Commentary

Mavs don't let Grizzlies get in way

After solid win, Dallas can focus on Blazers and clinching the No. 2 playoff seed

Updated: April 8, 2010, 1:35 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks did what needed to be done Wednesday, disposing of the soon-to-be-vacationing Memphis Grizzlies to avert all-out crisis mode and allow for a quick focus on a real playoff threat.

Having maintained its share of the second seed, Dallas is bound for Portland for a Friday night faceoff against a team it hasn't beaten in three tries this season, including a Northwest-style beatdown just two weeks ago at the Rose Garden.

[+] EnlargeCaron Butler
Danny Bollinger/NBAE/Getty ImagesAfter totaling 11 points in the previous two games, both Mavericks losses, Caron Butler went off for 23 points against the Grizzlies.

The troublesome Trail Blazers remain potential first-round foes, depending on how the ridiculously tight Western Conference standings shake out over the next seven days. The Mavs can realistically still finish anywhere from second to fifth, meaning not even home-court advantage in the first round is a lock.

"We know how hard it is to play in Portland, so we have our hands full on this road trip," point guard Jason Kidd said. "We hold our destiny in our hands in the sense that if we want that No. 2 seed we just have to win out."

On Wednesday, Utah dropped out of the second seed and tumbled all the way to fifth as Denver and Phoenix both won to remain tied with Dallas. At the bottom of the playoff chase, Portland, Oklahoma City and San Antonio are tied for sixth.

"We obviously want to have some confidence going into the playoffs, feeling good about yourself, feeling like you can beat anybody," Dirk Nowitzki said. "Obviously, we would still love to get home-court advantage in the first round. Since everybody's still right there, we'd love to win out. "

But first things first. The Mavs exhaled against the Grizzlies with a workmanlike 110-84 victory to snap a two-game home skid. It wasn't a masterpiece, but positive signs prevailed. Dallas opened the game with energy and defensive focus.

The Mavs forced seven of Memphis' 20 turnovers in the opening quarter and led 33-20.

"We understand what's at stake. There's no need to come out flat or put any pressure on ourselves," Kidd said. "We have to play defense, and when we play defense it gives us a chance to win. As a whole, everybody committed to the defensive plan, and we made it tough."

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The Mavs finished with 30 points off 20 turnovers that included 11 steals -- the most by the Mavs since March 20 -- and four blocked shots.

Offensively, Caron Butler re-emerged as an attacking force, scoring 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting (plus six rebounds and a pair of steals) for his best outing since scoring 25 points in the 11-point loss at Portland.

Ball movement returned to the Mavs' half-court sets. All 11 players who checked into the game scored as Dallas put up 28 assists, 10 by Kidd. The Mavs had 27 assists in the previous two games combined.

"We came up with a lot of loose balls, some steals, but I thought the biggest thing was everybody was touching the ball on the offensive end," Kidd said. "I don't think anybody took any really bad shots."

Still, with Memphis seemingly mentally disinterested after losing at Houston on Tuesday night, judging the Mavs' progress with this win is hard to do. They more or less went through the motions in the middle two quarters as the Grizzlies trimmed a 20-point lead to nine before a quick strike to start the fourth quarter busted the game wide open.

"We need to play better basketball," coach Rick Carlisle said. "Every win we get right now is precious. It's a positive step, and now the challenge is to keep moving in the right direction, and we'll contend again on Friday. But this is a step in the right direction."

Dallas outscored Memphis 55-38 in the first and last quarters combined, with J.J. Barea (14 points, six assists, four steals) and Eduardo Najera (four points, two steals) providing hustle plays on the defensive end. Both players seem to be working themselves into more permanent roles in a rotation that Carlisle acknowledged is likely to remain fluid heading into the playoffs.

"This was more about us trying to get comfortable," Najera said, referring to the team as a whole. "We had two losses and had that on the back of our minds, and it was a must-win game for us. But more importantly, it was a game that everybody wanted to contribute and play well together. We get that confidence back and that's what we needed, especially going to Portland."

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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