Analysis: Trail Blazers Show Heart, Eventually Succumb to Dallas Attack

Photo: Matthew Emmons, U.S. Presswire

The Trail Blazers play a resilient game against the Mavericks, dominating on the glass but showing defensive weaknesses at the point of attack and in transition. After several runs and counter-runs, Dallas gets the last break-away and mows down the flagging Blazers.

For a quarter-by-quarter recap of tonight's contest, check out Timmay's piece.

This was one HECK of an interesting game. Obviously it's no fun to see the Blazers get the first 20+ point loss of the season hung on them, but the final score is subsumed by all the twists and turns in the contest itself.

Among the fascinating developments...

1. Dallas employed an effective and all-too obvious strategy tonight: abuse every point guard and center you see. Those are the weak spots in Portland's defense and center remains questionable on offense as well. The Mavericks started the game running Darren Collison right down the throat of the lane and Damian Lillard both. The speedy point guard drew two immediate fouls on Portland's young hero, sending him to the pines before the arena seats had warmed. In Lillard's absence the Blazers had to invent new ways of scoring. Ronnie Price wasn't able to defend Collison either and Dallas looked to cruise.

The Mavericks also sent center Chris Kaman after Meyers Leonard like Kaman was a mechanical shark. Leonard actually had an impressive showing scoring and rebounding, but Kaman nullified much of the benefit by eating Leonard for lunch.

On the other end the Mavs consistently doubled Lillard, turning him into a semi-passive member of the offense. Lillard's passes were still good but his offense was limited to the occasional rushed jumper from deep on the floor. When those missed, Lillard withdrew further and further into his shell.

Knocking out Portland's legs at two positions for much of the game kept Dallas in a fairly comfortable position, allowing them to withstand Blazer runs and eventually to break the game open despite their own mistakes.

2. A big part of Portland's undoing tonight was a bugaboo that has not troubled them heretofore: turnovers. The lack of critical turnovers in previous games is surprising given the playing style and the team's lack of experience together. 13 turnovers doesn't seem like that much tonight either. But several of those TO's went for run-outs that allowed Dallas to extend a lead when the Blazers were getting close, including the final lead when the Mavs put the game away. Dallas was prepared in the passing lanes, allowing Portland players to dribble almost anywhere but down the lane and then waiting for the dish.

The Blazers forced only 9 turnovers themselves, which led to...

3. An astonishing fast break deficit marred this game for the Blazers. They gave up 24 to the Mavs, scoring only 2 themselves. Dallas should be credited for getting back on defense. The Blazers did so intermittently, though to be fair those passing turnovers don't lend themselves to defensive stops.

4. This was finally the night that Portland's three-point shooting deserted them. They finished 5-22, a 23% clip. Lillard went 1-8 from the arc, responsible for 7 of the 17 misses. The shots weren't bad; they just weren't falling.

5. Despite ALL of that the Blazers stayed close for almost all of this game, surrendering only late in the fourth (but surrendering completely when they did). How did they manage this feat without the normal Lillard, without three-pointers or fast break points, and giving up turnovers at critical times? They rebounded the orange right off of the ball. Portland had 23 offensive rebounds on the evening to 2 for Dallas. Those boards not only gave extra possessions but paint points, otherwise in fairly short supply. We have seen the Blazers rebound well this year, but this was amazing. They just killed it.

6. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the 61.5% shooting allowed the Mavericks. This is hands down the most consistent trend for the Blazers this year. They're allowing big percentages and this was the biggest of all. With the defense breaking down like that in halfcourt and transition both everything needs to go right for the Blazers to have a chance. That didn't come close to happening tonight.

7. Nevertheless (once again), Portland's demeanor remained positive throughout the game. The Blazers made multiple runs in counterpoint to those of the Mavericks and never let Dallas out of their sights until the very end. One of the telling moments of the night came just before Coach Stotts pulled his starters at the end of the fourth. The Mavs were up by double-digits with a couple minutes remaining. Suddenly you saw the air come out of the starters. They knew they were going to lose this one. The significance? It took them that long to admit it. One can't help but hearken back to last season when the white flag came out around the 8:00 mark of the first period. These Blazers thought they had a chance down 15 with 2:30 left. The runs and that attitude say something about this team.

Individual Notes

LaMarcus Aldridge had an impressive game with 20 points, 7 rebounds, 9-19 shooting. Once again his jumper was off early and once again the Blazers found themselves relying on him in the post later on. Whether "later on" should start coming sooner is a matter for debate. At least it didn't take them as long as it did in Houston. He simply does not put the same pressure on the defense shooting face-up jumpers above the elbow that he does closer to the basket.

Damian Lillard never got another foul after the initial two that sent him to the bench at the 8:40 mark of the first quarter of this game. But that start stayed with him all evening. He never got his offense going for more than a single set, finding driving tough against extra attention. Even when the Mavs didn't send the double Lillard seemed to settle for the jumper instead of attacking off the dribble and scoring or passing. He had a couple of really nice plays but not nearly the effect we're used to seeing. This will be a lesson for him. 13 points, 5 assists, 2-13 shooting, 8-8 from the foul line. He got burned on defense too, but that's somewhat expected. He'll need to figure out how to stay with quick guys like Collison, or at least cheat better.

The most outstanding part of Nicolas Batum's game was a couple of spectacular dunk finishes in the halfcourt. When he got to the rim tonight he made sure he finished. He also had another great come-from-behind block. He and the Shawn Marion/Vince Carter combo seemed to cancel each other out. Since the Blazers need more from Batum than the Mavs need from their small forward, that's a provisional victory for Dallas. 14 points, 5 rebounds.

Wesley Matthews punished the Mavericks from distance tonight, shooting 3-4 from the arc, 8-15 overall, as if to say, "Take that, Mayo!" He finished with 20 points. Unfortunately O.J. Mayo had 32 and went 6-8 from the arc. Portland's announcers keep mentioning that Matthews looks different on the drive this year. He did have a couple nice finishes on a couple nice drives. They didn't comment after the five he botched. It was a good game, not a great one, from Matthews.

J.J. Hickson was a one-man, board-abusing machine tonight. He had 11 rebounds, 7 offensive. He would have had 20 total rebounds if the Mavericks had actually missed a shot. Again, you cannot say enough about the effort this guy is giving, and that while playing a new position with new priorities in a new lineup. Rebounds and kudos both were counterbalanced by his 3-10 shooting clip, which isn't so bad until you note that practically all of those attempts came in the lane. Bothered by defenses and having to put up shots from a standstill instead of in motion, Hickson blew shot after shot at point blank range. That's not his fault, it's just not his game.

Meyers Leonard once again led Portland's bench with 23 minutes and had an amazing statistical outing in his first trip to the floor, grabbing a half-dozen rebounds and scoring a half-dozen points in the first half. He ended the game with 6 points and 9 rebounds. Chris Kaman scored that same half-dozen points on Leonard in about 30 seconds, though. It was totally a "crafty veteran welcomes puppy-eyed rookie" outing. Leonard has a lot of things going for him, but point-of-attack defense is not yet one of them. Still, Leonard did more things right tonight than we've seen in any single game yet.

Ronnie Price looked decidedly mediocre spelling Lillard for 18 minutes. Judging him coming off of injury and having to guard an incredibly quick guy like Collison may not be fair. Price did play alongside Lillard for a little while but Damian seemed to suffer from not having the ball in his hands.

Sasha Pavlovic got 18 minutes and hit a three in the course of going 1-5. It's hard to either like or dislike him at this point. He's just...there. His big advantage is that he knows what he's doing while the players behind him do not.

Jared Jeffries had a fairly limp 7 minutes but at least got after it on defense.

Anyone who wonders why Joel Freeland isn't playing more should watch the tape of this game. Passing the ball to him is a party foul at this point. He also collected 2 fouls in 9 minutes along with 4 rebounds.

Nolan Smith and Will Barton got a couple of garbage time minutes each.

The Blazers have survived the earliest part of their treacherous early stretch with a 2-2 record. They suffered only one blowout and even then the performance wasn't that bad. Now they get to rest for a couple days and maybe get another practice in before they face the Clippers on Thursday night. While the weaknesses are obvious (particularly in games like this one) and the demands on their starters are far too high, this season is still off to a good start...probably better than could have been expected.

Tonight's boxscore can be found here.

Mavs Moneyball will have the Dallas point of view.

Portland Trail Blazer tickets for all upcoming games are available from Blazer's Edge sponsor TiqIQ.

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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