Trail Blazers-Mavericks Preview – ESPN (blog)
Playing two home games seemed to pull the Portland Trail Blazers out of their funk, but a weekend trip to Texas could send them toward the All-Star break with even more doubt about their ability to win on the road.
The Blazers look to avoid a seventh straight loss away from home Saturday night as they visit the Dallas Mavericks in the first stop on an intimidating back-to-back.
Portland (34-16) has little to worry about in the Northwest Division with a comfortable cushion over Oklahoma City, but its recent road struggles against tough competition may be a cause for concern come playoff time. The Trail Blazers won 12 of their first 17 on the road, but they’ve dropped their last six — all against teams that entered Friday in playoff position.
They avoided a ninth loss in 11 games overall with Tuesday’s 103-102 win over Utah, then outscored Phoenix 42-22 in the fourth quarter Thursday to turn a tight game into a 108-87 blowout.
Both came with Robin Lopez back after the big man missed six weeks with a broken right hand.
“It’s a huge difference,” guard Wesley Matthews said of Lopez, who’s totaled 22 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks since returning. “Offensively, defensively, he’s that staple in the middle.”
Portland last lost seven straight on the road sandwiching the All-Star break two seasons ago. After visiting Dallas, it will face Houston on Saturday before heading into this break with a home game Wednesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Dallas has beaten us (in recent years), Houston has beaten us, so it’s time for us to prove we’re one of the elite teams and we have a chance to do that going into the All-Star break,” Matthews said.
The Blazers’ road skid began Jan. 16 against San Antonio, but the losses can’t be pinned on LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s averaged 29.8 points on 52.4 percent shooting in five games during the slide away from home despite playing three of them with a torn thumb ligament.
The Dallas native has averaged 28.5 points in his past eight visits to his hometown, though the Blazers have lost six of those. Aldridge had 20 points in three quarters in the only meeting with the Mavs this season, a 108-87 Portland home win Nov. 6.
That was six weeks before Dallas (34-18) acquired Rajon Rondo, and the Blazers still won’t get their first look at him in a Mavs uniform as he remains out with a broken orbital bone.
Dallas has won three of four without Rondo — including the game in which he got hurt 1:38 in — and also got by without a resting Dirk Nowitzki on Thursday. A night after blowing a 22-point lead in a 128-114 loss at Golden State, the Mavericks held Sacramento to 36.7 percent shooting in a 101-78 victory.
“It’s a game we had to get, because (Wednesday) night was really tough,” coach Rick Carlisle told the team’s official website. “But guys showed a lot of resilience. They were very together today in our meeting, and they really wanted to bounce back the right way. And they did.”
Beating non-playoff teams hasn’t been the issue, though. Dallas is 2-11 against the other seven teams that entered Friday’s action in the Western Conference’s top eight.
While Lopez and Tyson Chandler may disagree, this one could come down to which of these two teams among the top five in 3-point attempts gets hot from long distance.
That’ll be hard for Portland to do if Damian Lillard continues to struggle. He’s gone 5 of 40 from beyond the arc in the past five games and has shot 29.2 percent overall in four career games in Dallas.
“We know it won’t be that long until he gets 30 points and 10 assists and hits five or six 3s and we win the game,” teammate Nicolas Batum said. “I don’t really worry about Dame.”
The Blazers have outrebounded the Mavs by 17.3 per game over the last four in the series.