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BLAZER NOTES: McMillan lauds Fernandez's defense

by: SAM FORENCICH Rudy Fernandez of the Trail Blazers elevates for a short jumper over Dallas' Jose Barea during Game 3 of their Western Conference playoff series.

DALLAS - Off-day material as the Trail Blazers arrived on Easter Sunday in preparation for Monday night's Game 5 of their first-round playoff series with the Dallas Mavericks ...

• The mood of the coaches and players seemed business-like. Yeah, the hangover from Sunday's astonishing 84-82 victory hadn't gone completely. But already, the focus was on Game 5.

'We have to get to the next game,' Portland coach Nate McMillan said. 'Both teams have defended the homecourt. We know Game 5 is a very important game for both teams. (The Mavericks) are going to come out with a sense of urgency; we have to do the same.

'We won two in our building, so the momentum has shifted. We won and they lost. But we both know (Monday) is a different day, and you're going to have to come out and play.'

'We feel better (after winning Game 4), but I don't know if we have a lot of momentum,' power forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. 'Each game shifts, and we haven't won here. We all have to turn the page and start over.'

• The Blazers and Mavericks have split eight regular-season and postseason games, each team winning four times on its homecourt.

Dallas won 103-98 and 84-81 in the regular season, then prevailed 89-81 and 101-89 in the first two playoff games.

'We could have won all four,' Portland guard Wesley Matthews said. 'We don't have to make any major changes. Just keep doing what we've been doing, but finish the game out.'

Including playoffs, Dallas is 31-12 at home and 28-15 on the road this season. Portland is 33-10 (including two playoff games) at home and 18-25 away from the Rose Garden.

• Rudy Fernandez has not gotten untracked offensively in the series, scoring nine points on 2-for-11 shooting - 1 for 6 from 3-point range - while averaging 14 minutes a game.

But McMillan raved about Fernandez's play Saturday at the defensive end.

'Rudy was the difference in the game,' the Blazer coach said. 'His defensive pressure at the end of the third quarter and in the early fourth really got us going.

'Then Brandon (Roy) started to make some shots, but the pressure that got started from Rudy changed the momentum. We got out and got some easy baskets and got the crowd into the game. He did a really nice job.'

Fernandez is frustrated with his shooting, but said his confidence in his shot is 'still high.'

'You have good times, bad times; good times, bad times,' he said. 'Now it's the playoffs. I have to stay ready every moment.

'But I can make contributions at both ends for this team. I haven't had many shots, but I have to be strong, be aggressive, be ready to play defense.'

• McMillan is sending the same message to all of his players, including Gerald Wallace, who is shooting .385 while averaging 10.8 points, and Wesley Matthews, who scored 25 points in Game 3 but only 26 combined in the other three.

'What Rudy did is what all of our guys have to do,' McMillan said. 'Defend. Don't worry about the offense. The offense will come. Play within the system, and when you get your opportunity, take it. But don't allow your offense to affect your defense.'

• Fernandez said the Blazers' confidence 'has to be big.'

'We beat Dallas two times in a row, and the way we won the last game was unbelievable,' he said. 'Right now, (the Mavericks) have the pressure. If they lose this one, they are in big trouble.'

Matthews, though, was sounding more cautious.

'Coming off that win the way we did, yeah, we have momentum,' he said. 'But (the Mavericks) are at home. They're going to have their crowd behind them (Monday night). Momentum goes only so far.'

• The team stats for both Portland and Dallas are comparable with one exception - 3-point shooting. The Mavericks are 37 for 86 (.430) while the Blazers are 21 for 63 (.333).

'The bigger concern is not us making more 3s, but them making (fewer),' Aldridge said. 'We don't shoot a lot of them, but they live by the 3-ball. We have to contain that.'

'They shoot the 3-ball well, and they are a team that plays on the perimeter,' McMillan said. 'That is a concern. We have to defend the paint first, and then close out to their shooters better.'

• Dallas coach Rick Carlisle made a major tactical error at the end of Saturday's game.

Leading 84-82, Portland had the ball with 27.9 seconds to play and 23 seconds left on the shot clock. After a timeout, Carlisle chose not to foul.

Roy missed a 3-point attempt as the shot clock expired with four seconds left on the game clock. The Mavericks rebounded, but they wound up only with a rushed 3-point try by Jason Terry that missed badly as the game ended.

'It was my decision not to (foul),' Carlisle said. 'With a veteran team, the awareness we have and a four-second difference, I felt we could get the ball upcourt and get a look at the basket, which we did. Unfortunately, it didn't go in.'

Four seconds simply isn't enough time, especially since the Mavericks didn't have a timeout left to advance the ball to frontcourt. Carlisle should have instructed his players to trap and try to steal the ball, but once the Blazers had it in frontcourt, the Mavs simply had to foul to stop the clock.

• Dirk Nowitzki has shot nearly twice as many free throws as Aldridge in the series. The Dallas standout is 36 for 41 (.878). Aldridge is 17 for 20 (.850).

Aldridge, though, isn't about to lobby the referees for more equal treatment.

'Dirk gets fouled more than me, that's all that is,' Aldridge said, breaking into a grin.