The Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks took to the floor on Monday night with rosters ravaged by COVID protocols, missing major players and all kinds of continuity. Portland’s main star, Damian Lillard, suited up. Luka Doncic could not do the same. Under normal circumstances, that would have given the Blazers an edge. But Portland was missing every player above 6’7 except for Larry Nance, Jr. The Mavericks at least fielded a couple of centers. Dwight Powell finished the game with 22 points on 9-11 shooting, and that wasn’t even the best news for Dallas. Kristaps Porzingis ripped apart Portland’s height-impoverished defense to the tune of 34 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. With Dallas scoring full-throttle in the lane, the Blazers never had a chance. The Mavericks pinned a 132-117 loss on the Blazers, leaving Portland with spinning heads and a 13-20 overall record.
As expected with all of their centers away from arena, the Blazers went guard-heavy to start this contest. Norman Powell looked like he was auditioning for a role as the star draft pick at a Summer League game, except he’s far past the draft and this is the actual NBA. He and Damian Lillard hit deep shots, creating a brief snow flurry of Portland points. Those two starters alone were enough to give the Blazers continuity on offense. Nothing in the universe was going to do that at the other end.
Portland doesn’t play great “D” under the best of circumstances. Running a weird lineup, they missed more assignments than a stoner in trig. Dallas wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire, but they still got up 13 shots and scored 13 points in the first 5 minutes of play. And that was with them missing 7 threes. Porzingis and Powell, the Dallas bigs, played almost like they were unopposed. And they kind of were.
Dallas led 19-10 at the halfway mark of the first. Nassir Lilttle and Anfernee Simons hit threes to close the gap, but Portland still couldn’t keep the Mavs out of the paint. The Blazers were finally saved by the Dallas second unit—just as inexperienced and threadbare as Portland’s own. Though most outside attempts came wide open for the Mavericks, at least the Blazers managed to pack defense inside against opponents who couldn’t create their own shots. That was enough to stop the bleeding. A little more scoring by Lillard and the Blazers were back in business. But Dallas closed the period with their main bigs back on the floor and deep inside the lane. Not even more hot shooting from Simons could catch up the Blazers to that. The Mavericks led 34-29 after one.
Scoring dried up for both teams at the start of the second. Porzingis hit a three and some free throws. Portland tried to manufacture points as Lillard took a break. Outside of a couple Little pull-ups, nothing worked that well. Then Dame returned and everything looked 50% better. Little continued to fire the afterburners, giving Lillard a sidekick and Portland extra energy on defense. But nobody stopped Porzingis shooting from distance. He responded with multiple connections. That put the Mavericks right back on top. When Dallas started running post plays and action in the lane, the lead ballooned to huge proportions.
Meanwhile the Mavs doubled Lillard on every touch, effectively taking the ball out of his hands and Portland’s offense out of the game. Powell tried to fill the gap and succeeded in drawing fouls. It wasn’t quite enough. Dallas kept alternating triples and layups. They led 72-53 at intermission. Porzingis had 24.
The Blazers managed to strike at a 50% rate from distance at the outset of the third period, which made their offense look much better than it had in the second. Tony Snell hit a couple deep. Nance, Jr. and Little helped him carry the scoring. But Portland’s defense never got better. In fact, it may have gotten worse.
The Mavs attempted only six shots outside the paint in the first nine minutes of the third. They hit nearly a dozen inside the lane in that same span. At that point, it wouldn’t have mattered what the Blazers were doing on the offensive end, save perhaps a classic Lillard barrage. Dame got points from the foul line, but those came in ones while Dallas scored in twos...repeatedly. The Mavericks got the lead as high as 26 before settling for a 106-84 edge after three.
The Blazers went with Simons, Little, and CJ Elleby through most of the fourth. They also got some run for the new COVID hardship signees. Elleby had a couple of makes at the rim, but everything else went about as you’d expect. Everyone watched the new guys play while clock-watching, trying to plan what to eat after the game. That was far more likely to lead to satisfying results than anything that was happening on the court.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of the game coming soon.
The Blazers welcome the Utah Jazz to the Moda Center on Wednesday night at 7:00 PM.