Commentary

Blazers bring Mavs to screeching halt

Portland's deliberate pace could be problematic style for Dallas in the playoffs

Updated: March 26, 2010, 3:00 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Perhaps the biggest problem with the Dallas Mavericks' loss Thursday night is that it increases the odds of a playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Is it possible that Portland simply has the Mavs' number? Have the Trail Blazers reversed the Mavs' recent dominance in the series?

"I don't believe that," Mavs forward Shawn Marion said after the 101-89 loss. "We don't have bad matchups. We match up very well with them. They were just more aggressive."

We know that Portland's win at the Rose Garden gives the Blazers, who had lost 18 of their last 20 games to Dallas in previous years, a 3-0 advantage in the season series.

It's tough to figure out the trends in the Mavs' three losses to the Blazers, considering the significant changes in both rosters throughout the course of the season, not to mention the befuddling fact that Portland star Brandon Roy didn't even play in one of the games in Dallas.

But it wasn't hard to pinpoint the Mavs' biggest problem during this trip to Portland. Fast break points: Blazers 16, Mavs 0.

Portland is the league's lowest possession-per-game team. Dallas is at its best when it gets the rock to Jason Kidd and runs.

The Blazers made the Mavs a grind-it-out team, which resulted in a miserable second half, when the Mavs managed to score only 35 points on 33 percent shooting. In Marion's words, the Blazers imposed their game on the Mavs.

"At this point in the season, it's not about 3-0 or 4-0," Jason Kidd said. "It's about getting better for the next season. I think that we can look at this game and understand that the next season this is how teams will play us."

Kidd is referring to the postseason, when the pace tends to slow down, placing a premium on halfcourt execution.

Portland's defense presents a lot of problems for the Mavs, especially now that the Blazers have a big man patrolling the paint again after trading for Marcus Camby.

The Blazers' guards did a good job of jamming the ball, keeping Kidd from getting in the open court and killing the Mavs' transition game. Portland's starting frontcourt features three players -- Camby, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum -- with the length and athleticism to contest Dirk Nowitzki's shots and versatility to switch at will.

They prevented Nowitzki, who has been a Blazers killer throughout his career, from getting in a rhythm during this stop at the Rose Garden. He was held to 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

"They played tough, physical basketball," Nowitzki said. "It was a playoff atmosphere. We've got to do a better job preparing for that.

"When teams take our initial actions away, we've got to still find ways to score and move the ball and get something out of our offense. That's what we're going to see in the playoffs. That's for sure. Teams are going to sit on the stuff that we run, especially down the stretch, so we've got to do a better job of executing."

The Blazers might have an advantage on their bench. Portland assistant coach Joe Prunty worked on Avery Johnson's staff in Dallas.

Nowitzki said it seemed as if some of the Blazers knew Dallas' halfcourt sets better than the Mavs. That's probably not due to Prunty's experience in Dallas, but there's no doubt that his knowledge of the key Mavs he coached pays dividends for Portland.

The Mavs get at least one more shot to beat the Blazers this season. They'll be back in Portland on April 9.

A first-round playoff series pitting the Mavs against the Blazers is a distinct possibility. The Mavs are in a three-way tie with the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz for second in the West at the moment. The Blazers and San Antonio Spurs are tied for seventh.

Mavs fans know all too well that a lower seed that swept the season series can dominate a playoff series. Remember eighth-seeded Golden State sending the 67-win Mavs home in six games?

Maybe the Mavs might want to find a way to avoid a playoff series with Portland, although coach Rick Carlisle bristled at the suggestion.

"There are no bargains in the West," Carlisle said after his team's fourth loss in six games. "They're no bargain. We're no bargain. You want to play us?"

That probably sounds pretty good to Portland right now.

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