LaMarcus Aldridge dropped the sound bite of the season when he called this current six-game road trip a “make or break” affair. It’s not a season-defining quote because it’s truth or depth of feeling. It’s not really true (five straight losses to finish 1-5 on this trip would be bad but the season, for whatever it’s worth, won’t be sunk), and it about as empty a sentiment as cliches get.
It’s the quote of the season because it’s the type of quip that gets repeated ad nauseam by the local media and can be used to build an innumerable amount of stories from now until the end of April. If the Blazers win more games than they lose, or if they don’t lose more games than they win, on this trip, the papers will be chalk full of “season making roadie” stories. If they limp home three games below .500 and losing connection to the top eight spots in the Western Conference, it will be time to shake the dust off the “time to tank” and “should Portland tank” stories that so easily rolled off the literal and virtual presses during the stretch run of last season.
If this is a make-it or break-it road trip, and I’ve already said I don’t think it is but allow me to contradict myself, then the Blazers’ showdown in Dallas against the Mavericks could very well be the make-it or break-it game of this make-it or break-it trip. According to the transitive property of math, that would make Wednesday’s game the most important game of 2012-13.
OK, sorry for exaggerating. I don’t think that Wednesday is the most important game of the season. However, if we can take it as read that 43 to 45 wins will get the eighth seed in the Western Conference, meaning the Blazers need 19 wins in their last 34 games to feel confident about the post season, every game from now until probably the middle of next month is important.
A winning record on this road trip will go a long way toward that magic number of 44 wins, the number I think Portland should aim for to get the eight seed. Starting 2-0 will take a lot of pressure off a very important game at the end of the week with the scoring machine that is the Houston Rockets, and should allow the Blazers to play a stress-free game in the middle of next week at Miami against the Heat.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Dallas Starting 5: PG Darren Collison, SG O.J. Mayo, SF Shawn Marion, PF Dirk Nowitzki, C Bernard James
In lieu of a “traditional” match-up breakdown, I will present these two short films that should shed some light on the recent goings-on between the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trail Blazers:
These teams have a bit of a recent history. Dallas has been the recipient of two of the more memorable comebacks in recent history. They’ve also basically dominated the Blazers in games they’ve both won and lost. If you’re the Mavs, you have to feel pretty confident coming into Wednesday. Dallas blew out Portland the first time these teams played, and then lost on a buzzer beater the second time they played.
The Mavericks are most certainly looking for revenge against the Blazers, and have to feel pretty confident that on their home turf they will have an advantage.
However, prior to losing by 25 in the Big-D in November, Portland took the Mavericks to overtime twice in the American Airlines Center, beating them once. In fact, the Blazers were 3-3 in their last six games in Dallas going into their first meeting with the Mavs in 2012-13. They’re currently 3-4 on the road in Dallas since 09-10, after sweeping, getting swept, and splitting.
If recent history tells us anything, they’ll split their Dallas stops this season. If they’re going to go 1-1 in Dallas, they’ll have to win Wednesday.
What to Watch For
- LaMarcus Aldridge. LA has been on fire as of late. Four of his best 10 shooting nights percentage-wise have come since the 23rd of January. His 12-of-17 shooting in Minnesota was tied for his best shooting night of the season. Aldridge always plays well against Dallas, and has had a couple of his very best games as a pro in Dallas (which also happens to be his hometown). LaMarcus killed Dallas late just over a week ago (see above video). The last time the Blazers won in Dallas it was because of LA doing this:
- Nicolas Batum. Portland’s triple-double machine has been playing with an injured wrist that is getting a lot of press. A few are calling for Nic to be benched so he can properly heal. I don’t agree with that. If Portland wants to win, they need to have their best players on the court. A sligtly injured, less effective Nicolas Batum is better than basically anyone who could replace him. So far this season, Nicolas has eight games with fewer than 10 field goal attempts. Three of those games have come in February. There’s no doubt that Nic is hurting, and I’m not interested in getting Batum more hurt for no reason, but if Portland is still on the make-it side of this make-it or break-it trip, Nic has to play and he has to contribute. The good thing about Batum in 2012-13 is that he can be of great service without having to score
- Can Portland stay connected, or if they get a lead can they keep it. The Mavericks are going to be motivated on Wednesday. They are coming off a loss to the Thunder, they’re eight games below .500 and a half-step from ledge, and they let the Blazers basically steal a game against them in Portland they had no reason to give up. If Dallas gets a double digit lead on Wednesday, smart money says they won’t give it up. On the flip side of that, if the Blazers can get ahead but then let that lead disappear, as they did on Monday in Minnesota, I imagine Dallas will do all they can to give Portland a taste of their own medicine.