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3 things to watch for when the Dallas Mavericks face the Portland Trail Blazers

The Mavericks have been playing well lately. Will they be able to keep that going tonight in Portland?

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

The Mavericks have won 12 of their last 16 games and are coming off one of their best wins of the season. They held Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Co. to a mere 89 points and won the ball game convincingly on Wednesday night. Luka Doncic had another monstrous night, scoring 42 points on 16-of-28 shooting from the field to go along with nine assists and six rebounds.

Now, the Mavericks have an important game against the Blazers that could surely have an effect on the Western Conference standings when the regular season wraps up. Can they keep their momentum going? Here are three things to watch for.

Josh Richardson’s Impact

Josh Richardson is one of those guys that can swing games for the Mavericks. For good or bad, his impact on the game is almost always noticeable. He was a big reason the Mavs looked so good in their last game against the Clippers. He knocked down open shots, got to the rim a little, and was active and aggressive on defense. Check out this nasty block:

Oh yeah, and he got the belt.

Nobody in the league can stop Damian Lillard, but tonight, Richardson could be tasked with the assignment and will have to do his best to at least slow down the surging MVP candidate.

If Richardson can knock down a few shots and follow that up with some pesky defense, the Mavericks will have a good shot at coming away with a win.

Defense, defense, defense

We just talked about Richardson’s defensive responsibility, but let’s shift the focus to the whole team’s performance on that end of the court.

On the season, the Mavericks are 23rd in the league in defensive rating, but over the last 10 games, they’ve shown signs of improvement. They’re actually a top-10 defense over that stretch. I’m anxious to see if this holds up or if they’ll regress back to where they’ve been for most of the season.

A lot of their improvement has been thanks to Maxi Kleber’s return to the lineup, Kristaps Porzingis not being absolutely abominable, and the overall effort from the team ramping up. Thanks to the effort increasing, the Mavericks have slowly and steadily moved up the ranks in limiting opponent scoring in the paint (currently sitting at fifth-best in the league).

The offense will flow for the Mavericks. They have a once-in-a-generation level offensive talent in Doncic and the pieces around him are starting to show some signs of life. It’s the defensive end of the court that will make or break this team.

Luka Doncic vs. Damian Lillard

Speaking of once-in-a-generation offensive talents, this game will feature two of them going head to head: Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard. Both guys have been playing at All-NBA levels and should finish in the top seven or so in MVP voting.

Tonight, my advice is just to watch and have fun. I mentioned earlier that Richardson will be tasked with trying to slow down Lillard, but let’s be real - that probably won’t happen. Nobody really slows down Lillard. So when he hits an inevitable amazing shot, try not to be too upset about it. He’s one of the best scoring guards of all time and it’s going to happen more than once. The good news? Dallas has a guy of their own that can go shot for shot with him. Hopefully Doncic wins the duel.

How to watch

The game is scheduled to tip-off at 9:00 pm CT on NBA TV.