Monday, April 25, 2011

Dallas Mavericks 93, Portland Trail Blazers 82: Plumb, Mad-Dog Mean

Box Score                                             Shot Chat

Angry. That was absolutely angry. In one of the most defining games of the franchise and if you don't believe it, then you don't get on the Internet much. Cries of a lost fan base, a tortured city and failed promises rang throughout various forms of media since Saturday's heartbreaking Game 4 loss.

Was Dallas mentally tough enough?

Were the demons of past Mavs' failures still too fresh in the minds of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry?

Can Dallas rise to the occasion?

Check, check and double check. The Mavericks throughly dismantled the Blazers in Game 5 in the second half, after taking Portland's best punch throughout the first. It was an ominous start, with both teams engaged in some quality defense and missing shots from all over the court. The Blazers even took a 23-15 lead at one point, with the AAC crowd audibly upset. Is this really going to happen?

Luckily, Dirk, Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion turned up their intensity to 11. The Mavericks made a concentrated effort to get to the rim (40 paint points) rebounded like hell (49-37) and displayed a physical toughness on the defensive side of the floor that would make the December Mavericks blush.

Dallas has shot under 42 percent in two games this series...and won both of them. Can't say I didn't expect that to happen in February.


  • Can we bottle this Dirk Nowitzki and keep him forever? Don't get me wrong. I love the awkward one-legged fadeaway as much as the next guy, but Dirk relentlessly attacked the paint at will. In the third quarter, by my count, Dirk didn't attempt one unassisted isolation jumper as he scored 11 points in the third alone. The constant agression wasn't always rewarded, but 9-of-11 from the free line is justification of Dirk's focus to attack, attack, attack. Dirk also threw in three offensive rebounds and just for kicks, three assists (and would have more if not for some hacks to Chandler and Brendan Haywood.)

  • Amazing what staying on the court does to your game. Chandler played just under 35 minutes tonight, and boy, were those minutes huge minutes. 14 points, 20 rebounds (13 offensive) AND holding LaMarcus Aldridge in check. Aldridge put up 12 and nine, easily his worst game of the series and he's now posted back-to-back sub-50 percent shooting games. Credit Chandler for being more physical in Aldridge and, like I've been saying, forcing Aldridge out of his comfort zones. In the first three games, Aldridge was catch the ball extremely close to the basket, requiring a simple turnaround or hook shot for the easy two points. Now, Chandler is forcing Aldridge to get paint buckets by facing up and trying to drive on him, rather than catching close to the rim with his back to the basket. It's a subtle change, but it makes a huge difference. 

  • Before the series started, I made a note of how important it was for Chandler to be a presence on the offensive end. Well, that only took five games. Chandler's 14 points was easily his most in the series and it was in classic Chandler fashion -- just four shot attempts. When Chandler was in full force before February and March, it wasn't unusual for him to post single-digit-shot attempts, double-digit free-throw-attempt-nights. With 12 free throw attempts, Chandler actually had the most attempts of any player in the game. 

  • Another benefit of Chandler scoring: offensive rebounds. We know Chandler lacks the offensive polish of say, his counterpart LaMarcus Aldridge. So Chandler has to create shot attempts for himself in three ways: Pick and roll, rebounds and running the floor. Chandler certainly took care of the rebounding part, helping the Mavericks corral 20 (!) offensive rebounds. All the extra possessions meant Dallas had more shot attempts (78-74) and free throw attempts (35-19).

  • If Jason Kidd channeled his shooting from Games 1-3, the Mavericks might have been up by 25 or 30 in this one. Kidd only made one shot (a layup!) finishing 1-for-7 as he's clearly setting his feet back down to earth after being in shooting heaven for the last week. Kudos to Kidd for continuing to make an impact, as he controlled the offense well after a couple of early, uncharacteristic turnovers in the first quarter. Portland thrives on their opponents mistakes and Kidd made sure the Mavs weren't fueling the Blazers offense. 14 assists and two turnovers. Incredible.

  • Jason Terry (8-for-18, 20 points) had an interesting game. And by that I mean it was up and down. After attempting hero mode in the fourth quarter in Game 4 (and taking shots away from Dirk) Terry picked his spots a bit better, but still had a few questionable heaves from distance (including a eye-rolling 1-on-4 transition jumper.) Still, Terry's biggest role right now for the Mavs is to provide complementary scoring while not crapping the bed of defense. To that credit, he succeeded tonight Brandon Roy and Andre Miller spun by Terry a couple of times, but all in all, a vast improvement on defense from Terry as he really held his own in the post more than all the previous games in the series.

  • Speaking of the bench, Rick Carlisle might have finally figured out that J.J. Barea is just not meant to be for this series. Barea played a hair under 15 minutes, his lowest total of the series and just about every one of them was ineffective. I didn't expect much from Barea with Portland's size all over the court and those queezy feelings are being fully realized. What's worse, Barea isn't even off-setting his horrible defense with any offense, now shooting 27 percent for the series. He can't finish among Portland's bigs and his jumper has traveled back in time to November. During the regular season, it's easy to hide Barea's shortcomings (no pun intended) due to the grind and less time for game planning and scouting. But playing the same team five times? There's nothing to hide, and with no other real alternative to the back up point guard, we're going to have to live with at least 15 minutes of Barea for the rest of this series (and playoffs)

  • Barea aside, the rest of the bench had some very good moments. Peja Stojakovic knocked down some threes and Brendan Haywood grabbed five rebounds and had two blocks in his limited time. I've been really impressed with how Haywood has handled Aldridge and bodied him up so far. This series has shown that Haywood still has the tools and smarts to be a capable defender and his performance in this series when Chandler has been bugged with foul trouble has been absolutely invaluable. He may still not be living up to that contract, but he's playing with a pulse, something we couldn't say just a few weeks ago. Now, about those free throws...

  • Last but not least, I would hope that we don't ever have to read about Shawn Marion not seeing enough fourth quarter minutes. Marion's line won't wow you (14 points, 6-of-14 shooting, four rebounds) but the overall contributions add up: three assists, four steals, two blocks and one turnover. Marion had his hands everywhere in this game, from tapping offensive rebounds out to poking the ball away in the post to playing what was easily the best perimeter defense on the night. 96.24 defensive efficiency rating for the Mavs.

Game 6 is Thursday in Portland as for the first time, this series gets two off-days. Interesting to see if how many minutes the starters will get with the extra rest. No soft talk for two straight days! Incredible!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

TROP Playoff Chat: Mavericks vs Blazers Game 3

Can't say I have much faith in Dallas tonight, despite the past two games. These teams are just too close for one to go up 3-0. But I've been surprised before.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dallas Mavericks 101, Portland Trail Blazers 89: A New Hope

Halfway through the fourth quarter in this Game 2 of the first round, a particular scene stuck with me. Dirk Nowitzki finished a tough shot at the rim over LaMarcus Aldridge as the Mavericks begun to pull away. Blazers coach Nat McMillan called a timeout and the AAC faithful went into a frenzy. Dirk walked back to the bench, his Michael Jordan-esque tongue celebration in full force.

But that wasn't what stuck out to me, I've seen that before. As Dirk strutted back to the bench, Tyson Chandler walked beside him, screaming at him, chest pumping and forehead bumping him. Chandler was so intense I thought he might pass out right there on the court. I've never seen another Maverick that into outside of Dirk. Sure, there's Jason Terry and he tries to get the crowd into it, but I've never really believed Terry, mainly because he usually doesn't back it up on the court.

I'm probably taking too much stock into this. This isn't talking about Dallas offensive efficiency or turnover rate, I know. But still, this has to count for something. Dallas seems tougher, acts tougher and looks to be completely aware of its past playoff fates lately, and wants to change something about it.

Anyhow, before I keep rambling on, Dallas takes a 2-0 lead against a team that was widely predicted to beat them behind an MVP performance from well, the MVP, another brilliant shooting night from its point guard and a return of what was the deadliest stroke in the NBA from 2000-2004.



  • There isn't much more to be said about Dirk Nowitzki that you probably haven't heard or already read today. The man is an MVP in every sense of the meaning, a superstar and transcendent player that one day, I'm going to have to put into words what his career meant to Dallas, the NBA and more difficulty, me. Soft label need not apply: 33 points on 22 shots, 15-17 from the line. And how about this -- only one turnover while Dirk used 41.1 percent of the available 80.3 possessions in the game. He is one of a kind.

  • When Jason Kidd banked home a midrange jumper off the pick and roll in the opening minutes of the third quarter, I knew we were seeing something  unreal. Kidd has not only realized he has needed to be a scorer in these two games, but more impressively, he's taken on that challenge head on and rising above expectations. I've always said Kidd needed to drain open threes for the Dallas offense to have any kind of success. But 9-of-16 from deep in two games? Midrange step banks? Bank shots? Layups? This is unexpectedly marvelous stuff from a Hall of Fame point guard.

  • Speaking of how amazing Kidd was, how about Dallas has a team only having six turnovers in a game and none in the second half? The Mavericks haven't been as stout at protecting the ball this season, especially Jason Terry and J.J. Barea in the final two months of the regular season. But in the slow, half-court game, this trio has thrived on executing every play and not gambling with careless passes, a staple of Terry and Barea's shortcomings as point men at times.

  • Dallas might have lost the overall rebounding battle 37-28, but the Mavericks won the most important aspect: 10-7 on the offensive boards resulting in the Blazers being -7 in second chance points compared to the Mavs. Combine that with the turnover battle being won (six for DAL, 12 for POR) and the Mavs had 10 more shot attempts with only one less free throw attempt.

  • The Mavericks are controlling the glass and not turning the ball over. Kind of blowing the hell out of the Blazers game plan, don't you think?

  • After being fairly useless in Game 1, Peja Stojakovic struck back with vengeance on Tuesday night. I've seen what Peja has done to the Mavs wearing Sacramento purple plenty of times and the gut wrenching he has caused me with his back-breaking three pointers. Peja's ability to curl off down screens is a direct blow to one of Portland's biggest weakness -- an inability to close out on shooters. Dallas exploited this perfectly and Peja obliged by knocking down five three-pointers. If the Mavericks can get this type of production from Peja for the rest of the playoffs, the Mavericks offense is on a whole different level (as evidenced by Dallas' ridiculous 125.8 offensive efficiency rating on Tuesday)

Sorry to stop the recap a little short and sorry for the very, very late publish. Game 3 is Thursday night, a bit later time at 9:30. I'll butter my biscuit if the Mavericks duplicate this same performance in Portland at the Rose Garden.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Still Underdoggin' It

An interesting thing happened on Saturday night. The Mavericks won their opening game against the apparent Hall of Fame bound 2011 Trail Blazers. Kidding and jokes aside, there's no doubt Dallas has its match up problems with Portland. LaMarcus Aldridge's still a terror, Andre Miller exploited every guard not named Jason Kidd or DeShawn Stevenson and it seems the Blazers have the capable bodies to give Dirk trouble. Those aren't going away.

But I can't help but chuckle as the consensus is that Dallas stole a game at home and the trends that led to the Game 1 victory are very unlikely to continue. I'm not here to disagree with that: if Jason Kidd hits six pointers in another game this series, I'll eat my hat. I just find it remarkable that Dallas found a way to win and not ease any doubts going forward in this series. If the Blazers had held onto the six-point lead, Dallas might of self-destructed with all the negative press and premature "series over" statements.

Which is fine by me. I'll take the underdog roll and it worked well in 2006. I hate to focus on something that really we have no idea if it's a factor not on the court, but I'd like to think Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler along with Jason Kidd are stewing in the locker room, using the playoffs as an outlet to prove there is something different this season.

Other than that, there are some reasons why I believe the Mavericks can take Game 2, despite the shortcomings, holes and match up problems that came to fruition in Game 1. No. 1, Dirk Nowitzki is not shooting 7-for-20 again. And if he does shoot poorly again, he isn't having six turnovers. That I can guarantee. I was very surprised at the effectiveness Aldridge had on disrupting Dirk's line of sight and ability to raise up for his one-legged fadeaways. What made things worse was Aldridge's ability to stop Dirk from converting in the paint and after Dirk became frustrated with a few calls that were iffy, he stopped being as aggressive throughout the second and third quarters and settled for jumpers. Dirk's game usually follows the same pattern: hit a couple of face up jumpers, get the defense to bite on pump fakes, get to the line, then use that aggressiveness on defending his jumper to get closer to the rim. It's like clockwork.

On Saturday, Dirk opened with a couple of face-up and catch-and-shoot makes, but then preceded to get ambushed when he ventured closer to the rim. Flustered with the lack of calls, Dirk resorted to some contested fades which he can nail, but just seemed out of rhythm and focus. Again, it's a testament to Dirk's game and evolution as a complete player to go back to attacking again in the fourth, when the team needed offense in the worst way, and continued to rebound (10 for the game.)

Another reason to remain optimistic in Game 2 is the defense. Taking away the fact that Portland converted well at the rim, Dallas did a reasonable job to limit the scoring to only Aldridge and Miller. In the fourth, Aldridge was held to only four shot attempts and while that doesn't solely rest on the laurels of the Mavs' defense, there was at least the effort and drive to play better defense then what was seen after the All-Star break. Granted, some of this has to do with Portland coach Nate McMillan playing Brandon Roy too many minutes and not adjusting, but still, there's SOMETHING to build on with the Mavs defense. Holding a team under 100 points per 100 possessions doesn't all come from the other team's lack of execution. There's some defense in there somewhere from Game 1 and if the Mavericks can dig it out completely and polish off the dust and grime, the plane ride to Portland can be a lot more enjoyable to the minds of Rick Carlisle and company.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dallas Mavericks 89, Portland Trail Blazers 81: The Heros We Deserved and Needed


Let me repeat: Wow.

I'm not sure how the Dallas Mavericks won tonight. Let me rephrase that. I'm sure of how the Mavericks won tonight -- Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki. I'm just not sure how I can fathom what those two did. We're just mere mortals. Mere humans.

When Jason Kidd hit his final three -- a step back with the shot clock running down -- he capped off what might have been the greatest game in his Maverick career. Yes, I know about the triple doubles. I know about the assists. But to score 24 points, in a playoff game where no one else on the court was giving Dallas much of anything (sans Dirk in the fourth)? Bravo, Kidd. Bravo.

As much as I want to sing the praises of these two for the next couple of paragraphs, the Dallas defense needs to be spoken of. Simply put, I haven't seen the Mavs defend like this since early December, if that. The Blazers aren't the greatest offense in the league, but they're good. Pretty good in fact. And Dallas held this pretty good offense to 97.6 efficiency. The Mavericks rotated, closed out and got in the face of seemingly every Portland jumper or move into the paint. If it weren't for the brilliance of LaMarcus Aldridge and the mismatch that Andre Miller can be for J.J. Barea, Dallas might have won this game in a walk, that's how good the overall team defense was. 46.1 percent shooting for the Blazers but the Mavs defense was much, much better than that number.

Offensively, Dallas was doing what they normally do against the Blazers by shooting and shooting well. Dirk opened the game 2-for-4, Kidd started raining threes and even DeShawn Stevenson got in on the act. Not a big coincidence, when Dirk cooled off, so did the offense. Dallas only shot 40 percent from the floor the entire game as it's clear that even with Jason Kidd swearing to a higher power, the Mavs need Dirk to be at normal Dirk levels for the offense to function right. Good news is I don't expect Dirk to have another 7-for-20, six turnover night.


  • I'm not sure what Dirk Nowitzki that was in the first three quarters but I never want to see it again. 5-for-16 and some rough looking jumpers (even for Dirk's awkward style.) Granted, Dirk continuously went into the paint or at least attempted to drive but wasn't getting any sort of treatment from the officials. Predictably, the refs sent Dirk to the line 13 times in the fourth, calling fouls on the exact same plays Dirk was encountering in the first 36 minutes of the game. NBA officiating folks! Still, props must be given to Dirk for not letting his shooting stroke bother his overall game, as he grabbed 10 rebounds and played some OK defense on LaMarcus Aldridge when he was matched up against him. Standing O for our German. 

  • Biggest difference in this game from the previous two Portland games: Turnovers. While the teams were even at 13 apiece, that's a huge victory compared to the Blazers huge turnover differential advantage in the last two match ups. Portland thrives on controlling the ball and winning the turnover battle and creating more shots than its opponent. The Blazers had 76 shots to the Mavs 66 but the Mavericks had 16 more free throw attempts. 

  • Rebounding was the other main issue concerning Dallas heading into this series and once again the Mavs passed with flying colors. Portland only had one more overall rebound (40-39) and offensive rebound (11-10) than Dallas which is once again, nothing spectacular, but huge considering how much the Blazers rely on offensive rebounds. Dirk, as mentioned, really took it upon himself to get into the paint and be physical to control the glass. And Tyson Chandler's tip out in the final seconds led to Jason Kidd's icing three. Great, great stuff.

  • I said earlier that Dallas' defense was great despite the 46 percent shooting from the Blazers. It looks worse when you look deeper. Portland went 15-for-23 at the rim and then 7-for-13 from 16-23 feet, essentially midrange jumpers. The percentages were high, but I believe the Mavs were contesting fairly well and that the Blazers just made their shots. Hopefully Rick Carlisle highlighted those 23 shots at the rim, because while the effort was there for the Mavs D, they really need to do a better job at containing the Blazers and forcing them away from the rim. 

  • Wasn't a fan of the bench watching the game. Even less looking at the box score. Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Peja Stojakovic combined for 20 points -- a far cry from the bench we saw earlier in February that was putting up close to 60 and 70 points in some contests. Terry looked into the game, but the results weren't there. His early two fouls were awful on his part and it looked like he had his jumper somewhat within grasp, but never had a chance to exploit it. Barea is the most depressing case since he wasn't playing any different than he normally does. He consistently blew by whoever was guarding him, but the Blazers length and height at every position make every defender a prime shot blocker on any Barea attempt. Barea simply couldn't finish among the trees, a shame considering how well he was getting to the cup. Stojakovic looked to be a strong point, making two threes before succumbing in the second half during the Blazers run. Once Peja bricked a completely wide open (and I mean wide open) three halfway through the third quarter, I knew his night was over with. Makes me think what kind of impact Corey Brewer could have had in this game, matching up with Gerald Green and Nicolas Batum as the two had a field day dunking and running past Peja with ease in the second half.

  • Speaking of Barea, as expected, the Portland guards terrorized him in isolations. Andre Miller made a habit of exposing Barea at every chance he got, making a variety of turnaround jumpers a few feet from the basket. Listen, I love Barea's competitiveness and his ability to run the team off the bench, but Carlisle is going to have to figure a way to minimize the damage the Blazer guards do to him when he's in the game. You can't bench him, since he's the back up point. Unfortunately there might not be much the Mavericks can do about the match up at this point instead of riding it out and hoping for the best. Some zone could be tried, but I'm not too much of a fan of zone defense in an NBA playoff game where possessions can't be experimented on.

  • Marcus Camby can rebound like a motherf***er

  • Dallas: 4-of-12 on shots at the rim. Yikes.

  • Double Yikes.

  • Tyson Chandler's impact on this game was noticeable, not necessarily for box score reasons. Even though Aldridge had a fine game of 27 points on 12-of-20 shooting, Chandler played him perhaps the best I've seen him play him so far. He did a great job at contesting and staying up on Aldridge when he faced up from 17 feet out, forcing him to put the ball on the floor. It's a testament to how much Aldridge has grown as a player as he met that challenge head on and took 16 of his 20 shoots from nine feet or closer. Still felt like his impact was moot, especially in the fourth when he only took four shots. Can't expect that to happen in Game 2. Only one shot attempt for Chandler as I feel the Blazers have the respect other teams lacked, failing to leave Chandler at any time in order to help on Dirk or the Mavericks guards. He's gotten their attention, now he and the Mavs have to adjust because Chandler scoring is a good, good thing.

  • Wesley Matthews scored two points and played less than 20 minutes tonight and I'm not sure why. I can't remember Matthews doing anything particularly wrong and I know he wasn't being challenged on defense, guarding Stevenson or Terry for his time out on the court. I think this was more of Portland coach Nate McMillan giving Rudy Fernandez some burn. Fernandez only went 2-for-3 from the field and I think the Mavs lucked out in Fernandez not being agressive enough. He had a clear size advantage over any bench guard but he never took his man into the post and sort of floated throughout the game. Combined with Roy, the Blazer two guards shot 4-for-13, a rough number considering how much of an advantage they had heading into the series, I felt.

  • Brandon Roy looked more like the hobbled Brandon Roy than the All-Star Brandon Roy that the Mavs saw in March. Whatever your allegiance, it's a tragic story as one of the NBA's rising stars is having his career cut short and exploded right in front of us. Roy played 26 worthless minutes tonight and I can't help but wonder if McMillan will hand that share more to Matthews and Fernandez in Game 2. Roy doesn't look to be getting much better. 

Game 2 is Tuesday night, same time. Let's not repeat last year, shall we Dallas?

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

TROP Playoff Chat: Blazers vs Mavericks Game 1

We're chatting, but I probably won't be around too much. I'll be two busy doing one of three things:

1. Fist pumping like Tiger Woods
2. Chugging Windex
3. Sitting in my running truck in a closed garage

Take Dat Wit Chew: The Rice of Passage Podcast Episode 6

The Mavs vs. Blazers playoff preview of the podcast is filled with knocks on Jason Terry, positional breakdowns, reasons for hope, and reasons for despair. Enjoy.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Portland Trailer Blazers vs Dallas Mavericks First Round Preview: Banishing the Demons

It's a curse that blackens the soul and cripples any joy in life. That's what it is: a basketball curse. Since 2006 the curse has damaged any playoff hopes the Mavericks have had. It's a cruel and unforgiving curse: blow a 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals, waste an opportunity to win a title, and you will have no more success in any playoff series.

At least, I hope it's a curse, because that's what I keep telling myself at the end of every April since the ill-fated series with the Heat. It's the only way to hide the tears (unfortunately not the holes in the walls). But this series is something different than first round follies of the past. Since 2006, the Mavericks have been usually the favorite. Against Golden State, New Orleans and both San Antonio series, the Mavs had a good amount of backing from the fans, media and blogosphere (I understand Dallas was the seventh seed in 2008, but most people felt Dallas matched up well with a young Hornets team that never had been to the playoffs. Silly me.)

This time, Dallas is matched up with Portland -- a team that is seemingly just like Dallas but theoretically better or younger/more athletic at every spot. You have Andre Miller, a wise, crafty, veteran point guard who sets up teammates AND can create offense for himself at the rim. You have Wesley Matthews, a young up and coming two guard who can shoot and defend his position...consistently. There's Gerald Wallace, a slashing, attacking, defending, rebounding wing AND can create for himself from the perimeter. And then LaMarcus Aldridge. A floor-spreading power forward who can knock down a midrange shots AND score just as easily around the basket and in the paint. It's why I feel a majority of pundits (even if it's a slight majority) are picking the Blazers to win. Heck, given the last two games the teams have played against each other, you can't blame anyone for picking Portland.

Which is why I'm picking Dallas to win in six games. Call me crazy, call me a lunatic, but give me a chance to explain, please? Thank you.

If you judge Portland by what they do solely against the Mavericks (and especially those last two games) you would think they are an offensive juggernaut. Yes, they are a top 10 team in the league in offensive efficiency, but not for typical reasons -- they aren't exactly a great shooting team. So how is this possible? I'm glad you asked, kind sir/madame: offensive rebounds and turnovers. The Blazers play at the league's slowest pace, making every possession more crucial. Portland obviously understands how important these fewer possessions are, because they are one of the best in the league at not handing the ball over to the other team. They also grab offensive rebounds at the third best rate in the league. Unfortunately this feeds into the Mavericks two biggest weaknesses -- turning the ball over and allowing offensive rebounds.

So if the Blazers strengths are what cripples the Mavericks, how do they have a chance? For one, I'm a big believer in home court being a huge factor in this series. Portland is 18-23 away from the Rose Garden and while the AAC doesn't have the same rowdiness it had five to six years ago, I don't trust Portland being consistently as good as they were against the Mavs this season in Dallas. Unfortunately, this applies to Dallas too, as Portland has in my mind, the best home court in the NBA. I understand that can be hard to grasp for casual basketball fans who would normally just associate Boston, Los Angeles or even Oklahoma City for home court dominance. But watch this week, you'll see how intense the Blazer crowd gets. This is the same home crowd that treats a Tuesday evening stint with the Kings as a playoff game. They love their Blazer basketball, and especially this group, with so many good-natured players after the infamous "Jail Blazers" era. Luckily, Dallas has proven itself to almost play better on the road than at home, the last two Blazer games notwithstanding.

Another point that needs to be taken into consideration is playoff experience. I understand this is a weak crutch to fall on but the Blazers have only won four playoff series since 1992. That's four series wins in 14 years. And you thought the Mavs had it rough lately? Given that some of the current Blazers were in elementary school at that time, Portland hasn't won a playoff series since 2000, with this current crop losing the last two first round series. This Portland team hasn't proven itself to win in the playoffs anymore than the Dallas Mavericks, and I feel that could come into play during any perilous moments in the coming games.

Speaking of perilous moments, Dirk Nowitzki raises his game unlike any current NBA superstar when the playoff lights shine at their brightest. Dirk's career playoff averages of 25 points and 10 rebounds puts him into an elite crop of basketball legends. Also, I hinted earlier in the year that Dirk is taking more catch and shoot jumpers as to save his body from the wear and tear and be fresh for the playoffs. I'd like to think that still holds up. If the Mavericks are to make good on my prediction Dirk is going to have to be the efficient, low post, pump faking, free throw making machine we all know he is capable of being. Don't be surprised if Dirk's free throw attempts per game spike up between 9-10 in the playoffs. Dirk has to be the best player in this series, not Aldridge.

And for as much grief we give the Dallas backcourt and bench inconsistencies, Portland's is just as fallible. For a moment, take away the visions of Rudy Fernandez raining jumpers and Brandon Roy looking like his All-Star self. Both are shells of what they are against the Mavs, with Roy limping into the playoffs shooting under 40 percent in nine of the 11 games since his 21 point "explosion" against Dallas in March. He also has only scored in double figures twice in that stretch with two 11 point games. Roy should not be a factor, but if the Mavs let him, the series could get out of hand. Fernandez is also shooting 37 percent for the year and has been mainly a non-factor in Portland's season. These two shouldn't be making Maverick fans curse, but if they do, then God help us all.

The only way this backcourt could take advantage is if Portland decides to post up Miller, Roy or Fernandez in the precious moments of the game when J.J. Barea and Jason Terry are sharing the backcourt. Both were extremely over matched on the low block letting Roy and Fernandez operate without much resistance at all. As much as it pains me to say it, the bench might has to run the zone more than I would like in an NBA playoff game.

Lastly, if the team is to have any chance of a first round win, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry have to make shots, pure and simple. Kidd shot 30.4 percent last year against the Spurs in round one, while Terry wasn't much better at 37.7 percent. Quite simply, the Mavericks offense will be a miserable, ugly mess if these numbers correlate over. When Dirk gets double teamed (and triple teamed) Kidd and Terry are the main benefactors. What worries me more is the possibility of Beaubois losing time in the playoffs. Despite the up and down play, the turnovers and the bad defense, the Mavs must have Beaubois in the game to see what he's going to give them. He's torched Portland so far this year, averaging 17 points per game and 60 percent shooting in two games against the Blazers. I understand the problems playing him might entail, but Rick Carlisle has to at least throw him out there to see what he can contribute. The Dallas offense is at its best when Dirk establishes dominance in the first quarter, which leads to more open looks for Kidd, Terry and even Chandler underneath the basket.

Chandler will HAVE to score as well, given the lack of another wing scorer with Roddy Beaubois falling to the wayside. Chandler's regular season average of 10.1 points per game this season is three points more than the combined points per game Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood scored in the playoffs in 2010.

Well, that's about all I have. Check back here for individual game recaps (I know I'm not a fan of doing them myself, but it's the playoffs!) and maybe a playoff preview podcast dropping tomorrow afternoon. Like always, check Twitter for my in-game thoughts and if you need to dial the Bedford Police Department.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Quick Eve of the Eve of the Playoff Thoughts

Word up: my official Mavericks/Blazers playoff preview will be dropping sometime tomorrow. I need to wrap my head around the series for one more sleep before I dive headfirst. If you're questing for Mavericks/Blazers playoff series knowledge, then Rob Mahoney can fill your Holy Grail for the time being. You might not like his prediction, so no trolling. Or I'll trap you in a room with her.

  • Not only did Kobe Bryant blow up the city of Sacramento Wednesday night, he pushed the Lakers to the No. 2 seed and an hilariously easy first round match up with New Orleans. I don't mean to count the Hornets out or diminish their overall effort this season despite losing David West late, but the Lakers have the Hornets outmatched in every way and every position on the court save point guard. Shame the Mavericks couldn't have grabbed that seed, as obviously I think every Maverick fan and their second-cousin would favor the Mavs against this Hornets team after Wednesday

  • Andrew Bynum hyperextended his knee and bruised it in the game against the Kings. It appears Bynum will be healthy (or healthy enough) for the opener. A Laker team without Bynum destroys any chances the team has for a title. Sure, there's Kobe and Pau Gasol, but Bynum (along with Gasol) created a frontline that NO team in the NBA could size up against. Not the Spurs, Thunder, Mavericks, Celtics, Heat or even Chicago. A fully-healthy Andrew Bynum Lakers squad seems to only be beaten by the Lakers themselves or Ron Artest. Would have made the second round match up with either the Mavs or Blazers swing considerably away from LA.

  • I never expected Roddy Beaubois to become the players all Mavs fans fantasized...this year. I never thought he'd be at an All-Star level. Heck, I didn't even think he could put up the ridiculous numbers in the small sample size of his rookie season. But I at least expected maybe 75-80 percent of that rookie season. Instead, Beaubois has tumbled out of favor, with DeShawn Stevenson looking to be the new starting two guard for the playoffs. I'll get into this more tomorrow but here's the biggest reason this irks me: Stevenson's two great assets (as told from the media) are his defense and shooting. Which are the two qualities of his game that are most hollow and overrated. Stevenson's shooting has nosedived and I've never been the biggest fan of his perimeter defense. Granted, the Mavericks played their best basketball of the season when he was a starter, but that almost unanimously has to do with Caron Butler's impact rather Stevenson's. 

  • Dirk is good. And he's in playoff form. 32 points on Wednesday and while the shooting percentage isn't exactly the Dirk we know (10-for-21, but with an awkward stretch where he missed four or five simple shots in a row) but the 11-for-12 from the free throw line was classic, playoff mode Dirk. So, no worries there. Expect to see Dirk average his typical 30 points, 10 rebounds and 50 percent shooting in the he always does. Jason Terry joins Dirk, also in playoff mode with a 4-for-11 shooting night. Terry hasn't been useful in any basketball way lately, with no scoring, shooting, defense or playmaking. Even better, with Beaubois not looking like the savior he was last year, Terry might have to play 35 minutes a game in the playoffs whether we like it or not.
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Friday, April 1, 2011

When It All Came Crashing Down

I hate to beat a two-month old dead horse with a 200-pound death hammer, but I did tweet this during halftime of tonight's Lakers/Mavericks contest:

"Maverick's have been playing horrible defense. Most Laker misses have been on LA, not Mavs' D. Blowout coming in 2nd half."

Now, pardon the Twitter grammer but Dallas was down 54-51 to Los Angeles but the warning signs were there: Lack of interior defense, secondary scoring and failure to execute from the backcourt. Once Los Angeles stopped peddling around and really turned up their defensive intensity, Dallas buckled under pressure and proceeded to be systematically picked apart.

Sound familiar? Well it should. It's a bit redundant to go over the failure of Dirk Nowitzki's teammates to provide him any support offensively because this has been the case since, well,  the entire Dirk era. Jason Terry provided a big bag full of nothing in 29 minutes, Jason Kidd provided little to stimulate any ball movement and the use and effectiveness of Rodrigue Beaubois continues to be a mystery.

There's a definite urge to get Beaubois involved in the Maverick offense, but clearly it is not working. No chemistry really exists when Beaubois is on the court and unfortunately it feels like many possessions go to waste just to feature Beaubois instead of involving Dirk or the rest of the Mavericks. I understand Rick Carlisle wanting to see his second-year guard make the impact we all believe he is capable of making, but running plays for him and alienating your MVP (and only player that showed up) isn't going to work. Part of this is definitely on Beaubois has he has still failed to grasp how to play within the offense and knowing when to pick spots.

Then there's the matter of Tyson Chandler and Dallas' interior defense. Now, no team boasts the inside scoring tandem at center and power forward like the Lakers have with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. But to offer no resistance? At all? Chandler was completely overpowered to an extent I've never seen before (even after I've been detailing Chandler's weak individual defense for quite some time.) Bynum was pushing Chandler out of the paint and grabbing position as if Chandler was a D-League stand in. Brandon Haywood offered even less production, failing to stop Bynum or Gasol and not even grabbing more than a few rebounds. Bynum entered tonight's game shooting 61.9 percent from the floor in 14 career games against Dallas. With his 6-for-9 effort, that number continued to climb. As Jeff Caplan of ESPNDallas notes, Bynum is now 15-for-21 with 40 points and 28 rebounds in his last two games against Dallas. Absolutely ridiculous.

What's worse is this is essentially what we believed the Mavericks were. The numbers were obvious as Dallas has always been towards the bottom of the league for points in the paint allowed and rebounding. This game just confirmed the worst fears we tried to keep in the recesses of our brains during this modest five game winning streak. There's nothing left for the Mavericks to do except rally from within and try to scrounge something together before the first round starts in two weeks or so.

Myself and Rob Mahoney discussed through Twitter what could have changed since the Caron Butler injury. I mentioned Gerald Wallace despite the trepidations I had before the deadline about how he would affect spacing with his poor shooting. We both agreed that while Wallace's defense and athletic ability would be nice, it likely still wouldn't cure what the Mavs need: a true perimeter scorer that can create shots on the wing. Caron Butler might have been worth more than we all thought and I only mope about failing to see how it would have rolled out with a healthy (and confident) Butler in tow.

What's such a shame is I still believe this group can grab a first round victory and compete against San Antonio. But whatever the case may be, the path to the NBA title in the West goes through Los Angeles. The Lakers are an unstoppable, pristine basketball machine right now. Not the Mavericks, Spurs or Thunder can stand in their way for a third NBA title. It's just unfortunate that this season's Mavericks showed small glimpses of providing a different ending to what is looking to be a predictable Western Conference post season.

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