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Western Conference Quarterfinals Game 4 Preview: Dallas Mavericks versus Portland Trail Blazers

Can the Mavericks stop the Portland freight train today?
Can the Mavericks stop the Portland freight train today?

Game Time  2:00 p.m. Pacific  TV:  TNT nationally, KGW locally

The Blazers brought a pretty good recipe to Game 3:  run whenever possible, attack inside out on offense, hit open jumpers when you have them, force turnovers on defense, rebound hard, use your defensive-minded guards to good advantage particularly when figuring out how to deal with mismatches on Dirk Nowitzki.  They rode the emotion of the game and situation, closed out in the fourth, and took the victory.

You probably don't want to tinker with that formula much but you have to understand the adjustments that Dallas, in turn will make.  The chiefest among those?  When in doubt, go to Dirk.  Nowitzki has already had plenty of touches, but I expect his presence to be near-overwhelming in this game, particularly in the fourth period again.  The Blazers need to be prepared for this.  LaMarcus Aldridge could be a huge key for more reasons than one.  First, as predicted, the foul situation isn't as dire in Portland as it was in Dallas so you can risk guarding Dirk with LMA more...a decent matchup as far as the Blazers are concerned.  Second, LaMarcus has to produce on the offensive end in turn, not only keeping pace with Nowitzki in points but keeping similar pressure on Dallas' defense, sapping the concentration and energy they'd prefer to employ on the offensive end.  The best remedy for potential Dirk brilliance is Aldridge's own brilliance.

The Blazers also need to keep ball and people moving in that process.  Attacking with Aldridge solo is actually a good tactic in this way, as Dallas does have to commit extra men to guard him.  But it only works if his initial passes are both frequent and on the money and the rest of the team is quick in finding either the open man or the open lane.  The Blazers also have to regard the lane as their bread and butter on offense.  Any drive, even a contested one, puts more pressure on the defense than a jumper.  Once again Portland's jump shots should be of the outlet variety...the dessert on the offensive menu rather than the main course.  Even Portland's bench players should be able to score if this is the case (cough, cough).

I've received a couple questions about what I meant by the following paragraph in the Game 3 Recap:

This was the win that Portland needed but wasn't enough to erase the memory of the wins Portland wanted and couldn't get in Dallas.  It doesn't feel like this series has turned at all.  Portland will need to play another tough, smart, and passion-filled game to even this up.  Even then I'm not sure it will have turned.  It feels like the real story has yet to be written.    

I mention it here because it has direct bearing on the next couple of games.  The Blazers have displayed emotion, particularly in their win Thursday, but have not been able to translate that emotion into putting down the Mavericks convincingly.  The Blazers have also displayed an absence of emotion at times, particularly in the fourth quarter of Game 2, and when it's just technical basketball versus technical basketball the Mavericks have come out ahead.  In order to wrest this series away from the Mavericks the Blazers either have to maintain their emotion/passion/energy for larger swaths of the game and surge ahead to easier wins or they'll have to show that they can win without it.  

If things remain the same, with the Blazers riding emotion that's present but not always sufficient, the next two games will be split no matter what happens.  If Portland wins Game 4 the series will be going according to plan, which means Dallas' surge and renewed focus upon returning home and needing a win will trump the Blazers' intermittent-yet-hopeful performance.  If the Mavericks win Game 4 the Blazers are quite capable of riding their own surge of emotion to a shocking Game 5 victory, keeping the series alive.  The problem in each case is Game 6.  Yes, it's at home for the Blazers.  But at that point the whole home thing will be old hat and the Blazers will be expecting to come out with a victory and force a Game 7.  But Dallas knows the score too and knows how precarious Game 7 situations can be and will likely come out stronger than the Blazers expected.  With the Blazers having barely held off the Mavs at best, having succumbed to them at worst,  their emotional well might not be deep enough to withstand Dallas' attack.  If the Blazers actually reach a Game 7 I have no doubt that they'll come out strong and their emotions will be sufficient to give them a chance to win.  But I don't see them having that same foresight and emotional reserve to guarantee a Game 6 victory if Dallas is determined.

That's why I'd like to see something break the pattern.  Obviously you take any victory today, as being down 3-1 going into the enemy building isn't a pleasant prospect.  But again Portland needs a convincing victory to throw doubt on the proceedings, to show everyone (including themselves) that they're tearing up a script that even now still has Dallas coming out on top after the final act. 

Let's see what happens today.

Chat below all you wish until the official pre-game post goes up.

Mavs Moneyball will be looking for the surprise win today.

Game Form for invited Jersey Contest playoff participants.

--Dave (