Carroll's Keys: Mavericks-Trail Blazers

By John Carroll | Scouts Inc.

This is somewhat of a meaningless game for the Portland Trail Blazers who have seven games left in the 2011-12 season. They are currently out of the playoff picture and are utilizing the remaining games to make important decisions about their roster. They will have tremendous roster turnover and although they do not have a sitting general manager everyone besides LaMarcus Aldridge is being evaluated for next year’s team.

For the Dallas Mavericks, who have seven games left including this one, every game means something. The Mavs are currently in sixth place in the Western Conference, a half-game ahead of Denver and Houston. In addition Utah and Phoenix are still in the hunt in ninth and 10th place, respectively. The problem for the Mavericks is that they play five of the seven remaining games on the road, and included in that number are games against the Lakers, Jazz, Rockets, Bulls and Hawks -- all of which could be playoff teams.

Key Injury

Aldridge out indefinitely with a hip injury. Jason Kidd just returned from a groin strain on Tuesday.

Key Statistical Breakdown: Dirk Nowitzki’s Jump Shot

Nowitzki will be the most talented player on the court for either team Friday evening. Nowitzki is averaging 21.7 points per game, and shooting .456 from the field.

But what is more interesting regarding Nowitzki is a study of how he scores. According to Synergy Sports, Nowitzki scores 89.9 percent of his offense in the half court. The largest percentage of his offense is broken down into postups (28.6 percent) spotups (19 percent) and isolations (11.3 percent).

In taking a closer look at Dirk’s shooting we see that he scores 58.4 percent of his offense via jump shots and he shoots .435 in those situations. More strikingly is that he shoots 15.4 percent of his jumpers off the dribble and his overall shooting percentage off the bounce is .475. Nowitzki’s bread and butter is his jump shot from 17-feet out to the 3-point line, where he shoots .511. Dirk is more effective shooting on the right side of the court. Here he shoots .480 while only shooting .429 on the left side.

Key Play: Dallas Defense

It is a misnomer to think that Dwane Casey left to become the head coach of the Toronto Raptors and that the Dallas defense has suffered because of it. Casey did a terrific job during his time with the Mavericks and was largely responsible for orchestrating the improvement in their defense.

A closer look at the Dallas defensive statistics show that they rank in the top ten in three important categories this season: points allowed per game, field goal percentage defense and 3-point field goal percentage defense. Additionally the Mavericks have lowered the amount of points they allow this season from 95.3 per game to 93.2. They have also lowered their field goal percentage defense from .450 to .431. Although Tyson Chandler is gone at center and Casey is no longer on the Mavs bench, it is clear that the Mavericks' problems this season are not due to the defensive side of the ball.

Key Surprise: JJ Hickson

The Trail Blazers have gone thru multiple changes since the All-Star break. They have fired their coach, traded two players, and waived their No. 1 pick. Throughout all of that turmoil there seems to be one silver lining, and that is the pick up of Hickson Hickson is a former first-round pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers and both the Cavs and Sacramento had given up on him. Hickson came to the league after only one year at NC State and has never lived up to his potential. Hickson’s reputation throughout the NBA has been one of being lazy and a bit of a head case.

However it looks like he has found a home in Portland. He walked into an ideal situation with the Blazers, because their frontcourt has been devastated by the trades of Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace. He is averaging 13.3 points per game and 6.6 rebounds. In Sacramento where he played 35 games earlier this season Hickson only averaged 4.7 points per game and 5.1 rebounds.

In two starts at power forward for the injured Aldridge, Hickson has averaged 26 points and 13 rebounds. He has scored by running the court, utilizing pick-and-rolls and crashing the glass. Hickson will continue to play big minutes and get plenty of touches with Aldridge out indefinitely. The Blazers now own the rights to Hickson and can extend him a qualifying offer. He will be a restricted free agent and could wind up being a tremendous sixth man for Portland or a significant trade piece in the future. Either way he has been a pleasant surprise for the Blazers and another example that skill development, style of play and patience are extremely important with all young players.

Key Difference: Offense

The problems that the Mavericks are experiencing this season are related to their offense. During the 2010-11 season they were ranked 11th in the NBA in points per game with 99.8. This season they are scoring only 94.7 points per game which ranks them 20th. They were tied for fourth in field goal percentage last season at .472 while this season they have dipped to .441, ranking them 21st. So why has this occurred?

Last season Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle introduced what he called the “flow offense." It was his terminology for playing offense without calling specific plays and sets. They flowed into player and ball movement without allowing the defense to get set. They transformed their offense into a 3-point shooting one that got open perimeter looks by running multiple pick-and-rolls, spacing the court and moving the ball.

This offense was special because of the passing abilities of their entire team and their unselfishness. No team in the NBA assisted on a higher percentage of its shots last season. The ball movement of the Mavs was outstanding. The ball did not stick and they moved it side to side, creating tremendous problems for the defense.

According to 82games.com, the Mavs shot the ball more efficiently in the last eight seconds of the clock better than 29 other teams. This is evidence of the patience and trust they had in each other. The ball movement this season has not been as fluid. The Mavs do not have great 1-on-1 players who can beat you off the dribble. It is imperative that they get back to moving the ball so that they can get dribble penetration into the paint, especially if they expect to win in the playoffs.