No defense against Dallas onslaught
Top item on the greaseboard in the Trail Blazers' locker room prior to their game against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night at Moda Center: "Take away 3-point attempts."
Good luck with that.
The Mavericks rained in 3's like there was no tomorrow in a 133-125 victory over Portland, a fray that was more one-sided than the final count indicated.
Dallas was 22 for 47 (.468) from beyond the arc, including 10 for 16 in the first quarter as the Mavericks raced to a 45-37 lead.
The Blazers were no slouch, either, knocking down 21 of 39 attempts (.521) in the game.
Together, the teams tied the NBA record for most 3's made in a game.
Portland was no match for Dallas, though, as the Blazers (19-27) lost for the 11th time in their last 16 outings.
The Blazers led once, at 3-2 after Damian Lillard drilled a 39-foot trey as the shot clock ticked down in Portland's first possession.
By halftime, the Mavericks (28-16) had extended their advantage to 78-63, and the difference was 25 points and 93-68 four minutes into the third quarter.
Portland used a 17-2 run to close within 93-85 late in the quarter. But the Mavericks hiked the margin back up to 119-101 with 6:29 remaining, and there was to be no miracle rally.
Luka Doncic — named earlier in the day as a starter in next month's All-Star Game — masterminded the Dallas attack with 27 points, nine assists and six rebounds. All nine Mavericks who played made at least one 3-pointer.
"They move the ball, they put it in Doncic's hands, let him make plays, let him play free out there, and he is surrounded by a lot of shooters," said Lillard, who followed his franchise-record 61-point performance against Golden State with a 47-point gem. "They made shots tonight."
The Blazers' offense was fine; they shot .505 from the field and scored more points than they had in all but five games this season. But they dug too big a hole against an opponent that leads the NBA in offensive rating.
"We competed much better, our urgency was much better in the second half," Lillard said. "But in the first half, we allowed them to play too comfortable.
"Seventy-eight points in the first half is allowing a team to build up too much confidence and rhythm, especially with the level that offense can play. It's putting ourselves at a tough position. It was an uphill battle in the second half. That first half really hurt us."
Lousy defense didn't help. The Mavericks scored 50 points in the paint, 14 second-chance points and 30 fast-break points. And oh, those 3's.
"They've proved over the course of the season they're the best offensive team in the league," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "They cause a lot of problems ... they can hurt you in a lot of ways."
The Blazers' work at the defensive end is hurting them in a lot of ways. They entered the game 26th in defensive rating and might fall a rung or two after Thursday's showing.
Moda Center denizens were left to enjoy the splendor that is Lillard's offensive game. The Blazers' veteran point guard scored fewer points but was more efficient than he was against the Warriors, sinking 16 of 28 shots from the field, 8 of 15 from 3-point range and 7 of 7 from the free-throw line.
Nobody in franchise history has scored 108 points in back-to-back games. Lillard was 33 for 65 from the field, 19 for 35 from the 3-point line and 23 for 23 at the foul line in those games.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle tried to send word to Lillard before the game that he was on Carlisle's All-Star Game ballot.
"He had my vote before he went for 47 on us," Carlisle said. "What an amazing player. He is virtually impossible to stop. He has an iron will, he's a great leader, and when he's on the floor they're hard to beat no matter what."
Lillard scored 16 points in the first half, then added 16 in the third quarter and another 15 in the fourth. He played 42 minutes, including all but the final 13 seconds of the second half.
"We get down 25 in the third quarter and he almost single-handedly got us back in the game," Stotts said. "He's done that before. When he does things like that, everybody believes that something's possible. We came up short, but he kept putting us in position to think we had a chance to win the game. That's what great players can do."
The other bright note for the Blazers was the performance of Trevor Ariza in his debut in a Portland uniform. The 6-8 small forward, acquired this week in a trade with Sacramento, scored a season-high 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including 4 for 6 from 3-point territory, and grabbed seven rebounds in 36 minutes.
"Ariza was terrific," Stotts said. "He can make shots, and he gave great effort defensively, and he had a tough assignment (Doncic). He's a welcome addition. It's obvious he knows how to play. He's going to help us."
"He played really well," Lillard said. "He was flying around, he was active, he made shots, he was aggressive on the offensive end. For his first game, he had a pretty good performance."
Ariza, on his 10th team in 15 NBA seasons, said it was fun to be on Lillard's side for once.
"When you're playing against him, it's like, 'This little dude's into everything.'" Ariza said. "When you're playing with him, it's like, 'Damn, he's really getting everything.'
"That's what he does. When you need a bucket, he'll definitely get a bucket, and we have a bunch of guys who can do that here."
Asked about how he felt he played, Ariza said, "I'm more of an 'I like to win guy' than how I played. So it means nothing, because we didn't win."
Lillard drew a technical as he left the floor in the closing seconds, ending a night of frequent discourse with the officiating crew of John Goble, Tre Maddox and Ray Acosta. Lillard was upset with a non-call of what he thought was a foul on a drive to the basket with about four minutes remaining.
"It is frustrating, man," he said. "It's a fast game, a tough game to call, but I do a reverse layup and a guy smacked me in the head. I asked the ref, 'How do you not make that call?' He told me, 'We all agreed you leaned into him.'
"That's an insult, man. He smacked me in the head. That's frustrating as hell. And then you get that type of explanation. If you miss the call, just say, 'I didn't see it.' Don't insult me like that."
Portland remains in 10th place in the Western Conference, percentage points ahead of Phoenix (18-26). Ariza hopes that can be turned around.
"This is a talented group that has been injured," he said. "That's probably why I'm here now, because they've had a lot of injuries. But they're pretty resilient. They've been fighting every game. They play hard every night. Hopefully, we can figure things out."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.