After more than a month away from the Rose Garden, I returned Friday night to see the Dallas Mavericks defeat the host Portland Trail Blazers 83-77. Per custom, here are five thoughts from the game.
1. The Decisive Stretch
With 4:18 left in the fourth quarter, Andre Miller's layup brought the Blazers within one at 69-68. Seconds later, however, play stopped when Miller was whistled for a technical by referee Ken Mauer for swinging his arm to complain about a no-call. Correct or not, the technical set the tone for the rest of the ballgame as the Blazers found themselves distracted by the officiating and Dallas blew the game open.
On the ensuing Portland possession, Brandon Roy lost the ball out of bounds under defensive duress. Incensed by the no-call, Nate McMillan exploded off the bench and drew the Blazers' second technical in 40 seconds. Dallas followed with consecutive scores to extend the run to 8-0 and put Portland down a nearly insurmountable nine points.
While the reaction of the Rose Garden crowd will surely be a big story--a fan threw something at the Mavericks' huddle and several others were escorted out from courtside--the bigger issue is how the Blazers themselves responded to the questionable calls. Their composure severely lacking, Portland players made bad decisions in that stretch, forcing the action. McMillan is usually a rather calm presence on the sidelines, but his technical at an inopportune time didn't help matters either. All told, the Blazers cost themselves three points on Ts (Juwan Howard was called for one in the first quarter after running Eduardo Najera over with his elbow, and Rudy Fernandez got one in the second quarter). In a game that was decided by six points, that stings. With the playoffs looming, Portland will have to do a better job of playing through adversity.
2. Stopping Brandon Roy
While Dirk Nowitzki's stat line (40 points, 10 rebounds and 17-of-17 shooting from the free throw line) leaps off the page, I was probably more impressed by Caron Butler than any other Dallas player. Butler was asked to defend Roy most of the evening and did yeoman's work, using his size and physicality to his advantage. Roy shot 4-of-14 from the field, scoring 13 points. Butler largely kept Roy out of the paint, and he missed all four of his three-point attempts and was 1-of-3 on midrange twos.
Roy was especially quiet in the fourth quarter, which is usually his time. His only score was a lone free throw, as he missed both of his shot attempts. No other Portland player was able to pick up the slack.
3. Watching the Portland Second Unit
The Blazers have come together since getting Roy and Nicolas Batum healthy and adding Marcus Camby at the trade deadline, but the downside has been most of that production coming from the starting lineup. Portland has struggled at times with its reserves on the floor, and that was certainly the case in the first half tonight. The Blazers went nearly six and a half minutes without a field goal at the end of the first quarter and start of the second.
The bench was more effective in its second stint, maintaining Portland's lead well into the fourth quarter. McMillan rode the group longer than he usually does, giving him the opportunity to rest his starters. Rudy Fernandez, with 11 points and a trio of three-pointers, supplied the kind of energy the Blazers need off the bench. Jerryd Bayless was much more up and down, scoring seven points and handing out two assists but making several of the bad decisions that have left McMillan reluctant to leave him on the court, calling his own number and taking quick shots.
4. Playoff Preview?
Thanks to the result of the game, at evening's end the Mavericks hold the Western Conference's second seed and Portland stands seventh, making this a potential playoff preview. While the matchups could change dramatically by next Wednesday, the possibility of these two teams facing each other starting next weekend made this Dallas win especially meaningful. The Mavericks dropped the first three head-to-head matchups, including both at the American Airlines Center, and Rick Carlisle agreed before the game that it would be good for the team to experience some success against the Blazers. This is more than just an academic concern, as my research has shown that regular-season head-to-head records help predict the outcome of playoff matchups.
5. The Invisible Rodrigue Beaubois
Talented Dallas rookie Rodrigue Beaubois sat and watched the entire game, receiving his first DNP-CD since March 20. Beaubois played just seven minutes total in four games against the Blazers this season. Jose Barea struggled in his 11 minutes of action off the bench in place of Beaubois, missing all five of his shot attempts. Carlisle evidently doesn't trust Beaubois against Portland's bigger point guards, Andre Miller and Bayless, but the offensive gain with Beaubois would offset any drop-off at the defensive end, at the very least when Bayless is in the game.
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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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