The Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trailblazers face off in a first round matchup that has many Mavericks fans fearing another first round ouster. The two teams split the season series, two games apiece, but the Blazers thoroughly embarrassed the Mavericks in all aspects in their final regular season meeting. The Blazers won that game 104-96 and the final scoreline was misleading as the Mavericks got the bulk of their points when the game was out of reach in the fourth quarter. Many Mavericks fans point to that game as the reason they have no confidence in a playoff matchup against the Trailblazers. Of course, they dismiss the fact that the Mavericks were coming off a stretch in which they played three straight back to back games. That's brutal for any team in the NBA, let alone the oldest team in the league. It included a stretch of four games in five nights which culminated in that Blazers' victory. I don't think you can read too much into that game for either team. These two teams are very evenly matched and the statistics bear that out.
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To no one's surprise, the Mavericks have the clear edge offensively in this series. They have a higher offensive efficiency rating and are better across the board in all the major shooting categories. The one advantage the Blazers will have is their ability to get points in the paint. The Blazers have a slew of players that attack the basket (Aldridge, Wallace, Roy and Matthews, to name a few) and preventing the parade to the basket will be one of the Mavericks' biggest tasks this series. The size advantage the Blazers posses in the backcourt will make this especially difficult. Andre Miller, Brandon Roy and Wesley Matthews possess a great size advantage against a Mavericks' backcourt that features Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and J.J Barea. In other words, I don't think you're going to be seeing too much of the maligned three guard lineup by Carlisle in this series.
||Points allowed in paint|
On defense, it's the Blazers that have the edge. To note here is the Mavericks inability to defend the paint. Even with the addition of Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks were just as vulnerable in the paint as in previous years. Chandler will be able to hinder the Blazers' ability to attack the paint to an extent. Make no mistake though, the Blazers will be able to get to the basket and if Chandler gets in foul trouble, it could be a long series. In addition, the Blazers hold a distinct rebounding advantage- especially on the offensive glass. Offensive possessions will be pivotal in this series. The Blazers commit the least amount of turnovers in the NBA. So, they don't turn the ball over and get second chance shots. That's a good recipe for success.
Point guard- Andre Miller vs Jason Kidd.
It seems like the Trailblazers have been trying to get rid of Andre Miller ever since they acquired him two seasons ago. The rumors that surround his departure stem from a rift between Miller and Brandon Roy. Miller survived the trading deadline and will be the starting point guard for the Blazers in the playoffs. Miller averaged 12.5 points and 7 assists during the season. Fatigue is a concern for both Miller and Kidd. Miller dropped 55 points against the Mavericks last season, but that threat seems to be non-existent this time around. Miller possesses no three point threat and a weak jump shot. Most of his points will come at the rim by posting up his opposition. Miller averaged 9 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists against the Mavericks this season.
Jason Kidd’s performance in last year’s playoffs was one to forget. Kidd averaged 9.5 points, 7 assists and 6.5 rebounds while shooting a dreadful 30% from the field. It goes without saying that Kidd’s performance will have to improve in this year’s playoffs. Coach Rick Carlisle took steps as the regular season wound to ensure Kidd’s fitness by resting him down the stretch. Kidd gave an encouraging performance in the regular season finale against the New Orleans Hornets by posting 12 points on 66% shooting, 8 assists, and 4 steals. That will need to carry over to the post season for the Mavericks to have a shot against the Blazers. Unfortunately, Kidd’s performances against the Blazers this season were rather poor. Kidd averaged 5 points, 5 rebounds and 8 assists in their four games this season. His performance will likely determine the Mavericks' fate this series.
Shooting guard: Deshawn Stevenson vs. Wesley Matthews
While the outcome of the series from a Mavericks perspective will likely be determined by Jason Kidd, I believe that the Blazers’ fate rely on the performance of Wesley Matthews. Matthews averaged 15.5 points per game against the Mavericks shooting 50% from the field and getting to the line at a consistent clip. Matthews is an 88% free throw shooter and limiting him from the line will be crucial if the Mavericks intend on slowing him down.
With Rodrigue Beaubois suffering a foot sprain in the final game of the season, it appears that Deshawn Stevenson will get the start at shooting guard for the Mavericks. Stevenson’s tenacity and his ability to limit Matthews’ production will be vital to the Mavs’ chances. He averaged 7.5 points against the Blazers’ and his ability to spread the floor by hitting a few threes will be a nice asset for the Mavericks. But it’s his defense that is needed in this matchup. If the Mavericks are not able to contain Matthews, it could very well be another first round playoff ouster.
Small Forward: Gerald Wallace vs Shawn Marion
The Blazers acquired Wallace earlier this February in a deal with the Charlotte Bobcats and he has produced. Wallace has averaged 16 points and 7.5 rebounds on 50% shooting with the Blazers and provided a third scoring option in the starting lineup to go with Aldridge and Matthews. He gets most of hist points driving to the basket on drives to the basket and while his outside shot is inconsistent, he does enough that you have to at least respect his ability to score from the perimeter. The defense he will bring will be vital to the Blazers. Wallace is an excellent rebounder, weak side shot blocker and averages two steals a game to boot.
Marion has been a key cog for the Mavericks this season. He averaged 12.5 points and 6.9 rebounds on the year but really took off in the second half of the season. He started the season on the bench, but was inserted into the starting lineup out of necessity. He took full advantage of the opportunity, upping his average to 14.5 points and 7.6 rebounds on 55% shooting after the all-star break. Marion's defense will be needed to combat Wallace's drive in this series. If he is able to do that while scoring at his post all-star clip, the Mavericks will be in good shape.
Power Forward: Lamarcus Aldridge vs. Dirk Nowitzki.
Of course, the featured matchup in this series is Nowitzki vs Aldridge. They are the two superstars on each team and will command the most attention for their respective opposition. Aldridge had a breakout season and posted career numbers in all the major categories. Aldridge averaged 27.8 points, 9 rebounds and got to the free-throw line eight times per game in the first three games between these teams this season. Aldridge will undoubtedly be the key to this series and limiting his output will be the Mavericks’ primary goal heading into this series. Even though Aldridge is matched up against Dirk on paper, it is highly unlikely Dirk is guarding Aldridge on the floor. That will be a task assigned to Tyson Chandler. Chandler will get the bulk of the load with Brendan Haywood helping out when needed.Chandler and Haywood were exploited in the past by Aldridge, but they are the Mavs' best hope in containing Aldridge. Though, it would not surprise me if Ian Mahinimi got some run against him as well.
What more can you say about Dirk? He always elevates his game come playoff time and this season should be no different. He has averaged 26.7 points and 10.1 rebounds in his last three post-season runs and the Mavericks will need that production to continue if they want to have a chance in this series. Dirk was held moderately in check by the Blazers this season, only posting 21.7 points and 7 rebounds in their four games. I wouldn't be too concerned about that as he missed a game due to injury and most of the second half in the last game between these two teams. He still shot 52% from the field and you can expect many one-legged fadeaways from him in this series. Nicholas Batum will likely draw the defensive assignment against Nowitzki. Batum will likely to try harass Dirk and use his quickness and long arms to disrupt his flow on offense. Of course, that's an easy way to get in foul trouble and I suspect that's the way it will play out. It would shock me if Batum is not in foul trouble for most of this series.
Center: Marcus Camby vs. Tyson Chandler.
Portland's utilization of Camby will be interesting this series. Camby is still a capable rebounder and... well, that's about it. He will start, but I expect him to play limited minutes other than the occasional double team on Nowitzki. Camby averaged 5.5 points and 10 rebounds a game against the Mavericks this series and those numbers should be in line with what he produces in this series.
Chandler was the Mavs' big acquisition this offseason and his impact was felt immediately. Chandler was key to getting the Mavericks off to a hot start earlier this year and will be relied on heavily in these playoffs. He averaged 12.5 points and 8.5 rebounds against the Blazers this season and that kind of production will need to continue.
With the two teams so evenly matched, this series could very well be decided by bench play. Good news for Mavericks fans. Dallas has the far superior bench of the two teams. The Blazers will have Nicholas Batum, Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez coming off the bench. Brandon Roy will be the key. If he is able to harness his scoring down the stretch as he did in the last game against the Mavericks, he could swing this series. The Mavericks will counter with Jason Terry, J.J Barea, Brendan Haywood, Peja Stojakovic, Corey Brewer and Ian Mahinmi. Terry has been a playoff flub in recent years and a poor performance by him again in this series could very well doom the Mavericks. Having said that, Stojakovic is still capable of being a sharpshooter off the bench, Haywood provides additional size and Barea could be effective in spurts in this series.
Prediction- This will probably be the closest matchup in the first round of the playoffs. But I just can't see this Blazers team beating the Mavericks four games out of seven. Maybe it's their inexperience, maybe it's their inconsistency or maybe it's just because the Mavericks are the better team.
Mavericks in 7.