It's Dallas in Round One
It's the matchup just about every Blazer fan was asking for, and now they've got it. To be honest, it was the matchup every team in the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff race wanted.
Don't think Dallas hasn't been hearing every bit of that.
We had to wait a while on Wednesday night, and in fact were already off the air by the time the Lakers had finally dispatched the Sacramento Kings in overtime. Things were very much up in the air until that game ended. When the Kings took a three-point lead in the final seconds, we were mentally starting to check into our hotel in Los Angeles, preparing for a series with the Lakers. Then, Kobe changed everything.
Then we made our usual trip to the Portland locker room to check the reaction to the knowledge that we'd be flying to Dallas on Friday and not L.A. Taking a page out of Nate McMillan's book, the players showed no real reaction either way. This team has gotten very good at simply taking things as they come. Going into the final night of the regular season, the Blazers knew they had done all they could to get the best seed possible. That was all Nate had talked about.
But now, finally, we can start planning, looking ahead, and sizing up the matchup.
I sit about five rows behind the Blazer coaching staff on our team plane. No one ever sleeps, and they rarely take time to even enjoy a meal. The minute we get on the plane the laptops open up, and the game DVDs start rolling. Before the door had even closed on the plane in Oakland, McMillan was carefully watching video of the Mavericks. It would roll for a minute, then he'd pause it, rewind, watch a few more times, jot a few notes, and then move on to the next play. Again, this isn't unusual. I'm sure wherever Rick Carlisle was last night he was doing the same exact thing.
Let the chess match begin.
The Trail Blazers know they are the underdogs in the series. The Mavericks, meanwhile, are insisting that they are the team that's got the chip on their shoulder. They know Portland wanted them, and they know that because of the Blazers' length, strength, and ability to be physical, they've got to be ready for a war.
"The feeling is, we've got something to prove," Jason Terry told the Dallas Morning News on Wednesday night. "We're a team that everyone wants to play, for some reason or another. I guess it's good in a way. They're going to get their shot, one by one."
Carlisle doesn't have to be reminded that many people consider the Mavericks to be a little soft, and perhaps not up to the challenge of standing toe-to-toe with the Trail Blazers.
"We're going to go into this thing with guns blazing," he told the Dallas Morning News. "There are a lot of doubters. That's OK. We never said we could talk our way to a winning run in the playoffs. We know we have something to prove in every game and every series."
Teams look for inspiration and motivation wherever they think they can find it. Clearly, the Mavericks are trying to talk themselves into the idea that Portland should be the favorite. It's an attempt to generate a kind of our-backs-are-against-the-wall kind of feeling.
The Blazers won twice in Dallas last season, and both games in Dallas this year came down to the wire. Of course, the Blazers didn't have Gerald Wallace in those contests. With him, Portland beat Dallas twice at the Rose Garden, blowing them out on April 3rd.
Wallace will be a huge factor, of course, but isn't the main key to Portland winning the series. What Dallas does to slow down LaMarcus Aldridge is going to be what decides this. Tyson Chandler, among other Mavs, will get the assignment.
I don't have to tell you how good Aldridge has been against Dallas this season. In fact, it was in Dallas, on December 15th, when Aldridge seemed to flip a switch and took his game to the next level. He was nearly unstoppable in the second half, and put 35 points on Chandler and the Mavericks. Of course, Dallas won that game. But, Aldridge will have to have a very good series for Portland to stand a chance to pull the upset.
It'll be extra special for Aldridge as well. He wanted Dallas in the playoffs for a different reason. That's his hometown. That's where his mother is battling cancer, and has been too ill to travel much this season. She won't have to now, and won't have to settle for watching her son on TV.
We've seen some memorable moments inside American Airlines Center in the past couple of years. That's where Joel Przybilla's career changed, when he blew out his knee last season. In that same game Brandon Roy injured his shoulder, and the Blazers still won. It was where Andre Miller put up 52 points last season, another game the Blazers won. And, as stated above, it was on that court where Aldridge turned into a prime-time player.
What's next? We'll find out soon.
Game 1 is Saturday.