When I sit down to write game previews (and sometimes recaps but mostly previews) I like to start with a big idea and work my way to the game at hand. It’s why I sometimes begin a post about a game by asking what you as a Blazer fan might hope to get out of this season.
I’ve written some about the benefits to winning (as opposed to losing) games this season, and how it relates to what the Blazers can and should be able to accomplish in the long-term. I’ve also written a little about the importance of everybody (fans, brass, guys on the roster) remembering that this team is on a rebuilding schedule that extends beyond just this season. As I’ve said in the past, winning right now is nice because it’s no fun to watch a losing team, but trying to hard to win in 2012-13 just to have to blow it up and rebuild again in 2014-15 would not be fun for anybody.
The big picture of 2012-13 as it pertains to the small segment of the season that is made up of the individual games should be the focal point of the Blazers’ Tuesday evening match-up with the Dallas Mavericks at the Rose Garden.
Dallas currently sits in a tie (more or less) with the LA Lakers for 1oth in the Western Conference, trailing the Blazers by three games for the honor of being the best team in the league to not make the Playoffs. Portland is starting to lose ground to the Rockets, who lead the Blazers by a game and a half for the last spot in the postseason. Winning on Tuesday won’t improve Portland’s Playoff positioning as well as losing will improve the Blazers’ Draft positioning.
Tuesday is the old debate between tanking for draft position versus winning for the purpose of morale made manifest.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Mavericks Starting 5: PG Darren Collison, SG O.J. Mayo, SF Shawn Marion, PF Dirk Nowitzki, C Bernard James
The Mavericks of 2012-13 are not the Mavericks of old. As the intrepid Matt Moore (of CBS and others) aptly states: “sort of, not quite dead in the water. Your 2013 Mavericks!”
Only Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion remain of the players who helped the Mavs vanquish the Heat two long seasons ago to get Dallas’s first and only NBA Title (Roddy Beaubois and Dominique Jones were both on the Dallas roster in 2010-11 but neither were a factor in the Playoff run).
The Mavs were swept out of the first round of the Playoffs last season by the Oklahoma City Thunder. With Dirk on the bench to start 2012-13 and a lot of new pieces to incorporate, Dallas has been one of the more notable struggle-fests of this season (second only in the West, probably, to the LA Lakers). But the Mavericks have won six of their last 10, and although they went 2-13 from December 12th to January 9th, there is always a chance, a chance, this Dallas squad is one of the teams on the rise.
Last time the Blazers played the Mavericks, Portland got run out of the American Airlines Center (114-91 in favor of the home team), so regardless of the respective records of these two teams, the Blazers could very well have their hands full with the Mavericks.
Match-up wise, Dallas is going to try to take advantage of Portland’s lack of size on the inside (which most teams do), they’ll try to take advantage of their relative speed in the back court (quick guards are tough for the Blazers to handle), and they’ll try to keep Portland from getting and/or making jump shots (as the shots fall or don’t fall, so goes the fate of the Blazers).
For Portland to give themselves a decent shot at a W on Tuesday, they’ll need to focus their attention on defense. Dallas is still a team that can score a lot of points. The Blazers shouldn’t try to outscore the Mavericks, they should try their hardest to keep Dallas from scoring. It’s a tall order, to be sure. But if Portland can keep the scores in the low to mid 90s, they’ll be in pretty good shape.
Individually, the match-up of the night will be Dirk Nowitzki versus LaMarcus Aldridge. Dirk might be on his way out; LA is continuing his climb to the top of the list of best power forwards in the league. Portland head coach Terry Stotts is maybe best known for helping Nowitzki develop his offensive game as an assistant in Dallas. Under the system Stotts has put into place, Aldridge has seen a bit of dip in advanced shooting numbers, but is still showing a pretty excellent shooting touch. LA isn’t the shooter Dirk is, but I imagine that in Tuesday’s head-to-head match-up, Aldridge will be the better of the two power forwards. If LA doesn’t get the better of Dirk, however, Portland probably doesn’t win.
What to Watch For
- Damian Lillard versus Darren Collison. When Portland lost to Dallas in Dallas in the Blazers’ fourth game of the season, Lillard didn’t exactly get blown away by the Mavericks’ speedy point guard, but it was the first time he failed to score 20 points in a game. That game also exposed some of Dame’s weaknesses as a defender, the one point in Lillard’s game that has drawn consistent criticism. For my money, Dame’s defense has improved a lot over the last month or so. I’m pretty certain Damian will take the opportunity Tuesday to get some redemption against the type of point guard he struggles most against.
- Shooting. I wrote in my recap of Portland’s loss on Sunday in Los Angeles that it was poor shooting that sunk the Blazers’ hope for a two-game sweep of the Clippers. Jump shooting is important for this team, especially from guys like Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews. Nic took only five shots on Sunday at Staples. He needs to get up around 10 on Tuesday. Wesley put up nine shots on Sunday. Not a terrible number (he’s averaging just over 12 shots a game this season), but it’s a good idea for Wesley to get closer to his average. His scoring doesn’t usually determine the outcome of a game, but he can’t just disappear and expect somebody to pick up the slack for him.
- Meyers Leonard. I think everybody’s waiting for Meyers Leonard to have a big game. With Chris Kaman probably coming off the bench Tuesday, there’s a pretty good chance Meyers will be matched up with a slower, older, less athletic center. Kaman’s a vet though, and he’ll probably see Leonard as a match-up that can be taken advantage of. If Leonard can stay on the court and try to use his speed and finishing ability to overpower Chris Kaman, he might have a good night.