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3 things to watch for when the Mavericks battle the Blazers

The Mavericks wrap up a grueling west coast road trip with a visit to the Portland Trail Blazers.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks (15-16) finish up a gauntlet of a road trip with a back-to-back, facing the Portland Trail Blazers (18-14). The Mavericks, unable to break out of a tough losing streak visited the Golden State Warriors Saturday night, losing in a close fought battle 120-116. Portland last played Friday night, where they were chased out of their own gym losing to the Utah Jazz by 30.

Both teams have had pretty up and down seasons thus far. The Mavericks, at the lowest of lows, then the highest of highs, find themselves in another valley as they try to fight off their second six game losing streak of the season tonight. For Portland, they began the season 10-3, only to follow that up with an 8-11 record since.

They met earlier this month in Dallas, with the Mavs coming out on top 111-102 — a game that saw Damian Lillard put up big numbers, but contributors across the board for Rick Carlisle’s bunch bested them. Luka Doncic led the way with 21 points, nine rebounds and three assists. (And he might be out tonight, after suffering a minor injury last night against the Warriors.)

Here’s what we’ll be watching for at the Moda Center:

Volunteers for Dame duty

Early in the game a few weeks back, Dennis Smith Jr. who was in the midst of probably the best defensive play of his young career, was making Damian Lillard uncomfortable. Dame kept chucking, but didn’t get much going. The second half was a different story, and the Mavs were probably lucky that they kept their distance late.

This time around the Mavericks will be without their sophomore point guard, and need to find an answer in the defensive backcourt. As DSJ has been out rookie Jalen Brunson has filled the role. He slots in nicely next to Luka Doncic as initiator on the offensive end. But as a defender Brunson will be outmatched here. It will require Wesley Matthews and Dorian Finney-Smith to do a lot of work Sunday night. The Blazers have a dynamic backcourt pair in Lillard and running mate CJ McCollum, but of the two, Dame has the better career splits against Dallas.

Three pointer makes the rules

The Mavericks are currently 18th in the league, shooting 34.6 percent from the three point line. The Trail Blazers are eighth in the league, shooting 36 percent. But the flip side is neither team guards the long ball well. The Mavericks rank 21st (35.7 percent) and the Blazers are dead last in the league letting teams shoot nearly 38 percent from three.

When they played at the AAC earlier this month the Blazers were awful and the Mavs were solid, and it may have been the difference in the game. The Mavericks like to shoot from deep, and if they start connecting, they’ll give themselves a good a shot at a W here.

Finding the momentum

It’s well chronicled how tough the schedule has been in December for the Mavericks. It won’t let up as they stretch for 2019. And while health has been a problem, they need to have short term memory and find some momentum with who they’ve got.

The organization made their playoff intentions known before the season started, and like a quality team should they fought through the first slump that hit them square in the face to start the year. They conquered that first challenge with effort, quality defense, and team play. If the Mavericks want to continue to be taken seriously, they’ll need to overcome this new mental and emotional challenge.

How to Watch

Tip off is set for 8 CT, and can be watched on FSSW, the Fox Sports Go app, or NBA League Pass.