Heading in Thursday's Game 3 in the Rose Garden, the Dallas Mavericks hold a coveted 2-0 series lead. They have taken control of the series by playing sterling defense, taking care of the ball, Dirk's fourth-quarter dominance, and lights out shooting from J-Kidd and Peja.
In our Saturday Morning Mavs Donuts we laid out some key matchups and battles as well as some interesting points to consider as the series unfolds. For reference:
*How will Jason Terry respond to his recent struggles as well as his reputation as a playoff under-achiever?
*How will coach Carlisle deploy his bench? Will Barea continue to play 15-20 minutes a game?
*Can Peja be a net positive against an extremely athletic Blazers team?
*Can Chandler and Haywood effectively single-cover Lamarcus Aldridge?
Let's go down the list, "Coach ‘Em Up'' style, and answer these questions before Game 3.
The Jet has responded. Even though he isn't shooting the ball extremely well, or scoring a lot of points (more on this subject coming in Thursday Morning Mavs Donuts) he has had a positive impact in the series thus far.
Coach Rick Carlisle's Wednesday afternoon quote before the Mavs boarded the plane: "Terry is playing the best all-around basketball that he's played all year. We need him to continue to do that."
Portland has (as we expected) adopted the philosophy of applying constant pressure and physical defense to Terry. In the past, Jason has responded to this kind of play by forcing the action and rushing his play. Through two games of this series that has not been the case.
As you've just seen, Jet has been playing well in the role of facilitator. He is consistently getting into the defense and finding the open man for an easy look.
(Worth mentioning as a sidebar: JJ Barea, though his numbers are not impressive, has been a solid supporting piece as well. His ability to turn the corner on the screen roll has created havoc for the Blazers' defenders in much the same was that Terry has over the years. Barea also stood out during an extended stretch in the fourth quarter of Game 2.)
Peja has been a mixed bag through two games.
In Game 1, he was a virtual non-factor while in G2 the "Peja Presence" was in full effect. (See our previous "Peja Presence'' piece for background.) Stojakovic was able to get it going in G2 in every way. He made shots off of spot-ups, kick-outs, and designed plays. Let's have a look. …
Peja is part of Dallas' second-banana balance. Which makes it "easier,'' right, Rick?
"I never look at it like it gets easy,'' Carlisle said in a comment relayed by Mavs.com. "If you starting thinking that way, that's when you get smashed in the face."
The numbers suggest that Aldridge is having his way with Chandler and Haywood, but the numbers are misleading. To a great degree, LaMarcus is producing "empty" stats; he is filling up the box score, but when the game is on the line he (and the rest of Portland's offense) has been nowhere to be found. The Seagoville product is a fantastic player and is going to score 20 or more on most nights, regardless of who is on him, but the Mavs centers are forcing him to take tough shots (that he's capable of making, of course) without the help of a double-team.
Rick: "We're doing well in some areas with him. He presents a multitude of challenges. ... We haven't solved it."
If "doing well'' can continue, Dallas will be in good shape.
The one specific area where Aldridge is having success is on lob passes. Most of the lobs he receives are in screen-roll situations. The Mavs have been taking advantage of their defensive versatility by switching many of the screen-rolls Portland is running. The downside of this is that sometimes the super-athletic Aldridge is able to shake loose of someone like Peja or Dirk and elevate for the finish.
Game 2 saw marked improvement in the Mavs ability to stop the lob by paying more attention to LaMarcus on the backside of the play. The weakside defenders are temporarily rotating under the basket to deter the roll-and-lob.
Expect Dallas to continue this philosophy in Game 3. And then the question will be whether Portland adjusts by throwing skip passes for corner threes … and whether they hit those threes.
As the series moves to Portland most of the adjustments need to be made by Nate McMillan and his staff. So let's bullet-point forward:
*In the next few games we can look at whether Portland will continue to pack in the lane or will they begin to challenge the shooters? (They adjustment to Kidd's shooting has been one of personnel more than style.)
*Will they continue to swarm Dirk instead of playing tight to the shooters? Portland seems content to allow the Mavs to shoot from outside and keep
Dirk, Marion, and Chandler from scoring easy baskets.
*The other key adjustment for Portland is to figure out a way to keep LaMarcus involved in crunch time. As we note above, he has been able to get his points in the first three quarters but, mostly because of the Mavs defensive intensity, Aldridge has been a non-factor down the stretch.
If the Mavs continue their torrid shooting, and Portland if doesn't make these adjustments, we can expect a relatively quick end to the series. Remember, though, of course: Not only are the Mavs watching film. And not only are we watching film. Portland is desperately doing the same, in search of answers.
DB.com's freshly-baked Mavs Podcast is up as we take you through the series and to Game 3!
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