The Dallas Mavericks (14-14) host the Portland Trailblazers (16-12) at the American Airlines Center with a 7:30 pm tipoff. The defense of the Cleveland Cavaliers squashed the Mavericks on Wednesday, 105-90. In a game that felt like revenge for Donovan Mitchell, his second-quarter outburst combined with an elite defensive performance from the Cavs proved too much for Dallas.
The Portland Trailblazers have won three in a row and five of their last six games.
The Mavericks miss Maxi Kleber and Josh Green
On Thursday, the Dallas Mavericks announced a hamstring tear will sideline key reserve big man Maxi Kleber indefinitely. This is a gut punch for a team already facing front-court depth issues with the defensive limitations of Christian Wood and the fall from the rotation of JaVale McGee. Expect to see more of both, plenty of Dwight Powell, and even more minutes than usual from Davis Bertans. The sad reality is that none of those players provides the unique combination of switching defense, floor spacing, and off-ball shot blocking that Kleber provides. Will this injury impact how the Mavericks address the trade market?
The Dallas Mavericks announced today that forward Maxi Kleber suffered a tear of his right hamstring at practice on Tuesday, December 13.— Mavs PR (@MavsPR) December 15, 2022
At this time, there is no timetable for Kleber’s return and updates will be given when appropriate. pic.twitter.com/5OLPf1dEw2
Josh Green’s elbow injury appears to be more serious than first thought. Given his ascension to rotation stabilizer and resident sparkplug, his absence - along with that of Kleber - will be felt against Portland and beyond.
Jeremi Grant is having a fantastic year
When you think Portland, you rightly think Damian Lillard. Dame Time has provided a ton of memorable moments over the years. His backcourt mate - Anfernee Simons - has blossomed seemingly overnight from low usage two years ago to borderline All-Star level play this season.
Yet the unsung hero of the Trailblazers is forward Jeremi Grant. The versatility of his game is staggering. He can slip high screens to shoot from long-distance where he is connecting at a silky 44.8 percent. Grant can also handle the ball well enough to create his own midrange shots or drives to the basket. He is a capable defender for his size and can bother shots near the basket. Overall, he is averaging 22 points on nearly 48 percent shooting.
With Lillard active again, Grant is a great third option. The Mavericks will no doubt remember his 37 points in their last meeting back on November 12th and plan accordingly.
Winning when Luka slips out of god tier for a night
As if the Mavericks weren’t already relying on the greatness of Luka Doncic to carry the team to wins, the pressure is heightened with the prolonged absence of Kleber and Green.
While Portland is a more favorable matchup than Cleveland for both Doncic specifically and Dallas generally, the importance of winning the Doncic minutes and at least holding serve when he is off the court is even higher now. We already know we will see more Christian Wood. If the offense needs a spark, Kemba Walker or Jaden Hardy may get a chance to provide it. Dallas may simply have to outscore teams for a few weeks to collect wins.
The Mavericks were hovering around .500 and frustrated at full strength. Now with key pieces off the board for the near future, their depth - and their resolve - will be tested starting tonight against Portland.
Where to watch
The Mavs and Blazers will be on Bally’s Sports Southwest tonight at 7:30 pm.