After a three day layoff, Portland (42-29) heads home for a quick one-game stay against a team they have had surprisingly great success against this season, the Dallas Mavericks (47-24). After being swept last season, 3-0, Portland has accomplished something no one thought possible, winning twice in American Airlines Center and doing so under the most improbable conditions. The first victory, 85-81, occurred two weeks after Greg Oden went down with a broken kneecap and in the 2nd quarter, Portland saw their rock, Joel Przybilla go down with a similar, yet much more devastating injury. To prove the win in December was no fluke, the Trail Blazers pulled an even bigger rabbit out of their hat by dethroning Dallas again, this time in overtime, 114-112, behind 52 points from Andre Miller. Oh, yeah, the Blazers pulled this miracle off without Brandon Roy as well as not having the two big centers inside either. Will the Cinderella run continue tonight against Dallas or will another long break between games get the best of the Blazers again?
Although Portland defeated Dallas twice already this year, you may almost want to throw that out the window this time around. Both teams brought in entirely different personnel since the last meeting in January and its safe to say both teams are significantly better, whether it be through trades, health, or any other factor. Dallas robbed Washington in acquiring Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, while Portland obtained Camby and now have a roster full of healthy players, including Brandon Roy. In a sense, this is the first matchup between Dallas and Portland this season and will go a long way to seeing how we truly line up against the Mavs if we end up facing each other in the playoffs. Right now Dallas is 2nd and with a win, Portland moves into 7th. If the Blazers can somehow win these upcoming two games at home against the Mavericks, there should be no reason why Portland should not be favored to beat them in a playoff series.
If the Trail Blazers are serious about catching some of these teams above them, they need to show it tonight. Lay it all on the floor. Although the defense was pretty good against the Suns, too many times did I see Amare rip a rebound away from one of our guys or Robin Lopez out-hustle someone and come away with the board. Dallas, although a lock for the playoffs, if fighting for their lives as well. They are in a virtual dead heat for 2nd place in the West with Denver and Utah, and obtaining home court throughout the 1st two rounds of the playoffs is a immensely important. Dallas needs this win just as much as we do and if we don't come out aggressive, they'll come into our house and take it right out of our hands. I'm not singling out any one player, coach, or member of the organization. Everyone needs to play with a little desperation tonight.
Brandon Roy. I don't think there is a bigger key to the game tonight than #7. Anyone notice lately how badly we struggle when he is off his game and how much easier he makes the game for everyone else when he is his normal Roy-Wonder self? Take a look at the Trail Blazers 7-2 mark in March, where in Portland wins, Brandon averages 24.1 points, shoots 46.2% from the field (55-119), gets to the foul line 9 times a night, and only attempts 3.1 three-point attempts. On the flip side, during the two losses in that span to the Nuggets and the Suns, B-Roy tallied a mere 17.5 points on a very un-Roy like 28.2% (11-39), only manages 7 trips to the charity stripe, while shooting 4.5 threes.
There are a couple conclusions derived from these statistics. First, only one team above .500 was defeated in the nine-game sample (Memphis), and when the competition heated up, Roy played his worst. Now, I wouldn't shoulder Roy with all the blame, as teams have been known to pack in on Roy, sending double teams at him constantly, forcing his teammates to step up. Basketball is a team game, so we can give Roy a little pass there, but what is a little unnerving is the fact that when Roy performs poorly, the foul shot attempts go down while three-point field goals jacked up increase. What Brandon needs to do to take the next step in his game is to find a way to the line, no matter how poorly he is shooting on the night. Guys like LeBron, Wade, and Kobe always find ways to put pressure on the D, even if their shot has temporarily abandoned them for the night. For Portland to walk away victorious, Roy needs to get to the charity stripe 10+ times, score around his average, but do so efficiently. It is a Thursday night on TNT, so chances are The Natural will be out in full force tonight.
Outside of Roy doing what he does, there is no magical stat barrier the Blazers need to reach in order to get win #43. They just need to play tough, out-physical the Mavericks, even a few hard fouls by Juwan would help, and force the action inside. Obviously, we have to hit better than 2-17 from I-5 to ensure the Mavs don't pack the paint and beg us to shoot from the perimeter, but any chance we get to run, go! I'm going to go the optimistic route tonight and say the rust won't hinder the Blazers too badly and the Rose Garden crowd will be quick to forget the last team appearance on Friday. Portland fights tooth and nail with Dallas, but Nico will once again harass Dirk on those tough, fade away jump shots while Brandon will have an answer every time down to the floor for the Mavericks. It's Brandon Roy, TNT Thursday night, how can you not think he won't impress?
Game 72 Prediction: Trail Blazers 101 Mavericks 97Post-Game Thoughts
After falling behind quickly, 6-0, to start the game, I feared for the worst. Portland failed to come out of the gate strong, Dallas would catch fire, and it would be an uphill climb the entire night with moments of momentum only to be stopped short each time. Luckily, it was just a bump in the road as Portland countered the Dallas 6-0 run to start the game with a 32-21 run to end the quarter. Once the lead was achieved, it was never lost. It took an entire team effort for the Trail Blazers to win their third consecutive game over the Mavericks as LaMarcus Aldridge (20 pts, 10 rebs), Marcus Camby (17 pts, 11 rebs), and Andre Miller (19 pts and 10 assts) all recorded double doubles while Brandon Roy had a quiet, yet extremely efficient and effective outing by dropping 17 points on only 7 shots (made 5), got to the stripe 8 times, handed out 7 assists, and grabbed 4 rebounds.
"I just tried to be patient and take the looks that were good," said Roy, who scored 16, well below his 22.2 average. "This was a team effort. Everybody stepped up tonight."
Not only did Aldridge rack up a double-dip, but also pitched in with 5 assists, 1 block, and a steal. It wasn't his offense tonight that blew me away, rather the defense played on arguably the best power forward in the league, Dirk Nowitzki. Standing 7'0" tall with handles like a guard, the quickness of a small forward, and range unmatched by anyone in the game, sometimes you just have to hope and pray Dirk is off his game while trying to defend him. Aldridge did about as good a job you'll see though. He bodied him, got a little nasty with him, maybe forcing him out of his comfort zone. LA never, ever let Nowitzki get free for an open look to get his rhythm and confidence flowing. I've said it before and said it again, when Aldridge plays like the star he can be, Portland gets taken to an elite level. Finally, there is someone else to take the pressure off of Roy, allowing him to dissect the defense.
"I was trying to body him, not let him catch a rhythm," said Aldridge, a Dallas native. "The team did a good job of attacking him from different spots. He never really figured out our schemes."
Three stats tell the entire story about the game: points in the paint, fast break points, free throw attempts. While Dallas got hot at times shooting jump shots, mainly Caron Butler (11-19 for 25 pts), they were stationed out on the perimeter all game long. I was proud of the boys for not settling for long-distance jump shots, rather forcing the issue inside which lead to a unexpected, yet welcomed 44-35 interior advantage. Dead last in the NBA when it comes to points in transition, Portland turned the tables around on Dallas and pushed the tempo. After the dust had settled, Portland torched Dallas 16-0 in the fast break department, picking and choosing their spots to run brilliantly. Andre Miller, in particular, had his head up the whole game, always finding a fellow teammate leaking out ahead or contributing with a "hockey assist". Not only did we run and attack the paint, but by being the aggressors, Nate's bunch got to the charity stripe 17 more times than Dallas.
"We played a complete game tonight," McMillan said. "Our defense was good. We were the aggressors on both ends of the floor."
After watching the "new look" Mavericks, I am totally sold on playing them in the playoffs. Although, I wouldn't bank on meeting Dallas in the playoffs as the West is so bunched up from 2-5 and 6-8 so anyone trying to predict the end of the season standings would have better luck putting team hats in front of a zoo animal and seeing which two at a time they grab. What makes a matchup so desirable against Dallas is the fact we are two similar teams with one true superstar surrounded by a good, deep cast of players. Dirk and Roy are on the same level in my opinion, but I feel like we have more defenders to throw at him than the Mavs do at Brandon. Give me Andre over Kidd and Camby over Haywood any day of the week and I'll take my chances on Aldridge outperforming Butler. What really is tripping up Dallas right now is the down year Jason Terry is having as he is scoring 3 less a night (16.9 from 19.6) and shooting has plummeted from 46.3% in '09 to 43.8% in '10. If any one of our young, promising players such as Rudy, Batum, or Bayless match Terry on a nightly basis, I see no reason we can't pull off a first round upset.
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