The most important three-game stretch of the season starts tonight as the Trail Blazers (48-30) go for the four-game season series sweep against the Mavericks (51-27) in the Rose Garden. Portland took the first two games in Big D, but the real test came just 15 days ago when the Blazers crushed the Mavs, 101-89, behind Aldridge, Camby, and Miller each recording double-doubles. It was the real test, because these are the rosters both teams would have if they were to matchup in the first round of the playoffs. For once there is good news on the injury front as Marcus Camby is expected to play after missing the last half of the 4th quarter Wednesday night in Los Angeles with a sore hamstring. It isn't looking so bright for Dallas though, because they will be without their starting small forward and best perimeter defender, Shawn Marion, who is out indefinitely with a strained left oblique.
Why did Dallas used to have our number? Simple, they always won the point guard battle. Blake and Rodriguez would get outplayed by Kidd on a nightly basis. Wonder why Portland has turned the tide this season? One reason, Andre Miller. In three games against Dallas this season, Dre has averaged 27.7 points on a .604 field goal percentage, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and only a total of 4 turnovers. While Andre has made life a living nightmare for Dallas, he has also found a way to keep Jason Kidd in check to the tune of 8 points on only 38.1% from the floor, 7.7 assists, and 5.7 rebounds. The key to slowing down the Dallas Mavericks is to frustrate and lock-down their floor general. Obviously no one wants to see Dirk go off for 40, but even if he gets 30 and Andre continues to out-shine Kidd, Portland will win.
What makes Dallas the prime first round opponent for the Trail Blazers is not only Andre's ability to dominate his matchup with Kidd, but all the lanky defenders we can throw at Nowitzki. Whether it be Aldridge or Batum, Portland needs to get physical with Dirk all game long, much like they did on March 25th, holding him to 15 points on 5-13 shooting. One of the biggest factors to slowing down Dirk is to contain the amount of open looks he gets. If he hits a couple open jumpers in a row, either in transition or via a blown assignment, his confidence starts to percolate and all of a sudden those difficult turn around jumpers start to fall. If I'm Coach Nate, I'm hesitant to throw double teams at him, based on the fact Dallas is surrounded with a plethora of shooters, including Butler, Kidd, and Terry. The game plan should be to try and win the point guard battle and just make Dirk earn everything he gets, nothing easy. If he's hot, hopefully he'll cool off as the game winds down the stretch.
With Marion out, the one person's eyes who will light up like a Christmas tree is Brandon Roy. No Marion means mismatches across the board. Caron Butler makes the most sense from a measurable standpoint but Butler isn't quick enough to stick with Roy nor does he want to be on the defensive end all that much. Dallas could put Kidd or Terry on Brandon, which is just begging for abuse in the post, but if Kidd were delegated to defend him, it could mean Jason Terry would have to defend Andre and I think Dallas is still reeling over those 52 points Dre dropped back in December. No matter what the Mavs do, Portland will have an answer. Although Roy was content shooting only 7 times, making 5, in the last meeting due to his teammates carrying the load, look for a more assertive Brandon tonight.
Sweep, sweep, get out the brooms! Portland is going to knock off Dallas for the fourth straight time this year and put a stranglehold on the 6th spot out West. Andre will continue his dominance over Kidd, Batum and Aldridge will fluster Dirk just enough, and Brandon will have no problems getting to where he wants on the floor. Outside of Juwan, one bench player will step up to answer the bell tonight. Who it is, I have no idea, but I saw signs of a little bit improved bench play out of Marty and Jerryd on Wednesday, so hopefully it continues to progress on over to tonight. Much like on March 25th, the Blazers will jump out to a marginal lead and slightly increase it throughout the night, never relinquishing it to Dallas.
Game 79 Prediction: Trail Blazers 103 Mavericks 93Nate McMillan Previews Dallas & The Playoff Race