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April 26, 2011
Playoff Prospectus
Opportunity Lost

by Kevin Pelton

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at Dallas 93, Portland 82 (Dallas leads 3-2)
Pace: 83.9
Offensive Ratings: Dallas 112.1, Portland 96.7

When Brandon Roy brought the Portland Trail Blazers back in Saturday's Game Four, he gave the Blazers' season a stay of execution. Had Portland gone down 3-1 with two of the three remaining games on the road, rallying would have been nearly impossible. The comeback made it a best-of-three series, but what it couldn't do was solve the problems that caused the Blazers to fall behind in the first place. Those were all too apparent on Monday as the Dallas Mavericks wrested control of the series with a 93-82 victory at the American Airlines Center.

The most troubling issue for Portland is the team's collective inability to shoot the basketball, which happens to be a key factor in NBA games. The Blazers' three-point shooting, a weakness during the regular season, has been further compromised by Rudy Fernandez's disappearing act during this series. Fernandez did make one triple for his first field goal in four games, but that was the exception on a night where Portland shot just 4-of-16 beyond the arc. Yet the team's troubles go beyond long-range jumpers. On two-point shots outside the paint, the Blazers were 6 of 22 (27.3 percent).

Shoot like that and eventually the opposing defense will simply sit in the paint and dare you to make shots. Increasingly in this series, that's exactly what the Mavericks have done. On Monday, we saw extended zone defense from Dallas for the first time. Portland had some success against the zone in the first half, largely because Andre Miller attacked off the dribble and was able to drain a rare three, but after halftime the Blazers were stifled against both man and zone.

LaMarcus Aldridge was unable to get good post position, Roy's brilliant fourth quarter of Game Four proved fleeting and creating off the dribble became difficult for any of Portland's players. The result was a series of ugly possessions that saw the Blazers play deep into the shot clock and either force a contested shot attempt or turn the ball over.

Exacerbating the situation was Portland's inability to rebound the basketball. The Mavericks' shooting was no better than the Blazers' was, truth be told; Dallas made just three-pointers all night in 17 attempts. However, all the misses turned into long rebounds that the Mavericks tracked down. They were quicker to the basketball and overpowered the smaller Portland frontline. Tyson Chandler was foremost in this effort, securing 13 offensive rebounds--the most in a playoff game in 16 years--and making the Blazers pay every time they had to help off him in the paint. Chandler used the second chances to score 14 points on 10 plays, providing needed offense.

Ultimately, the issues were related. Portland's most successful stretch of the game came with a big frontline of Marcus Camby and Chris Johnson while Aldridge got a breather late in the first quarter. The Blazers were +10 over a span of four and a half minutes with the two 7-footers playing together. Johnson would not get back on the court until the game was long decided, while Camby did not play in the fourth quarter as Nate McMillan went with Aldridge and Gerald Wallace up front. Why? That's the duo that gives Portland the best outside shooting and floor spacing. At some point, however, things were so bad with the smaller lineup that McMillan had to try going big. Since it's not possible to make negative outside shots, the offense couldn't have gotten much worse.

Give Dallas credit for coming out aggressively at home and taking the action to the Blazers. Because of the Mavericks' history of opening-round losses, the Dallas media wondered how the team would bounce back from the epic Game Four collapse. That never proved to be a factor. Portland will need the same kind of urgency now that Thursday's Game Six has become a must win. The Blazers must also get some answers to how to combat their matchup issues. I would consider getting Patty Mills into the rotation if the Portland offense continues to stagnate. While Mills is limited, he matches up well with Jose Barea defensively, provides energy and is one of the Blazers' best outside shooters. Mills making a difference is a long shot, but what does McMillan have to lose?

Roy probably has to have a slightly shorter leash in Game Six. He was effective in the early going as a playmaker, but shot just 2-of-7 from the field and saw Portland outscored by 18 points while he was on the floor. Relying on the Roy we saw late in Game Four is an act of faith rather than a real strategy, and McMillan must manage him accordingly.

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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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