The Portland Trail Blazers blitzed the sluggish Dallas Mavericks, 104-96, at the Rose Garden on Sunday night, following the textbook formula for defeating a tired team by getting off to a solid start, creating and then capitalizing on turnovers and forcing unmotivated defenders to work through full possessions.
Timmay! (here) and Dave (here) broke down in detail what was a fairly academic victory, Portland's eighth straight at home. Anything in addition to what they've written feels like piling on. This was a game that saw Portland lead by 21 points, with Rudy Fernandez and Gerald Wallace wreaking havoc with sixth-gear energy against a decidedly second-gear effort from the Mavericks, who looked, for lack of a better word, elderly.
Here are a few thoughts should these teams match-up in the playoffs, with an eye towards big picture lessons rather than single-game happenings.
When the Blazers announced Gerald Wallace's trade, one of the points GM Rich Cho highlighted was Wallace's defensive versatility. I would argue that we see the impact of that versatility against Dallas much more than we do against either of the Western Conference's other elite teams. San Antonio gets their shots primarily from Tony Parker's brilliance off the dribble and their strict adherence to an unselfish team system. Wallace isn't going to play Tim Duncan much and his one-on-one defensive skills are somewhat wasted against the rest of San Antonio's bigs. If you gamble off the ball against the Spurs, by and large, you'll pay. Against the Los Angeles Lakers, Wallace certainly helps Portland keep pace with a ridiculously loaded, physical, versatile and long front line. But the Lakers have a strangehold on that match-up against everyone in the league; Wallace narrows the gap and can be a play-making game-changer, but he doesn't tilt the balance of a series.
Against Dallas, though, Wallace can guard Dirk Nowtizki when needed -- making Nowitzki work in a way he doesn't have to against a less physical player like Nicolas Batum -- and he also gives you a legitimate match-up advantage against Shawn Marion. Wallace and Marion had laughably similar box score lines tonight (18 points each, 8-10 shooting for Wallace, 8-11 shooting for Marion) but Wallace out-rebounded Marion 8-5, added three assists and three steals, and was clearly the more aggressive and more active of the two. With Brandon Roy limited, the Blazers are desperate for any match-up advantage they can muster. In a potential Mavericks/Blazers series -- one that has a ton of close match-ups in Kidd/Miller, Chandler/Camby, Nowitzki/Aldridge, etc. -- Wallace is that guy.
Tonight, Wallace was one of the reasons that the Blazers were able to work so hard to deny Nowitzki throughout the game. He's a great team defender, he's opportunistic, he will instinctively cover if something goes wrong and he can step in and play Nowitzki himself when necessary. When he does that, he makes Nowitzki earn every inch. That's a difference-maker not only on a night like tonight when Dallas was struggling to get good ball and player movement but also in a slow-down playoff series where the ability to meaningfully decrease Nowitzki's efficiency is the surest route to stealing a victory on the road or pulling off a series upset.
Another fact that was glaring tonight but that should also be a series-influencing factor: the Mavericks are heaven for Brandon Roy. If Wallace is better against the Mavericks compared to the Spurs or Lakers, that goes triple or quadruple for Roy. That he's looked confident and good -- great compared to his other recent performances -- against the Mavericks is no accident. Simply put: the Blazers can hide Brandon Roy on any number of Mavericks players while Dallas is also the elite team least equipped to defend him given the diminutive nature of their second unit guards.
On offense, Roy can operate from the post with little resistance and he can run the point without much trouble getting the ball up the court. As Tim MacMahon put it on ESPNDallas.com tonight: "There isn’t a player in the Portland rotation that Jason Terry, J.J. Barea or Rodrigue Beaubois can consistently guard one-on-one." That might be a little extreme but none of the three is a very good match-up for Roy, and if you go with Kidd on Roy that leaves Miller, Matthews, Fernandez or Batum with one of the smaller guards. Roy can also see the floor easily from the top of the key and that's huge for getting a tertiary scoring option like Nicolas Batum going, whether it's hitting him on a curl through the key or spotting up after he runs through some baseline screens.
Blazers coach Nate McMillan made a throwaway observation tonight at the end of a relatively long response to a question about defending Dirk Nowitzki. McMillan said: "The other guy is [Jason] Terry. We have to do a good job of guarding Terry when we're playing Dallas." Yes, that's self-evident. Jason Terry is very good at basketball and has been for a long time.
I might be reaching a touch but the way McMillan said it and the timing of when he said it gave the impression that he likes his horses when it comes to keeping Nowitzki in check. He appears to trust Aldridge, Camby, Wallace and Batum. Terry is a slightly different case, I think, because his range, quickness, experience, late-game shot-making and familiarity in the two-man game with Nowitzki make him a really tough cover for Portland's guards. The best match-up there is Wesley Matthews. Fernandez is capable but that's a little dicier.
It's unclear what McMillan meant by tossing in the Terry thing at the end. Reading it back, it almost seems like a bit of a challenge to his perimeter defenders. Really, he should be issuing that challenge. So if he wasn't, let's agree to go ahead and issue that challenge for him. Just as Wallace is Portland's X-Factor, Terry is Dallas's. And everyone -- especially McMillan and Matthews -- know that the Terry they saw tonight (1-6 for four points) is not the Terry they'll see in the playoffs.
OK, those are my three big takeaways for a potential playoff series. I'm anxious to hear yours.
Random Game Notes
- The playoff table has been updated through Sunday night.
- Dave did a great job of laying out all the things that Gerald Wallace brings to the table. Let me add one to the list: rookie hazing. Wallace has taken to calling rookie point guard Armon Johnson "M.V.P." and Wallace and LaMarcus Aldridge took turns poking fun at Johnson's outsized confidence.
- Speaking of Dave, I learned at lunch today that he is a big fan of eel. The more you know!
- Unlike last year, Kevin Pelton managed to keep his tie on the entire game and avoid jail time. Here's KP2's take on tonight's game.
Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments
They're a tough team even though they're on a back-to-back. But I thought our guys tonight did a good job of just executing offensively. I thought defensively we made them work. The execution on the offensive end of the floor was really good. Just recognizing the match-ups and going to them right away. We were pretty sharp with that. We had some match-ups in the second quarter, our guards, really our forwards, we did a good job of recognizing that quickly, getting the ball to those guys and then playing off of that. Getting to our spacing.
Yeah. It starts with LaMarcus. Going to the post, I thought he did a good job of establishing that post position for us. Wallace did a good job, we ended up having a match-up with Wallace playing some five and went at that match-up late in the quarter. He was able to score. They did a nice job of recognizing the mismatches tonight and taking advantage of it and sometimes we don't see that as quickly.
We're thinking about Golden State on Tuesday.
We're thinking about Golden State on Tuesday.
With Camby in the lineup tonight, they were missing Tyson [Chandler]. We can put some guys on some of their guys, we've been able to run some schemes. It's a tough match-up. We end up splitting with these guys but I thought we played a good game tonight.
Well, we just wanted to make him work. I thought we allowed him and Marion in that first half to catch the ball on the block. We wanted to deny and front those guys and make them throw over the top. They were able to score when we allowed them to get the ball. It forced us into different rotations that we didn't want to be in. But for the most part you want to make them work, deny both Marion and Dirk, those are two guys that post up. The other guy is Terry. We have to do a good job of guarding Terry when we're playing Dallas.
Batum off the bench
He's playing some three, some four. We're running some different combinations in there, he's coming in at the three right now. I think the best thing is, he hasn't dropped off. I think he's been better actually, the last two games, on both ends of the floor. Not only is he defending but he's scoring and we've been able to take advantage of some match-ups both on the offensive end of the floor as well as the defensive end of the floor. He's been really solid in that role these last two games.
Did you like your ball movement?
Yeah, we had some pretty good ball movement. We made good decisions with our match-ups. When we had match-ups. If the double team committed we did a good job of spacing and moving the ball and when the double team did not come we did a good job of attacking and getting to the free throw line. I thought a couple of times we settled for jump shots. We had opportunities to drive. What we wanted to do is attack, attack, attack. Not play the scoreboard. I thought we started to play the scoreboard, we got a little comfortable, we started launching jump shots.
Starters could get hurt if you leave them in with a big lead at the end
Hey, you have to play the game. We substituted and that thing got cut down to 10 points in a hurry. If it happens, you have to live with it. The thing is to win the game. What's right or wrong, we try to get them out. Sometimes that happens.
Good for you to have Houston chasing so you have to play hard every night?
We can't worry about Houston. Just take care of our business and it's in our hands.
Wallace's impact on how Blazers guard Dirk
We've been able to now move him to the three. We get longer with Camby and LaMarcus and Gerald in the game. I thought LaMarcus did a nice job on him tonight. He started on Dirk, Camby was able to switch out on him and then we put Nicolas and Wallace on him some. So he had a lot of different guys guarding him, the game plan was to try to deny him the ball.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter