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Mavericks vs. Trailblazers preview: Dallas faces defensive challenge from Portland

The Dallas Mavericks will host the Portland Trailblazers tonight at 7:30pm Central on Fox Sports Southwest.

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What has Portland done lately?

The Portland Trailblazers are currently the fourth seed in the Western Conference and just one game ahead of the sixth-seed Mavericks. They've won their last two games, but have been in a bit of a slump over the last few weeks, going 4-6 of their last 10.

The Blazers also suffered a pretty major health scare in late January, when Lamarcus Aldridge tore a ligament in his thumb. Although the team initially announced that the power forward would be out for six-eight weeks after undergoing surgery, Aldridge later decided to postpone surgery to try to play through the injury.

Fortunately for Portland (and unfortunately for everyone else in the Western Conference), Aldridge seems to be playing quite well despite the tear. Since deciding to put off treatment, he's performed well, playing a major role in the Blazers' two most recent victories and setting a franchise record for total double-doubles with his back-to-back double-doubles in those games.

What team stat may determine the game?

The Blazers have really amped up their defense this year, and that certainly showed the last time these teams played. The Mavericks managed to score only 87 points, their lowest total of the season, during that game, with only Brandan Wright shooting better than 50 percent. This time around, Portland poses a pretty daunting match-up for a team that will be without its starting point guard and the anchor of its perimeter defense and also without the offensive weapon they shipped out to acquire him.

Their defense is a tough match for the Mavs for a few reasons. One of the Mavericks' offensive strengths is their ability to take care of the ball, but Portland's defense doesn't rely on forcing turnovers. They force on average just over 12 opponent turnovers per game. Instead, they're hugely successful at both denying opponents shot opportunities and defending the shots that are taken.

The Blazers lead the league in three-point defense (they're first in opponent field goal percentage and second in attempts), but they're also strong in the paint, where they're fifth in field goal percentage within five feet of the basket. In short, even if the Mavericks are good at moving the ball without turnovers, it can be tough to find much daylight in Portland's defense.

Which Maverick could be due for a big game?

I'm not sure he's exactly due for a big game, but the Mavericks sure could use one from Tyson Chandler. It's true that the Blazers' big men are talented interior defenders, but Chandler's 0-2 in 29 minutes of play the last time the two teams met was an aberration even by Portland's impressive defensive standards.

With Dirk still not shooting well against top-tier Western Conference opponents, and Monta et al up against a particularly tough perimeter defense, the Mavericks would welcome a better offensive performance from Chandler than they got back in November.

Can the Mavericks stop offensive powerhouse Chris Kaman?

We mocked the idea of signing Chris Kaman before the last game against Portland and were rewarded with 18 embarrassing minutes of the Chris Kaman show, in which he scored 12 points on 6-6 shooting and grabbed five rebounds. Let's hope that the basketball gods are now appeased and Kaman will return to be the ineffectual big man Mavericks fans know and definitely do not love.