I got to the game way late tonight...too late for a full recap to mean much. Check out Ben's Media Row Report which gives the account of how Kevin Pelton got chucked from this game. Yes, that Kevin Pelton.
Instead of the traditional recap, I'm just going to share a few impressions from the evening.
From the outset this was a playoff atmosphere. It was good experience for the Blazers as they gear up for the post-season. The Mavericks are old hands at this kind of thing and it showed. They turned the tables on the Blazers in two impressive ways tonight.
First they adopted Portland's strategy of throttling the star at all costs. In previous matchups the Blazers threw everything they could at Dirk Nowitzki, letting Caron Butler or whoever else the Mavericks wanted try and win the game. The results were sub-par nights from Dirk, robust games from the supporting staff, and Blazer victories. Tonight Dallas took the ball out of Brandon Roy's hands, never letting him get a comfortable shot, making him fight even to get position or a dribble on the floor. They lived with LaMarcus Aldridge's fantastic 27-point effort. Unfortunately the Blazers couldn't pull a great night out of anyone else. Rudy Fernandez hit some nice threes, rebounding from his recent efforts, but threes weren't going to win this game. The rest of the lineup tanked offensively. The Blazers have a hard enough time winning when Andre Miller can't score (2-12 tonight). When our starting guards go 6-26 and the rest of the lineup outside of Aldridge combines for 13-31 the Blazers are pretty much dead. That was exactly Dallas' plan. Well, that and sending Dirk for 40.
Second, Dallas made the game physical, annoying, and got in the heads of the Blazers. The game looked really nice on both sides early and then Rudy got hacked going down the lane without a call, Eduardo Najera got in a scrap with Juwan Howard, and after that it was all downhill. The Blazers got wrapped up with the refs, the pokes and prods, everything but cohesive basketball. Early continuity descended into barely organized chaos. Here again the Mavericks knew just how to attack. They kept up the physical onslaught most of the game, though in cleaner ways. They got up in Roy's chest. They gave hard fouls on penetration. They banged out offensive rebounds. It took Portland too long to recover. The Blazers made a nice run of it when they picked up the tempo and played aggressive defense. But those periods were brief. In the end they fell apart more than they stuck together. They made headway but they were never in control of the game.
Much will be made of the referees, the boo-inducing calls, the 35-23 advantage for the Mavs in foul shots. The refs probably won't save this tape as an example of their best performances. The frustration of Andre Miller, Juwan Howard, Brandon Roy, and Nate McMillan...the look on assistant coach Dean Demopolous' face as if he had just eaten a lemon dipped in grapefruit juice...the cascading disapproval from the crowd...these were probably justified. I can only imaging the apoplectic fit Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who looked remarkably calm in the stands, would have thrown had the shoe been on the other foot. But in the end, I say, "GOOD!" This, too, is good practice for the team. You think this isn't going to happen somewhere along the line in the playoffs? It could well be this year. It will certainly happen if the Blazers find themselves on an eventual road to a championship. At some point a more established, better-name-value team is going to get the benefit of the calls against Portland. But remember the playoff motto: Win No Matter What. "No Matter What" includes exactly situations like this. If you let anybody get in your head they will. And once you've shown it can be done it won't stop. Every critical game will devolve into this chuck-and-slap-fest until you prove you can overcome it. It's better to start now than later. Portland could have won this game tonight. When they actually do you'll know they're that much closer to being ready.
Brief Standings Update:
Both the Blazers and Spurs lost tonight and remain tied at 48-31. The Thunder beat the Suns and now stand at 49-30. San Antonio plays at Denver, versus Minnesota, and at Dallas. OKC plays at Golden State, at Portland, and versus Memphis. Portland plays at the Lakers, versus the Thunder, and versus Golden State. Either a Portland win or an OKC loss on Sunday would set up the Blazers to catch the Thunder with a victory Monday night. If Portland loses and the Thunder win on Sunday then the Blazers would have to beat OKC on Monday and hope for help from Memphis in the last game of the season in order to finish on top of the Thunder. Chances are the Blazers will finish at least tied with San Antonio anyway, though. Owning the tiebreaker against the Spurs would keep Portland away from the 8th seed in that eventuality.
I'm having difficulty with the Jersey Contest scoreboard tonight but you can enter Sunday's game here.