Shootaround: Tyson Chandler

Mavs C Tyson Chandler weighs in on the Amar'e Stoudemire rumors, how the team needs to stay focused defensively against the Trailblazers and more.

Only one team in the NBA has played fewer road games than the Blazers, and zero teams have played fewer home games than the Mavs, who have taken the floor just 23 times in 52 games this season. Working in the Mavs’ favor tonight is Portland’s recent dry spell away from home — the club has lost six straight games away from the Moda Center and eight of 12 overall, a combination of struggles after LaMarcus Aldridge hurt his hand and sloppy play in general.

The Mavericks now enter a stretch during which seven of the team’s next nine games will come at the AAC, a perfect chance for the team to get some wins and solidify its playoff position moving forward. However, it’s not going to be easy. Nothing is in the West. The battle will begin tonight, and without Rajon Rondo, who the team announced will miss at least the next three games.

MAVS PLAYER TO WATCH

Chandler Parsons had been averaging 20.5 points per game in his last four before the win in Sacramento Thursday night, when he scored just six points on 2-of-9 shooting. Without Rondo, Parsons has gained more playmaking responsibility and he’s certainly produced in that role. He’s hit 13 of his last 24 three-point shots and is shooting 58.6 percent at the rim, and in the two home games during that time he’s shot 65.2 percent from the field.

Monta Ellis has consistently played the largest facilitating role in the offense this season, especially without Rondo, but if Parsons can continue playing as a very capable secondary option within the offense, the Mavericks will be alright on that end without Rondo. JJ Barea has also demonstrated that he’s capable of running the show for stretches throughout games. Portland, however, is a very capable defensive team, especially on the perimeter. Parsons will be defended by Nic Batum, Ellis by Wes Matthews, and Barea by Damian Lillard. The Mavs will need to win some of those matchups in order to control and win the game.

BLAZERS PLAYER TO WATCH

Aldridge is the anchor of Portland’s offense in the same way that Dirk Nowitzki was for so many years. Even when players like Lillard and Matthews produce on that end, almost everything the club does is predicated on how the defense opts to cover Aldridge in the pick-and-roll game and isolation situations. He has struggled, though, by his standards in the last three games, averaging 19.7 points on 42.3 percent shooting. The best players never stay in slumps for very long, but Aldridge has had a rough time away from home in general this season, shooting just 44.6 percent in those games, as opposed to the 48.4 percent he shoots at home.

It will be interesting to see which of the Mavs frontcourt starters, Dirk or Tyson Chandler, will be the one to defend Aldridge. He usually hangs out on the perimeter, meaning if Chandler guards him, he will be removed from protecting the rim and the defensive glass, two places where he works better than just about anyone. But Nowitzki isn’t as quick as Aldridge, making it a difficult decision for head coach Rick Carlisle. Either way, the Mavs are at a disadvantage at one position. The West is really, really hard.

WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME

The Mavs suffered their biggest defeat of the season at the hands of the Blazers on Nov. 6, a 108-87 loss in the fifth game of the season. At that point the Blazers were surging to begin the year yet again, just as the club did in 2013-14, and the Mavericks were still getting used to one another. Plus, the game was played at the Moda Center, where Portland has lost just five games in 27 tries this season. Therefore it’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from that one game played three months ago. Tonight will be a better indication representing where the two teams are in their march toward the playoffs.

One element of the last meeting which could carry over to this one was the starting lineup’s shooting struggles ultimately costing Dallas the game. The Mavs starting five shot just 19-of-54 combined in that game. Now that Rondo’s injury has removed one more player from the bench, the second unit isn’t as deep as it was in that first matchup. The starters can’t afford to have another collective off night like that. Nowitzki’s night off in Sacramento should help him play with fresh legs tonight, while the rest of the players will have to slog through what’s sure to be a difficult contest.

STAT TO WATCH

Portland holds its opponents to a league-best 31.3 percent shooting on three-pointers, doing so with a combination of tremendous length at all positions and excellent team speed. The Blazers also limit opposing teams to just 18.6 long-range attempts per game, second-fewest in the league. If the Mavs are going to win this one, they’ll either have to buck a trend by shooting above themselves from deep or they’ll need to dominate the game from inside the arc. Only one team has shot better than Dallas on twos this season: Golden State, whose 52.6 percent bests the Mavs’ by 0.7 points.

A win tonight would also move the Mavericks into a tie with Portland for fourth-best record (by games behind first place) in the West, but because both Memphis and Houston are ahead of Dallas in the standings, the Mavericks would remain fifth place in the conference. The Southwest Division is ridiculously good this season — there’s a real chance all five teams will make the playoffs, while it’s also as possible that only Portland will qualify from the Northwest Division.

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