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Nategate? Let's not get carried away

Blazers need to concentrate on Game 2, not officiating

DALLAS - Let's deflate Nategate before it gathers any more steam.

After Saturday's Game 1 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Portland coach Nate McMillan cast aspersions on the referees for what he perceived as one-sided officiating.

Stu Jackson, the NBA's vice president/basketball operations, will probably weigh in on Coach Mac's comments by lightening his wallet. (The league fined McMillan $35,000 on Monday.).

The facts would seem to support McMillan's argument. Dallas was 25 for 29 at the foul line, including 18 for 19 in the fourth quarter. Portland was 9 for 13 and had only two attempts in the final period. All this despite the Blazers holding a 46-18 advantage in points in the paint - 30-2 in the second half.

The Mavericks 'were aggressive, and we did foul some,' McMillan said after some reflection Sunday. 'A lot of those early fouls were close. Wesley (Matthews) picked up two touch fouls (in the first 3 1/2 minutes).

'We were aggressive, but we didn't get some of the calls. We didn't get to the free-throw line.'

The complaints don't pass this reporter's eyeball test. Sure, there were a couple of fouls that could have been called on Dallas. And there were a couple of ticky-tacky fouls whistled on the Blazers. I didn't see enough of them, though, to make me think they were getting hosed, even with the free-throw disparity.

Though the Mavericks scored only two points in the paint in the second half, they weren't making many baskets, period. They went 11 minutes of the half without one, in fact. But Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry were taking the ball to the bucket - and getting fouled - in the game's closing moments. Those plays don't count in points-in-the-paint statistics.

'All those fouls were in the paint,' Dallas guard Jason Kidd said. 'Dirk goes backdoor twice and gets fouled. It wasn't like we were shooting jump shots and they were fouling us. A lot of that was going to the basket.'

NBA coaches often begin posturing about the officiating after losing Game 1 of a series. Phil Jackson rarely loses a Game 1, but when he does lose a game, the Laker coach is quick to point out purported inequities of the system.

I don't blame McMillan for feeling the way he does, or for working the referees through the media. Maybe it will help the Blazers through the remainder of the series.

I'd rather see Nate focus on in-game decisions, though, that can make the difference between winning a game and losing.

McMillan's game plan was to take advantage of Portland's size advantage at several positions.

In the second quarter, 6-3 Andre Miller posted up Dallas' 5-11 J.J. Barea on successive possession, after which Dallas coach Rick Carlisle removed Barea from the game.

Portland's Nicolas Batum, who is 6-8, went at Dallas' 6-2 Jason Terry twice in a short span in the second in post-up situations. Brandon Roy, at 6-6, did the same thing against Terry a couple of times, though the shots didn't fall.

'We wanted to attack those guys,' Roy said. 'Whoever Jason and J.J. were guarding, our goal was to exploit that matchup.'

That was all good. I wasn't as impressed with McMillan's use of Marcus Camby and Wesley Matthews.

Camby was as much a force Saturday night as he has been in any game during his season-plus as a Blazer. He pulled down 18 rebounds - one shy of his career playoff high - scored four points, had five assists and two blocked shots and was a defensive presence the Mavericks had to be aware of every time they entered the key area (notice how nobody ever calls it the 'key' anymore?).

So Camby leaves the game with 10:44 remaining, and never returns? What's that about?

McMillan said the Blazers' smaller lineup - LaMarcus Aldridge, Gerald Wallace, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez and Brandon Roy (Andre Miller came in for Fernandez six minutes later) - was doing such good things, he didn't want to mess with it.

Camby may be a liability on offense, but he's a major factor on the boards and at the defensive end. Maybe he'd have blocked a shot or two in the closing minutes. Maybe he'd have prevented an offensive rebound by the Mavericks.

After missing the final 8:19 of the first quarter with two fouls, Matthews was a forgotten man on the Blazer bench. Portland's No. 2 scorer during the regular season wound up playing 19 minutes, taking three shots, scoring two points, grabbing one rebound, dishing no assists.

On Sunday, McMillan admitted Matthews got 'lost in the rotation' after being removed from the lineup. I'm not sure if the coach was fessing up to sort of forgetting about his second-year shooting guard, but I got that impression.

That can't happen. Matthews needs to be on the court, slashing to the basket, spotting up and knocking down his 3-point shot.

Roy got most of Matthews' minutes, playing 26, including 14 in the second half. Roy hit his first shot, a 10-footer over Terry, late in the first quarter, then missed six in a row. Roy finished with two points, two rebounds, three assists and four fouls - and he's not the defender that Matthews is.

'Brandon was able to create some offense,' McMillan explained. 'He didn't make his shots, but he had matchups. He missed some shots creating opportunities. (The Mavericks) weren't double-teaming much, so you have to have someone who can create. LaMarcus, Miller, Gerald and Brandon are the guys we look to create those matchups. He had matchups against Terry, which we want to take advantage of.

'He missed those shots. He goes 1 for 7. If he knocks down those shots, it's a different story.'

I understand McMillan's thinking. If Roy has a smaller defender on him, he can back him down and score. Plus, Roy is a proven player in the clutch, in the playoffs. And opponents have to pay attention to him, because he's still capable of doing some damage.

But there's no getting around it. Roy isn't Roy anymore. And Saturday night, his shot wasn't falling. When that's the case, Matthews needs to be in the game.

This is still a series that feels as if it can go seven games. Bellyaching about officiating is probably not going to help that happen. Having the right players on the floor might, though.

Asked about McMillan's appraisal of the officiating in Game 1, Carlisle bristled a bit.

'You're asking me if the coach's comments will influence the officials?' he asked. 'Officials are going to make every effort to make the calls that are there. Our officials are the best in pro sports, and they have the toughest job.

'Our job is to make sure we're as aggressive as possible and that we play our game as well as we can. If you want to get into a debate on officiating, well, plenty of calls could have gone the other way as well.'

Consider this: Nowitzki took 16 shots in the first three quarters and, despite some pretty physical defense by the Blazers, didn't shoot a free throw. He finished 13 for 13 at the line, all in the game's final 10 minutes.

I have to believe there was no conspiracy involved. I'm pretty sure the referees weren't out to screw the Blazers. They did a decent job, actually. Let's extinguish Nategate and move on to Tuesday's Game 2.