Veteran's sore knee could give starting role to Stoudamire
DALLAS Ñ If the Trail Blazers expect Scottie Pippen to make a miraculous recovery and lead them to victory in Wednesday's Game 2 of their first-round playoff series with the Dallas Mavericks, they are likely to be disappointed.
Pippen, who underwent knee surgery in mid-March, didn't practice Monday and said he wouldn't have been able to play had Game 2 been Monday night.
'I'm not sure if I can go (Wednesday),' said Pippen, who was 2 of 8 from the floor and managed only five points and five assists in 32 minutes in Saturday's series-opening 96-86 loss. 'There is a lot of pain. It is like running on eggshells.'
Pippen returned for the final two regular-season games but said the injured knee needed more time to heal.
'We really couldn't wait,' he said. 'It was a challenge to try to get ready. (The knee) was probably going to break down sometime, but I had to try it.'
If Pippen isn't able to start, Damon Stoudamire probably will open the game for Portland at point guard.
There is no great mystery to what the Trail Blazers must do Wednesday night: control Dirk Nowitzki and be more effective against a Dallas defense that's about as well-regarded as the Iraqi army.
Portland was solid offensively in the opening 24 minutes of the first-round playoff series, shooting 55 percent Saturday en route to a 52-42 halftime lead. The Blazers' second unit of Damon Stoudamire, Jeff McInnis, Arvydas Sabonis, Zach Randolph and Ruben Patterson helped the Blazers outscore the Mavericks 31-19 in the second period.
But things weren't right in the second half for Portland, which made only 13 of 42 shots and wound up losing 96-86.
'We got very stagnant,' point guard Scottie Pippen says. 'We mostly just stood around.'
Dallas coach Don Nelson surprised everyone with a huge starting lineup featuring 7-6 Shawn Bradley, the 7-foot Nowitzki and 6-11 Raef LaFrentz, and it paid dividends.
Bradley blocked five shots in 26 minutes, limiting Portland to 38 points in the paint for the game. Sabonis and Dale Davis were ineffective offensively, and though Rasheed Wallace scored a team-high 26 points in 40 minutes, the Blazers did little damage inside.
'We have to change that,' Davis says. 'The key is taking the ball to the basket. We have to get to the free-throw line and put pressure on their front line.'
Coach Maurice Cheeks needs to get the 7-3 Sabonis more involved; Sabonis was 1 for 4 with three points and one rebound in nine minutes. Cheeks is concerned that the lead-legged Lithuanian will be a liability against the racehorse Mavericks, but Sabonis' savvy, passing and scoring abilities could prove a vital weapon.
Wallace, too, must go to the block more. It's a familiar refrain, but the 6-11 forward is one of the best in the game at scoring on the turnaround baseline jumper, and he even has a soft hook shot he rarely employs. Portland doesn't need him to cast seven 3-pointers Ñ as he did in the opener, making three.
The Blazers are at their best when they are scoring in transition. But they had only 13 fast-break points. That isn't enough. The break is fueled by rebounding, and the Blazers were dominant in that department only in the second quarter, when they outrebounded the Mavericks 15-6. The other three quarters, Dallas held a 34-33 advantage.
Pippen wasn't as bad in the opener as Derek Anderson, who had almost nothing to show for his 19 minutes: zero points on 0 for 3 from the field, with one rebound and no assists. Anderson, who averaged 13.9 points and was Portland's best 3-point shooter during the regular season, must give the Blazers something if they are to advance.
Then there is Nowitzki, who burned Portland for a franchise playoff record 46 points, 23 in each half. It was a point shy of the most ever scored against a Blazer team in the playoffs Ñ Charles Barkley tallied 47 for Phoenix in 1995. And it was devastating on a night when the other Mavericks weren't getting much done.
'We did a good job on their backcourt players, including Nick Van Exel off the bench,' McInnis says. 'But Dirk É I got tired of hearing his name (over the public-address system). Crazy thing is, I felt like we defended him pretty well a lot of the time, but he just took the game over.'
Cheeks used four players to defend Nowitzki Ñ Bonzi Wells, Wallace, Patterson and Pippen. Nothing worked. The German did much of his damage from the outside, limiting opportunities for Portland to double-team. Dallas worked the high pick-and-roll with Nowitzki and Steve Nash, and Nowitzki wound up with a lot of open shots.
'It is tough to defend because Nash is trying to get to the basket,' Pippen says. 'If you blitz (defensively), Nowitzki will show and get the ball. Anytime he gets the ball, he's going to be very effective.
'But it was ridiculous. We can't let anybody score that many. We have to be more assertive and make somebody else beat us.'
What the Blazers will likely do in Game 2 is work harder to keep the ball out of Nowitzki's hands. They would prefer not to have Wallace guard him, so it might wind up being Wells or Patterson. Both are considerably smaller than Nowitzki, which can create post-up opportunities. But the German star would prefer to do his damage from the perimeter.
Portland also could employ more zone defense.
'They have a lot of shooters, so I'm skeptical about playing a lot of zone,' Cheeks says. 'But it's something we are going to take a look at.'
The Mavericks feel as if they dodged a bullet. They won the opener with Nash having about as bad a shooting game (2 for 8) as he will have, with Michael Finley going 0 for 6 in the first half, and the bench contributing little. They now have to win only three times in the next six games, but they aren't counting on anything.
'The momentum in these series swings very fast,' Nelson says. 'I'm not reading too much into the first win.'
The Blazers know they let a big one get away.
'We felt like that was the most important game of the series,' McInnis says. 'We had the game in hand at the half. But we can't harp on it much. We win Game 2 and we are back on track. That's the way it is in a seven-game series.'
Notes: Commissioner David Stern was on hand for Game 1. Asked about Portland's season-long run of incidents involving its players, Stern responded: 'I read (owner) Paul Allen's words about his concern, and I would say to you, take it to the bank that next season is going to be different because Paul doesn't kid around. You are going to see an understanding from the players that people want to talk about basketball on the court, and not off the court. I don't want to be myopic on the subject, but I expect it to get better.' Sounds as if Stern expects Wallace, Wells, Patterson, Stoudamire, Zach Randolph and Qyntel Woods to be gone by next season. É Pippen, who missed 17 games after knee surgery, on the knee: 'It's not 100 percent, but this is the playoffs. You play through any pain or injury. I'll get better.' É The Blazers, who had planned to fly to Portland immediately after Game 1, wound up staying in Dallas after their plane had mechanical problems. Wells' postgame comments sounded ominous in light of that development: 'Being in another city for three extra days can spell nothing but trouble. It is better for us to get out of here.'