TUALATIN, Ore. — The Blazers have seen this before, and that’s both good and bad.
It’s good because they lost to the Mavericks the two times they played them on the road this year, only to dominate Dallas at the Rose Garden in their next two meetings en route to a season split.
Considering how strong Portland has been at home this year (30-11), and how the Blazers match up against Dallas, winning tonight and tying this first-round playoff series at 2-2 by Saturday hardly seems out of the question.
But it’s bad because, well, the Blazers don’t have a recent history of digging themselves out playoff ditches. In fact, Portland hasn’t won Game 3 of a series since the 2000 conference semis, in which it took a 3-0 lead over Utah. The scary part? All but one of those losses (six series total) took place in the Rose Garden. The scarier part? That Jazz team is the last one Portland beat in a playoff series.
But at this point, the Blazers probably aren’t as concerned about past playoff demons as they are about defending the Mavericks’ deadly pick-and-roll.
They’re not worried about media scrutiny so much as they are avoiding turnovers.
And they also know that if they don’t want this series to get out of hand — then the ball has to be in LaMarcus Aldridge’s hands.
The Portland power forward may have had 24 points Tuesday, but just three of those came in the fourth quarter as his late-game struggles continued. Considering that Aldridge rarely touched the ball in that final period, the blame doesn’t fall entirely on him.
“We got away from LaMarcus. We need to make sure that he’s the focus going down the stretch,” Portland coach Nate McMillan said. “Sometimes you can get away from what you’re supposed to be doing. I think we felt we had some other matchups, and we chose to go to them.”
Getting caught under picks and watching the Mavericks bomb away from 3-point distance also doomed Portland in Tuesday night’s 101-89 loss. Dallas point guard Jason Kidd again got hot from outside, scoring nine of his 18 points in the first three minutes of the second half. Peja Stojakovic contributed 21 points off the bench, hitting 5 of his 10 attempts from deep.
And when the Blazers were forced to send help in the direction of the shooters, it freed up Dirk Nowitzki, who scored 33 points and went 15 of 17 from the free-throw line.
McMillan was asked how much Portland struggled against some of those high screens. He wasn’t happy with what he saw.
“We were way too soft on our pick-and-roll defense,” McMillan said. “We have to be more aggressive.”
But another major concern was turnovers. The Blazers, for example, had six in the final quarter. The Mavericks? They had six the entire game.
Of course, it helps that Dallas is primarily a jump-shooting team that gets a shot up after nearly every possession. And this could be another positive for the Blazers to take away, as it’s difficult to shoot consistently well over the course of a playoff series.
However, when you’re outscored by 11 points in the final period — as the Blazers were Tuesday — giving the other team the ball while denying your star player the ball is an easy place to start when looking for what went wrong.
And Portland did just that at the practice facility Wednesday, not working out, but rather dissecting film, moving on from Game 2 and ahead to Game 3.
“Of course you’re disappointed coming back with two losses,” McMillan said. “But pretty much, this like the regular season when we dropped two. We gotta put that behind us and get tomorrow’s game.”
Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org