Portland thinks it may have found secret to success against Mavericks

DALLAS Ñ Nobody is suggesting that the Trail Blazers will become the first team in NBA history to rally from an 0-3 deficit to claim a seven-game NBA playoff series.

But why not?

All Portland must do is win Wednesday's Game 5 in American Airlines Arena, return to even the series with a victory Friday night in the Rose Garden, then polish off the Dallas Mavericks on their home floor again Sunday.

A daunting challenge for coach Maurice Cheeks' lads, of course. Yet the Mavericks looked anything but invincible as Portland breezed to a 98-79 triumph Sunday in the Garden, preventing another postseason sweep of the Blazers.

'We are still in a hole, obviously,' Portland point guard Damon Stoudamire says, but the Mavericks 'have something to think about now.'

In Sunday's Game 4, Dallas came within one half of clinching the series and sending the Blazers on another early vacation. But they still play two halves in the NBA.

After Nick Van Exel's running 40-foot bank shot at the buzzer, Dallas led 52-49 at intermission. Portland then outscored the Mavericks 33-10 in the third quarter and breathed a little life into a team operating on life support.

'Getting swept would have been tough to swallow, no question,' Portland center Dale Davis says. 'We didn't want to go out like that. The series is not over until one team wins four games. Nobody has ever come back from 0-3 to win, but we can't worry about that. All we can do is take it one game at a time and build some momentum.'

Stoudamire remembers the last time Portland trailed 1-3 in a seven-game series Ñ against the L.A. Lakers in the 2000 Western Conference finals.

'We won games 5 and 6 by 20 points and were ahead in the fourth quarter of Game 7,' he says. 'There's no quit in us, I'll tell you that.'

Brave words from a representative of a franchise that is 1-10 in its last 11 playoff games. But at least there's another game to talk about.

Change in lineup works

With nothing to lose and three rotation players Ñ Scottie Pippen (knee), Derek Anderson (knee) and Arvydas Sabonis (back) Ñ out of commission, Cheeks mixed up his starting lineup, relegating Antonio Daniels to the bench and putting Zach Randolph alongside Davis and Rasheed Wallace in the frontcourt. Small forward Bonzi Wells moved to the backcourt with Stoudamire.

The move worked well against a Dallas team starting 7-footers Shawn Bradley, Raef LaFrentz and Dirk Nowitzki. And Randolph's debut as a starter was nothing short of sensational as the 6-9, 250-pound forward worked the middle for 25 points and 15 rebounds in a career-high 41 minutes.

'I think we messed with their heads a little bit,' says Randolph, at 21 one of the emerging inside talents in the game.

And Stoudamire offered another theory, one involving the 6-11 Wallace's inclination to do a majority of his work from the perimeter.

'Rasheed likes to shoot from the outside so much, Zach takes some pressure off him,' Stoudamire says. 'Zach likes to go down there and bang it up, and with him getting all those rebounds, Rasheed's getting six or seven doesn't stand out. Zach doesn't mind going in there and doing a little dirty work.

'Zach is so anxious when he plays, but that's good. He brings a youthfulness to this team we haven't had in a long time Ñ the way he plays the game, the way he is a ball magnet, the way he moves without the ball.'

The Mavericks went into Game 4 fully expecting to complete a sweep, and so did some of those who follow them.

'The Mavericks can start breaking down videotape of the Sacramento Kings,' wrote Eddie Sefko in Sunday's edition of the Dallas Morning News. 'Put the rainy Northwest in the rearview and get California in their sights. As for the minor detail known as Game 4 against the Trail Blazers, pay it no mind. When a playoff series becomes a walkover like this one, the victorious team can step back and take stock.'

Maybe the Mavericks were a bit full of themselves, too, though each of their three victories in the series wasn't decided until the fourth quarter.

'I definitely felt that from them,' Stoudamire said after Game 4. He also thought that Dallas coach Don Nelson 'tried to concede the game when we went up by 20 after three quarters, putting in all his subs, like 'We're not trying to win this.' '

Can Randolph do it again?

The Blazers must do several things to win Wednesday and bring the series back to Portland. Among them:

• Coax another big game from Randolph and get Bradley and LaFrentz in foul trouble again. Bradley has 20 fouls in the series and LaFrentz 17. When they are on the bench, Portland can rule the boards with ease.

• Get offense from several players as they did Sunday, with all five starters in double figures. Wallace is a complementary player, despite his $16.2 million salary and 'go-to' tag. When he can just drift outside, knock down a few 3-pointers and spend time imparting a little 'logic' on the referees, the weight of the world is off his shoulders.

• Take the ball to the basket. Portland has averaged 15.7 more trips to the foul line a game than Dallas in this series, a stunning figure even against a team that prefers to shoot from the outside. After shooting .487 from the field in the first three games, and a spectacular .458 (33 of 72) from 3-point range, the Mavericks didn't have it Sunday. They shot .373 from the field and .250 (5 of 20) from beyond the arc. In the second half, they made 11 of 40 shots (.275), which hardly allowed them to turn their attention to the next series just yet.

Dallas should be better prepared Wednesday. Backcourt mates Nash and Michael Finley won't be no-shows as they were Sunday, when they combined to make 3 of 16 shots and score seven points. Nash went scoreless for the second time all season.

Nowitzki has been brilliant in the series, shooting .533 from the field, .650 from 3-point range and averaging 34.8 points despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter in Game 4. He will need more help from Finley and Nash if the Mavericks expect to put a wrap on the Blazers in Game 5.

In NBA history, 67 series have started 3-0. Of those, five teams rallied before losing 4-2. Only two teams have managed a 3-3 tie before losing the series. The 1951 New York Knicks won three straight before losing Game 7 to the Rochester Royals in the league finals, and the 1994 Denver Nuggets went from 0-3 to 3-3 before falling to the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals.

There is a first for everything, though. In this zany season for the Blazers, it would be just like them to make a little history.

Notes: Anderson is out for the rest of the playoffs, and Pippen probably will be unable to play Wednesday. Sabonis will be a game-time decision. É Randolph totaled just 53 minutes, 15 points and 17 rebounds in the first three games of the series. É Sunday's win was the first in seven playoff games for Cheeks. 'I couldn't wait to get up here tonight,' Cheeks said as he jumped to the podium to answer questions from the media afterward. É After shooting 16 of 24 in his 45-point night in Game 2, Wells has made 9 of 37 shots in the last two games. É With only nine available players, Cheeks was forced into what amounted to a seven-man rotation Sunday, meaning 40-plus minutes for all starters except Davis. 'That played a role in the way some of our guys played, including myself,' Stoudamire says. 'We were able to get into a rhythm. It's great to go out there and know you're not coming out if you make a mistake. That way, you're not looking over your shoulder. This game ain't nothing but confidence.'

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