Western Conference Quarterfinals Game 3 Preview: Dallas Mavericks versus Portland Trail Blazers

The motto for the evening: Attack!

Game Time  7:30 p.m. Pacific   TV:  TNT nationally, KGW locally

This is obviously a must-win game for the Blazers.  Fortunately it also feels like a will-win game for the Blazers.  A loss tonight would collapse Portland's tent over more than just this series.  It would signal the Blazers were not ready and perhaps were not able to compete even on this, fairly modest, level.  All the accomplishments of the season past would be viewed through that light.  Though also somewhat modest, they probably heralded more than a complete meltdown in the post-season.  If the Blazers lose tonight, the repercussions will last throughout the summer and beyond.

The Blazers have played well in stretches and have no reason to assume anything but victory tonight.  They need to make a couple key adjustments.

--They'll probably run LaMarcus Aldridge in single or conditional-help coverage against Dirk Nowitzki tonight.  Their other plans have failed, not necessarily against Dirk himself but in overall court coverage.  The refs will likely be more gracious tonight, lessening the fear of foul trouble.  Aldridge has the size, height, and tools to bother Nowitzki at least as much as the Blazers were bothering him in the first two games.  Everybody else gets to stay closer to home against the Kidds and Stojakovici of the world.  It's a no-lose proposition as long as Aldridge doesn't draw two quick fouls.  If he does the team can always switch back to him guarding non-scoring centers.

--They need to make every possession count.  Beat Dallas off the break, Beat Dallas in the lane, Beat Dallas off of wide-open jumpers in that exact order of preference.  Anything else is a failed possession.  Portland is settling for too many jumpers without having probed the middle first.  They're doing OK on average, but this is not your average situation.  This is a must-win playoff contest.  I once heard a comedian talking about being on Letterman or Leno or what have you and he said the producers force you to get rid of all your set-up jokes, pushing you to deliver only your best material every second you're out on that stage.  It messes with your normal rhythm a little but that's what the situation demands.  That's the analogy for the Blazers tonight.  Beat them on the run if you can.  If not, get the ball inside and score.  If they collapse, be ready for that open perimeter shot and hit it.

Other than that, the Blazers need to write the word CRITICAL in red ink on their play board.  They have to hustle the whole game.  They need those turnovers and rebounds, to be the first to loose balls and their spot on the floor.  But they have to do that in the CRITICAL situations above all.  Heretofore they've been the poker player who wins 20 pots for a nice $1000 but loses two pots at the end of the night for $5000.   The pros will tell you that guy got took.  Playing great the first three quarters doesn't matter if you can't up your game in the fourth.  When the clock starts ticking in the final period the Blazers better have fire in their eyes.  Dallas should have no offensive rebounds, no clear shots, and no chance of getting to a contested ball before the Blazers grab it.

The couple of technical details aside, this game will be about heart and will.  Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry and Jason Kidd are going to be cold-blooded about this.  They've been there before.  They've lost these series before too.  They're not going to take it easy because they're up 2-0.  They're going to take this game if you let them.  The Blazers have to counter that with overwhelming fire.  This is the game to let it all hang out.  Ideally this is the game to win by 20, erasing the memory of those close losses in Dallas.  Worry about Saturday when Saturday comes.  Do anything you have to in order to crush Dallas tonight.  The Blazers can't just win this, they have to serve notice.  Better put:  They're going to serve notice one way or another.  Either this is going to be a nasty dogfight to the end or they're going to give up the series tonight.  We'll have to see which option they choose.

Mavs Moneyball has your Dallas sweep hopes alive.

Jersey Contest form for invited playoff participants only.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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