Here's every link you need from Thursday that covers the first round playoff series between the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks. Every. Link. You. Need. So. Many. Links. Enjoy!
I joined Sekou Smith and Lang Whitaker on NBA.com's Hang Time Podcast to preview the series. Smith will be in Portland covering the series for NBA.com, so be on the lookout for that.
Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune interviews Blazers GM Rich Cho, who really like Gerald Wallace.
We're playing well right now. With Gerald Wallace, we're 10-6 against .500-or-better teams. Before he came, we were 10-18 against .500-or-better teams. We've won eight of our last 11 games (before Wednesday night's regular-season finale at Golden State) and beaten San Antonio twice, Dallas, Oklahoma City and the Lakers. Any first-round matchup is hard, but the way I look at it, we can have success no matter who we play.
Rob Mahoney previews the series at The Two Man Game.
Which is why I regretfully predict that the Blazers will win in seven games. It's not an easy call; these Mavs are skilled and can theoretically execute on both ends. I just think Portland's mismatches will prove a bit too problematic. I think Jason Kidd won't be quite as effective as the Mavs need him to be. I think Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge will both be tremendous, and the rest of both teams will be left to tip the balance. I think the Blazers can hide Brandon Roy too easily on defense, which lets him stay on the court long enough to cause a problem. I think Wallace and Batum may only hinder Nowitzki, but they're capable of significantly limiting Marion. I think that there is a distinct possibility that the Mavs win this series, but there are just too many concerns to consider it the most likely outcome.
The Mavs are the better team in this series. Sometimes that just isn't enough.
Here's to hoping I'm wrong.
Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus previews the series.
Though the two biggest factors--overall performance and home-court advantage--favor the Mavericks, the Blazers come into this series playing stronger basketball. Portland's small, quick frontcourt of Aldridge and Wallace has been highly effective and has made the Blazers a different team since the All-Star break. Additionally, Portland matches up better with Dallas than any of the other West contenders.
I find myself torn on this pick. If the series goes the distance, I have a hard time seeing the Blazers winning Game Seven at the American Airlines Center. They've beaten just one West playoff team on the road with Wallace--the San Antonio Spurs when they were resting stars Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and playing mostly reserves. If Portland can steal an early game on the road, though, the Blazers might just be able to make that early advantage hold up at the Rose Garden.
Portland in 6
Zach Lowe of SI.com previews the series.
This might be the most intriguing series of the first round. The Blazers won the last two of their regular-season meetings with Dallas, and their new versatility gives them the ability to match up with Dallas in several different ways. Portland's big guards, especially Brandon Roy, can thrive against the Mavs' smaller (and, in Jason Kidd's case) slower backcourt, and the Blazers can throw three guys at Dirk Nowitzki -- LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace. Dallas just snapped a nine-game losing to Western Conference playoff games, and they never quite regained the form that saw them start 43-9 in games Dirk Nowitzki played.
But still: This Dallas team did start 43-9 with Nowitzki healthy, and it played especially well against elite teams during that span. Only three teams rank in the top 10 in both points scored and allowed per possession: Dallas, the Lakers and Miami. That says something.
I've liked this Mavs team all season, and I think they're ready to play well enough to win a very tough series. Winning in six would mean clinching in Portland, but Dallas has been the league's best road team all year. Mavericks in 6.
Click through for tons and tons and tons more.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
Jason Quick of The Oregonian reports that Blazers coach Nate McMillan is playing the "last hurrah" card with his vets...
In his talk with Camby, McMillan alluded to the center's career coming to a close. What if this Blazers team was the last good team Camby would play on? What if he never reaches the playoffs again?
McMillan said he will have a similar talk with Miller either today or Saturday.
"I want to paint that picture for them," McMillan said. "That hey, we don't know if we are ever going to be here again. Let's go out and leave it out there. Let's be hungry."
Jeff Caplan of ESPNDallas.com writes that this year's playoffs are about legacy for Dirk Nowitzki.
The fact is that Nowitzki, 33, is one of the game's premier playoff performers -- one of four players in history to average 25 points and 10 rebounds -- yet he is arguably the most underappreciated player in the game because his teams have failed to convert marvelous regular seasons into postseason parades.
"I can't really change peoples' opinions. I'll try to win it for me and to kind of top it off with the career that I've had. That's why I'm trying to win it," Nowitzki said. "I'm not trying to win to shut anybody up. I'm trying to win for myself and this franchise, which really deserves it; for Cuban, who's been amazing since he bought it, and for all my teammates. And if I don't, it just wasn't meant to be.
"The only thing that I can tell myself is that I left it all out there. Every summer I tried to get better. I play hurt. I play sick. I try to be out there for my teammates and for my team and ultimately win it all."
Rob Mahoney at ProBasketballTalk.com with a look at the best-case scenario for the Mavericks.
Still, Dallas didn't win 56 games by some fluke, and they aren't merely referred to as contenders just to create cross-Conference symmetry. At various points in the season, the Mavs played at a championship-worthy level on both ends of the court. They just need to tap into what it is that made them great earlier in the year. We know Dallas is capable, even if they didn't play their best basketball in the final weeks of the regular season; here's how the Mavs can turn that capability into their first ever NBA title:
Dallas began the 2010-2011 campaign as a highly effective defensive team with a struggling offense, transitioned into a highly effective defensive team with a fairly efficient offense, became a middling team rendered powerless by injuries, and then settled in as an inconsistent defensive team with an efficient offense. It's been an interesting ride, to say the least.
Yet all of the ingredients are there for the Mavs. They've shown they can lock down on D, and their latest successes have come by way of efficient scoring. They just need to find a way to play solid basketball on both ends at the same time, something the Mavs haven't really been able to do for a significant stretch all season. Caron Butler‘s absence certainly makes things far more difficult than they could have been, but this is the hand Dallas was dealt. It's up to those healthy enough to play to return to the root of their early season success without compromising the integrity of their offense - a tall order, but hardly impossible.
Sekou Smith of NBA.com on the series.
A veteran NBA advanced scout gave us his breakdown of the two teams, and these are teams that he swears bear a striking resemblance to one another in that they have perimeter big men as their offensive anchors and crafty veteran point guards running the show. "The Mavericks definitely will play up and down more than any of Rick Carlisle's teams in Indiana and even Detroit did in the past," he said. "Rick has definitely loosened the reigns since then. He's still a guy that has a lot of sets and runs a lot of things. He lets [Jason] Kidd call his own plays and really lets them go. They run a lot more stuff in early offense. His Indiana teams he would slow them down and call plays, but not with this team. He really does let Kidd do his thing. And with [J.J.] Barea out there with Kidd, you have two ball handlers in the game, if the ball comes out to Barea, they'll get into their transition game just as easily." But Kidd is the key to orchestrating everything.
The Mavericks love to strike early, our scout said, "probing the defense early looking for easy opportunities early in the shot clock. And if they do have to go into the offense, deep into their sets, they look to Dirk Nowitzki at the end of those possessions and also to Jason Terry spotting up or on the dribble-drive, when he is in the game." There is no secret to where they are going, they make it a point to "out-execute" you.
Negative Dunkaletics previews the series.
What Portland will do in the playoffs is not certain, beyond just "winning at least a game or two," obviously: they are facing a thorny opponent in a very strong Dallas squad, and Wallace's primary opponent will be another pair of stalwart defensive players - Shawn Marion at the wing and Dirk Nowitzki down low. But what Wallace must do to defeat them is the same thing that Samson's work on Fallow documented in his own evolution as a songwriter: he must be true to his own abilities, play on his knack for unpredictability, and occasionally, swing into some calculated brutality.
Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com reports that Rodrigue Beaubois will not start for Dallas.
"It [sets] more of a tougher tone," Nowitzki said of Stephenson as a starter. "I always liked him, all season long. When he was starting, when Roddy was out, we had a phenomenal run there in November and December.
"I'm a big supporter of D-Steve. He's just a rugged 2 guard who can guard 1s, 2s and 3s, so he's versatile. His shot was looking really good early in the season. If he can shoot the ball like that, he's going to be an animal for us in the playoffs."
The Mavs haven't given up on Beaubois. They've just pulled the plug on him as a starter for the playoffs.
Jeff Caplan of ESPNDallas.com on Tyson Chandler the enforcer.
So much is riding on Chandler stepping forward as the playoff enforcer the Mavs have never had. After Dallas recovered from another sluggish first half Wednesday before clamping down defensively, he told the rest of the league to go right on ahead thinking of the Mavs as playoff losers.
"Everybody's saying, 'Same old Mavs, same old Mavs,' and that's a good thing," Chandler said. "I hope whoever we're facing is going to think we're the same old Mavs, too; a team that's going to come and get knocked out early, because that will give us an advantage. Sometimes it's good to be the hunter instead of the hunted."
Jaime Aron of the Associated Press also points to Chandler as a key.
Chandler is a newcomer. He doesn't know the here-we-go-again frustration in and around the organization. A few years ago, in fact, Chandler helped the Hornets add to the Mavs' misery with one of those first-round oustings.
Yet his presence is one of the reasons Dallas is hoping things will be different. He and Brendan Haywood give the Mavericks the best depth and flexibility they've ever had at center.
"(Chandler) is the most athletic big man I've ever played with," Nowitzki said. "If our two big guys play like (Dallas expects), we can beat some people in the playoffs."
Dwain Price of KansasCity.com says Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is trying to forget past playoff failures.
None of the playoff failures, the Mavericks insist, have anything to do with what will transpire in this year's run for the NBA championship trophy.
"Things in the past are in the past," Carlisle said. "Right now what's important to me is our preparation today, our meeting tonight, and then our practice tomorrow and moving forward knowing what's going to get us where we want to go.
"But we can't be thinking about future results or past results. None of that matters right now."
ESPN's Chad Ford, J.A. Adande and Henry Abbott all say they feel shaky about their picks in this series.
Ford: Blazers over Mavs. I have no faith in Dallas as a playoff team, but I'm not in love with Portland, either. That series is a real toss-up for me.
Adande: Mavericks over Trail Blazers. The Mavericks are a little too one-trick-pony for my tastes -- and what if Dirk Nowitzki has some cold stretches? Portland is so deep and scary after acquiring Gerald Wallace, and LaMarcus Aldridge could cancel out Dirk. But the Blazers were going to be too trendy a pick ... and the Mavs can't keep losing in the first round, right?
Abbott: I picked Dallas over Portland. The Mavericks have home court, but the reinvigorated-by-Gerald Wallace Blazers got the opponent they were hoping for. It's a toss-up. And it's possible that I picked against my favorite team because I still have the taste of balut in my mouth from last year.
K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune thinks the Blazers will upset the Mavericks.
One of the best things about the NBA playoffs, particularly after moving to a best-of-seven format in the first round, is that the better team almost always wins. Upsets rarely happen. That said, don't be surprised to see Portland knock off Dallas in the first round.
The teams split their season series, with the Trail Blazers narrowly losing both road games. The trade deadline acquisition of Gerald Wallace has energized the Trail Blazers, whose Wesley Matthews should draw some Most Improved Player votes. Andre Miller is as crafty as they come at point guard and will take Jason Kidd into the low post at times to try to wear him out defensively.
LaMarcus Aldridge is having a breakthrough season, and a healthy Marcus Camby gives Portland the length it needs to match-up against Tyson Chandler. Nobody can guard Dirk Nowitzki, one of the league's match-up nightmares. But the Trail Blazers are tough mentally thanks to Coach Nate McMillan, and the Rose Garden remains one of the league's tougher arenas in which to play.]
More Zach Lowe from SI.com on the Mavericks.
To call this Dirk Nowitzki's "last ride" is obviously dramatic, but the future of this Mavericks team is uncertain. Jason Kidd is 38 and will be a free agent after next season along with Jason Terry. Tyson Chandler, the anchor of Dallas' semi-revived defense, is a free agent after this season and plays the same position as Brendan Haywood, to whom Dallas has already committed more than $50 million. Caron Butler will be a free agent, Roddy Beaubois' development has hit a snag, Shawn Marion is declining and Corey Brewer is at the edge of Rick Carlisle's rotation.
In other words: This team badly needs a playoff run now, especially after going out in the first round in three of the last four seasons.
There may not be a more puzzling team in the league. At one point, Dallas was 43-9 with Nowitzki in the lineup, and it flattened just about every elite team it came across. Then Nowitzki got hurt, the Mavs' defense fell off a bit and they lost nine straight games to Western Conference playoff teams before beating the Hornets in the season finale. Dallas has to recapture its early-season form in order to do any damage.
Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk picks the Blazers.
Flip a coin. It's been trendy to pick against Dallas lately, people are forgetting just how good they really are. They can play well at both ends.
I'm not forgetting, but I like what Wallace can do for Portland on Dirk, and I like the bench of Portland to steal a couple games, and that will be enough. Fear Wes Mathews!
Trail Blazers in 6.
DallasNews.com has a few points of focus for the series.
LaMarcus Aldridge has torched the Mavericks this season. During the four game series between the teams, he averaged 27.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and had a shooting percentage of .516.
Another player to watch out for besides Aldridge would be Gerald Wallace . Wallace was acquired in a midseason trade from the Charlotte Bobcats. In 23 games as a Blazer, Wallace is averaging 15.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.0 steals per contest.
The Trail Blazers win games with solid defense and ball control. Offensively, they rank in the lower half of the league: they're 23nd overall in points scored (96.4) and are 28th overall in rebounds (39.2). However, they rank sixth in the NBA in points allowed (94.6) and are tied for fourth in steals per game (8.1). They rank first in the NBA with the least number of turnovers per game (13.0).
Andrew Tonry at Portland Roundball Society wanted the Lakers...
I'm not gonna lie: for my own selfish journalistic reasons, I was hoping the Blazers would draw the Lakers in the first round. There's an electric tsunami that follows Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and the Lakers everywhere they go, not to mention I dig the way Portland fans go absolutely bannas when that show comes to town.
Blazers Broadcaster Mike Barrett on LaMarcus Aldridge in Dallas...
I don't have to tell you how good Aldridge has been against Dallas this season. In fact, it was in Dallas, on December 15th, when Aldridge seemed to flip a switch and took his game to the next level. He was nearly unstoppable in the second half, and put 35 points on Chandler and the Mavericks. Of course, Dallas won that game. But, Aldridge will have to have a very good series for Portland to stand a chance to pull the upset.
It'll be extra special for Aldridge as well. He wanted Dallas in the playoffs for a different reason. That's his hometown. That's where his mother is battling cancer, and has been too ill to travel much this season. She won't have to now, and won't have to settle for watching her son on TV.
Shalamar Clark at Blazers.com has some quotes from McMillan about the importance of focus.
McMillan also said that one of the biggest differences between the regular season and playoffs is that, "every possession becomes important."
"They use zone and we use zone to try and disrupt rhythm," said McMillan. "That's where the game will go as far as being physical in the playoffs. That's just expected."
When McMillan speaks of the physicality of the game, he's also letting his players know that they will be grabbed, held and roughed up more than normal without getting a whistle blown.
"You have to keep a clam state of mind through all of that," said McMillan. "Really what you will see is fourth-quarter basketball for four quarters."
Bodog.com has some Blazers-related betting odds.
NBA Championship and Conference Odds
Odds to win 2011 NBA Championship
Portland Trailblazers 50/1
Odds to win 2011 Western Conference
Portland Trailblazers 25/1
NBA Series Odds
Portland Trail Blazers +175 (7/4)
Odds to Win the 2011 NBA Finals MVP (The Bill Russell Trophy)
LaMarcus Aldridge (POR) 60/1
- Over at SBNation.com, Jon Bois simulated the series on his Sega CD and the Mavericks won 45-30.
- Lee Jenkins of SI.com picks the Blazers to make the Western Conference Finals.
- ESPN.com video preview of the series.
- CBSSports.com video preview of the series.
- SportingNews.com video preview of the series.
- An amazing year-end photo retrospective compiled over at OregonLive.com.
Another batch coming tomorrow.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter