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Three things to watch for when the Mavericks clash with the Trail Blazers

Saturday marks Yogi Ferrell’s first return to Portland, and Dennis Smith Jr.’s first matchup with Damian Lillard.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks (15-30) travel west to take on the Portland Trail Blazers (24-21), in their first meeting of the season. The Blazers, going 6-4 in the month of January, currently sit at sixth in the West, a game behind the Oklahoma City Thunder.

This is the Mavericks first appearance at the Moda Center since the infamous Yogi Ferrell game, February 3rd, the night he exploded on to the NBA scene, putting up 32 points (going 9/11 from three), all but solidifying a deal past his 10-day contract.

The Mavs enter a tough ten game stretch heading in to the trade deadline, seven of which are against current playoff teams. Amidst that, Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson, and Rick Carlisle will determine what role they may have in the trade market. Though it’s not anticipated that Dallas will be major players to acquire anything that affects their summer goals, it’s not unrealistic to think they may play facilitator to seize some opportunities. Their record over the next two and a half weeks may push them one way or the other.

Back to where it all began

I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever be able to watch a Mavs game at the Moda Center again and not think of the Yogi Game.

So many storylines have developed and diminished for the Mavericks since that early February night that it’s easy to remember it for less than it was. But in the midst of such a dark season, smack dab in the middle of it, a sub-6 foot undrafted rookie came out of nowhere and didn’t just rain fire over the city of Portland, but permanently claimed his spot as an NBA player. It was really something, to watch him shine, and to see the rest of the team play with so much joy and energy.

This season Yogi has stayed fairly consistent, though he is being forced to play outside his set role some. Last week he showed flashes of that Portland game ability, when he put up 22 points against Charlotte, flame throwing 7-of-10 from deep. Though we shouldn’t expect a similar performance tonight, we still get to enjoy the Yogi Ferrell success story.

Usage battleground

Perhaps predictably, Portland point guard Damian Lillard is 16th in the league in usage percentage (5th among Western Conference guards). Blazers head coach Terry Stotts wants the ball in his playmaker’s hands, and he’s once again performing. Though his numbers have dipped a little from last season, Lillard continues to play at an all-star level (though he hasn’t made an all-star appearance since 2015), sitting at 10th in the league in points per game (25 per game), 12th in assists (6.5 per game) and top 20 in win shares (5.3).

Now, Dennis Smith Jr. isn’t playing to that level across the board. But he is showing signs of his long term potential, particularly late in games over the last three weeks. Since notching his first career triple double against the New Orleans Pelicans on December 29th, DSJ is averaging 18.1 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game, while shooting a very respectable 39-percent from three. As he’s continued to perform Rick Carlisle has given more opportunity to the rookie point guard, seeing a slight bump in minutes over the last five games.

Over the course of this season DSJ hasn’t trailed too far behind Lillard in usage percentage - sitting at 23rd in the league, and 8th among Western Conference guards (just one tick behind fellow rookie Donovan Mitchell). Expect a fun duel between the athletic, springy point guards Saturday night.

Iron Man revenge game

The Mavericks have faced the Portland Trailblazers seven times in the two seasons since acquiring Wesley Matthews. It may or may not surprise you to find out that Matthews has been almost consistently scorching against his old team. In those matchups the oft scrutinized Matthews has averaged 18 points and shot 48-percent from three.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Overshadowed by the 32 point performance of the undersized guard above, Matthews was pretty brilliant in that February game as well - putting up 27 points, shooting 50-percent from three. In fact, in the four games he’s played back in Portland, Matthews has averaged 20.8 points while shooting 44-percent from deep. Though he has been an easy target for criticism over the last two-plus seasons, the do it all Maverick wing has shown up against his former teammates. Expect a motivated Matthews again tonight.

How to watch

Tip off is set for 9 pm CT and can be watched on FSSW or the FoxSportsGo app, as well as NBA League Pass.