1 Make American Airlines Center a home court advantage - If you want to look at the last four years of Mavs playoff difficulty (we don't "want'' to, but we must!), at the top of the list is their inability to consistently protect home court.
In the last four years the Dallas Mavericks are 8-4 at home in the playoffs. Doesn't sound too bad, right? But when coupled with a 2-13 road record, you see the issue.
Put another way: In five playoff series from 2007-2010, the Mavs have swept their two consecutive home games in a series only once (Games 3 and 4 vs. San Antonio in 2009, the only series they have won). Dallas lost Game 1 in ‘07 to Golden State, Game 4 to New Orleans in ‘08, Game 3 to Denver in ‘09 and Game 2 to the Spurs last year … all pivotal defeats en route to losing those series.
I'm a big believer in setting a tone; it's why I like DeShawn Stevenson back in the starting lineup and it's what Dallas must do in the first two games of this series. Get the jump on Portland, make them chase the series, make them have doubt, and take advantage of the reward of having a better regular season by capitalizing on the fact that the series is starting here.
2 Big vs. small - The most recent game between Dallas and Portland really exposed the issue of Portland's size at guard as opposed to Dallas' lack of it.
Terry, Barea and Roddy B picked up a ton of fouls trying to deal with Andre Miller, Wesley Matthews, Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez. Now, a little bit of this is offset if (as we presume) the plug has been pulled on Roddy B as a starter in favor of Stevenson. But Terry and Barea will play and they will have to find a way to overcome the Blazers' size advantage there.
While Portland's guards haven't exploited that to the tune of big offensive numbers this year, the problem can still manifest itself in foul trouble as I noted earlier … or as a contributor to sub-par offensive production for Terry and Barea.
For example, Terry averaged 12.3 pts and shot 42.6 percent vs. the Blazers this year. And Barea, while shooting and scoring at a typical clip, had only seven assists and six turnovers, clearly a poor ratio for a point guard.
3 Strength vs. Strength - Pat Riley used to say "No Rebounds, No Rings". and one particular aspect of the rebounding battle will be huge in this series as you have a great offensive rebounding team in Portland against a very good defensive rebounding squad in Dallas.
Portland grabbed 29.5 percent of available offensive rebounds this year, third-best in the league. Meanwhile, Dallas was seventh as the Mavs secured nearly 75 percent of available defensive rebounds. The lack of defensive rebounding was a big contributor in a three-point loss to Portland last month, a game I think Dallas definitely should have won as the Mavs shot 59.7 percent. It can be very demoralizing to play great defense for 20 seconds, force a miss and then not get the board, so Dallas needs to win this battle.
In addition, Portland's offensive rebounding gets it presumably more shots at the rim and that is an area of advantage for the Blazers as well. The Blazers get over four more shots per game at the rim than Dallas (24.5-20.2). While we're on the subject, the Mavs get more short to mid range shots from 3-15 feet (19-18) but take more long 2's and 3's as well. From 16 feet out, the Mavs take 39.5 shots on a per game average (9th most by the way) while Portland takes about 38 shots from 16 feet and beyond.
4 Protect the damn ball – Late in the year, we all saw Dallas have a problem with turnovers and for a number of reasons the Mavs must take better care of the ball in this series.
Possessions get more valuable in the slower pace of the playoffs and this is particularly magnified against Portland, which played the slowest pace in the league this year. Portland also limited its opponents to the fewest shot attempts in the NBA this season, in part through pace but in part through forcing turnovers, the fourth most per game in the NBA. Turnovers often are converted into easy scoring opportunities at the other end but just as importantly, they are shots you never even get to take … and Dallas can hit shots against Portland!
The Mavs are one of the league's best shooting outfits and while Portland can keep the numbers down because of pace and forcing turnovers they are only an average to slightly-below-average defensive team in terms of defensive efficiency and defensive field goal percentage.
So value the ball, execute your offense and the Mavs should get good looks against these guys.
5 Fourth-quarter factors - This series features the two guys who played the most fourth-quarter minutes in the entire league: Jason Terry at No. 1 and Lamarcus Aldridge at No. 2. Aldridge, who should have been an All-Star, also played the second-most minutes in the whole league, so is there a fatigue factor there that might be evident at the end of games?
Well, Aldridge did shoot 45.6 percent in fourth quarters, his poorest shooting quarter. He also shot only 40.2 percent in the fourth quarter in games played from March 1 ‘til the end of the year.
Meanwhile Terry averaged the sixth most points per fourth quarter, shot over 49 percent and nearly 44 percent from the arc and to top it off, he shot over 56 percent from the floor in fourth quarters post All-Star Break.
Like it or not, this Mavericks team is set up where it needs Terry to hit shots, especially in fourth quarters … and this playoffs is no different. He'll be out there and he'll be an important part of what the Mavs try to do. Let's hope he is up to the challenge.
There are many other factors here … Can Dirk bring his normal elevated playoff game into the teeth of the Portland defense bolstered by the addition of Gerald Wallace? … And while we are talking Charlotte salary dumps, how important is Tyson Chandler as a card in the deck Dallas hasn't had to play in the playoffs before? … Oh and by the way, is point differential important? Because the point differential for the year is +4.2 for the Mavs and +1.5 for the Blazers and after the All-Star break it is a +6.2 for Dallas and +3.2 for Portland so …
So, given that and many other things I'm picking Dallas, but in a hard-fought seven-game series that may only be decided because the Mavs were good enough to earn that seventh game at home. Hey, the way things have gone in recent springs around here, I'll take it. I hope you'll enjoy it with me with all the first-round games being telecast locally on TXA21 and my contributions also coming to you here on DallasBasketball.com!