Four-Pointer: Previewing the Portland Trail Blazers

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo

The Blazers, in a three-game tie for third place out West, need a win on Friday about as much as the Mavs do.

What has Portland done recently?

After an almost miraculous clean bill of health for the first few months of the season, the Trail Blazers have weathered the injury bug over the last few weeks. They went 4-1 without LaMarcus Aldridge, who returned to the line-up on Saturday, and have had to re-shape their second unit after losing Joel Freeland, their primary interior reserve, for the season. There's no room for the weary in the Western Conference - despite a 21-4 start to the season, Portland is currently locked in a tight battle to secure home-court advantage in the first round.

Which stat, player or fact might surprise you about the Blazers?

The Blazers second unit has been bolstered recently by the play of Will Barton, a second-round pick in the 2012 draft. A hyper-athletic 6'6 175 ball of energy, Barton is averaging 7 points and 2 rebounds on 52% shooting in the last 10 games. While Barton has real talent, it's taken him awhile to carve out a role in the Portland rotation, as his youthful exuberance makes him the classic "No, no ... yes" player. His athleticism could be an issue for some of the older players on the Mavs bench, but his lack of physical strength and limited experience could be exploited on the defensive end.

Which team stat might determine the game?

The strength of the Blazers team is in their starting unit, with all five averaging in double figures. So if their bench can play the Mavs second unit to a draw, Portland has to like their chances of pulling out another win at the AAC this season. Devin Harris and Vince Carter have become barometers of the Mavs success - the Mavs, given their defensive issues, need offense from their reserves in order to win. Watch the four-minutes coming into and out of the first and third quarters - they could be pivotal stretches tonight.

What do the Mavs need to do to be successful against the Blazers?

The teams split their first two meetings of the season, with both winning on the other's home court - a dramatic 108-106 win in Portland in early December and a 127-111 loss in Dallas a few weeks ago. This might be a game where Rick Carlisle goes with DeJuan Blair at the center position; he had 15 points and 8 rebounds in the win while Samuel Dalembert had 2 points and 6 rebounds in the loss. Given their issues with defense and rebounding, especially against a big team like the Blazers, the Mavs need as much offense as they can get on Friday.

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