The Portland Trail Blazers finished off their long, six-game road trip with a back-and-forth affair against the Dallas Mavericks tonight. What might have been billed as a matchup between All-Star guards Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic actually became Doncic versus Portland’s rotating cast of stepper-uppers. The scoreboard remained close throughout, but when the smoke cleared, Dallas had a 117-112 victory.
If you missed the game, you can read our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are other observations from the evening.
To the extent they evidenced themselves, Portland’s struggles tonight centered around a couple players and positions. Damian Lillard tried to beat the Mavericks off the dribble, but couldn’t get much separation. He got bottled up on drives. When he did, Drew Eubanks didn’t turn out to be a viable—or even reachable—option for the pass. He seemed fatigued, or just off.
The Blazers missed Jusuf Nurkic (out for the game) and his large target zone. It turned out that most of Lillard’s drives, and many of Portland’s interior passes, became toxic. That forced them either outside or to other positions.
Lillard shot just 6-16, attempting (and hitting) only 3 shots in the restricted zone all evening. He did find success passing the ball when he didn’t go inside. He notched a season-high 12 assists.
Dame also found plenty of whistles accompanying his drives. He attempted 17 foul shots, hitting 15. The Blazers as a whole only attempted 35 free throws, so Lillard accounted for roughly half.
Grant to the Rescue
With his team in need, Jerami Grant opened up another position on the floor for activity, motion, and scoring. He had no problem driving the lane, finishing, or hitting from deep. Without him being flat-out excellent on offense, Portland would have foundered. Grant led the Blazers with 37 points, shooting 13-22, including 5-9 from deep.
Use the Force-a, Luka
Luka Doncic is the one name you circle on the Mavericks’ scouting report. If he’s got open shots, he’s going to take them. If he doesn’t have open shots...he’s going to take them.
Portland was Jekyll and Hyde defending Doncic tonight. They forced him into an awful lot of tough attempts. Incredibly, those went in more often than not. That put the Blazers in an awkward situation. One screen for the Mavericks was enough to threaten Portland’s defense. Not wanting to give Doncic any daylight off of the pick, the Blazers tended to overplay the ball. At that point, Luka was one pass away from a dunk or open look for a teammate. He made those plays too. He finished the game with a serious triple-double: 42 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists.
Portland’s rough patches during this game had a common theme: they couldn’t score inside at all. In the first quarter, the Blazers attempted only five shots at the rim, They missed three of them. They also got housed by 10 in the period. The same held true in the early parts of the second. It looked like Dallas was going to run away with it. Only in the later minutes of that period did Grant set them free. They stayed solid after that.
The lesson here is clear. The days when Portland could rely on three-point shooting to carry them are done. Close shots provide the foundation for their offense now, the platform for making the threes matter. Distance shots become critical in certain moments and quarters for the Blazers, but inside scoring is crucial for them constantly now.
The Blazers finished with only 36 points in the paint. They probably wanted 50.
For two teams whose pace hovers between snail and tortoise, Portland and Dallas played fairly brisk. Fast break points weren’t overwhelming: 12-6 Dallas, but neither team held the ball for long in the halfcourt. Combined, the teams generated a fairly low 161 field goal attempts, but they also had 61 free throw attempts, and 23 turnovers between them.
The Mavericks made life easier for the Blazers tonight by shooting abysmally from the arc from most of the game. They hit only 14 of 43 attempts, a 32.6% percentage. Spencer Dinwiddie dispelled the curse late, hitting three in a row to save the game, followed by one from Dorian Finney-Smith. Other than that, it was ugly.
Death Star Defense
The Blazers worked hard on defense, even with Doncic going bonkers. They played as we’ve come to expect from them this season. Like the Death Star, they had a fatal flaw inside. When the Mavs got down the trenches, nobody could stop them. Portland had 2 blocks; Dallas scored 48 in the paint. Nurkic and the missing Justise Winslow aren’t going to solve all of that, but if those two are out and Eubanks is struggling, the Blazers are in trouble.
Anfernee Simons had a relatively quiet first half, lying in wait until his services were needed. He got far more aggressive in the third and fourth quarters. He never quite got into rhythm but he still scored 24 with 5-11 shooting beyond the arc while the Mavericks were paying attention to Lillard and Grant.
Josh Hart has been struggling nearly this entire road trip. Tonight he shot 0-9 for 2 points and only 3 assists in 36 minutes. He still does little things—charges, rotations—that make his floor time worthwhile, but he just looks physically out of sorts somehow.
Portland gets a little bit of rest following a half-dozen games on the road. They welcome the San Antonio Spurs to the Moda Center on Tuesday evening with a 7:00 PM, Pacific start.
Portland now stands at 9-4 on the season, but they went an impressive 4-2 on this road trip.
As I’m writing this part, it’s the fourth quarter. I need to change out and fold the laundry, but I can’t leave until the game is done. Everybody do me a solid and remind me in the comments to cycle the laundry in case I forget after yet another tight game is done. I mean, work is work but the kids gotta have clothes tomorrow. Thanks!