When Dallas took an early time out, down 10-2, the Rose Garden was rocking and it looked like the Blazers might be on their way to another home rout of a pretty good team. After all, since their disastrous 2-7 start, the Mavericks have gone 14-4 to get back in the middle of the hunt for playoff home series.
Dirk Nowitzki is playing at close to an MVP level, Jason Terry has embraced the vital sixth man role, Josh Howard is playing at a high level, and the rest of the team is contributing in different ways on different nights. Nor can you discount the contributions of Jason Kidd, acquired in last season's disastrous trade that divested the Mavericks of young stud Devin Harris in favor of a declining troublemaker with a history of problems with coaches, teammates, and off-court behavior.
Ironically, Kidd was a favorite target for trade-mongers at the popular Blazer fan site Blazers Edge. Clearly, the individuals suggesting he was a good fit for Portland have not followed his history of domestic abuse accusations for starters and team chemistry destruction to continue.
Additionally, he is a noted poor shooter who opponents love to see take the big shot because they know the odds are with them.
This is not to say Kidd is not a good, even a great player. If he is not a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee there should be an ivestigation. His passing skills, ability to penetrate the lane seemingly at will, and undeniable record of regular season success should ensure that. He just isn't the type of player Blazer fans would be likely to embrace.
Indeed, he would be a regression towards players like Rod Strickland, Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudemire, Bonzi Wells, J.R. Rider and so forth...guys who played at a high level in Portland but wore out their welcome with off-court shenanigans.
Note the "play at a high level" portion of that comment. This was another night where Kidd did that. Though he could not put the ball in the basket, he did a great job of finding the guy who could and getting him the ball.
Coming out of the time-out, Kidd made sure Nowitzki got to shoot and shoot he did, taking six of the next seven Mavericks shots. The only shot he did not take was a Josh Howard lay-up off a nice feed from Kidd.
So with Nowitzki scoring nine points between the 8;33 and 6:46 mark, the Blazers' possessions included turnovers on an offensive foul by Nicolas Batum, Nowitzki stealing the ball from Greg Oden, a Steve Blake turnover, and a pair of free throws by Brandon Roy.
Everyone in the building could feel the tide turning. Once more we saw the difference between a playoff-experienced team that can win in tough places and a team seeking to get there. Dallas identified their best scoring option(s) and got them the ball.
For the night Nowitzki took 18 shots, Jason Terry took 14, and Josh Howard 13 shots. That is pretty good. Those are the primary guys that should be volume shooters, and the 13 shots Jose Barea took made sense even though he only made four. Most of the Barea shots came during a stretch where Portland was playing a bizarre zone that repeatedly ended up with LaMarcus Aldridge isolated against Barea 24 feet from the rim and resulted in Barea drives that produced good scoring opportunities.
Portland would like their volume shooters to be Roy, Aldridge, and Rudy Fernandez. On this night Roy took 20 shots, Travis Outlaw 13, Fernandez eight, and Aldridge just three shots.
Let me repeat that last stat.
LaMarcus Smurfing Aldridge got three shots. Add the free throws and he had seven possessions to attempt to score. That was a rotten job by Portland of getting him the ball. His first post-up opportunity came in the third quarter. Once he got those chances, he took it to Dallas and got Nowitzi into foul trouble. He scored seemingly at will or got to the line. He was unstoppable. He just didn't get enough shots.
Meanwhile, Steve Blake racked up four turnovers. For those not good at math, Blake ended up with more turnovers than Aldridge took shots. That is not a good sign when the coaches rave about how Blake takes care of the ball.
His stat line ended up looking better than it should, too. He made some horrific passes that should have been picked off but Blazers outworked Mavericks to get the ball and maintain possession.
The sad thing is that even with all the flaws, even with allowing 48.8% shooting for the Mavericks, even with getting out rebounded by 10, Portland still should have won this game. During the third quarter they had the Mavericks on the ropes.
Nowitzki picked up a technical foul and his fourth personal at the 10:25 mark of the third. Coach Rick Carlisle picked up a technical. Josh Howard picked up a flagrant and followed it up with a second technical to get himself ejected. It was clear to everyone that the Mavericks were melting down.
Yet with all that, the score was only tied at 70.
The fourth quarter was pure ugliness. Showing no killer instinct at all, the Blazers could only muster 14 points. When you go in up just three, that is not going to win many games whether at home or on the road.
The Mavericks played better down the stretch and took the game away. Two turnovers and five missed shots by Roy ensured that outcome. But in a sense, this game was lost earlier.
For whatever reason, Portland struggled at the line all night, ending up shooting just 65% from the line. If they shot a reasonable percentage they would have had probably another four points which would have completely changed the character of the gaem.
This has been a recurring issue for the Blazers. When they miss free throws they tend to miss them in bunches. When they leave as many as 11 points on the floor they are going to struggle against the top NBA teams and this night was no exception.
Still, it was an entertaining, back and forth game that gave us a good look at one of the teams Portland is looking up at and trying to take their place. The day they do is not so far away, but on this Christmas, at least, it is not here yet.
Give credit where credit is due. Jason Kidd, Dirk Nowitzki, Josh Howard and Jason Terry all showed up. The same cannot be said about LaMarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw, or the Blazers centers. The result was a 102-94 Mavericks win.
It therefore falls on the Blazers to simply say, "Next time, Gadget. We'll get you next time."