PORTLAND — They can still keep them on their feet. They may not send them home happy, but the Trail Blazers can still keep their fans out of their chairs and inside the building.
Yes, the Mavericks beat Portland 97-94 Friday night, leaving mathematics as the only thing keeping the Blazers’ postseason hopes alive. But a resurgent fourth quarter sent a message to those in attendance — we might not have wins, but we do still have pride.
“Down 24 points to the defending champs, I’m extremely proud of how our guys showed up,” Blazers interim coach Kaleb Canales said. “There is no quit in us.”
The Rose Garden’s primary scoreboard was not functioning Friday, and for most of the game, that almost seemed like it was by design.
Dallas (34-26) jumped out to a 9-0 lead, led by 14 at the end of the first quarter, and was up by 20 at the start of the fourth.
This, of course, was to be expected. LaMarcus Aldridge’s upcoming hip surgery has him sidelined for the remainder of the season, and Portland is down to 12 active players. In fact, the main draw to the building these days might be the other team’s stars.
And the Mavericks didn’t disappoint.
Dirk Nowitzki scored a game-high 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting, showcasing his arsenal of fadeways and bank shots that would make him the No. 1 seed in any H-O-R-S-E tournament in the world.
Many of these came at the expense of Blazers forward J.J. Hickson, who was tasked with guarding the 7-foot German for much of the game.
“I have to lock in, I have to know who I’m guarding,” Hickson said. “I wasn’t guarding a traditional (power forward) out there.”
Shawn Marion added 17 points on 8 of 10 shooting while Dallas as a whole connected on 48.2 percent of its field-goal attempts and 45 percent of its shots from long distance.
Portland? Not quite as efficient.
Nicolas Batum was the only player for the Blazers (28-32) to make more than half of his attempts, the Frenchman connecting on 7 of 12 for 20 points.
But that didn’t mean the Blazers (28-32) didn’t have a little fight in them. A 20-point deficit was trimmed to as little as four with 1:17 left. But a Raymond Felton turnover ensued, Nowitzki knocked down two free throws, and the Mavericks seized control.
The Blazers’ final three points came via a Wesley Matthews 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Despite the loss, Hickson echoed the feelings of his coach, who described the effort as “game-winning” even though it ended in defeat.
“It definitely was a game-winning effort. We were down 20 to start the fourth quarter and we cut it down to 3 or 4 points. That’s nothing but game-winning effort,” Hickson said. “I know we’ll get in practice tomorrow and harp on the things we didn’t do right and continue to move forward.”