If the Blazers have a chance for redemption it’s tonight. Dallas is the least challenging game remaining on Portland’s schedule and it is going to be a true battle. The Mavericks are now three games behind the 8th seed (Los Angeles Lakers) and will give the Blazers everything they have. This matchup may be Dallas’ last chance at a post-season. On the other hand, Portland has lost 7 games in a row and will do everything in their power to break the pattern. Neither team is the most physical n the NBA, but this contest could get chippy quickly.
Portland and Dallas have faced off three times this season, each winning their games at home. Last time they played in the Rose Garden, Portland recovered to from a 21 point deficit to win off of a LaMarcus Aldridge fade away in the final second. Don’t think the Mavericks will have forgotten. This time, it is the Blazers that are short handed and the Mavs will look to exploit this in any way they can.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Victor Claver, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Mavericks Starting 5: PG Mike James, SG O.J. Mayo, SF Shawn Marion, PF Dirk Nowitzki, C Chris Kaman
LaMarcus is the key to Portland’s success tonight. He has been the highest scoring Blazer in each of their previous meetings because the Mavericks and Blazers share one fatal commonality; a lack of interior defense. The question is, who will bend and who will break? If Aldridge can get Dirk into foul trouble, Portland may be able to seize control. If not, they may be in for a hard time.
Dirk is more than capable of taking over if he is allowed even the tiniest window of opportunity. This is where things get tricky. LaMarcus will have to play him incredibly close without fouling. If LaMarcus racks up 3 or 4 early on, it could turn into a runaway. Portland needs him on the floor to keep Dirk at bay and provide the bulk of their scoring. Who gets the better of who in the post will determine who walks away from this game with the W.
Portland will be without Nicolas Batum for a 3rd straight game. As Portland’s best perimeter defender, it may be difficult for him to watch O.J. Mayo sink threes in the corner. Batum brings so much to this Portland team, it is hard to imagine how they could fill the hole he leaves behind. Sure Claver is decent, but he is hardly as capable as Batum when it comes to transition defense, facilitating, and 3 point shooting.
This is where the Blazers must capitalize on their largest mismatch. Damian Lillard has to be able to make Mike James look foolish in order to pick up the slack. James is slow on defense, so Lillard should have plenty of open looks if he can avoid the double. More importantly, getting to the rim will be at the top of his to-do list. This is the kind of defense Damian thrives against. Expect him to come on strong as a three point threat, and finish well inside against Chris Kaman.
Under these conditions, the Blazers will win:
- LaMarcus stays out of foul trouble
- Damian Lillard looks to score first
- Portland stops O.J. Mayo from heating up
- Dirk is kept off the free throw line
- Portland plays all four quarters
- J.J. Hickson exploits Dallas’ interior weaknesses on offense
- The lights flicker and a super villain appears on the jumbotron, demanding the Mavericks forfeit the game (super hero intervention not withstanding)
Ok, well most of those need to happen anyway. I’m excited for this one. It could very well be the Blazers’ last hurrah of the 2012-2013 season. Truth be told, the odds are not in our favor, but at this point, that’s what makes it fun! Tune in at 6:00pm PST to watch our boys make a stand. LaMarcus will have his hands full, but look for him and Lillard to lead the way.