The Dallas Mavericks won’t reach 30 wins this season. Dirk Nowitzki is 342 years old, the Nerlens Noel experiment has been a disaster, and even his mom doesn’t think Harrison Barnes is a #1 option in an NBA offense. None of that stopped the Mavericks from rolling past a devil-may-care (cuz we sure don’t) Portland Trail Blazers defense tonight. If the Blazers brought any resistance into American Airlines Center, they left it in the locker room. A good showing from rookie Dennis Smith Jr. and a few three pointers were enough to catapult the Mavericks to a 115-109 win.
(P.S. Dallas averages 102.3 points per game.)
The story of this contest wasn’t complex. As has been their habit lately, the Blazers kept it stuck firmly in second gear through the entire first half against a sub-par team. They defended like the Easter candy sitting on your local grocer’s shelves. (“No, seriously, we’ve got to get rid of these points! They’re 98% off! Take them! Take them all!”) The distance between Portland defenders and Dallas three-point shooters might as well have been measured in light years. You could see the Blazers closing on shots, but only with the aid of gravitational lensing.
Fortunately for Portland, Dallas was in no mood to receive graciously. Dirk Nowitzki might as well have spent the first half penning love notes to his three-point shots, he missed them so badly. A few bursts of interior offense from Jusuf Nurkic was enough to keep the Blazers even. Portland trailed just 49-50 at the half.
The Blazers made halftime adjustments. CJ McCollum came alive in the third quarter. They did a pretty good job keeping Dallas out of the paint in the second half. But Portland’s perimeter defense never got better and the Mavericks weren’t going to miss open threes all night long. Dallas hit 11 of their 17 three-pointers in the second half. Even though their defense wasn’t great either, the long ball was enough to keep them ahead of the Blaissez-ers.
The loss marred a fantastic showing for Jusuf Nurkic (7-8 shooting, 13 rebounds...5 turnovers though) and good nights for Shabazz Napier and Zach Collins. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 2-15 shooting beyond the arc. That didn’t help. The guards did tally 16 assists, but for the most part Portland’s offense followed the same pattern as the defense: make one stab at a decent play, if it doesn’t happen, ppfffffbbbbbbt.
Games like this have little significance ultimately. It’s both easy and true to say that the Warriors and Cavaliers have them all the time. The obvious difference: both those teams have a title, while the Blazers are still figuring out how to win one. Despite Portland’s success compared to expectations, there’s still a soft, doughy middle to the psyche of this team that will probably be exposed if they get pushed hard in the playoffs. When everything else falls apart, you have to be able to depend on your worst being good enough to give you a chance to win until your best kicks in again. The Blazers aren’t close to being there yet. Their worst is just lazy shoulder shrugging. But they need to be put in those positions before they can discover how to grow beyond them, finding out just how deep they need to dig in order to succeed. Hopefully they can go through that this year and end up with a better plan than, “Let’s just hope our guards outscore our bad defense” when they come out the other side.
MavsMoneyball and all their fans will enjoy the spirited win.
The loss leaves Portland 2.5 games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs with 4 games to play, still angled for the 3rd seed in the Western Conference playoffs bracket.
The Blazers get a chance to bounce back against the Houston Rockets at 5:00 PM, Pacific on Thursday night.
—Dave / @davedeckard / @blazersedge / firstname.lastname@example.org