The Mavericks (2-1) look to follow up their first home win of the season with another against the Portland Trail Blazers (2-1) Monday night. The Blazers hope to build upon two impressive early season victories against the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets, while Dallas hopes to remain perfect at home.
Portland's off-season saw a variety of additions who heavily factor in to this year's rotation. Last season Portland traded Gerald Wallace to the Nets and received a conditional lottery pick. That pick turned out to be 6th in the lottery and with it the Blazers selected Weber State point guard Damian Lillard. Thus far Lillard has lived up to the high expectations placed upon him by the demanding Portland fans, becoming the third player in NBA history to start his career with three straight games of at least 20 points and nine assists. The Blazers also had the 11th pick in the draft and selected Illinois center Meyers Leonard; so far Leonard is playing just over 18 minutes per game in a bench role. In late March the Blazers picked up journeyman forward J.J. Hickson off of waivers. This summer he was signed to a one year deal and has been the Blazers starting center. Small forward Nicolas Batum was also resigned after Portland matched an offer sheet made to him by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The focus Monday night will be stopping power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Last season, Aldridge has relished matching up against his hometown team, averaging 29 points and 12 boards a game against Dallas. Expect Dallas to give Aldridge a variety of looks, though I believe Brand, Kaman, and Wright will see the most time on the sweet shooting forward. Keeping Lillard under control will also be a point of emphasis. Since Marion will most likely have to check Batum for most of the game, this task falls to Collison for the most part, with minutes potentially for Dahntay Jones as well as Roddy if he is healthy for spells. The matchup of O.J. Mayo and Wesley Matthews should be fun; both are strong outside shooters with a tendency towards streaky. Compared to Dallas, Portland plays a much shorter rotation, playing their starters heavy minutes. Potentially, Dallas can use the threat of fresh legs late in the game to wear Portland down.
Darren Collison has been the steady hand that guides the Mavericks offensively this year and that trend should continue Monday night. Mayo's amazing outside shooting Saturday was a fun story, but I'm still looking for him to convert anything inside the arc. A shooting guard in the NBA should be able to shoot better than 5-20 inside the three point line, but that is all Mayo is doing so far this season. Hopefully Elton Brand can find his way offensively; its early in the year but Brand has somehow only made 6 of his 23 shot attempts. Kaman should see more time Monday, assuming there is no setback with his calf. He was obviously great in his short time Monday, 16 points on nine shots is something Dirk would be proud of. It was also nice to see Brandan Wright double his rebounding output from the Jazz game while remaining a threat offensively. Crowder and Vince Carter should again be solid off of the bench. Those two playing well allows Marion to get more rest, and a rested Marion only bodes well for Dallas as the season wears on.
It should be an exciting game; any game with two point guards as young and talented as Collison and Lillard usually prove to be quite entertaining. What are you hoping to see from Dallas Monday?
Look for my Q&A with Blazers Edge sometime Monday before the game!