Blazers show playoff potential, knock off Mavericks

PORTLAND — Prior to the start of Thursday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks, Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan acknowledged that his team was playing for something extra.

With the playoffs approaching, each remaining contest for the Blazers carries extra weight. Particularly a matchup against the Mavericks, whose loaded roster has positioned Dallas as one of the elite teams in the top-heavy Western Conference.

“We can see the light now,” McMillan said before tipoff.

That light is shining a little brighter for Portland, following a 101-89 victory over the Mavericks at the Rose Garden before a sellout crowd of 20,611.

“We take tonight’s game and show that we can play with those guys that are ahead of us,” McMillan said after the win. “Tonight, that’s definitely a game that we needed desperately.”

LaMarcus Aldridge scored a team-high 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Blazers (43-29), while Andre Miller poured in 19 points and dished out a game-high 10 assists. Marcus Camby played his best game as a Blazer, recording 17 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.

“(Camby) was good,” Aldridge said. “I think that’s what I’m more excited about. Because he’s playing more like himself. Being aggressive, looking for shots, and making plays and making us better.”

With the victory, Portland moved into a tie with San Antonio for seventh place in the Western Conference playoff race. With 10 regular-season games remaining, Portland holds a five-game lead over ninth-place Houston and is just two-and-a-half games behind fifth-place Phoenix.

The Blazers are 8-2 in their last 10 games and 12-5 since the All-Star break.

Portland outscored Dallas 16-0 in fast-break points, and the Blazers shot 50 percent (40 of 80) from the field.

Caron Butler topped the Mavericks (47-25) with a game-high 25 points, but Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry were limited to a combined 9 of 27 from the field.

McMillan said Portland switched up its defensive scheme on the duo. Primarily, the Blazers applied extra pressure and kept the two away from their offensive strengths.

“We just did some things that we normally don’t do,” McMillan said. “You’ve got to be able to make those adjustments during the course of a game.”

The Blazers looked sharp from the start.

Running an aggressive offense that saw the team driving hard to the basket rather than settling for jump shots, Portland opened up a 25-16 lead late in the first quarter.

Camby and Aldridge combined for 17 of the Blazers’ first 30 points, and it was 32-27 Blazers heading into the second period.

Sixteen first-half points by Butler kept the Mavericks close.

But a much-improved Portland offense was the early difference. Out of the Blazers’ 24 first-half field goals, 17 came off assists.
Aldridge, Miller and Brandon Roy all reached double-digits in scoring by halftime, and Portland took a 60-54 advantage into the break.

The Blazers’ potential to wreak havoc during the playoffs was best captured during a five-second period early in the third quarter. After Portland forward Nicolas Batum leaped up to block a Dallas shot attempt. he sprinted down the court and filled a lane. As soon as he looked up, a crosscourt pass from Miller was on its way. Batum latched onto the ball, jumped toward the basket and slammed a shot home, making it 66-60 Blazers.

A running floater by Miller then made it 93-82 Portland with 6 minutes, 1 second to go.

“That’s a big game,” Miller said. “We definitely wanted to come out sharp and try to control the game early, and we were able to do that.”

Blazers owner Paul Allen released a statement concerning issues about the team’s management prior to the start of Thursday’s game.
Allen said the decision last Tuesday to fire Tom Penn, former vice president of basketball operations, was a top-level one made with good reason.
Allen said that he supports “everyone who works for me,” including general manager Kevin Pritchard, and that any future personnel decisions will be made after the 2009-10 season is complete.
“We all have the same goal,” Allen said. “To bring another NBA championship to the great fans of Portland.”

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