THREAT LEVEL: RED (SEVERE)
Dirk Nowitzki (32-year-old forward from Germany)
Intel: “People might think Dirk is a boring guy on the court because his game is just as efficient, economic, well-rounded and straight-forward as his character is,” says Tobias Pox, a German resident of Portland who writes for the German monthly magazine FIVE. “But look again and you find precious nuggets like that crazy fadeaway jumper off of one leg. He’s the best shooting big man ever.”
Exit strategy: Pox urges a “hassling strategy” of either Nicolas Batum or Gerald Wallace fronting Nowitzki a lot and a big guy covering from behind. “That worked to perfection for the Golden State Warriors four years ago.”
THREAT LEVEL: ORANGE (HIGH)
J.J. Barea (26-year-old guard from Puerto Rico)
Intel: OK. We know Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but Barea is still dangerous. “Listed at a generous 6 feet tall, Barea is the prototypical NBA small guard that gives opposing coaches and guards headaches,” says Wendell Maxey, a Portland-based freelance writer who contributes to ESPN.com, SLAMonline and his own blog, beyondthebeat.net. “As we’ve seen—Barea averaged 9.3 points this season—he uses his height and quickness to his advantage.”
Exit strategy: “Portland’s best game plan for Barea is to pressure him early and force him to move the ball. If you sleep on him, he will no doubt wake you up by getting to the rim and hitting jumpers,” Maxey says. “He’s having a career season, and sometimes you have to tip your hat and pick your poison.”
THREAT LEVEL: YELLOW (ELEVATED)
Peja Stojakovic (33-year-old forward from Serbia)
Intel: “Peja owns one of the quickest releases in the league, and he’s deadly from downtown,” says Art Garcia, a Dallas-based writer who has covered the NBA for more than a decade. “Opponents still seem to underestimate his ability to put the ball on the floor and drive when an opening is there. He also has an ability to pump-fake and create angles to get his shot off.”
Exit strategy: “Crowd him at the 3-point line, stay in front and don’t fall for his fakes. He’s not going to beat anyone with his athleticism,” Garcia says.
THREAT LEVEL: BLUE (GUARDED)
Rodrigue Beaubois (23-year-old guard from France)
Intel: “He’s very quick, fast and a good shooter. Great at creating his own shot,” says Kevin Sherrington, who has written for The Dallas Morning News since 1985. “He’s lost a lot of confidence this year. He hasn’t really learned the language that well. The injury [a broken foot last August] hurt his development, too.”
Exit strategy: “He’s got enough offense to play [shooting guard], but he’s not very tough defensively,” Sherrington says. “Very quick, but not strong enough for guards like Portland’s. That’s one of the reasons he’s not starting this series.” Beaubois didn’t play in Game 1 due to a sprained foot. He had not been cleared to play as of press time Tuesday afternoon.