Tuesday night marks the first game in a four game road trip for the Dallas Mavericks (19-25) as they head to Portland to take on the Trailblazers (22-22). Dallas won the first match up of the series way back on November 5th, when the Mavericks crushed the Blazers 114-91.
Two and a half months later, these two teams are in very different places. The Blazers are right in the thick of the playoff hunt, currently 9th in the West with a three game lead on any challengers. Point guard Damian Lillard is playing like the rookie of the year and LaMarcus Aldridge is enjoying sharing the burden with a reasonably talented starting five. Dallas, on the other hand, is still adapting to life with Dirk and trying to dig itself out of a sizable hole caused by a late December losing streak.
The fine folks at Blazer's Edge feel like their current position in the standings might outpace where they end up, but they're delighted with their team nonetheless. We here at Mavs Moneyball demand more from the team and most of the staff still holds hope that this team is going to make the playoffs (I'm ALMOST one of them. I want to believe, but I'm mainly a Mavs agnostic at this point).
So what happens Tuesday night when these two hopeful playoff teams meet? Well for starters, the Mavs have their hands full with Lillard. He shot 2 of 13 in the first match up, his first real stumble as an NBA player. I promise he's going to come out looking to put on a show. Darren Collison and Roddy Beaubois will be in for a real challenge defensively. However, both Dallas point guards should be able to take advantage of the rookie point guard's defensive short comings. Getting Lillard into foul trouble will be key.
Shooting hard presents a real battle. Wesley Matthews has been shooting the ball very poorly as of late, but his strong frame and attacking mindset could prove problematic for O.J. Mayo. The last time these two teams met, Mayo had 32, as he went 6 for 8 from beyond the arc. Though his offense has cooled considerably as he's taken a more complimentary role, I expect Mayo to thrive against Porland.
The talented French forward Nicolas Batum could cause problems for Dallas on both ends of the floor. His length, athleticism, and shooting range make him a dangerous threat on offense. Defensively he's able to wreak havoc, particularly on the fast break as he's one of the best chase down shot blockers in the league. Luckily, Shawn Marion's game is one to keep Batum on his toes on both offense and defense.
Expect to see cross match ups with the center and power forward positions. I have no earthly idea who will start at center, though whoever does (Brand?) will have his hands full keeping All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge in check. He tends to enjoy feasting on his hometown squad.
That leaves J.J. Hickson, the Blazers undersized center, who may spend time on Dirk Nowitzki or whomever plays center. Dirk will need to be active offensively for Dallas to take this one, but he also needs to be more aware defensively. He should be tasked with keeping Hickson out of sync, but Hickson has a knack for rebounding, which is not a strong suit of Dirk's anymore.
I expect Dallas to win tonight, simply because they have more talent from top to bottom. The Blazers bench is prone to extreme struggles offensively and this is a Dallas team that hasn't scored under 99 points in nearly 40 days.
Who do you think will cause Dallas the most trouble this evening? See the poll below!
Join us tonight for the game thread!