First Impressions: Mavs Over Blazers

Inside the Mavs' locker room before Wednesday game, there was a somber mood – a continuation of the funereal feel of the room late Monday after the Bucks loss. Fewer jokes, more headphones in ears ... a team still bothered by a loss they believe shouldn't have been. And then they went out against the Blazers and almost did it all again.

There were the highs, the lows, the thrills, the scares … but this time, a 103-98 victory. And we've got First Impressions, some news and notes from a success that gives the Mavericks a standout 20–5 record and the second-best record in franchise history through the first 25 games of a season:

*As has become the trend, Dallas allowed a 17-point lead owned in the third quarter to vanish late in the game … but the Mavs did manage to put the game away when they had to.

"Right now, that has kind of been the trend." Jason Kidd said, well aware of the massive leads gained (and too often lost) in a four-pack of recent games. "We get up 20 and then all of a sudden we find ourselves up only two or three points. So, we need to figure that out and understand as a team that once we have a team down we've got to keep them down."

*At the top of the strategy board in the Mavs locker room was one key emphasis: "Box out.''

The Trailblazers arrived in Dallas tied with Golden State as the second best offensive rebounding team in the league with 13.3 per game. Dallas stood at a rank of 20th in offensive boards allowed (11.1).

Given this, you quickly come to understand why "box out" was displayed so prominently.

Less than four minutes into the game, Carlisle deemed the message had fallen on deaf ears. After two early second-chance-yielding offensive boards, the coach called a quick timeout … it was almost a quarter later that the Mavs finally seemed to heed the call.

Portland grabbed six offensive rebounds in the first quarter, and three more early in the second … and then the gates that had been left wide open snapped briskly shut.

Beginning at the 7:07 mark in the second quarter, no Trailblazer was credited with another rebound on the offensive end until late in the fourth … and after grabbing nine in less than a quarter-and-a-half; they would finish with only 12 total (with at least one of those coming in garbage time).

*Caron Butler did the heavy lifting for the Mavs for the majority of the night. In the first half he led the Mavs with 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting.

With Dirk Nowitzki struggling in the third quarter, missing the only three shots he took (falling to 2-of-7 for the game … to that point), it was Butler who again stepped up and put up 11 points in the quarter, again on 5-of-9 shooting.

Butler finished with 23 points … and, oddly (given his performance on this night), sat out the majority of the final quarter as Portland made its push before returning with 3:27 left.

To his 23 points on 10-of-19 shooting, Butler also added seven rebounds and four assists.

It was Butler who kept the game close … and emerging from the shadows to close it out.

''Butler plays an aggressive game,'' Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. ''He has no fear of big shots and big situations.''

*The same, obviously, can be said for MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki.

The UberMan entered the final quarter shooting 2-of-7 (including going 0-of-5 in the second and third quarters combined).

With only 2:24 left on the clock in a game tied at 91, he wouldn't miss again. For those couple of minutes, he went 4-of-4 and scored eight of the final ten points for the Mavs and put the game out of reach.

Dirk finished with 21 points, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

*There was 3:27 to go until the half and both teams had combined to go 0-of-15 from behind the 3-point line … only because Jason Kidd has yet to attempt one (at least without his toe on the line).

Kidd ended the 3-point slump and went on to make two more. He finished the night with 11 points, seven rebounds, six assists, one steal and one block.

*Butler carried the offense in the first and third quarters. Dirk shouldered the load in the fourth. In the second, it was JJ Barea leading the offense by scoring eight points while going 3-of-4 from the floor … though he did miss his only trey attempt.

Barea has been generally playing well of late, coaches say, but remains unable to get anything going from behind the arc. For the season, he is now shooting 12.7-percent (7-of-55) from 3-point range.

*Dallas held Portland to only 14 first-quarter points, the lowest they've held an opponent in the opening quarter all season, while holding the visitors to 7-of-25 shooting (28 percent).

Until those final minutes when the stops they needed so desperately finally arrived thanks to some nice team defense, Portland had its way with the Dallas D.

Over the final three quarters the Blazers shot 58.3 percent.

The Mavs could not stop Wesley Matthews in the third, as he scored 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting. He finished with 17 points.

In the fourth, the Mavs found themselves helpless to slow a surging LaMarcus Aldridge, the Dallas-area native who scored 20 points on 8-of-10 field goals in the final quarter alone.

He finished with a game-high 35 points and 10 rebounds.

"That type of fight, physical play, (and) establishing that post position is what we need from him nightly, and I thought he did a hell of a job tonight down in the post for us,'' said Portland coach Nate McMillan, overseer of a team that has lost three in a row.

The Mavs won it late. They won it with Dirk and they won it with defense, over the final 1:34 forcing two Blazers turnovers twice and three errant shots.

''We circled the wagons and got it together,'' Carlisle said.

Overall, Dallas has it very much together. In 2002-03, the Mavs were was 22–3 to begin the year and achieved a 60-win season. This year's club is right behind that pace … even as it sometimes struggles to remain way ahead of the competition.

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