Western Conference first-round preview: Mavericks vs. Trail Blazers
This might be the most intriguing series of the first round. The Blazers won their last two regular-season meetings with Dallas, and their new versatility gives them the ability to match up with the Mavericks in several different ways. Portland's big guards, especially Brandon Roy, can thrive against the Mavs' smaller and, in Jason Kidd's case, slower backcourt, and the Blazers can throw three guys at Dirk Nowitzki -- LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace.
The Mavs just snapped a nine-game losing streak to Western Conference playoff teams, and they never quite regained the form that saw them start 43-9 in games Dirk Nowitzki played. Tyson Chandler has missed a few games (including the last Portland game) with minor ailments, the slumping Roddy Beaubois has been pulled from the starting lineup and the Corey Brewer/Peja Stojakovic small forward combination never really worked.
But still: This Dallas team did start 43-9 with Nowitzki healthy, and it played especially well against elite teams during that span. Only three teams rank in the top 10 in both points scored and allowed per possession: Dallas, the Lakers and Miami. That says something.
Some of the Dirk burden will also fall to Camby. Is the 37-year-old up to it?
On the other end, Aldridge torched the Mavs in four games this season, averaging 28 points on 52 percent shooting. Expect Chandler to start on him, though Nowitzki and Brendan Haywood will also see time on Aldridge. A potential decisive factor: whether Aldridge can get Chandler in foul trouble.
I've liked this Mavs team all season, and I think it's ready to play well enough to win a very tough series. Winning in six would mean clinching in Portland, but Dallas has been the league's best road team all year.