January 26, 2018, 2:11 pm
OPPONENT: Dallas Mavericks
RECORD: 16-32 (10-16 at home, 3-7 last 10 games)
MEASURABLES: 104.8 offensive rating (15th), 106.8 defensive rating (19th), -2.0 net rating (22nd)
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP: PG Dennis Smith, Jr., SG Wesley Matthews, SF Harrison Barnes, PF Maxi Kleber, C Dirk Nowitzki
INJURIES: Evan Turner (out, personal reasons); Devin Harris (out), Nerlens Noel (out), Seth Curry (out), Dorian Finney-Smith (out)
WHEN, WHERE, HOW TO WATCH: 8:30 EST, American Airlines Center (Dallas), NBC Sports Northwest/FOX Sports Southwest
The Portland Trail Blazers need no introduction to the Dallas Mavericks.
It was less than a week ago that Damian Lillard and company fought off the Mavericks at Moda Center, withstanding a fourth-quarter run to win 117-108 and extend their ongoing home winning streak to six. That game, somehow, was neither as close nor as comfortable as the final score made it seem.
Portland, on the strength of scorching hot 3-point shooting, opened up an 18-point lead on Dallas in the second quarter, and was ahead 62-45 at intermission. The Mavericks picked it up offensively in the second half, though, slowly chipping away at the Blazers’ cushion despite their continued proficiency from deep. But the best efforts of Wesley Matthews and Dennis Smith, Jr. proved too little too late for Dallas, which never got closer than a five-point deficit that came with just 38 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
What separates this Portland team from iterations of the past two seasons is its ability to win when the offense isn’t humming. Sweeping defensive improvement is the means behind that development, of course, but against the Mavericks last Saturday, the Blazers relied on their more time-honored formula to maintain a double-digit lead. Despite Lillard making his first nine shots, seven of which were triples, a second-half crisis was only averted because Portland scored 54 points and drained nine 3-pointers.
Letting down after building a sizable lead is inevitable, and it’s hardly like the Blazers are the only team that would have had trouble slowing Matthews and Smith after halftime considering they way they were shooting the ball. Portland certainly didn’t full-on quit, either; chippy incidents involving Salah Mejri and Matthews down the stretch showed that Dallas’ game-long intensity was matched.
It’s never a positive when a coach is forced to re-insert his regulars with a dwindling advantage, though, and that’s exactly what happened to Terry Stotts on Saturday. The Blazers don’t have the luxury of home court this time, either. A bigger onus will fall on the playmaking of Shabazz Napier with Evan Turner out, and Pat Connaughton could be stretched thin playing starter’s minutes. Even the absence of role players can create negative ripples.
Harrison Barnes missed many makable looks in his team’s defeat, and is the type of rangy, athletic presence on the wing and the interior who typically gives Portland problems. The frontcourt pairing of Dirk Nowitzki and Maxi Kleber presents an inherent issue for the Blazers, one not solved last week by Stotts putting Al-Farouq Aminu on the Mavericks’ future Hall of Famer. Smith had never looked more comfortable navigating ball-screen action, and Portland’s occasional lethargy ignited Dallas’ normally-dormant transition attack.
The Blazers should absolutely beat the Mavericks on Friday night for a second time in less than a week. Not only are they more talented, but they have more to play for than Dallas, which is broaching the trades of veteran contributors and counting down the days until lottery night. This should be a win for Portland.
Anyone expecting it to come easily, though, has forgotten how tenuous the Blazers’ grasp on victory suddenly became a few days ago. They can’t afford similar slippage tonight and expect the same outcome.