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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Dallas Mavericks Game Preview

Luka Magic comes to town.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (19-22) vs. Dallas Mavericks (24-19)

The Portland Trail Blazers are free falling through a funk, dropping five straight games and sinking to 12th in the Western Conference standings. Can they stop the madness and get a win during Leg One of a back-to-back against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks?

Dallas comes into this game on the heels of a thrilling, double-overtime win Thursday against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Mavs are 3-3 in the month of January, but own the season series against Portland so far at 2-0. The last time these two teams played on Dec. 16, Portland got walloped 130-110. Gulp. At least the Blazers get the matchup at home this time.

Trail Blazers vs. Mavericks - Saturday, January 14 - 7:00 p.m. PT

How to watch on TV: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass

Blazers injuries: Nassir Little (out), Justise Winslow (out), Damian Lillard (questionable), Gary Payton II (probable)

Mavericks injuries: Maxi Kleber (out), Dorian Finney-Smith (out), Josh Green (out), Christian Wood (out)

SBN Affiliate: Mavs Moneyball

The Matchup

Furious start. During this five-game losing streak, Portland has typically been the first team thrown back on its heels, taking punches against the ropes. In four of the five losses, the Blazers have rode mediocre or flat-out bad starts into double-digit first half deficits. (Note: Against Indiana, Portland did start up 10-0, before promptly surrendering a 10-0 run right back.). It’s forced the Blazers to claw their way back into games in uphill battles the rest of the way. The outlier in this mix was Thursday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Blazers came out the aggressors, with Damian Lillard noticeably hunting for shots on his way to a 50-point outing, Jerami Grant crashing the rim and 3-pointers for Lillard and Anfernee Simons dropping at a good clip. Rather than falling into a hole, the Blazers built a first half double-digit lead of their own and had the Cavs playing catch-up for 48 minutes. The first 12 minutes of tonight’s action should be a good indicator of whether Portland is engaged and up for the challenge, or ready for another 20-point beatdown from Dallas.

Calm finish. Along with early holes, troubling finishes have been the other bane of this losing skid. In that dogfight against Cleveland, with the score tied at 109-109 and just over two minutes left, the Cavs won the game with an 8-0 run aided by two Portland misses and a Josh Hart turnover. Against the Orlando Magic earlier this week, the Blazers couldn’t connect on three good looks from deep to send the game to overtime. At the front end of the losing streak, Portland went cold down the stretch against Indiana (finished 0-13 from the field) and Minnesota to drop those two games. Whether it’s been turnovers, poor execution or just missed shots, the Blazers haven’t come through in the clutch. If tonight’s game remains close late, it’ll be interesting to see whether Portland remains steady or unravels again.

Battle of the big men. Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic has been one of Portland’s best performers lately, registering four straight double-doubles and anchoring the defensive paint with toughness and verticality. Despite Nurk’s recent success, Dallas center Christian Wood presents a matchup problem for him. It’s a battle of the eras, with Nurkic representing the old school, lumbering, paint-bound pivots and Wood representing the more modern, agile centers who can hurt you from the 3-point line. Last time these two met, Wood torched Nurkic and the Blazers for 32 points on 11-17 shooting and 12 rebounds. With that said, Nurkic (who scored 16 in that game) should be able to score down low against the skinnier Wood. We’ll see what schemes the Blazers deploy to help Nurkic stop the Doncic-Wood two-man game and whether Chauncey Billups elects to run the offense through Nurkic more than usual.

What Others Are Saying

Matt Gilroy of Mavs Moneyball talks about that Doncic-Wood combo and just how difficult it will be for Portland to cover.

The two-man game between Doncic and Christian Wood has been especially fruitful.

With Wood in the starting lineup, over the last 10 games, Dallas leads the league in 2-pointer field goal percentage at 60.6 percent. Dwight Powell also deserves a mention here, as he’s shot 44-of-56, over 78 percent, from the floor since December.

So Portland will be facing a decision - keep trying to run Dallas off the three-point line and give the NBA’s most efficient 2-point scoring team run wild, or try and keep Luka and company out of the lane.

The Mavs’ dramatic 119-115 win in double-OT against the Lakers came with loads of controversy regarding the officiating down the stretch. Jack Baer of Yahoo Sports writes how that controversy was further stoked by the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report released yesterday.

If the Lakers wanted something to feel angrier about, the league admitted the officials missed two calls on the same possession at the end of the first overtime. With less than 15 seconds remaining, James drove to the basket while being guarded by Doncic, but was blocked by a helping Christian Wood. A scramble for the ball resulted in Doncic recovering it to force double overtime.

In the L2M Report, the NBA noted Wood “initiates contact to James’ left arm before blocking the shot,” while Doncic initiated contact with Wenyen Gabriel, which “affects his ability control the rebounds.” Basically, two fouls were missed on one shot.

Michael C. Wright of put Doncic at the second spot of his MVP Ladder after his dazzling play against L.A.

Doncic racked up 27 points over the first three quarters to finish with a 30-point triple-double in regulation, including stepback 3-pointers from 27 feet out to force both overtimes in Thursday’s 119-115 victory against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Mavericks’ superstar finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists over a gritty 53 minutes, saying afterward of the game, “I think it was very physical.” No doubt. The performance marked Doncic’s 10th triple-double and pushed him up a slot on the MVP Ladder as Dallas snapped a two-game skid. The Mavericks started the new year on a seven-game winning streak but have since lost three of the last five.