Game Details: American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX. 5:30 PM. TV: CSNW. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6′5″, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6′9″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6′11″, UMass)
Projected Dallas Starting Lineup: PG Jason Kidd (#2, 6’4″, Cal), SG Jason Terry (#31, 6’2”, University of Arizona) , SF DeShawn Stevenson (#92, 6’5″, Washington Union High School) , PF Shawn Marion (#0, 6’7”, UNLV), C Tyson Chandler (#6, 7’1″, Dominguez High School)
Tuesday night is yet another big night in the lives of the 2010-11 Portland Trail Blazers. It was only just four weeks ago that Portland last rolled in to Dallas. On the tail end of a 1-3 four-gamer, the Blazers played valiantly, but fell short. It wasn’t the final outcome of the evening that was important, though. December 15th, 2010, was the beginning of this stretch of games that is being defined by the play of LaMarcus Aldridge.
Born in the Big D, LA missed his career scoring high by a single point in the loss to Dallas. Since that evening at the American Airlines Center, LaMarcus has posted scoring nights of 36, 29, and 26, including 27 and 25 in his last two outings. Before Portland’s last match-up against the Mavs, LA had nights scoring 16, 13, 12, and 4. Along with an uptick in his scoring, Aldridge has picked up his rebounding. In the eight games since the last time these two teams met, LA has grabbed double-digits in rebounds five times, including a career high 19 boards in Portland’s home win against Milwaukee. It’s safe to say that LaMarcus is fully immersed in his best extended run as a professional. The question is, can he maintain.
Tuesday will be a good test. In Portland’s last trip through Dallas, Brandon Roy was still in the lineup. Through two quarters of that game the offense still ran through Brandon, and it was quite possibly the moment when it became clear that that method is no longer Portland’s most effective. With Brandon out, there will be more room for LA to establish himself early. No Brandon also means more room for Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum, not to mention Andre Miller. Wesley and Nic both have been playing at a high level over these last few home games, of which Portland has won all of their last eight. Wesley failed to reach double figures in scoring only twice in the month of December, and Nicolas is coming off possibly his best game this season, netting a season-high 21 points in the win at home against Houston Sunday night. Let’s not forget, Andre Miller went for 52 in the American Airlines Center not quite a year ago.
Portland is the recipient of some injury based good fortune coming in to Dallas. Good luck with injuries happens so rarely to this team that it’s hard to know what to do with it. The Mavericks will definitely be without starting small forward Caron Butler, out for maybe the rest of the season with an injury to his patella tendon, and could possibly be without starting power forward Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk has missed four straight games since spraining his knee in a win at Oklahoma City. It seems that knees are an issue not only for the Portland Trail Blazers, and the lack of offensive fire power from Dallas should provide a boost for Portland.
Defensively the key to beating Dallas is limiting Dirk. With Dirk out the lineup, although he is day-to-day, Portland will be able to key in on scorers like Jason Terry and DeShawn Stevenson. Other than those two, most of the rest of the Mavericks are top level role players. Tyson Chandler can’t destroy a team with his offense, Jason Kidd is limited to shooting threes at this point in his career, and Dallas doesn’t likely run many sets for Shawn Marion. It was Dirk that killed Portland the last time out. Even if the big German is in the lineup come Tuesday, there’s a good chance he’ll be at least a little rusty. Dallas is an offensive team, with two pieces of its arsenal severely limited, the Blazers should have a good shot at keepin Dallas from running away.
Offensively, Tuesday’s game might be decided by the second units. Portland’s second unit, orchestrated by Patty Mills and Rudy Fernandez, have been able to push the pass recently, and help the Blazers build leads and create separation. Patty and Rudy need to keep running, but also need to play under control. With Terry moving from the bench to the starting position, Rudy won’t have a tough defensive assignment. Patty, on the other head, will have to follow JJ Barea. Although not a killer, Barea is one of the few players in the league that can match Patty for pure pace.
When it’s all said and done, though, Tuesday’s game is going to be decided by LaMarcus Aldridge. With Dirk out, LA might be the best player on either team. LaMarcus will get no better chance to prove his All-Star worthiness than the chance he will get on Tuesday. He’s at home, he’s playing against the team of one of the best power forwards ever, if not that power forward himself, and he likely has redemption on his mind.
If LaMarcus stays the course, Tuesday could easily go Portland’s way.