The Blazers are coming off their best win of the season, a 10-point road victory over the trigger-happy Houston Rockets on Wednesday night in which they held MVP frontrunner James Harden to 13 points (he is averaging a league-high 37.2 on the season).
Damian Lillard is questionable coming into Friday’s matchup at Dallas due to “upper respiratory illness” (fancy medical terms for the flu). I’d expect Terry Stotts to start Anfernee Simons in Dame’s place if he’s not ready to go, pushing Mario Hezonja into an expanded point-forward role in the second rotation.
Well, turns out he is good to go, so we won’t even have to worry about that.
At least Kristaps Porzingis is out for the Mavs, who come in winning their last three games (Sixers, @ Kings, @ Warriors).
Luka Doncic has been phenomenal since returning from injury after Christmas, posting a scorching stat-line of 27.8 points, 9.3 assists, and 10.2 rebounds per game. He’s putting together the profile of a future MVP, and number crunchers (such as the ones at FiveThirtyEight) are losing their minds over some of his performances.
The Blazers are wearing their city edition uniforms (the “Rip City” ones) tonight, as are the Mavericks (their horrendous graffiti-inspired blue ones).
One player I’m eager to watch tonight—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—is Anthony Tolliver. In his last three games, Tolliver has had 7, (a season-high) 16, and 8 points as a big bench contributor. He also added 11 rebounds in those two former games.
One guy I’m keeping an eye on for the Mavs is Maxi Kleber, who’s been suggested as a possible trade target for Portland as the trade deadline approaches. The 6-10, 240-lb German is currently averaging 9.1 points and 5.4 boards in 24.9 minutes per game this season, along with a 59.7 eFG% and 87.3 FT%.
The Blazers jumped out to 7-0 and 14-3 leads in the first quarter behind a team effort of scoring.
Whiteside had two big blocks on Luka, but that didn’t stop the two-point guards from throwing haymakers back and forth —Doncic hit his first four threes, while Dame started 4/5 from the field and 3/3 from deep.
Melo became the 18th player in NBA history to hit 26,000 points with a free throw in the first. He’s second on the list of active all-time scoring leaders behind some dude named LeBron James.
Whiteside picked up his second personal foul with five minutes left in the quarter, but he stayed in the game temporarily.
By the second timeout of the quarter, Portland had allowed Dallas to take the lead back through careless fouls, including two defensive three seconds calls.
Portland’s offense flourished early. There was plenty of fluid cutting, passing(!!!) and finishing that allowed the Blazers to get to the rim for a bunch of layups.
Despite the decent defense by Portland, we still trailed 38-37 at the end of the quarter.
Anthony Tolliver showed some great help defense on two straight possessions.
Kleber-watch: Big man had a smooth three from the corner in the first and a big block on Ant in the second.
Melo’s blatant off-ball offensive foul gave Dallas possession on Portland’s first turnover of the game, which Jalen Brunson punished with a three.
Unfortunately, fouls were a common first half trend for us:
CJ left the game after hobbling off the court, going back to the locker room. He landed on Maxi Kleber’s foot pretty awkwardly.
Portland’s scoring slowed, but Dallas’ didn’t. All of a sudden, Jalen Brunson had 11 points, the Mavs had a 10-point lead, and Doncic was reentering the game after sitting about a whole quarter. Ugh.
Whiteside got called for offensive AND defensive three seconds in the span of, like, four possessions. All the confidence was being sucked out of the Blazers with a fancy reusable straw.
Lillard kept doing his thing, though. Dame had 25 points in the first half after passing the 14,000-point mark. Fitting, considering he was the only healthy ideal starter remaining. He was in his bag around the rim, absorbing lots of contact and still finishing on nearly every drive.
With about a minute left in the first half, ESPN’s Chauncey Billups started noticing what Blazers Twitter had been up in arms about: the refereeing. Please inject this national respect for Damian Lillard directly into my veins.
Melo had a solid first half as well, contributing a much-needed 14 points on 4/6 shooting.
Dallas’ Hardaway and Brunson were really killing Portland in the first half. Together they went 8/11 (3/3 from deep, 5/5 from the line) with24 points. Oh, also, Luka had six threes and 23 points at the break.
With CJ being ruled out for the rest of the game at halftime, Portland knew they would have to lean on Dame even more than they already were, although he only had seven in the third.
Portland opened the second half with two turnovers and two missed threes before Hezonja was able to tip home a Whiteside… shot? Side note: in soccer, the term “shross” (shot/cross) is fairly common. Whatever Hassan was trying to do there can only be described as a “shob” (shot/lob).
A couple possessions later, Luka elbowed Whiteside in the face during a Eurostep that was called as a very questionable flagrant, but Whiteside missed both the free throws and the Blazers didn’t score anyway, so it evened out.
Whiteside was at the center of attention twice more:
- He fought hard for a great board, but then inexplicably tossed the ball to the Mavs with two or three teammates right next to him.
- He successfully contested a Doncic jumper but probably fouled him a bit by clanging into him afterwards. No foul was called, and Luka was asking the refs about it at the next timeout.
Dallas flirted with a double-digit lead throughout the third, with Hardaway scoring five points in two possessions to bring the lead to 13.
One thing that did go right for the Blazers was getting in the bonus with six minutes left in the quarter. Dame scored his 30th point a possession later.
Props to Bazemore for really trying to distribute the ball on offense. His buzzer-beater three cut the lead to single digits going into the fourth.
Unfortunately, Hardaway was still firing on all cylinders on the other end, scoring 15 in the third quarter alone.
Carmelo’s jumper opened up the fourth for his 20th point and a 14-4 Portland run. The Blazers were within seven. He missed his next two shots, though, and Stotts called time after Dallas took an 11-point lead.
At the start of the quarter, Portland’s offensive gameplan was pretty clear: get the ball to Melo and get out of the way. Despite this, it was Bazemore’s three from the wing that cut the lead to six with Dame still resting.
Kleber-watch II: can’t guard Melo (I mean, who can?), missed wide open layup, drained the wide open three mentioned above.
Whiteside had a strong block on defense before finishing a Dame pick-and-roll with a spinning hook in the lane, bringing the Blazers within four at the 7:15 mark.
His chemistry with Lillard wasn’t done; he finished a great pass out of a double-team from Dame.
Two nitpicky fouls in one possession from Tolliver on Doncic followed.
Weirdess ensued on the other end, as Whiteside fouled Kleber on a rebound attempt. It was initially ruled as a common foul and Kleber made the most of it, but the call of a loose ball foul was upheld, bringing delight to Blazer fans everywhere (and Chauncey). It did put Dallas in the bonus, though, and Kleber’s second foul shot made the lead seven again.
Tolliver matched Seth Curry‘s three, but the former Blazer’s floater and 16th point kept a five-point cushion intact with four minutes left.
Both teams kept scoring. With Melo ready to check back in, Whiteside met Hardaway at the rim but was called for a very iffy foul. Stotts challenged it…successfully! The jumpball was won by Whiteside.
All of a sudden, neither team could score, despite bonehead turnovers by each side. Hardaway finally missed a shot, but Doncic scored on back-to-back possessions to ice the game. Welp.
In the end, Luka went 8/12 from behind the arc and and scored 35 points. Dallas covered the 7.5-point spread to bury what was truly a valiant effort by the Blazers.
Well, that was kinda fun, albeit stressful and disappointing. My conclusions from this game are as follows:
- Luka’s gonna win MVP. Soon. If the Beard and Freak cool off, maybe it’s this season.
- Dallas is legit. They’re kinda built like the Rockets sometimes, where they space the floor and let Luka do his thing. I think that’d be fun to see in the playoffs.
- The Blazers really really really really really really really need CJ to be OK.
The Blazers will play at the Oklahoma City Thunder tomorrow night at 6pm PT.