Western Conference Quarterfinals Game 2: Trail Blazers versus Mavericks

The Blazers better not slip up in this game or they're going to fall.

Game Time  6:30 p.m. Pacific  TV:  TNT nationally, KGW locally

Playoff series are all about adjustments.  As the not-so-proud bearer of a 0-1 record against the Dallas Mavericks in this series the onus will be on the Portland Trail Blazers to adjust for Game 2.

Fortunately for Portland, one of the major adjustments should come naturally.  The Blazers started and finished Game 1 on Saturday like they were playing in a foreign land.  They looked jittery and unsure early, overwhelmed and trying to hang on late.  Having taken an unkind blow from the Mavericks, Portland's playoff nerves should be gone now.  One would expect the Blazers to jump on this game early, trying to assert dominance as they did in the third and early fourth quarters of the first game:  attacking the paint, snagging rebounds, forcing turnovers, taking advantage of mismatches particularly at the guard positions.

The Blazers will need to keep LaMarcus Aldridge uppermost in their minds in this game.  They have a tendency--evidenced at times Saturday--to enjoy scoring without him.  Long stretches without Aldridge touching the ball will be a no-no here.  Even if he doesn't score it, he's the only Blazer who can consistently bend the Dallas defense when the ball hits his hands.  Aldridge equals points, but so do many Blazers.  Aldridge equals better possessions for everyone else.  In that he's unique.  Unless Portland is on a flat-out break the ball needs to visit Aldridge frequently.

Speaking of break, Gerald Wallace has openly suggested that the Blazers need to run in order to succeed.  There's a yes and no to this.  If the running comes off of turnovers or other defense-inspired opportunities I agree wholeheartedly.  Obviously that's Wallace's strong suit and the Blazers need to get him off in this game in order to have the best chance at winning.  Easy hoops also inspire Portland's young players.  In the absence of opportunity buckets, however, the Blazers' best advantage still lies in their size, not their speed.  Part of the reason the Blazers didn't run more in Game 1 was Dallas getting back on defense with alacrity.  They'll continue to do so as their guards have another gear over Portland's.  But Portland's backcourt has inches over all of their non-Kidd Dallas counterparts.  They also have bulk, if not strength.  Gerald Wallace may be a wash against Shawn Marion but he should destroy Peja Stojakovic.  Those mismatches are begging to be exploited even if the run isn't working.  Beating Dallas by fast breaking would be fantastic but that's only one of the ways Portland can take advantage of the Maverick defense, one of the less likely at that.  Portland needs to get more physical and pound more no matter who's running or not.

Although every player has ups and downs, my gut says the Blazers can count on LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby, and Andre Miller to deliver what they always do:  points, rebounds, and smart play respectively.  Those three are as close to givens as the Blazers have.  These games are going to be won or lost at positions where all good teams forced the Blazers to live or die by during the course of the year:  Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, and now Gerald Wallace.  Prior to Game 1 I might have been tempted to place Wallace in the "given" category but through a combination of nerves, pressure, or Shawn Marion he didn't turn out to be.  Batum has been more consistent in the last few weeks but is still up in the air each game.  Matthews has been off and on all year.  On Saturday the Blazers got 1 of the 3 and lost.  Getting 2 of 3 might be enough to tip the balance against this team.  3 of 3 should guarantee a win.  Those three players need to step up without blowing the Aldridge Advantage in order for this team to be successful.  The big question for Portland:  can they do so in at least 4 of 7 games?

On the defensive end the big problem is still (surprise, surprise) Dirk Nowitzki.  People will point to Jason Kidd's 24 point performance but that was more symptom than cause.  As long as the Blazers can deny Dirk they're brilliant and Nicolas Batum does a credible job of that.  As soon as Dirk catches, though, he bends Portland's defense as seriously as Aldridge bends Dallas'.  This is true whether or not he shoots, let alone hits his shot.  That gaudy three-point average Dallas totes is because of Dirk.  Their late-game success?  Dirk.  The generally good weather, fine-looking cheerleaders, and great steaks?  Dirk, Dirk, and Dirk.  He touches the ball and Kansas becomes Oz for them.  The Blazers have yet to find an airtight solution.  That said, Saturday's solution wasn't horrible.  Committing the manpower to force him into a 7-20, leaning jumper evening is probably worth the investment.  Yes, Jason Kidd has the chance to go off but you'd rather have the Mavericks depending on him than their superstar.  But you have to be consistent.  As much as people want to scream about the fouls in the fourth, the Blazers were late or mixed up plenty of times against him, left in desperate situations that were going to breed fouls no matter how they tried to cope.  Portland might just want to shrug their shoulders and say, "If the Dallas guards are going to hit then they only way we're going to win is through lots and lots of offense.  So be it.  We're handling Nowitzki."

The other defensive problem Portland had Saturday, this time a genuine surprise, was an inability to keep the Mavericks' guards in front of them, especially on crucial possessions.  People are tagging Andre Miller for not getting back to Kidd on his threes.  Fair enough, but he was almost certainly following the game plan helping out, leaving Kidd by design, and you don't necessarily expect Miller to be able to close out quickly and effectively.  That wasn't the main issue.  The preventable malady was Jason Terry and Jose Juan Barea being able to get in the lane, exposing Portland's interior defenders.  The Blazers dodged a bullet with Barea's ineffective game.  He easily could have gone for 16 and 8 as free as he was getting.  Portland's guards--Miller, Matthews, Fernandez, Roy--have to commit to stopping the drive.  If Dallas is going to hit jumpers, fine.  But that's ALL they're going to get.  No drive and dish, no layups, no drawn fouls.  Keep them in front of you and make them shoot all...night...long.  They'll hit plenty, but maybe not 48 minutes' worth.  Nowitzki already causes holes in the defense naturally.  Portland cannot afford any other holes or they might as well give it up.  No matter what else they do or don't do, Dallas still knows how to score. 

Summation:  Calm down, get in the paint, get physical, use the height advantage, keep stopping Nowitzki first even if it means living with the Dallas threes, Portland guards need to step up on defense, and at least two of the Wallace-Batum-Matthews triangle need to make a serious impact on this game.

This game is deadly important for the Blazers.  They don't need it if they plan to have one of those "we made a nice showing and built a foundation for next year" series.  But if they plan on actually winning this thing they cannot get into the position of needing 4 wins in 5 games versus the Mavericks.  You can massage the homecourt and "new series after four games" mantras all you want.  When you have to haul those out, it usually means your team is losing.  It's not really a good sign that the Blazers lost Game 1 but things are still salvageable if they stop the slide here.  It's time for this team to go all out and make a statement though.  Anything less tonight and the Blazers are in serious trouble.  Granted they have a history of only playing their best when you think they're dead and gone, but Dallas served notice on Saturday that they're not going to let Portland off the hook.  The Blazers have got to play well tonight and they need this game badly.

Mavs Moneyball will have plenty of other details.  We have a bet going with them now.  Loser has to pen glowing poetry about the winner's team.  Blazersedge numbers some of the best verse-writers in the blogosphere among its readership, but I'm hoping we can keep them in the holster for a series or two.

If you're in the Jersey Contest playoffs your form is here.

Rick Adelman, you're one heck of a coach.  Read more about his dismissal at The Dream Shake.

Consider this thread open for all game-related talk leading up to the official pre-game open thread.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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