I don't think it's any big deal, on the surface, that the Trail Blazers are down a game to the Dallas Mavericks. Portland eventually needs to win a game in Texas, but nobody said it had to be the first one.

The big problem is that the Blazers lost a game they could have won, and you don't like to fritter away road-win opportunities in the postseason.

And I also wonder about the damage the game may have done to a few of those fragile Blazer egos.

Once again, Maurice Cheeks' 'coaching' left plenty to be desired. Obviously, it would be a problem for any coach to have too many players who need long minutes and to have too few role players. But for Cheeks, it's a severe handicap.

He's like a 4-year-old with too many Christmas presents Ñ he likes the one he's looking at and sometimes forgets about the others.

Cheeks has just not been able to settle on any kind of substitution rhythm or pattern for much of the season, and under the microscope of the postseason it's a bigger problem.

Inconsistent playing time means inconsistent play. I don't think this is a revolutionary concept, outside the noggin of Maurice Cheeks.

Saturday night in Dallas, Cheeks got terrific play off the bench from Damon Stoudamire and Jeff McInnis. He didn't stay with Derek Anderson very long and played Scottie Pippen way too much Ñ considering Pippen may still be struggling with knee problems. (Danny Ainge called him 'Pippi Longstocking' because of that long compression stocking on his leg.)

Ruben Patterson thought he should have played more and, I'm sure, so did Anderson. And why is Arvydas Sabonis getting all those millions if he's just going to play nine minutes in a playoff game?

I'd like to say that only Cheeks knows, but that's too easy. Cheeks doesn't know, either. He hasn't all season. He plays hunches more than he plays players. And, I presume, he plays whomever General Manager Bob Whitsitt tells him to play.

But back to Saturday night.

Getting great bench play from role players is a wonderful thing for an NBA team. But the Blazers don't have traditional role players. They have a whole bunch of guys who think they're starters.

They have about eight players, including a couple of starters, who want more playing time than they get. So when one of them comes off the bench and plays well, or doesn't get more than a few minutes of time, or doesn't play at all (what did Antonio Daniels do to earn zero playing time?), you've got problems.

The ones who play well want to start or want more minutes. The other ones want more time and tell you they need it, in order to play their best. And usually, they'd be correct when they say that. But there simply aren't enough minutes to go around for that many players.

You end up with disgruntled players who won't do a lot of public grumbling if the team is winning. But as they move toward playoff elimination, you'll hear their voices getting pretty shrill.

This, by the way, isn't exactly a prescription for playoff success.

That said, the Mavericks didn't distinguish themselves in the opening game. At times, they were very timid on the boards and had a few players running away from open shots. I mean, what's up with Steve Nash? He's got to be more of an offensive force than that if Dallas is going anywhere. Sure, Dirk Nowitski scored a lot of points, but Shawn Bradley saved the Mavs with his inside intimidation and timely rebounding.

Normally, I'd say that the Blazers need to snap that playoff losing streak immediately and get on track with a win Wednesday night at Dallas. But this Portland team is anything but normal.

Just as you can never count on this Trail Blazer bunch, you probably wouldn't want to count them out too early, either. Particularly against the shaky Mavericks, who may need the full seven games and a boatload of 3-point field goals to cancel out the Blazers' obvious advantages on the boards and on defense.

Dwight Jaynes' sports talk show airs from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays on KPAM (860 AM).

Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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