Nowitzki continues to feast on Blazers


PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Dirk Nowitzki was amazed at how the
Portland Trail Blazers left him so wide open. Especially given his
recent history.

Nowitzki had another brilliant offensive performance with 42
points Friday night as the Dallas Mavericks beat Portland 115-103
to take a 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Nowitzki, who had a career-high 46 points in the opener, also
had 10 rebounds for the Mavericks, who can advance with a victory
in Game 4 in Portland on Sunday.

"I was actually surprised at how open I was,'' Nowitzki said.
"We moved the ball really well and every one was shooting the ball
really well. So we were able to attack them and chase us all over
the floor.''

Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks wasn't about to disagree.

"He wasn't the only one surprised,'' Cheeks said. "I was
surprised, too.''

Things suddenly look worse for the already injury-plagued Trail
Blazers, who couldn't find a way -- again -- to defend Nowitzki and
now face the daunting task of trying to become the first team in
NBA history to come back from a 3-0 deficit.

The Blazers have lost 10 straight playoff games -- dating back to
their collapse against the Lakers in Game 7 of the Western
Conference finals in 2000.

They've lost six in a row under Cheeks, and a loss Sunday would
tie the NBA record of 11 consecutive postseason defeats shared by
the Baltimore Bullets and Denver Nuggets.

With Scottie Pippen in street clothes and Derek Anderson out
indefinitely because of a knee injury, the Blazers trailed by as
many as 14 points.

But they closed in on Arvydas Sabonis' short jumper and went
ahead 85-84 on Zach Randolph's free throws after Eduardo Najera's
foul with 32.1 seconds left in the third quarter.

The two teams traded the lead until Steve Nash's 3-pointer put
the Mavericks ahead 91-87 with 9:05 left in the game. Nowitzki
followed with the first in a string of three 3-pointers to help put
the Mavs ahead 102-94 with 5:58 left.

Dallas never trailed again.

"Dirk is absolutely unbelievable,'' said Nick Van Exel, who had
14 points for Dallas. "He shoots 3s where it looks like layups.
It's incredible to play with a 7-footer that strokes the ball so

Raef LaFrentz had 20 points for the Mavericks, while Nash
finished with 12 points and 10 assists.

Ruben Patterson led the Blazers with 19 points.

The smoke from the pre-game fireworks hadn't yet cleared when
the Mavs took a 14-4 lead on Nash's 3-pointer in the first quarter,
and sellout crowd at the Rose Garden booed.

Sabonis helped orchestrate a Blazers rally, bringing them within
42-39 with a hook shot. But the 7-foot-3 Lithuanian collected three
fouls quickly and went to the bench with a little more than seven
minutes to go in the first half.

The Mavs led by as many as 12 in the half, but Patterson's
tip-in made it just 64-61 at the break.

Pippen, the Portland's on-court leader, watched from courtside
for the second straight playoff game.

Pippen had surgery on his left knee on March 18 and missed 17
games. He returned for the Blazers' final two regular-season games
and played 32 minutes in the series opener, but then the pain and
swelling came back.

Anderson strained his left knee three minutes into Wednesday's
103-99 loss. Cheeks announced earlier Friday that Anderson had a
torn meniscus and was out indefinitely.

The Blazers had won 13 of their previous 15 against the
Mavericks in Portland.

"I'm trying to get a (playoff) win for the first time and we're
trying to win that first one,'' Cheeks said. "Like I said to the
team, the series isn't over until someone gets four wins.''

Game notes
When the young singer of the national anthem had trouble
with the words to the song, coach Cheeks walked over to help her
and soon the crowd joined in. "I wish I could help some of my
players like that,'' Cheeks said. ... Mavericks owner Mark Cuban
signed autographs before the game and wore the jersey of guard
Michael Finley. ... The Trail Blazers are making their 21st
straight trip to the playoffs.