Mavs' Rip City curse, Division title on the line
Dallas Mavericks (51-27) at Portland Trail Blazers (48-30)
With an opportunity to clinch the Southwest Division, while also trying to stay in the hunt for the No. 2 seed in the West, the Mavericks begin a three-game road trip in Portland against a Trail Blazers squad that has beaten Dallas in each of the three games between the teams this season. The Mavs are determined not to drop the fourth and final regular season meeting, in a possible opening round playoff series preview.
"It's the bottom line, they beat us three times. For us, at this point in the season, it's not about 3-0 or 4-0. It's about us getting better for the next step," point guard Jason Kidd said.
In addition to getting better, the Mavs would also like to return the favor, after a 101-89 loss in Portland on March 25. In that game, the Blazers held the Mavericks to just 35 second-half points. Portland also took Kidd out of the game by focusing on eliminating the Dallas fast-break attack. The result was a 16-0 edge in transition scoring for the Blazers.
"We had zero fast break points and they had 16. To me, that means two things -- you need to get more stops to get in transition to get quality looks at the basket and we never had them under 50 percent (shooting) the whole game," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "That was a problem for our running game. When you get beat 16 to nothing on the break, it's tough to win."
"They did a good job of jamming the ball and taking that aspect (transition offense) of the game away," Kidd added. "Also, when you make shots, that takes away the running game. So, lesson learned, and we have to understand what we have to do next time and that's a big part of our game -- getting out and running."
Wednesday night's 110-84 win over the Memphis Grizzlies is a good blueprint for success. Coming off of back-to-back losses at the American Airlines Center, the Mavs responded with an all-around team defensive effort. Most impressively, the Mavericks put together the performance on the defensive end despite playing without forward Shawn Marion. The two-time All-Star sat out the game with a left oblique muscle strain. Marion did however practice with the team on Thursday, though his status for Friday night is unclear.
With a scrambling defensive unit, the Mavericks made up for Marion's absence by forcing 20 Memphis turnovers and scoring 30 points off of those miscues.
"We are just trying to bring a lot more energy and buckling down, trying to scramble for 24 seconds. We did a great job of that (against Memphis), collectively," reserve guard J.J. Barea said of the defensive mentality after recording a career-high four steals.
On the other end of the floor, the Mavs will once again be looking for an explosive performance from swingman Caron Butler. The newcomer, who came to the team at the All-Star break, finished with a team-high 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting against Memphis. It was a breakthrough performance for No. 4, who admitted that he is coming out of a shooting slump.
"I was going to make shots, I've just got to continue to take them," Butler said. "I got the ball on the opening play and the rhythm started...I wasn't thinking too much. Just going out there and was taking whatever they gave me."
"I thought (Butler) came out very aggressively and he got us going. With a talent like that, you want him being aggressive, make or miss," Kidd said of his teammate.
Now the Mavericks look for a different result against a Portland squad that they could see again in the postseason.
"They're all potential playoff matchups at this point," Carlisle said.
The team journeys to the West Coast for three games away from Big D, with contests against Portland, Sacramento and the Los Angles Clippers. Friday night's Mavericks-Blazers matchup will air locally on Fox Sports Southwest and nationally on NBA TV at 9 p.m. CT.
"We've got to get them all," forward Dirk Nowitzki said of the road trip. "That's the mind state. But we can't get ahead of ourselves. It's Portland next."
The team returns to the American Airlines Center for the final regular season game against the San Antonio Spurs on April 14. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (214) 747-MAVS.