The Portland Trail Blazers (42-19) will play the Dallas Mavericks (36-26) tonight for the third and final time this season. The teams have split the two previous games, with each team winning on the road. The last trip the Trail Blazers made to the American Airlines Center, they put up 127 points en route to a 16 point victory (127-111). The last meeting (in Portland) the Mavericks won 108-106 on a game winning shot by Monta Ellis.
After enduring a season-high three game skid in February, the Trail Blazers have won six of their last seven games. The team seems to be right back where they started the season. Wednesday night, the Trail Blazers put a hurting on the Atlanta Hawks (102-78). The most impressive thing about the win is it came on a night where LaMarcus Aldridge struggled mightily. Aldridge was 1-13 from the field and tied a season low with 10 points. The rest of the team didn’t seem dependent on Aldridge’s play and that’s what propelled them to victory.
Nicolas Batum has been on some run over the last three games. In those games, Batum is averaging 13.3 points, 16.3 rebounds, and 4.0 assists. Batum collected a career-high 18 rebounds against the Hawks on Wednesday. There’s no reason to think he’ll stop tonight as the Mavericks have been out-rebounded in five straight games. Also picking up the slack on Wednesday was Mo Williams. Williams went 6-9 from the field, including 3-3 from three-point range, and finished with a team high 15 points. The Trail Blazers improved to 21-3 when Williams scores in double digits.
After winning 10 of 12, the Dallas Mavericks have landed in a slump. Fresh off a 115-110 loss in Denver, the Mavericks have now lost a season-high three straight games. They have won eight of their last 12 homes games but none of those wins came against a team with a winning record. The Trail Blazers will need to have everyone clicking tonight in order to walk away from Dallas with a win.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- Thomas Robinson will most likely be out tonight. He is still rehabbing from his left patella tendon strain.
- Joel Freeland will be out with a sprained MCL. It was reported by Chris Haynes that Freeland did seek a second opinion from a specialist on Tuesday but is still not close to returning.
- Gal Mekel returned to basketball on Wednesday after having knee surgery in January to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. Mekel played with the Mavericks D-League team the Texas Legends and recorded seven points and seven assists.
- Wayne Ellington is listed as day-to-day after he missed Wednesday’s game for personal reasons.
Keys To The Game
LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Dirk Nowitzki. Aldridge has yet to fully return to his pre-All-Star game self. In the three games since his return, Aldridge is averaging 15.6 points and 6.3 rebounds. Those numbers are well below his season averages of 23.5 points and 11.1 rebounds. Aldridge claims that his timing has been off and it has been pretty easy to tell. After being spoiled by his play this season, watching him go 1-13 on Wednesday was miserable. He should have had an easier time posting up against the much smaller DeMarre Carroll but didn’t seem confident enough to take advantage. Nowitzki is still one of my favorite players to watch. At 35 years old, the 15 year veteran is having another great season. He has increased his point average over last season from 17.5 to 21.6. He seems to be healthy and ready for another shot at the title. Last meeting against the Trail Blazers, Nowitzki scored 30 points and had six rebounds and seven assists. This power forward match-up will be fun to watch.
Mo Williams. Williams deserves to get another mention. As stated, when he scores in double figures, the Trail Blazers normally win. But there is another side to Williams that is equally important. He has recorded 253 assists this season which is the most by any reserve player in the NBA. During his career, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Williams. At times his play is a little too loose and he seems to jack up ill-advised shots. If you ever want to see a player display the “shoot til you’re on” mentality, look no further than Williams. This season he seems to have a different approach to his work. He understands his role as the sixth man and has embraced it with flying colors. His season averages won’t show his consistent ability to help the Trail Blazers when they need it most. The Trail Blazers will once again call upon him tonight to be the first off the bench and I’m excited to see what he does.
Get Out To A Fast Start. This might be the single key to victory the Trail Blazers have needed every night. Wednesday night against the Hawks, the Trail Blazers seemed to understand the importance of a fast start. They built a ten point lead by the end of the first quarter and never looked back. It was obvious to everyone that they had worked on that in practice on Tuesday after starting so slow against the Lakers on Monday. Tonight’s game is the first in a five game (in eight days) road trip. The road trip consists of four opponents over the .500 mark and the Trail Blazers need to start the game and the road trip on a good note.