Here's every link you need from Friday that covers the first round playoff series between the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks. In case you missed Thursday's roundup, here you go.
Here's a link to my CBSSports.com playoff series preview.
It was a pleasure to join Sekou Smith and Lang Whitaker on NBA.com's Hang Time Podcast to preview the series.
Here's The Basketball Jones video preview.
Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo! Sports previews the series.
You're right not to underrate the Mavericks. Though the team has fallen off since Caron Butler went down because DeShawn Stevenson couldn't sustain his initial promise and Roddy Beaubois never found his touch this season, this is still a great team that could have made it to the second or even third round had it found the right matchup. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, Portland is not that matchup.
The team is too long, and it has started to close out on shooters better now that Gerald Wallace is in the fold, and his teammates appear to have acclimated to his ways. Nate McMillan has opened up the taps a bit offensively, and this has clearly become Andre Miller's team with Brandon Roy playing a secondary scoring role off the bench. Pity, but it needed to be done.
I'm picking Portland, but that doesn't mean we can't have a close series. It's a close series that could end in four games, with each contest coming down to the wire, or we could see what the Spurs and Mavs gave us last year -- a six-game series with the Mavs going down, but with four of the contests going down to the wire, and a sixth game that saw the Mavs just a shot or two away. ... My pick? Trail Blazers in six.
John Hollinger of ESPN.com previews the series.
On paper, this is about as close to a toss-up as you can get. Dallas is ninth in the Power Rankings, Portland is 10th. They split the season series, with a differential of three points in favor of the Blazers.
However, focusing on the players they'll actually field in this series, I give a slight edge to the Blazers. Portland's lineups with Gerald Wallace in them have all been lights out, in terms of adjusted plus-minus (hat tip to basketballvalue.com), while the Blazers' overall numbers are dragged down by players like Joel Przybilla, Armon Johnson, Sean Marks and Chris Johnson who won't be participating in this series. The two concerns for Portland are backup point guard, where Patty Mills has been barely adequate and may be left out of the rotation in favor of Brandon Roy or Rudy Fernandez, and Marcus Camby, who has seemed less than spry since midseason.
The key for Dallas will be limiting the vulnerability of its small guards on defense. Dallas plays a lot of zone and the Blazers can't shoot (21st in 3-point percentage at 34.5 percent), so that's the likely solution. But one worries if the smoke-and-mirrors schemes the Mavs used for much of the season will be as effective when seen day after day in a playoff series. The December Mavs win this series in 5. In April? I'm not so sure. Pick:
Blazers in 6
Is the bench a key? I don't think so. At least Portland's bench. Starters - especially LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace - are going to play big minutes. I'd expect the Blazers to push Marcus Camby's playing time to the limit, too. Nic Batum will get plenty of opportunity to play and so will Brandon Roy. After that, Rudy Fernandez will play about as well as he shoots. If he makes some, he'll get plenty of time. If he doesn't, well, we've seen that movie before.
I expect this to be a very interesting series. Carlisle's job may be at risk if he doesn't win. Nate McMillan's rap for not getting past the first round (he did it only once in Seattle, you recall) is also a talking point.
But I believe this one is there for the taking for Portland. I see it in six games, with the Blazers wrapping it up at home.
John Schuhmann of NBA.com previews the series.
Gerald Wallace has given the Blazers an offensive boost. The Blazers scored 112.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor overall, clearly more potent when he plays the four.
Against Dallas: The lineup of Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby is the only one to play in all four games against the Mavs. And it was pretty successful, outscoring Dallas 62-53 in 31 minutes.
Mavs-Blazers matchup focus: Gerald Wallace is known for his defense, but he's not exactly a Dirk stopper. Nowitzki has shot 50 percent from the field over the last four years when Wallace has been on the floor, including 32-for-50 (64 percent) this season.
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-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter
David Thorpe and Anthony Macri of ESPN.com predict the series.
One interesting aspect of this matchup is the fact that it may come down to a simple possession war: the team that controls the ball in the manner they are most comfortable and efficient in will wind up victorious. Portland is one of the better teams in the league at not turning over the ball, and they augment that ball-control style by increasing their quantity of possessions with a lot of steals and second chances. This means that they are fundamentally better against teams that do a poor job on the defensive backboard, and ones that turn the ball over more regularly.
Unfortunately for the Blazers, the Dallas Mavericks make neither error in abundance. Dallas does a very good job rebounding by committee on the defensive end, and then springing out into attack lines coming down the floor. They run their offense well, and while they are nearly average in terms of turning over the ball, they do a good job finding each other for assists in the halfcourt setting. The Mavericks will make it exceedingly tough for Portland to operate comfortably, and since the Blazer offense is inconsistent, Dallas may be able to gain an upper hand.
Prediction: Mavericks in six
Rob Mahoney tells Sean Meagher of OregonLive.com that the "underdog" label for Dallas doesn't really fit.
Hardly. Mark Cuban has maintained an incredibly competitive franchise for over a decade, and Dirk Nowitzki's longevity has given Dallas numerous shots to contend. Winning a title is always an improbability, even if a team stands as the "favorite." All one should ask of any franchise is that ownership/management gives the team as many contending opportunities as possible, in the hopes that stable teambuilding might ultimately score a title. It hasn't for Dallas, but that doesn't mean they've failed.
There's also something to be said about good basketball for good basketball's sake. This isn't the Mavs apologist in me, either; the same is true of the "Seven Seconds or Less" Suns, the early decade Kings, and the myriad teams that were just never able to win a championship for whatever reason. Bringing home a big, shiny gold thing is a great validation of a superb season, but it's not the only worthy end for us as consumers and fans of the game.
Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com says Jason Terry has something to prove.
The Mavs' sixth man doesn't run from that responsibility. He welcomes it, wanting the pressure to produce and the chance to atone for his role in the Mavs' awfully unsuccessful championship missions.
"No question, I'm disappointed the way the last two years of playoffs have gone for myself, personally," Terry said. "I'm a guy that ever since I came to the Mavericks has prided himself in playing not only in fourth quarters, but in playoff basketball, in big games. So I've got something to prove."
Mike Tokito of The Oregonian reports from Blazers practice.
McMillan said he will stick to a rotation that will bring in Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez in as his second-team backcourt, meaning Patty Mills will probably not see much playing time unless he's needed for an offensive burst.
Although Dallas has smaller backcourt players, with backup point guard J.J. Barea having jitterbug quickness, McMillan he does not feel the need to use Mills more to slow Barea.
"Rudy has been able to do a good job of guarding speedy players," McMillan said. "Rudy has done a pretty good job on Barea."
Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune on the LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Dirk Nowitzki match-up.
Many national pundits are predicting that the Blazers, the sixth seed in the Western Conference, will knock off the No. 3 Mavericks. The Dallas players say they are embracing an underdog role.
"We didn't want anybody," Aldridge says. "We didn't say, ‘Let's get them' (as a first-round opponent). They're good. They started out one of the hottest teams in the NBA. How are they underdogs? We didn't say none of that stuff.
"That's just motivation for them. It's easy to say a team can be upset.
Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk says Gerald Wallace should be a difference-maker.
The forward was in the All-Star game in 2010, but playing for a bad Bobcats team then being traded to Portland seemed to take him out of the spotlight. However, he has played maybe the best ball of his career since the trade, averaging 15.8 points per game. He could key a Trail Blazers first round upset of the Mavericks. Wallace is a versatile player, can defend and is an offensive force, plus can rebound. He's tough, he gets under your skin (he did with Ron Artest recently). He's going to get a lot of time on Dirk Nowtizki and if he can keep the German in check Portland has a chance.
Shaun Powell of NBA.com also calls Wallace an X-Factor.
Gerald Wallace, Portland Trail Blazers forward: He was disappointed to leave Charlotte at the trade deadline, and you wonder what made him feel so blue? The barbeque he can't get in Portland? Because he isn't missing out on anything else. Wallace, an All-Star last season, helped the Bobcats make the franchise's lone playoff appearance last spring with a gutsy, workmanlike effort. He's expected to duplicate that for the Blazers, who need his rebounding next to Marcus Camby to pull off a first-round surprise.
Mike Acker of Rip City Project previews the series.
Beyond stopping Dirk, the Blazers and Mavericks both play the kind of guard game that is basically a push. Jason Kidd is an older version of Andre Miller, or Andre Miller is a younger version of Jason Kidd if you want to play it like that. JJ Barea is quick and can score, but isn't the kind of slashing, score-first guard that makes Swiss cheese of Portland's defense, exhibits A and B Steph Curry and Monta Ellis. The Maverick wing player that was hardest for the Blazers to stop in Portland's two wins, one Rodrique Beaubois, might be sidelined for a while with a sprained foot.
So if guard play and front court scoring don't favor one team over the other, LaMarcus Aldridge cancelling out Dirk Nowitzki, and Dallas not getting too much of a boost at center, this series might very well come down to bench play. And, believe it or not, this might be where Portland has an advantage. Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, and Brandon Roy have all had big games off the bench against Dallas at home. On top of that, the Mavericks bench isn't all that deep. Jason Terry can still be a killer, although his game isn't what it was a couple of seasons ago. With Beaubois out, DeShawn Stevenson is bumped into the starting five, taking one more scorer off the bench, Ian Mahinmi is a big body, Brain Cardinal is an old body, Peja Stojakovic is old. A consistent Blazer bench might be enough to pull the upset.
That's my match-up breakdown, here's my emotional breakdown. Part of why I think Portland can, and will, take this series boils down to this: these Blazers have more basketball left to play.
Kurt Helin of Pro Basketball Talk on the possibility of a Blazers upset.
The sexy upset pick - and we picked it as well - is Portland to beat Dallas.
There are a couple of reasons why. The trade deadline acquisition by Portland of Gerald Wallace is a key one - a lot of fans don't realize just how good this guy is. Dirk Nowitzki does, and he knows Wallace will be draped on him all series. And make him work on the defensive end. Wallace is not flashy but the guy is good at everything and works harder than everyone. He's a monster.
Another reason is LaMarcus Aldridge - he averaged 27.8 points on 51% shooting against Dallas this season. He will occupy Tyson Chandler's time and may lead to Chandler in foul trouble. Also, Portland brings Brandon Roy off the bench now and he can win a game (as can Rudy Fernandez from three on the right night). Dallas has depth, they have Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion.
Dallas was the better team over the course of the season, but the playoffs are about matchups. And Portland has some advantages there. Enough that they could pull off an upset.
Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com says pace is key.
"It's important that we play our style of basketball," center Tyson Chandler said. "When we play defense and get stops and rebound the ball, we fast break. When we fast break, we're a tough team because we can put up big points in bunches. If we put up big points in bunches, it's going to take them out of what they want to do. We have to force this series into our style."
That's easier said than done. There are reasons Portland has been able to dictate the pace all season.
Dirk Nowitzki points out that the Trail Blazers, who are loaded with long, athletic frontcourt players, are a terrific transition defense team. Portland also ranks third in the NBA in offensive rebounding rate.
Rick Reilly of ESPN.com previews the series.
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Dallas Mavericks -- What do Oasis, Winona Ryder and the Mavericks have in common? They're massive underachievers. When Dallas loses this one, it'll be four first-round punch-outs in the last five playoffs. Portland in 7, and let's see if anybody in Dallas has the nerve to call out Mark Cuban, cyberbully.
Did I dream that? In attempting to break an attendance record, Cuban gets arrested by the Dallas Fire Department for using Jerry Jones' temporary Super Bowl seats.
Eddie Johnson of HoopsHype.com previews the series.
The Mavericks will win if...
- Shawn Marion and Tyson Chandler average double figures in points.
- Jason Terry's being Robin to Dirk's Batman.
- The Mavericks make Portland a perimeter team.
The Blazers will win if...
- LaMarcus Aldridge matches Dirk Nowitzki's production.
- Blazers live at the free-throw line.
- Blazers control tempo to snails pace.
Competitive but ugly series because of Blazers' tempo. Dallas 2, Portland 4.
Jason Fleming of HoopsWorld.com previews the series.
McMillan has a lot to prove here. Yes, he deserves mentions in the Coach of the Year race for keeping the team together (again) despite all the injuries, but his Blazers have also failed to make adjustments in the playoffs in the previous two seasons, both first-round losses. The offense was too predictable and any changes implemented simply didn't make a difference. It's likely with this group of players he will get different results this year, but until it happens there are question marks.
Carlisle has been around the block in the playoffs. Five times he has led a team to the second round of the playoffs and twice (once with Detroit, once with Indiana) to the conference finals while McMillan has been to the second round just once. He knows what it takes to make adjustments in a seven-game series and has done it with some success. Can he do that again here?
Final Prediction: Portland in 6
Frankly, I'm surprised as many of you readers with this conclusion. Theoretically the Dallas Mavericks, being the higher seed, should rate an edge in more than one category, but in all the places they have advantages over many teams Portland has something to counter it. And in the places the Mavericks are weak, Portland is stronger.
Christopher Reina of RealGM.com previews the series.
The Rundown: There are a lot of reasons why this is a good matchup for both teams on paper, but I have a lot of trust in Wallace's ability to neutralize Nowitzki as much as humanly possible. The Mavericks will need more high-pressured scoring from their supplemental scorers and I think Portland will be successful against Terry and Beaubois. Dallas will live and die by their perimeter shots from guys like Peja and Kidd and that isn't a recipe for long-term success in the playoffs.
If Roy can turn in just two vintage fourth quarter scoring performances, the Blazers should have enough athletic firepower to overwhelm the Mavericks in a way that is at least somewhat similar to what happened at the hands of the Warriors in 2007.
Series Prediction: Blazers in Six Games
Andy Giegerich of the Portland Business Journal previews the series.
Can the Blazers beat the Mavericks? Sure. They matched up well with Dallas's interior players all season, and the addition of Gerald Wallace not only provides a needed offensive threat, it gives the team five good-to-great defenders (Wallace, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and Marcus Camby) who could make life miserable for the Mavs toward the end of a close contest.
That said, home court advantage means everything in the playoffs. If the Blazers can steal a game in Dallas, they absolutely need to close the series out at home, most likely, in game six. In all-time NBA seventh games, the home team wins 80 percent of the time.
The last time the Blazers played a Game Seven? 2003. Against the Dallas Mavericks. Dallas won.
Maurice Bobb of SlamOnline.com previews the series.
So who takes it? Dallas. In six games. OK, I'll pause while you fling expletives my way or wonder what I'm smoking... Got it out of your system? Good.
The reason I'm riding with the Mavs yet again is because I see a different team and they really understand now that they have been written off. They have something to prove. Dirk will be Dirk and Jet will be Jet, but this series all falls on Chandler. It's Chandler who will have to police the lane and keep Aldridge and Crash from dominating inside. It's Chandler who will have to shoo Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez away from driving the lane like flies. And it's Chandler who will have to negate veteran Marcus Camby from, well, being Marcus Camby. And I believe he's up for the challenge. Tyson is vocal, he's determined and he's ready. Dallas has all the weapons, so they're covered on O. What they need to get over the hump is embodied in Chandler.
And Blazers' fans, it's not that I don't respect your team. I think Portland will give Dallas all kinds of hell and Aldridge is one of the best low block players in the West and if Brandon Roy plays anything like Brandon Roy, the Blazers are scary good. But Portland will only take two Ws home in this series.
Tom Weir of USAToday.com on the upset possibility.
Portland over Dallas seems to be a widespread sexy pick. The Blazers split the season series, are tougher with the acquisition of Gerald Wallace and are getting good contributions from a healing Brandon Roy. Imagine where they'd be if Greg Oden had healthy knees and was on the court. Portland also ended the season 22-10 after dealing with all sorts of injury issues early.
Jeff Caplan of ESPNDallas.com sees Jason Kidd's outside shooting as a crucial weapon.
That means they were 31-19 when he scores in single figures, not a shabby record at all, but not nearly as convincing as when he's pumping in long-range jump shots. In fact, it could be considered crucial.
"It adds another shooter and it spreads the floor, gives Dirk Nowitzki opportunities to do what he does best," said Kidd of the ripple effects when he's hitting his shot. "And then, I'm not the guy who's going to score a lot of points, so it definitely is a bonus when I do score."
On a team that doesn't always know where it's second-leading scorer will come from on any given night behind Nowitzki, Kidd's ability to score between10 and 12 points a game significantly decreases the scoring burden on the streaky shooting guard Jason Terry as well as small forward Shawn Marion, who has considerably lifted his scoring average since becoming a full-time starter last month.
Blazers coach Nate McMillan says his team isn't afraid of the Mavericks according to Mike Tokito of The Oregonian.
"It's a challenge for us," McMillan said. "We don't fear them. We respect them. But we also believe we can win."
Andrew Tonry of Portland Roundball Society leads a roundtable discussion.
This is the first time in over a decade that the Trail Blazers approach the playoffs with some honest hope. That feeling brings with it some added pressure, but so be it.
I don't think the Blazers have anything to fear from Dallas-Dirk Nowitzki has worked so damn hard, carrying the Mavericks on his back all season, he just doesn't have an extra gear left to turn to. The young legs of the Trail Blazers, on the other hand, just might.
And surely Portland have the hungrier mouths. Andre Miller has never won a playoff series. Gerald Wallace hasn't won a playoff series since he was riding the bench in Sacramento, when he just entered the league. For these aging lynchpins, it's now or never.
Tonry's Pick: Blazers in six.
- Blazers ticket prices are super expensive.
- A good list of people to follow on Twitter during the NBA playoffs from Quickish.com.
- Bill Simmons' preview podcasts.
- Basketball-Reference's by the numbers preview.
- Synergy Sports series preview.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter