Dirk Nowitzki

Beating playoff-bound teams has been a problem all season for the Dallas Mavericks, but things tend to be easier when Dirk Nowitzki is having a good day, forcing overtime and then a 111-101 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Mavericks are looking for a way to improve, which might include adding Amare Stoudemire. Adding Rajon Rondo hasn’t paid off in the way they expected, including a bench that suddenly feels very empty. Rondo didn’t play, replaced by J.J. Barea as the Mavericks came away with the win in a wild game to claim only their third win this season against a team in the top 8 of the Western conference. They also did it while coming from behind.

The Blazers held a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter but were held to just 13 points as the Mavericks surged back to put themselves back in the game. A combination of giving Nowitzki favorable mismatches and some lazy playing on both end from the Blazers put the Mavericks within three. Monta Ellis dribbled down the clock on the Mavericks’ final possession and found Nowitzki right next to him, with the Blazers defense waking up too late to the danger. Nowitzki had no problem hitting the wide open three-pointer.

Damian Lillard, usually the king of crunch time and overtime had a chance to win the game for Portland but his shot, contested by a very good Devin Harris, bounced off the rim. It wasn’t a good day for the point guard, scoring 26 points but on only 7-of-19 from the field, turning the ball over five times. Portland turned the ball over 22 times and shot just 41.6% from the field. Their mistakes came at the wrong time, and once they started happening they couldn’t stop the flood.

Balance

Nowitzki led the Mavericks with 25 points. Chandler Parsons and Monta Ellis both scored 20 points, Devin Harris was excellent off the bench with 16. But with or without Rondo playing for them, the Mavericks need some help from the outside. A trade isn’t likely: They’ve given up all their trade-able assets by getting Tyson Chandler and Rondo. Now it’s up to free agency to help them. Amare Stoudemire might be bought out by the Knicks. Kevin Garnett is another name being thrown around. The Mavericks need some outside help to make this season about more than just making the playoffs.

Nowitzki is a special player, and will continue to be despite his age and his tiring legs. But counting on him or the team’s inconsistent defensive tenacity to carry them towards a championship or anywhere near that just doesn’t seem reasonable, and Rick Carlisle knows that. The man calling the shots from behind the scenes, Mark Cuban, knows that as well. A fun looking offense is fine, but there’s more to winning than looking good.

The Blazers understand that as well, but don’t expect any moves from them in an attempt to improve. Overall they’re better as a team than they were last season. But still they have a tendency to run a bit wild and lose control of the game. LaMarcus Aldridge is solid and consistent. The bench has improved and so has the defense. But if Damian Lillard can’t trim down on the number of bad shooting days he has, it’ll be another Conference semifinals at best.

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