The Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers split a pair of games in December, but the Blazers might not recognize the Mavs when the two meet Sunday in Dallas.
The Mavericks were considered one of the big winners of the NBA trade deadline, managing to pluck the 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis from the salary cap-clearing New York Knicks to pair with their sensational rookie point guard Luka Doncic.
However, with Porzingis still recovering from a serious knee injury suffered last season and not expected to play at all for the Mavs this season, the trade was all about the future. The present, however, is now full of challenges, with four of the Mavs' starting five now suiting up elsewhere.
Forward Harrison Barnes was the last one dealt, going to Sacramento to clear cap space to allow Dallas to make a run at signing a big-name free agent in the summer. The sudden turnover has left Doncic to get used to an entirely new starting lineup, one consisting of newcomer Tim Hardaway Jr., and those who were role players prior to the trades.
The Mavericks had a difficult first outing since the trade dust settled, suffering a 15-point defeat Friday night to the Milwaukee Bucks, the team with the NBA's best record. That hardly was a welcome visitor for the first game with a revamped squad.
Dallas committed 14 turnovers, shot just 41.4 percent from the floor and, with DeAndre Jordan now in New York and unable to man the Mavs' middle, were out rebounded 51-37 while allowing an incredible 80 points in the paint.
"If that's not an NBA record, I don't know what is," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said after the game. "Eighty points in the paint is just ridiculous. That's how bad our interior defense was.
"I've got to get these guys better prepared, that's all," Carlisle said. "It's my responsibility. I just know we can do better than this. We're small, so we've got to go harder."
The Blazers won't be an easy matchup for the Mavs, either. Portland has won seven of 10 and has had two nights of rest after dusting off the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday.
The Blazers made a trade to help them in the here and now as they jockey for a top-four spot in the tight Western Conference playoff race. Portland acquired Rodney Hood, a crafty 6-foot-8 wing who struggled to find his footing with the Cleveland Cavaliers after a promising start to his career with the Utah Jazz.
He got off to an encouraging start with his new team in Thursday's win against the Spurs, scoring 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting in 25 minutes.
"Once that first bucket went down, I felt at home," said Hood, now in his fifth season.
He provides Portland with an instant scoring threat for a team that has ranked among the top 10 in scoring throughout the season.
"He's really good," Blazers point guard Damian Lillard told reporters after beating the Spurs. "It's always tough for players to come into a new team, try to find where you fit in, where your shots are going to come from ... how you can be effective. He was patient ... but he was aggressive at the same time. I think he showed the kind of impact he can have on our team, the kind of things he can bring to the table."
--Field Level Media