by: CHRIStopher Onstott Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner, watches the second half from behind the team bench Thursday night at the Rose Garden.

For two games, things could not have gone better for Dallas.

But Thursday's 97-92 Trail Blazers win was enough to leave Mavericks owner Mark Cuban standing outside his team's locker room, shaking his head and cursing as he looked at the final stat sheet.

After seeing their lead in the best-of-seven playoff series cut to 2-1, the Mavericks conceded that they took the Rose Garden loss on the chin, rather than calling it a game they let slip away.

'They played well,' guard Jason Terry said of the Blazers. 'Give them credit. They played very well tonight. And the only reason I'm agitated was we didn't play our best.'

Terry and forward Dirk Nowitzki were the only Mavericks who scored in double figures. They had 29 and 25 points, respectively.

'It's going to be tough to win if we have two guys in double figures,' Nowitzki said. 'We all know role players play a lot better at home.'

Besides Terry, the Maverick bench - which was critical to the team's success in the first two games at Dallas - looked as if it had missed the flight to Portland. Peja Stojakovic scored seven points and Brendan Haywood and Jose Barea had six points each. That was it.

'(The bench) is very important from the very beginning, for 48 minutes,' Stojakovic said. 'We have to have a better start, and we've got to play better basketball at both ends of the floor.'

The Mavericks' lack of scoring off the bench Thursday was magnified by center Tyson Chandler playing limited minutes because of foul trouble. Chandler scored two points in 15:24 before fouling out with 7:24 remaining in the fourth quarter.

'We need Tyson on the floor,' coach Rick Carlisle said. 'His aggression is great for us, but there are some things we can correct there. He got a couple of fouls screening, and those are timing issues.'

Though visibly upset with the calls that went against him, Chandler refused to lighten his wallet by blasting the referees.

'I'm not going to go there,' Chandler said. 'I didn't understand it myself. Everyone who watched the game can make their own assessment of it. Obviously, I was frustrated, because I was on the sideline because of it.'

The Blazers took the game to the Mavericks early, going on a 10-2 run to start the game. Portland led by as many as nine points in the first quarter before Dallas cut the led to 28-23 to end the period.

'They really came out guns blazing and played well early,' Nowitzki said.

Throughout the first half, the Mavs had no answer for Wesley Matthews. The Blazer guard scored 22 of his team-high 25 points in the first half, including 16 in the first quarter.

'In the first quarter, he was shooting the hell out of the ball,' Maverick forward Shawn Marion said. 'We locked him up the second half, but he got it going early.'

A huge factor by game's end was the turnover ratio. Portland turned the ball over nine times compared to 16 Dallas turnovers.

'The big thing is, we know we've got to take care of the ball,' said veteran point guard Jason Kidd, who had five turnovers for the Mavs. 'They're long, so they got their hands on balls, and we were trying to make the right play. I came out and turned the ball over a couple of times, but that happens.'

Turnovers were not Kidd's only problem. After averaging 21 points in the first two games, the 38-year-old finally looked his age. Though he got numerous open looks at the basket, Kidd finished with just eight points, going 3 of 9 from the field.

'They might have done something different (defensively from the first two games), but when I was playing I didn't think they did anything different,' Kidd said. 'They were picking me up full court. I was open. I had some great looks, they just didn't go in tonight.'

Another factor was Dallas' struggle from the free-throw line, where the Mavericks made 13 of 23 shots (56.5 percent).

'We missed too many free throws,' Nowitzki said. 'I missed three of them.'

Away from the charity stripe, the game was a shooting gallery. The Blazers shot 48.0 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from behind the 3-point line. The Mavericks shot 51.5 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from beyond the arc.

'We can do better defensively,' Kidd said. 'But, you shoot 50 percent on the road you expect to have a chance to win, and we did.'

As the game progressed, the Blazers tried to deliver knockout blow after knockout blow, making several runs. The Mavericks were always there to counter and keep themselves within striking distance, though.

The lead changed seven times, with the Blazers going on top 54-52 at halftime and 75-72 at the end of the third quarter.

'We kept weathering the storm,' Nowitzki said. 'We kept hanging in there and gave ourselves a chance at the end to be in a position to strike. We just weren't sharp enough. But I'm actually happy how we just kept taking their blows and fighting back. I like the fight in us.'

The Mavericks began the fourth quarter ice-cold. They allowed the Blazers to go on a 12-2 run. Dallas cut the lead to 95-92 with 12.9 seconds remaining on a Kidd jumper from the corner that was ruled a 2-pointer by the officials. A review confirmed the call, though a TV replay showed that Kidd's feet seemed behind the line.

The Mavs just could not break through, though.

'They got enough stops,' Nowitzki said. 'We only scored 20 points. At home, we had bigger scoring in the fourth quarter and got to the line. That didn't really happen for us today.'

Dallas must regroup in Game 4 at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Rose Garden.

'This game is over with,' Kidd said. 'We've got to look at it and see what we can do to get better as a team. We're still up 2-1. Our job is to get a win. They protected (homecourt) tonight, and now we've got to find a way to win on Saturday.'

For Terry, a nice - and slightly out the ordinary - doughnut may help alleviate some of the pain from Thursday night's loss.

'I'm going to destroy that Voodoo Doughnuts when I get to it,' Terry said. 'I can't wait.'

As he munches down bacon maple bars, Terry won't be thinking about 'stealing' Game 4 from the Blazers.

'I wouldn't even call it stealing,' Terry said. 'I would call it taking control of the series. It's the next game on the schedule, and it's a game that we want to win. This is a team we're very familiar with at this point. This is a war of wills. Who wants it? Who wants to take control of the series, us or them?'

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