The Dallas Mavericks head to Portland to try to get back into the win column against a feisty, but bad Trail Blazers team Saturday night.
Dallas saw its four-game winning streak snapped against a very good Minnesota Timberwolves team on Thursday. It wasn’t a great game, but the team hung tough on another night with a shorthanded roster.
After two tough Western Conference contenders in a row with the Lakers and Wolves, the Mavericks get a bit of a reprieve with the Blazers, a team the Mavericks just recently beat by double-figures last week. The Mavericks schedule jumps up a notch after this Portland game, so it’s imperative for Dallas to take care of business.
Here’s what to watch for.
Can Luka Doncic keep being a superhero?
Since the birth of his first child, Doncic has been on quite the rampage on the court: in six December games, he’s averaging 35.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 12.5 assists per game on 47.7 percent shooting overall and 36.4 percent from three.
Doncic has had historic scoring binges in the past, but the assist number is eye-popping, as typically Doncic hovers around eight or nine assists per game, even during his best stretches. You can thank the Mavericks newly improved roster for that, as newcomers Dereck Lively, Dante Exum, and Derrick Jones Jr. have cashed in on the good looks Doncic is creating.
Despite Doncic’s brilliance, the cause for concern is if he’s doing too much. In the six December games, Doncic is averaging an unsustainable 41 minutes per game and against the Lakers and Wolves, his combined usage was 38.5 percent. Against the Wolves alone, that number was 42 percent. Unless Doncic really is Superman, these numbers can’t continue.
The difficult part is roster injury woes might keep Doncic’s workload up. Kyrie Irving doesn’t have a timetable to return with a right heel contusion and he will miss Thursday’s game, along with Josh Green (right elbow) and Maxi Kleber (dislocated toe). Seth Curry is also likely out with an ankle injury.
That leaves just Doncic, Exum, and Jaden Hardy as the only point guards on the roster, and Hardy has been inconsistent at best this season, playing only 13 minutes against Minnesota after a pair of egregious defensive blunders sent him to the bench. Exum has been a revelation, but he’s more of a secondary action attacker, not someone you can run your offense through.
Thankfully, the Mavericks won’t need Irving’s scoring brilliance to put away a lottery-bound Blazers squad, but they don’t roll over easy, despite their losing record. At minimum, Dallas will need its role players to at least cash in on the looks Doncic will likely provide — the trio of Jones, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Grant Williams combined to shoot 2-for-20 from three against the Wolves on Thursday. That can’t happen again, or the Mavericks risk getting upset.
Portland’s front court reinforcements
In the matchup last week, the Blazers were severely outmatched in the paint, which is difficult to do against this small Mavericks team. Center DeAndre Ayton and forward Jerami Grant were both out with injury, and both will likely suit up in this rematch: Ayton returned earlier this week and Grant is listed as probable as he potentially exits concussion protocol.
This is a big deal (pun intended) because of how much Dallas feasted in the paint in the game last week. The Mavericks scored a 62 points in the paint against the Blazers that night, a season-high for a Mavericks team that is usually allergic to the paint. Ayton and Grant aren’t really known as rim stoppers right now, but still, size is size. Expect the Mavericks front line to have a bit more of a challenge on both ends of the floor compared to last week.
Can someone step up from the Mavericks bench?
With the Mavericks facing a multitude of injuries, it makes sense that the bench has suffered as a result — Dallas got outscored in bench points big time against the Wolves, 56-25. Heck, Wolves sixth man big Naz Reid outscored the Mavericks bench on his own with 27 points.
It’s unreasonable for the back end of the Mavericks roster to magically pop off for a big game, but Dallas desperately needs another player besides Tim Hardaway Jr. to give them something. Maybe Jaden Hardy can claw out of the doghouse and knock down some big threes? Perhaps Dwight Powell can have one of those random high scoring energy games? Rookie forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper had his best game of his career last week against the Grizzlies with 11 points, perhaps facing another lottery team will be his chance to repeat that performance.
Either way, Dallas just needs someone aside from Hardaway to do something. It won’t take much to get past a bad Blazers team, but the Mavericks are a tired and hurt team right now. A little help from an unexpected source would go a long way.