Saturday night’s NBA basketball has a tough act to follow after a Friday slate that included a match-ups between conference leaders Golden State and Atlanta, last year’s finalists San Antonio and Miami and a fantastic contest between Oklahoma City and New Orleans. One of the weekend’s biggest games will be a clash between two of the West’s best – the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks.
Portland and Dallas enter the weekend looking to solidify their respective positions in the ultra-competitive West ahead of the All-Star break. Both are balanced teams, but each are still looking to build an identity ahead of the playoffs.
The Trail Blazers have endured some poor form of late but, after losing five of six, have picked up a couple of consecutive wins against the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns. Those two victories both came at home, while tonight’s game will be a road test against a playoff team. Portland has struggled in those games of late losing six straight on the road, all of those losses came against teams currently holding postseason berths.
On the plus side, head coach Terry Stotts’ team has looked significantly better since the return of Robin Lopez. The 7-footer helps to balance out a front court led by LaMarcus Aldridge, who has been on an offensive tear of late averaging more than 25 points per game in 15 games since the start of 2015.
One player who hasn’t been as effective for Portland is point guard Damian Lillard. The third year player is vital to the Blazers’ success, but he has struggled on the road of late. In the last five away games, Lillard is shooting just .289 from the field. He may have been disappointed about getting snubbed from the All-Star game, but it’s possible that Lillard will benefit from the opportunity to rest and refresh.
Lillard will at least not need to compete against one of the league’s top defensive guards in Rajon Rondo. Dallas’ point guard – acquired from Boston in December – will be out until at least the All-Star break. The Mavericks have discovered some form since Rondo went down with a nasal fracture. In fact, Dallas are only 12-9 with the star PG in their line-up, and they were 5-8 in their previous 13 games before Rondo’s injury. They’ve won three of four since, but those wins did come against weaker opponents: the Timberwolves, Magic and Kings.
J.J. Barea has done a solid job filling in with Rondo out and head coach Rick Carlisle has some flexibility on his backcourt with Devin Harris on the bench. Still, offensively this team relies upon Monta Ellis who continues to enjoy one of the best all-round seasons of his NBA career. His .459 field goal percentage is his best mark since his first season as a regular starter for Golden State and he has pretty free reign from a shooting perspective under Carlisle.
Betting Preview: Portland (+2.5) @ Dallas
This isn’t a box office match-up, but it’s an interesting one from a bigger picture perspective. It could well be a preview of a first round playoff series match-up.
This should be a good game (matched up against Berea and Harris) for Lillard to re-discover some of his touch on the road and after a series of poor efforts, the Trail Blazers will have a point to prove. Aldridge and Lopez will be able to exploit the front court contest offensively and defensively playing against Tyson Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki.
The Pick: Portland (+2.5) (www.betonline.ag)
Writer’s Record Against The Spread: 22-17