Portland could see Dallas again - in first round of playoffs
by: JAIME VALDEZ Trail Blazer center Marcus Camby gets behind Ian Mahinmi and the Dallas Mavericks defense for a layup in Sunday's Portland home win.

The Trail Blazers had their way with the Dallas Mavericks in a not-as-close-as-it-sounds 104-96 victory Sunday night at the Rose Garden.

Portland (45-33) led almost the entire way and was on top 95-74 with eight minutes remaining in rolling to its eighth consecutive home victory. The win squared the season series with Dallas at 2-2. That's an interesting fact because, if the postseason were to begin Monday, the No. 3 Mavericks would face the No. 6 Blazers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

The Blazers say they weren't looking at Sunday's matchup as a statement game, however.

'The playoffs are at another level,' said guard Rudy Fernandez, who provided a spark off the bench with 11 points and three assists on the day before his 26th birthday. 'If we play Dallas, for sure we won't see them play like this.'

Fernandez was right about that. Dallas (53-24) was without center Tyson Chandler, ruled out just before gametime with a back injury suffered during a Tuesday loss at Golden State. The Mavericks, playing their fourth game in five nights, looked tired and, at times, disinterested.

'It's not about trying to match up with anyone,' said Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge, whose 18 points and eight rebounds came in 35 minutes of duty. 'It's about winning games, finding a rhythm down the stretch and just getting to the playoffs.'

The Blazers, battling New Orleans and Memphis for the sixth spot in the West, looked sharp throughout Sunday's contest, shooting .534 from the field and .840 from the foul line while getting double-figure scoring from six players.

'That was a good game,' Aldridge said, 'from start to finish.'

'Defensively, we made (the Mavericks) work,' Portland coach Nate McMillan said. 'The execution on the offensive end was really good - recognizing the mismatches and going to them right away.'

Gerald Wallace led the way with 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting and had eight rebounds, three assists and three steals in an all-around performance Blazer fans are getting used to.

In his second game since moving to a bench role, Nicolas Batum was outstanding, providing stifling defense along with 15 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals in 35 minutes.

'The best thing is, he hasn't dropped off' in production," McMillan said. 'He has been better, actually, on both ends of the floor. He is defending and he is scoring, and we have been able to take advantage of some matchups with him. He has been really solid in that role these last two games.'

Portland opened things up late in the second quarter and roared into halftime with a 61-46 lead. Aldridge had 14 points and five rebounds, and the Blazers shot .611 from the field through intermission.

The Mavericks were within 76-65 late in the third quarter when Fernandez keyed a 9-0 Portland run with two great plays. First, he tipped a Shawn Marion pass, chased it down as it was heading out of bounds and baseball-passed the ball to Wallace for a fastbreak layup. Then Fernandez drove around Jose Barea for a resounding dunk that put the Blazers on top 85-65 late in the period.

It was the Mavericks' third straight loss, at least a minor concern with the playoffs just two weeks away.

'No excuses,' Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. 'Our first half was poor. We battled back in the second half, but (the Blazers) were better tonight.'

'We have to get back to doing what we do on both ends of the floor,' said Dallas guard Jason Terry, who made only 1 of 6 shots while scoring four points in 26 minutes off the bench. 'Obviously you don't have Tyson out there, who is a big part of what we do. We're not very good without him.'

McMillan didn't want any part of a question dealing with the Mavericks being a favorable matchup in the playoffs.

'They were missing Tyson,' said the Blazer coach, choosing his words carefully, 'but we can put some guys on some of their guys. But it's a tough matchup.'

NOTES - Portland's next action is at home Tuesday night against Golden State. ... Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki scored 16 points on 5-for-12 shooting while teammate Jason Kidd went scoreless, missing all six of his shots. Marion led the visitors with 19 points. ... The Blazers have won five of their last eight meetings with Dallas, which had won 17 of the previous 20 contests between the teams. ... Portland scored 38 points in the second quarter, matching its high for any quarter this season.

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