First Impressions: Mavs Top Blazers In 2OT
Lamarcus Aldridge staked his claim as the Dirk Nowitzki-level All-Star honoree that he is. But on Saturday in the Portland Trail Blazers' 97-94 double-overtime loss at Dallas, it was an assortment of Dirk's Dallas Mavericks teammates who staked their claim as a team that is trying to defend its NBA title by utilizing depth.
Aldridge, the DFW native and University of Texas product, was virtually unstoppable with 33 points, many of them high in difficulty and weighty in importance. That offset what Nowitzki accomplished, as he struggled at times from the field before hitting a trademark One-Legged Euro Leanback from 15 feet with 17 seconds left – while being guarded closely by Aldridge – to provide Dallas with the four-point margin that would stick.
"I do feel good about my defense," Aldridge said. "(Nowitzki) couldn't see the basket half the time."
Ah, but other Mavs has clearer vision. In the second overtime, Delonte West saw his way to scoring the first six points of the extra period as the sub took the place of starter Jason Kidd, who was winded after just his second game back from a calf injury.
"J-Kidd told me to go out there and be aggressive because of the way they were playing Dirk," said West, who finished with 10 points. "I sparked my team right there in the second overtime."
Added coach Rick Carlisle of West: "He's a money player.''
Nowitzki scored 20 points and when he made the big one, he celebrated in unique fashion ... cussing in Germanglish, thrusting his fists all about, and finally, oddly, expectorating on the AAC floor.
I'm sure one of the fine Mavs staffers helped The UberMan and mopped up that spittle, just as I know Dirk had so much more help than LaMarcus did.
Much of that help came from Jason Terry with 19. But the Mavs' list of supporting cast members is a long one, as it was last season when they won a title and as has been the case during this 17-11 campaign during which Nowitzki has only recently returned to the form that makes him an All-Star selection this week for the 11th straight year.
It was Mavs center Brendan Haywood who largely drew the assignment of guarding Aldridge – and the center drew Carlisle's praise for his rising to the challenge. Haywood also crashed the boards with 45 seconds left to earn a tip-in basket, an offensive rebound that put Dallas up 95-93 with 45 seconds left.
Shawn Marion had 14 points and 12 rebounds for Dallas, a couple of those boards coming at critical moments late. The Mavs had three reserves in double-digits – the Mavs believe they have the NBA's best bench – and Dallas improved to 4-1 when it has at least that many scorers with its second wave. Really, outside of turnovers – "Weird,'' Carlisle termed his team's problems in that area -- all the Mavs were especially sharp in a first half in which Dallas built an 18-point lead on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Mavs have won three in a row, but as has been the case so often for them over the last decade, they don't always finish up with blowouts. They have now played eight games in which the final score was within three points. That leads the NBA (and in those games, Dallas is 4-4.)
Does that serve as a learning experience for the Mavs?
"It would be better to win them by more and not get into overtime,'' Carlisle said. "Sometimes that's just how it goes. … But do we learn things? Sure.''
Portland is the same franchise that gave the Mavs fits in the first round of last year's playoffs, and the Blazers found a way to give Dallas a scare here, too. But for Portland it was all Aldridge, the big forward scoring 15 fourth-quarter points.
And for Dallas, it was all everybody.
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