After taking Sunday off, the Dallas Mavericks returned to the practice court on Monday afternoon. The team does see the finish line with only 16 games remaining. "We'll continue to evaluate everything," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said when looking at the final stretch. "The key thing, in my mind, is that we keep working at getting better everyday, but we're not going to get into a thing where we're running guys way up...We've got a lot of depth, we want to use it." The final 16 games will see the Mavericks face off against potential teams they could see in the playoffs, but the coach stands firm on not trying to look too far ahead. "At this point, we've just got to focus on our own game and the game at hand," Carlisle said
The first game of the final 16 will be against the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday in Portland. The Trail Blazers acquired Gerald Wallace at the trade deadline, making an active team that much more active and athletic. The athleticism can cause problems with deflections and attacking the glass for extra possessions. Portland is known as a low possession team, so protecting the rim will be a major issue for the Mavericks.
LaMarcus Aldridge is another issue for the Mavericks. In the first two meetings this season, both victories for Dallas, Aldridge averaged 31.5 points and 10.0 rebounds. With his abilities to hurt teams with his low-post and mid-range game, the Dallas native has been a beast since being snubbed by the coaches and their vote to make him an All-Star. "I want to go on record saying that I voted for him," Carlisle said. "I don't know how he didn't make it." The team is well aware of Aldridge's abilities based on the fact that he is a local product and they have seen him multiple times this season. "We hate seeing him," Carlisle continued. "We hate playing against him because he's so good."
The last time the Mavericks were in Portland, Dirk Nowitzki went off by scoring 40 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the 83-77 victory over the Trail Blazers on April 9, 2010. He also did some major damage from the free throw line as he went a perfect 17-17 from the charity stripe.
Rick Carlisle noted that Peja Stojakovic will not travel with the team during their two-game West coast road trip. "We'll have a better idea when we get back," said Carlsile. "He's made some progress, but there is not a set timetable." The forward's stiff neck is still giving him issues, so he will stay home and continue getting treatment. In the meantime, Shawn Marion should maintain his role in the starting lineup. It has not looked like it based on his performance on the court but he is still dealing with sore ribs. "Sometimes if I make a certain move, I feel it more than others but it's tolerable right now," Marion said on assessing his ribs. "I'm good, that's all that matters." He is also aware of the final stretch of games before the playoffs, but he is not worried about the teams they will have to face and how that will affect the playoff seeding. "(You) just take it one game at a time," Marion said." Your destiny is your destiny."
In his three games as a starter, Marion has averaged 18.0 and 8.0 rebounds. It should be noted that Marion missed a better part of the second half of the games against New Orleans due to the rib injury. He has also had to go up against Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant. "I think Shawn has been playing unbelievable," said. "(He's) really taken the challenge defensively guarding the best player on the their team, (guard) or (forward), no matter what the position. He's been great. It seems like it fires him up on the offensive end, too. He wants to go back right at that player...he's been looking great."
Rick Carlisle was seen doing some one-on-one work with Corey Brewer. Carlisle observed Brewer's free throw mechanics and he also passed him the ball for three-point shots. Brewer struggled during the initial part of the long-distance shooting and the coach would critique the forward's motion when taking the shots. Afterward, Brewer made consecutive three-point shots and Carlisle praised him for the work. "We're working with him on his rhythm and his shooting and how all of that fits into our system," Carlisle said. The coach made sure to note that a player of his caliber is always a viable option to get playing time. Brewer will just need to continue working and be ready when his name is called.
The Mavericks will continue to work on improving their defensive approach as the regular season winds down. They showed solid signs of activity during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers. They will need to build off of that performance and maintain that level of energy. "If we stay solid defensively, I like our chances on any given night," said Dirk Nowitzki.
The race to the finish line is in full swing and Dirk Nowitzki knows that the Mavericks need to crank up the effort and intensity. "We've gotta approach every game like the playoffs," Nowitzki said. "There's a month left, we wanna get some momentum in there going towards the playoffs. We're still fighting for seeding so at this point, every game is big."
The game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trail Blazers will tip off in Portland on Tuesday at 9:00 pm CST.
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