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Sekou Smith

The Mavericks and Trail Blazers look to pull away in this back-and-forth series.
Photo via Getty Images

Both sides still looking for a weakness to exploit

Posted Apr 23 2011 9:18AM

PORTLAND -- If there is a weakness on this Dallas Mavericks team that can be exploited consistently, the Portland Trail Blazers have yet to locate it. Same goes for the Mavericks in regards to the Blazers.

That would explain these two teams have played 12 quarters of playoff basketball without anyone leading by more than 13 points. And even if they did stretch it by that much, it didn't last long.

These teams are so close, match up so well and are so familiar with each other that neither side seems the least bit worried when the other side gains a small measure of breathing room on the scoreboard.

That's where the real intrigue is for Saturday's critical Game 4 here at the Rose Garden, a crucial game for both teams The Trail Blazers have a chance to tie this series up at 2-2 with a win. The Mavericks can take a commanding 3-1 lead back to Dallas for a potential close-out scenario in Game 5 Monday if they win.

But whatever happens in Game 4, it's sure to be like every other matchup between these two teams this season, a knock down, drag out affair where no one is willing to back up at all.

"That's, for me, the exciting thing about the playoffs," Blazers star Brandon Roy said. before practice Friday morning and just hours removed from his series-saving effort in the Blazers' Game 3 win. "It's not going to be easy. We might have to grind out three more wins just like (Game 3). And we can't panic because we didn't win by 20. We can't panic because we didn't blow Dallas out. The thing is, we won the game. And we have to come back with the same mentality. If it's tied up with two minutes left, so what. We've got to do whatever it takes to win this one game."

Just as the Blazers remained confident that they could turn this series around once they got back home after losing those first two games in Dallas, the Mavericks woke up after that Game 3 loss more convinced than ever that they are in firm control of their own destiny. After all, they still own the home court advantage they carried into this series. And they haven't felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment at hand.

After practice Friday the Mavericks spoke of taking the Blazers' best shot and still being within striking distance in Game 3. Not even that raucous Rose Garden crowd seemed to rattle the veteran Mavericks. "We took their best blow and we're still right there," Dirk Nowitzki said. "We have another opportunity on Saturday and obviously we don't want to go home with a tied series."

The Mavericks will have to show a better finishing kick in Game 4 than they did in Game 3, when the Blazers fought them off at every turn while maintaining their lead the entire fourth quarter.

Roy said the energy edge the Blazers enjoyed in the fourth quarter is a credit to the crowd he insists is the very best in the league. Yet even with that crowd in their corner, the Blazers couldn't get the kind of separation they desired. The Mavericks' core group has been here before, locked into a tight playoff series with nothing but each other to depend on. That's the one clear edge they do have in this series since the Blazers' core group has yet to make it out of the first round together.

The competitiveness of this series should surprise no one, according to Mavericks forward Shawn Marion. He's using the rest of the Western Conference playoffs as Exhibit A for his case that the Mavericks are actually ahead of the game. They won both of their home games in their series while the top two seeds, the Spurs and Lakers, split their home-opening set of games.

"Look at the West," Marion said. "Everybody thinks they can win in the West. From eight all the way up, everybody thinks they can win. And that's why you've seen some of the upsets you have and why we're as confident as ever, even after a loss. We were right there in Game 3, so close. They hit big shots at the end when they needed to, but a loose ball here or a turnover there and who knows what might have happened."

Hindsight hypothetical scenarios and Game 4 predictions don't interest Blazers coach Nate McMillan. His focus is winning one game, the next game, and nothing more. That's the message Roy said he stressed in the locker room after Game 3. How it gets done is of little importance to McMillan, so long as they get it done.

"They defended their home court and we have to defend ours," McMillan said. "It's really that simple."

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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