While the Blazers still have five players on the injury report, Jerami Grant is now listed as probable. With all due respect to everyone else - and ignoring Robert Williams III’s season-ending injury notwithstanding - the Blazers would be just about fully stocked if Grant were to suit up.
While Portland is on a five-game losing streak, the development of their young players matters more than wins and losses. To that point, Scoot Henderson has averaged 21 points and 8 dimes on 46% shooting (45% from deep) over his last two games and became the first rookie in the NBA with a 20-point 10-assist game this season, per Trail Blazers Analytics Insider Tom Haberstroh.
For Dallas, Kyrie Irving is still out with a right heel contusion suffered against these very Blazers in their game last week, but the Mavs still find themselves winners of four of their last five after dropping their last game against the unexpectedly sturdy Minnesota Timberwolves. That’s in no small part due to Luka Doncic and his 32-8-9 season averages and scoring over 35 a game over his last five.
Can the (mostly) healthy Blazers find a way to eek out a win against a (slightly) injured Mavs team? Tune in to find out!
Portland Trail Blazers (6-17) vs. Dallas Mavericks (15-9) - Sat. Dec. 16 - 6 p.m. Pacific
How to watch on TV: Root Sports, NBA League Pass
Trail Blazers injuries: Robert Williams III, Ibou Badji, Rayan Rupert Justin Minaya (out); Jerami Grant (probable)
Mavs injuries: Kyrie Irving, Josh Green, Maxi Kleber (out); Seth Curry (questionable)
Mavs SBN affiliate: Mavs Moneyball
Blazer’s Edge Reader Questions
As has been Blazer’s Edge tradition since the advent of the Mesopotamian cuneiform writing system, we’re asking you all to toss some questions at us for the game previews! Look for posts just like this one the night before the game, and we’ll plan to pick one or two (or more!) every game and answer them as best we can. With that, we proudly present... some questions!
Will Chauncey finally start trying to get the ball to Ayton more? Shouldn’t the former #1 pick and veteran be fed enough to average more than 20ppg?
Heavens knows I enjoy ragging on Chauncey Billups, but I find it hard to pin this one on him. First, Ayton has played the majority of this season without Anfernee Simons and his shooting that would help create the space necessary for Ayton to operate more easily. Second, if you just dump the ball to Ayton with no pretense, he’s going to do one of a number of predictable moves, the most likely of which being a fadeaway jumper. While his midrange game absolutely IS a weapon the Blazers can utilize, it’s not like he’s enough of an outside threat to pull defenders away from the middle, or even if he was, he doesn’t have the speed and handles to blow by them... and he also doesn’t have the instinct to just use his size to overpower defenders and lean toward the basket. His center of gravity is being pulled toward midcourt 99.9% of the time.
In short: Ayton is a fine complimentary player, and while I admit I didn’t watch enough of him in Phoenix to have learned this lesson sooner, I now understand that is all he will ever be. Depressing? Somewhat. Realistic? I think so.
Shaedon Sharpe shot 1 for 12 on Thursday (Simons 3 for 8). What are the chances they turn that around with a vengeance?
Take your pick: At what point will moral victories become hollow? What is a realistic number of wins per 10 games to keep the team from getting too despondent and seeing them moving in the right direction? There has been slippage in defense in the last few games- do you expect that to turn around Saturday?
I like the “number of wins needed per 10 games” question (and if you all want to sound off on the others in the comments, please do!)
I think it’s three wins per 10 games: it’s just enough to keep you chasing the dragon and avoid becoming a national laughingstock like Monty Williams and the poor Detroit Pistons. I cannot imagine what that Detroit locker room feels like right now, and hopefully the Blazers won’t have to find out. While I’m all for tanking and firmly believe it's the single most important way for the Blazers to have long-term franchise success, it’s also true that playing for one of the most despondent teams in NBA history would be exhausting. Winning 3 out of 10 games extrapolates to roughly a 24-win season, which would still give the Blazers a strong chance at a top-4 pick come lottery time.
About the Opponent
Doyle Rader of Mavs Moneyball consolidated some quotes from the Mavericks after their most recent loss to the Wolves, including this one from Mavs Head Coach (and one-time favorite to become future Blazers coach) Jason Kidd:
(On concern over Luka Dončić’s technical fouls...) “I’m not concerned. We all understand what that number is. This one was quick. Every crew is different. We have to be better. But it was a quick T — Jacyn [Goble] gave him a quick T. Again, we’ve just got to figure out what’s right and what’s wrong. The clap – a lot of players do it. Some are called for a T, some aren’t. Just be consistent, that’s all... we’ve got to probably do a better job of doing the scouting report on each official. It’s just part of the game, understanding who’s quick to blow a whistle on a T and who’s not. That’s part of the game.”
Nekias Duncan of The Messenger did a deep dive on Dante Exum and how good he’s been for Dallas as of late:
But back to the usage, because that’s where the fun is. I’m not exaggerating when I say Exum’s doing a bit of everything. He’ll take table-setter duties to get the Mavericks from Point A to Point B. Many of his ball screens — 30 over the last four games, per Second Spectrum — are used as a vehicle to something else: an off-ball action for Tim Hardaway Jr or a guard-“guard” pick-and-roll between Exum and Luka Dončić in an effort to feed Dončić a mismatch. Every so often, though, we’ll get to see Exum run one himself. It’s important to remember his downhill chops still exist.
Grant Afseth of Fan Nation: Dallas wrote about Luka Doncic reaching a Dallas Mavericks franchise milestone:
Doncic recorded his 78th regular season game with 35 or more points. He tied Dirk Nowitzki for the most in Mavs history after having recorded the most regular season games with at least 40, 45, or 50 points. It’ll take some time before he touches Nowitzki’s record for the most games with 30 or more points in franchise history. The Slovenian superstar still has 12 more to go before passing Mark Aguirre for the second most and trails Nowitzki by 96.
Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News had a comprehensive piece on former Mavs player and current Vice President of Player Personnel Michael Finley delivering the winter commencement address for his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin:
Finley said it was in September that he was jointly asked to be the commencement speaker by Wisconsin chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin and the senior class officers. Weeks later he was attending his son’s basketball tournament when, in the same athletic complex, he saw Harris’ mother, Julie, watching one of her granddaughters play. “We were just talking and she said, ‘Yeah, Devin’s finally graduating in December,’” Finley recalled. “I said, ‘What? You know I’m doing the commencement speech.’ She had no idea.”