Earl K. Sneed previews Tuesday night's matchup between the Mavericks and the Blazers, as both teams enter their second showdown shorthanded. The Mavs are beginning a three-game homestand.
DALLAS — Injuries can either derail a team over the course of an 82-game NBA schedule, or they can bring a squad closer together. The Mavericks prefer the latter in their case.
The Mavericks (25-8) have been bitten recently be the injury bug and they can currently feel the poisonous sting that comes with key on-the-court losses due to untimely aches and pains. And with three injuries to a trio of All-Star caliber players, all different in their extent, the team limped its way to three straight losses, before righting the ship Sunday night in Cleveland.
“I’ve been in situations like this before several times in coaching,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. “And when you lose key players, everybody’s got to raise their level. The collective spirit and unity has got to get even stronger, and you’ve got to find a way to battle through it. It’s not easy.”
Forward Shawn Marion missed the team’s New Year’s Day matchup in Milwaukee, a 99-87 loss, due to a thigh contusion, although he did return a night later. Meanwhile, leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki has missed four straight games due to a sprained right knee. Nowitzki is targeting a return date this week, but he’s officially listed as day-to-day.
And perhaps the most potentially serious of the injuries happened to two-time All-Star Caron Butler, the Mavericks' third-leading scorer, when the swingman came down awkwardly after leaping for a rebound in the first quarter of the loss to Milwaukee. The team awaits a further diagnosis, but early word is that Butler suffered an apparent right knee injury.
The Mavericks, however, collectively came together to seize a 104-95 victory Sunday night in Cleveland without the services of Nowitzki and Butler to end their back-to-back road trip. And fittingly, Marion led the way with a season-high 22 points on 11-of-16 shooting in his return to the lineup.
Five Mavericks scored in double figures in the win, picking up the slack for an absent Nowitzki and sidelined Butler.
“We’ve all got to do it collectively together as a team and keep helping each other,” Marion said.
“Look, this is one of the realities of this league. When you’ve got your main guys out, you’ve got to have other guys ready. So, that’s where we are,” Carlisle added.
Portland (18-16) knows that reality all too well, after consecutive injury-riddled seasons have left the Trail Blazers’ roster virtually depleted. That makes Tuesday night’s matchup between the two teams essentially a battle of banged-up playoff-contending teams, with the turning of the calendar bringing a new year and optimism for a healthy 2011.
Already without former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden for the season with yet another knee injury in his plagued and rehab-heavy young career, the Blazers have recently been without All-Star guard Brandon Roy after he began experiencing soreness in both of his knees. That will make it hard for Portland to avenge a 103-98 loss at the American Airlines Center on Dec. 15.
Roy hasn’t logged any game action since that December loss to the Mavericks, when he scored just four points in 30 minutes.
The Blazers, however, are hopeful to have center Joel Przybilla back as soon as Tuesday night against the Mavericks. Przybilla plans to return at some point during the Blazers’ three-game road trip after missing seven straight games with a sprained left ankle.
But in the meantime the Mavericks have to find an answer for big man LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 35 points (20 in the fourth quarter) and grabbed 10 rebounds in a losing effort the first go-round. Now, with the Blazers limping back into the American Airlines Center, the Mavericks will make sure that their defense is focused on slowing down the Seagoville native.
“Portland is a good team. They are experienced, you know, and they present major problems because of their size. Aldridge is a great player. Their wing guys are attackers and they kept putting pressure on us,” Carlisle said after the first matchup.
With one win already under their belt, the Mavericks had into Tuesday night’s matchup confident and prepared to survive until the return of their full complement of players.
“In this locker room, we believe that we can play with anybody, no matter who puts on a uniform,” point guard Jason Kidd said.
But as their head coach may have said best, it certainly won’t be easy for the Mavericks, especially against Aldridge and a vengeful Blazers team that has won two straight and six of its last eight games.
“This is NBA basketball,” Carlisle said. “It is the best basketball in the world, and it is not going to be easy. You are going to have to fight for everything.”
The shorthanded Mavericks enter the American Airlines Center prepared for a fight Tuesday night, hoping to improve upon their 13-6 record in Big D as the team begins a three-game homestand.
Note: The Mavericks return to the American Airlines Center Tuesday night to host the Portland Trail Blazers, a squad that the Mavericks beat, 103-98, on Dec. 15. That game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting the American Airlines Center box office, logging on to Mavs.com or by calling 214-747-MAVS (6287).
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