straight up without committing fouls. The next-tallest player the Blazers fielded was Nassir Little. With Porzingis at a solid seven feet with offensive skills to burn, scoring was a matter of posting and reposting until the inevitable one-on-one matchup materialized. When Porzingis also started hitting threes, the game was over before it began.

After Kristaps broke them down, the Blazers got progressively worse on defense as the game unfolded. Dallas ended up with 68 points in the paint, plus 38 assists on 48 made buckets. They shot 57.1% from the field and shot well from distance until their fourth-quarter blowout subs came in. It was a complete disaster defensively for Portland with little relief.

A Tale of Two Forwards

And speaking of... tonight Little and Nance, Jr. stepped into the breach to try and make up for the absence of Jusuf Nurkic et al.

Little was impressive, keeping up the pressure on defense when he could and scoring confidently. He poured in 20 on 7-14 shooting, often looking like the only person who really had his heart in the game.

Nance, Jr. did not have the same effect. His defense wasn’t that noticeable. That didn’t make him unique tonight, but the Blazers traded for him to provide help in that department. It’s not a great look. Increasingly, Nance, Jr. makes Portland’s offensive sets look like they’re sucking on a lemon. Opportunities are opening wider for him and he appears to be fading farther into mushy obscurity.

A Tale of Two Guards

Norman Powell and Anfernee Simons provide analogies at guard to Nance, Jr. and Little at forward. Simons didn’t get into the offense that much, but he hit the shots he took (11 points on 4-8 shooting). That was not so of Powell, who shot 3-12, 1-7 from distance. He had a pretty decent first period, then fell off the planet. With no Nurkic and no CJ McCollum, Powell stepping up was a must. It didn’t happen.

Dame Not Enough

Damian Lillard did try to save his team from disaster. He drove hard, drew fouls, and dished a lot of potential assists to teammates who couldn’t complete the play. Dallas’ defensive job boiled down to putting two men on Lillard, then letting the Blazers do whatever else they wanted. Even Dame couldn’t get over that. He scored 26, but shot 5-15 from the field.

Really, there isn’t much more to tell than that. Until the Blazers get players back or more practice time, their already-spotty defense is likely to look horrible and they’re going to have a hard time staying in games. Let’s hope the pain ends soon.

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Boxscore

Guess what? The division-leading Utah Jazz come to town on Wednesday night for a 7:00 game. Oh boy. That could be fun.