Fourth-quarter blues (again) put Portland in 2-0 series hole
by: GLENN JAMES Dallas' Peja Stojakovich fires a shot over Portland's Gerald Wallace in Game 2 of their NBA playoff series.

DALLAS - Too much Dirk. Too much Kidd. Too much ...

Peja Stojakovic?

Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd were forces to be reckoned with, as usual, and Stojakovic was the X factor as Dallas took a 2-0 lead in its best-of-seven first-round playoff series vs. Portland with a 101-89 victory Tuesday night at American Airlines Center.

Nowitzki scored 14 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter and Kidd continued with his Ray Allen impersonation, raining in five 3-pointers en route to a second successive superb outing.

It was Stojakovic, though, who proved the Blazers' undoing, coming off the bench for 21 points in a performance reminiscent of his glory years with the Sacramento Kings.

Stojakovic, 33, came over from New Orleans in a trade deadline deal made to provide an extra shooter off the Dallas bench. The acquisition paid off Tuesday night as the 6-9 small forward sank 8 of 13 shots, including 5 of 10 from 3-point territory, and finished within a point of his season high.

'Peja was a great addition because he is still a great knockdown shooter,' said Nowitzki, who also had seven rebounds and four assists in his 38 minutes. The 7-foot German was 9 for 22 from the field but 15 for 17 from the foul line.

'Playing with Dirk, J Kidd and (Jason Terry), they draw so much attention on the floor that we can move the ball around and get good opportunities,' said Stojakovic, who averaged 8.6 points in 25 games with Dallas in the regular season.

It worked well as the Mavericks survived a slow start and broke open a tight game by outscoring Portland 28-17 in the fourth quarter.

The Mavericks took only a 73-72 advantage into the fourth quarter, but Nowitzki took over, much as he had in Game 1 when he'd scored 18 of his 28 points in the final period. Nowitzki had scored only four points in the first quarter and was 3-for-10 shooting at intermission.

'No matter what happens in the first half, you know they're going to go to him, play through him,' said Portland coach Nate McMillan, who considers Nowitzki the toughest matchup for an opposing defense in the NBA. 'With single coverage, you want to try to deny his catch. With (Stojakovic and Kidd) hitting their 3s, that made it tough to mix up the defense.

'Dirk is capable of shooting over the top, getting to the free-throw line and making you pay with the pass. He hurt us on double-teams a couple of times by finding Stojakovic on the weak side.'

Kidd, who had scored an uncharacteristic 24 points in the opener - he averaged a career-low 7.9 points on .360 shooting in the regular season - was expected to settle back into his distributor role Tuesday.

Not a chance. The 38-year-old point guard was aggressive again, sinking 7 of 11 shots, including 3 of 6 on 3-pointers, while scoring 18 points with eight assists, four rebounds and no turnovers in 33 minutes in Game 2. In the two games, Kidd has made 16 of 25 shots, including 9 of 16 from beyond the arc.

'Right now, Jason has his confidence,' McMillan said. 'He is looking for his shot. Normally he's a guy who is going to set up the offense. Now he's looking for that 3-ball. He's an unbelievable passer and floor general, and now that he's knocking down his shot, it makes him even more dangerous.'

The Blazers played better than they had in Game 1 at the offensive end. They shot .485 from the field, made half of their 14 3-point attempts and outscored Dallas 14-6 in fastbreak points.

LaMarcus Aldridge had his second straight outstanding performance, going for 24 points on 9-for-18 shooting, with 10 rebounds and three blocked shots. Gerald Wallace was much better, finishing with 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Andre Miller, too, had a big night with 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds with one turnover in 39 minutes.

Portland led by eight points early and was ahead 52-50 at halftime, but it seemed as if the lead should have been more. The Blazers shot .513 from the field and knocked down 4 of 7 from 3-point range, Aldridge already had 16 points and Nowitzki's shot wasn't falling.

The game was there to be had in the fourth quarter, but Dallas executed, Portland didn't. The Blazers made only 4 of 10 shots and turned the ball over six times in the quarter.

'In the fourth, they found their rhythm, got going,' Aldridge said. 'We had our chances to take the lead, but every time, we'd turn the ball over or make a big mistake, and they closed out the game.'

'Starting off that quarter, we had some (favorable) matchups,' McMillan said. 'We hurried a couple of those and turned the ball over, got a little too anxious, which led to transition (for the Mavericks). Down the stretch, the ball's going to be in Dirk's hands, and he made plays.'

Though Portland has averaged only 85 points and hasn't hit the 90-point mark in the first two games, 'it's not really our offense right now, it's our defense,' Matthews said. 'We're giving up too many easy baskets. They got 17 second-chance points, and we gave 15 points to Dirk at the free-throw line.'

The series returns to Portland for the next two games, beginning with Thursday's Game 3 at 7:30 p.m. at the Rose Garden.

'We're down,' Miller said. 'We have to get a win - just one win, that's all. That'll get us going.'

'Good teams take care of homecourt,' Aldridge said. 'That's what (the Mavericks) did. We were going to try to steal one.

'Now we have to take care of our homecourt. We have to be more solid down the stretch. We forced some things and had some big mistakes when it counted most.'

NOTES - Portland finished with 13 turnovers to six for Dallas - none in the second half. ... Dallas' bench outscored the Portland reserves 39-11, with Stojakovic and Terry (10) doing most of the damage. Nicolas Batum scored 10 points off the bench for the Blazers, all in the first half. Rudy Fernandez had one points and three rebounds in 11 minutes; Brandon Roy went scoreless, taking one shot in eight minutes. ... Wallace, intent on coming out aggressive, was all of that, making his first four shots and scoring 11 points in the game's first nine minutes. ... Matthews sank an 18-footer on Portland's first possession, but left the game after banging heads with Terry with 4:36 left in the first quarter. Matthews lay prone for a couple of minutes, attending to by Blazer medical staffers, and went to the locker room. He returned to the game in the second quarter and finished with 13 points in 36 minutes. 'I'm good now,' said Matthews, when asked if he'd been knocked unconscious. 'That's all that matters. I don't want to talk about injuries.' ... Dallas center Tyson Chandler drew a technical after flopping as Aldridge drove to the basket in the second quarter. There was no call, and Aldridge continued play, scoring on a layup.

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