Dallas at Portland
Time: 9 PM (CT), NBA League Pass
Spread: POR -5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Dallas Mavericks are stabilizing and showing signs of life, but perhaps it is all too little, too late, as the team is just 15-30 and has the second-worst mark in the Western Conference.
Dallas has won five of its past 10, and it will travel to face the Portland Trail Blazers as 5-point underdogs Saturday night on NBA League Pass at 9 PM (CT). Portland currently occupies the No. 6 spot in the West with a 24-21 record and a 12-10 mark at home this season.
Dallas, while probably out of realistic contention for the 2018 playoffs, has several reasons to be excited about the progress of what has to be called one of the stranger rebuilds in recent history. While still clinging to what is left of Dirk Nowitzki’s career, the Mavs are nevertheless in something of a tank mode, bent on developing their young talents and positioning themselves for another high pick in the 2018 draft. And that is not all bad. The No. 8 overall pick from the 2017 draft has thus far panned out brilliantly for Dallas, as Dennis Smith Jr. is becoming a household name on a horrible team, which is something of a task in and of itself.
Smith has only been getting more aggressive and better as his rookie season has worn on. Over the Mavericks last five games (three of which were losses), he has averaged 18.8 points, 4.4 assists and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 43 percent from the floor. His three-point stroke still leaves some room for improvement at just 32 percent on the season, but what he lacks in marksmanship he makes up for with extra-worldly athleticism.
Smith’s highlights should keep him on everyone’s radar until the Mavericks build a team around him, but in the meantime, it is difficult to ignore what he is doing already. Smith had 25 points on 11 of 18 shooting in the 105-102 loss to the Denver Nuggets Tuesday, and while outside of swingman Harrison Barnes, not much surrounds him, he does look to have the makings of a true superstar to cede Nowitzki after he finally decides to hang it up.
Dirk still has started all 45 games this season, but he is just playing 25 minutes a night and averaging a very humble 12 points and five rebounds per game. Perhaps the most telling part of his decline, however, has not been the reduction in minutes and usage, but the fact Nowitzki is shooting just 46 percent from the field and attempting just under 10 shots per game. While his guile and skill should enable him to remain at least this effective a little longer, there is no delusional Mavericks fan that is waiting nor expecting him to return to the MVP-caliber play by which his career became known for.
Nevertheless, Barnes (18.7 points per game) and Smith should keep Dallas relevant once Dirk does retire, and the Mavericks may ultimately look for a front court replacement this year in the NBA Draft. It is a rebuild certainly that has more promise than others around the league, despite the fact it is hard to just call it a rebuild while rostering a Hall of Fame talent, still. The L.A. Lakers just rebuilt that way, however, so to say it is entirely uncharted ground would be a bit inaccurate, too.
Portland has won its past two with wins over the Indiana Pacers and Phoenix Suns. The Blazers still are just three games above .500, but it should remain in the playoff picture as long as its two main guards remain healthy. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combine to average 46.5 points per game and 9.8 assists, and doing the math, that accounts for over 67 points of Portland’s 103.9 per game. That alone tells one how indespensable the duo is, but they need more help outside of the backcourt before Portland can make a realistic leap from “pretender” to “contender.”
Center Jusuf Nurkic ideally could be a third star, but he plays limited minutes to usurp such a heady title. Nurkic is averaging 14.5 points and eight rebounds per game in just 27 minutes a night, and still it must be seen that he has been something of an upgrade over what Mason Plumlee brought to the team a year ago (the two were swapped for one another at least year’s trade deadline). Perhaps the biggest surprise for Portland, though, has been how well Shabazz Napier has played.
Napier was basically gifted to the Blazers from the Orlando Magic after disappointing in his first few NBA seasons (both in Miami and in Orlando), but this year the former UConn Husky and National Champion is averaging 10 points and two assists per game, and he filled in brilliantly for Lillard recently during an injury absence. He adds some backcourt depth, and the Blazers in all have a very well-rounded and deep team— just one that is in need of a third star, no matter how one dices it. Dame and CJ need help…