Commentary

Division title a sight for Mavs' sore eyes

Dallas refuses to let Portland beat it with ugly stick, builds momentum as playoffs near

Updated: April 10, 2010, 11:37 AM ET
By Tim MacMahon | ESPNDallas.com

PORTLAND, Ore. -- This was a game only the winning coach could love.

The rims and refs took a beating in Friday night's potential playoff preview between the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers. Both teams shot in the mid-30s. The officiating was even worse than the shooting, riling up the sellout crowd at the Rose Garden despite blown calls going both ways throughout.

But Rick Carlisle considered the Mavs' 83-77 win, which clinched the Southwest Division title, a thing of beauty.

"If you play a game in the 70s, you're looking at a playoff-type game," Carlisle said. "I love the way we battled. I really love the way both teams battled, but we really wanted this game tonight and you could tell."

The Mavs weren't worried about shooting 33.8 percent, their worst clip in a win since December 2002. They were proud that they didn't let the Trail Blazers bully them, which happened the last time the Mavs made a trip to Portland.

If the playoffs started now, the Mavs and Blazers would meet in the first round. The Mavs needed to send a message to Portland, which won the first three games in the season series, that they wouldn't be punked.

"The last time we played here they were just way more physical, way more ready," Dirk Nowitzki said. "They got every loose ball. We talked about that yesterday, how we've got to be ready from the jump."

The Mavs collectively put together a tough, scrappy defensive performance, accomplishing their goal of containing Portland star Brandon Roy (13 points on 4-of-14 shooting). But they needed Nowitzki to carry the load on an otherwise miserable offensive night.

Dirk delivered, with a workmanlike 40-point, 10-rebound performance, hitting 11 of 24 shots from the floor and 17 of 17 from the line. After being bullied in the Mavs' loss in Portland last month, when Nowitzki was held to 15 points, he was determined to attack the Blazers off the dribble.

"The biggest thing I liked was that he didn't settle," said Jason Kidd, who was 1-of-8 from the floor but fought for 12 rebounds and three steals. "He got to the free throw line, and when he gets to the free throw line, you can pretty much count those. He carries us every night. It's good to have a guy like that."

2010 NBA Playoffs

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It's also good to get on a roll entering the playoffs. After a 5-6 stretch, the Mavs appear to be in the process of establishing a little momentum, winning back-to-back games to remain in pole position in the race for the West's second seed.

It didn't matter to the Mavs that their win in Portland was painful to watch. They were proud to prevail over Portland in a grind-it-out game that required the Mavs to keep their composure and execute down the stretch, when the Mavs took advantage of a couple of technical fouls called on the Blazers.

"There are no pictures on the scorecard," Kidd said. "The big thing is for us to get confidence going into the playoffs. This is something we can build on."

Call it a brick foundation.

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

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