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Why the Portland Trail Blazers Will Beat the Dallas Mavericks
It's been a while since the Portland Trail Blazers made it out of the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Since the 1999-2000 season, in fact.
The Dallas Mavericks weren't in the playoffs that season, but they have been every year since, an 11-year stretch that has seen Dallas reach at least the Western Conference semifinals six times.
Portland is in the postseason for the third consecutive year, after missing the playoffs five years in a row from 2003-04 to 2007-08. Before that streak began, the postseason was a given in the Rose City, with the Blazers reaching the playoffs 21 years in a row and 26 times in 27 seasons dating back to 1976-77, when the franchise won its only NBA championship.
Dallas' playoff history is not near as rich as Portland's, as the Mavericks missed out on the postseason 10 straight years from 1990-91 to 1999-2000.
Now, the Mavs are a perennial playoff team, and they're loaded with savvy veterans who have postseason experience. They'll square off against the Trail Blazers in the first round of the 2011 NBA playoffs, with the first game set for Saturday, April 16 at 6:30 p.m. PDT in Dallas.
I expect this series to be exciting, filled with close, entertaining games.
And I expect the Portland Trail Blazers to win it in six, reaching the second round for the first time in 11 seasons.
Injuries and depth will be key factors in this series. On the Portland side of things, remaining healthy is imperative, with Brandon Roy(notes) and Marcus Camby(notes) still recovering from knee surgeries earlier this season.
Depth remains an issue at the post position for Portland, which finally has a couple of bodies on the roster at center, but still only one — Camby — who is an impact player.
After trading away Joel Przybilla(notes) in the deadline-day deal that netted Portland Gerald Wallace(notes), and still without injured center Greg Oden(notes), the Blazers added two free agents — 7-foot forward/center Earl Barron(notes) and 6-foot-11 center Chris Johnson(notes) — for the remainder of the season.
Barron and Johnson can spell Camby, but the defense and rebounding they provide won't be anywhere near the level of Camby's, so keeping the 37-year-old oft-injured center healthy is key for Portland in this series.
Particularly because the Mavericks don't really have any issues in the middle. Dallas boasts 7-foot-1 defensive stalwart Tyson Chandler(notes) at center, with 7-foot Brendan Haywood(notes) coming off the bench.
At times since the Wallace trade, Portland coach Nate McMillan has started 6-11 LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) at center and 6-8 Nicolas Batum(notes) at power forward, with the 6-7 Wallace playing small forward and Camby coming off the bench.
The smaller lineup often works well for Portland, particularly when the team was trying to limit Camby's minutes as he recovered from surgery. But Aldridge is much better-suited at his natural position — power forward — and Batum is much better at his natural small forward spot.
Dallas has key bench players of its own, with Jason Terry(notes) and Peja Stojakovic(notes) capable of providing big-time production in reserve. Terry is Dallas' second-leading scorer at 15.8 points per game, and he also turns in 4.1 assists while shooting 45.1 percent from the field per outing.
Shawn Marion(notes) averages 12.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, and Chandler chips in 10.1 points and 9.4 boards per contest. Jason Kidd(notes) has struggled shooting the ball this season, with a 36.1-percent average from the field, but he still turns in 8.2 assists per game.
Caron Butler(notes) scored 15 points per game but has been out since January 1 with a knee injury. There's still a chance he could return at some point in this series, but there's no telling when or just how effective he would be.
Aldridge stepped up as Portland's main scoring threat, averaging 21.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game and helping the Blazers remain in the playoff picture even while Roy and Camby were out of the lineup. Starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews(notes) has had a breakout season, at 15.9 points per game, and Wallace has given Portland a huge boost with his athleticism and blue-collar playing style, turning in 15.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game this season.
I like this matchup overall, and I think it'll be an exciting series to watch, but I give the nod to the Blazers in this series. Portland has been playing its best basketball of the season ever since Wallace began getting comfortable in his new surroundings and Roy and Camby came back from injury. The team is balanced and has seven players who can score big on any given night. The eighth player in McMillan's typical rotation — Camby — is a defensive and rebounding specialist who is a superb role player.
If he and the rest of the Blazers can remain healthy, Portland takes this series in six games.
Portland Trail Blazers Franchise Index, Basketball-Reference.com
Dallas Mavericks Franchise Index, Basketball-Reference.com
Portland Trail Blazers Stats, Yahoo! Sports
Dallas Mavericks Stats, Yahoo! Sports
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