After another hard-fought season, the Dallas Mavericks grinded out a record of 57-25. Next up, they play the Portland Trail Blazers, with home-court advantage in favor of Dallas. It is important that the Mavs feed off the crowd, exploit mismatches and stave off any mental breakdowns that they are overly prone to.
In what seems as a semi-even series with Jason Kidd versus Andre Miller and Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge being virtually a wash, Tyson Chandler, who will be guarded by a combo of Marcus Camby and Joel Przybilla, is in an enviable position.
Chandler, who is unquestionably the most athletic center in the Western Conference Playoffs (certainly with Andrew Bynum hobbled), can raid Portland's bench of bigs and size with his rare combo of length, lateral quickness and agility.
To make matters worse, Portland struggled against athletic Western front lines this season. The Blazers owned a measly record of 6-8 against the Lakers, Magic, Thunder, and their first-round opponent, Dallas.
In what is his ninth season, Chandler still hasn't been able to find his niche in creating his own offense, but has relished second chance points and easy put-backs around the rim.
He's arguably the best pick and roll-playing big man in the game, and he perfectly dives to the basket anticipating a simple lob. Though his array is limited, he will flash a quick spin from the baseline and re-surface on the other side of the basket, using the rim as a defender.
The 7-1 giant produced 17 double-doubles (21 if he would have converted on all of his free-throw attempts in four other games) in only 25.3 minutes per game for the Mavericks this season. If the Mavs are to stand any shot at advancing against Portland, they must force feed Chandler and establish a rhythm that will keep him involved throughout his stints on the floor.
If the Mavs can establish their offense from the inside, it of course will plunge space for the likes of Peja Stojakovic, Deshawn Stevenson, Jason Terry and Dirk.
How important is Chandler to the Mavs? Dallas is 18-3 when he has five field goals or more, and 24-8 when he grabs 10 rebounds or more, with wins over playoff teams Miami, Oklahoma City and Boston.
The recipe for victory is simple for the Mavericks to advance against the Trail Blazers, and Tyson Chandler is the key ingredient.