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Tag:2011 WC Playoffs
Posted on: April 30, 2011 4:00 pm
Edited on: April 30, 2011 5:40 pm
 

Series Preview Grizzlies-Thunder: Lightning flash

Posted by Matt Moore




I. Intro

Well, that was exciting, wasn't it? The 8th seed without a single playoff win coming in knocking off the 1 seed with championship history? Great drama. But that's over with. And now the Grizzlies have to turn around and face a Thunder team that took care of its first-round opponent in impressive fashion and has had plenty of time to rest. And by "turn around," I mean literally turn around and head for the airport. After what was likely a pretty raucous celebration on Beale Street Friday night, the Grizzlies will head to Oklahoma City Saturday in advance of a noon tip Sunday. The Thunder will be the heavy favorites. They have the recognized names. They have more experience (slightly). And they're supposed to contend for a title. Basically, everything is stacked against the Grizzlies. 

What else is new?

II. What happened? A Look at the Season Series

Believe it or not, the Grizzlies went 3-1 against the Thunder this year. That's right, the Grizzlies beat the Thunder three to one this season, with a win coming even after the Kendrick Perkins' trade. Most notable was a February tilt where the Grizzlies had played in Memphis against the Lakers and lost the night before. On the second night of a back to back, Memphis went into OKC, in their first game without Rudy Gay (after suffering the shoulder injury vs. L.A. the night before, and beat the Thunder. Tony Allen scored 27 points in that game. Weird things happen.

The consistent themes in the season series were what you'd expect. Zach Randolph and Kevin Durant went off. For two teams that stress defense so much, this wasn't a slugfest. It was a moderate-pace series with high offensive production.  The Grizzlies had a 111.6 offensive efficiency against the Thunder in the four games. That's high. The Thunder haven't been a great defensive team this season and the Grizzlies took advantage of it. The one Grizzlies loss? Kevin Durant dropped 40. 

III. The Easy Stuff: Kevin Durant Will Get His

Kevin Durant is the NBA's scoring leader. So yeah, he's pretty good. And he's going to get his in this series. The Grizzlies will have a similar approach against him as they had against Manu Ginobili. Tony Allen and Shane Battier will both spend time on him. And it won't really matter.  Durant averaged 28.9 points against Allen, shooting 49 percent.  But against Battier, he scored "only" 23.4 points per game, still on 49 percent shooting. Durant is going to draw fouls on Tony Allen, he's going to blow past Shane Battier. He's the best pure scorer in the NBA right now, and he is relentless. The Grizzlies don't have the help defense to shut him down.  He'll get looks from the perimeter. He'll get to the line. He'll get buckets. The question will be if he can go off for 30+ consistently against tough individual defense, which will force the Grizzlies to bring help, opening up opportunities for his teammates. It's not a matter of whether Durant will dominate, it's how and how much. 

IV. Secret of the Series: Just How Good is Kendrick Perkins?

Very good, is the answer to that question. But Perkins is still coming back from serious knee surgery. And he's going to be facing an extremely tough matchup along with Serge Ibaka. Perkins will likely spend the most time against Marc Gasol. Perkins is known as the guy who stopped Dwight Howard, but Gasol is a different type player. Not as athletic or explosive, obviously, but a legit seven-footer with good touch inside and most importantly, a big, burly body that can hammer in the post. 

Serge Ibaka versus Zach Randolph is all sorts of interesting. Randolph struggles against extremely long defenders, which Ibaka definitely fits the bill. But Ibaka can get worked by good post moves, which Z-Bo has, oh, about a billion of. Randolph hooked-and-shook Antonio McDyess, Tim Duncan, and DeJuan Blair, but Ibaka's going to be a younger, tougher matchup. On the other end of it, though, Ibaka's amped-up, emotion-fueled play is going to get frustrated because Randolph? He just scores. By hook or by crook, the guy gets it done, and leaves you wondering how he did it. 

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: Memphis Can't Handle the Pressure

Are you kidding me? The Grizzlies just faced down the 1 seed Spurs. They walked into San Antonio, took Game 1, and haven't lost a home game yet. The only thing that made it a six-game series was a shot even Manu Ginobili deemed "lucky." This team isn't going to be intimidated by any environment, any stakes. After winning their first playoff game ever, then their first playoff game in Memphis? Shane Battier said they're playing with house money. There's zero pressure on the Grizzlies. But how they respond to that is by attacking. 

We're going to be seeing something in this series that should give the NBA and its Board of Governors pause. The crowds will be insane in both houses in this series, in small-market cities that many say don't deserve teams. That insanity is going to fuel cash registers through merchandise, concessions, and season ticket packages. Maybe take a look at how good teams with great fanbases can be instead of teams in high-cost-of-living areas. 

VI. The Line-Item Veto:

PG: Mike Conley held his own against a discombobulated Tony Parker. Russell Westbrook has a chip on his shoulder after a frustrating and disappointing series against the Nuggets. Westbrook will likely see Tony Allen quite a bit, while Conley will have Westbrook attack his dribble to create turnovers. This is a huge advantage for the Thunder... if  Westbrook gets his decision making right. 

SG: Tony Allen thinks he can do too much on offense. But he can produce, and did against the Thunder this year with his season high. Thabo Sefolosha isn't asked to do too much, and he doesn't. But he's a capable defender who will neutralize a lot of the Grizzlies' perimeter opportunities. James Harden and O.J. Mayo is a matchup of two USC guys who can score and who can disappear. That matchup is going to be way bigger than people think. A big swing-vote player in this series? Sam Young, who is really a G/F who can attack at times and then get lost in ISO offense (a more polished Tony Allen, really). 

SF: Durant. Durant Durant. Durant Durant Durant Durant. Kevin Durant. 

PF: Hey, Ibaka is a really fun player. Z-Bo is an All-Star worthy player who just took out the Spurs nearly on his own. Gotta give Z-Bo the nod here. 

C: Call it a wash. Perkins' technique and toughness versus Gasol's size and muscle. 

Bench: The Grizzlies, all of a sudden, have a pretty good bench. Nick Collison versus Darrell Arthur is going to be a fun one to watch, with Nazr Mohammed in there for good measure. Mayo is dangerous but has yet to really go off, though he's been more of a playmaker in the playoffs. The Thunder have a solid bench, but not enough to make this a clear advantage. It's close. 

Coaching: No one expected either of these interim coaches to make it this far, nor to be this good. They both get their teams, and connect with their players. They've both made impressive adjustments in the playoffs. They're both former players with the respect of their organizations, players, and fans. This will be a great matchup. 

VII. Conclusion

Everything points towards a long, tough series. The matchups are actually pretty even. The Thunder have some holes no one is focusing on, and the Grizzlies are really good at exploiting those. The Grizz are over their heads, but playing without pressure. They have some legit stars, but not like OKC does. It looks like it'll be a great series. 

But Memphis... can't possibly... do it again... can they? 

We're going Thunder in five, because of the first game being Sunday at noon, a little over 36 hours from the Grizzlies' biggest game in franchise history. That sets a tone for the series. But as to whether we feel good about it? Well, ask the Spurs. 
Posted on: April 29, 2011 5:12 am
 

Grading the series: Mavericks top Blazers in 6

Grades for the key players in the first round NBA playoff series between the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks. Posted by Ben Golliver.
dirk-roy

The Dallas Mavericks finished off the Portland Trail Blazers 103-96 in Game 6 in Portland's Rose Garden. Here are grades for both the Mavericks and Blazers.

DALLAS MAVERICKS

Dirk Nowitzki: Dallas' All-Star forward didn't shoot all that well from the field, but Portland still never found an answer for him. Why? Because he lived on the free throw line, particularly late in games, averaging 10.5 free throw attempts over the six games. All those freebies bolstered his scoring number: a dominant 27.3 points per game in a slow-down series. He was the clear winner of his match-up with LaMarcus Aldridge and he was huge in Dallas' fourth quarter close out on the road in Game 6. He will need to shoot better from the field for the Mavericks to upset the Lakers, but he was money when it mattered in round one.

Grade: A-

Jason Terry: Like Nowitzki, there's room for improvement for guard Jason Terry, who started slowly in the series as guard Jason Kidd and wing Peja Stojakovic both handled the early secondary scoring burden for the Mavericks. But, also like Nowitzki, Terry was big when it mattered most, finishing with 22 points in Game 6, including a number of huge shots, and playing excellent defense as well. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle singled him out for praise for the job he did containing and pressuring Brandon Roy, who was a virtual non-factor in the deciding game after carrying Portland to its two victories in the series. Terry knows he will need to get off to better starts against the Lakers but he sounded amped for the next round to begin.

Grade: B+

Rick Carlisle: His team was favored heading into the series so Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle isn't likely to be showered in praise. He should be, though, as his team made all the necessary adjustments as this series unfolded. The Mavericks eliminated easys buckets for LaMarcus Aldridge, forced the Blazers to hit three-pointers, limited their turnovers and remembered to run their offense late. He threw wrinkles at the Blazers by mixing up his defensive assignments and was able to get production from his bench even though J.J. Barea had a forgettable series and Terry was a bit up and down. Most of all, he kept things together after a giant momentum swing following Portland's dramatic come-from-behind Game 4 win. A much bigger test awaits in Los Angeles, but he aced this one.

Grade: A

Overall grade: The Mavericks could very easily have won both of the games they lost and they were dominant at times during all four of their wins. The Rose Garden is a tough environment to steal a road win, though, and the third time was the charm. Their offensive balance and efficiency were excellent throughout and they exceeded expectations defensively and on the boards. They did it all against an inferior opponent, though, so there's a chance the ease of victory was simply fool's good. They won't have the luxury of letting wins slip through their fingers against Los Angeles.

Grade: B+

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

LaMarcus Aldridge: Portland's emerging leader and All-Star candidate played well and extremely consistently, but he was unable to dominate after strong showings in Games 1 and 2. Part of that was systemic: the Blazers turned to Brandon Roy more heavily, which tends to reduce Aldridge's touches and opportunities. But part of it was also Dallas' defense, which took away his lob plays, banged him up a little bit and succeeded in turning him into a jump shooter at times. The Blazers needed an over-the-top performance from Aldridge to overcome their lack of depth and poor outside shooting. He wasn't able to deliver. That fact shouldn't mar what was an excellent season for Aldridge but it will linger on his resume until he delivers a playoff series win.

Grade: B

Brandon Roy: It was a season to forget for Brandon Roy, who underwent dual knee surgeries and missed nearly half the year. Roy played better in the playoffs than he did down the stretch, rediscovering his clutch game and shot-making abilities in both Games 3 and 4. His fourth quarter in Game 4 will remain the stuff of legend for years in Portland. Over the course of the series, though, his limitations stuck out. His three-point shooting (38.6%) was abysmal, his struggles to play team defense remain a major liability and he wasn't able to get to the free throw line with any regularity. His 9.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists made him Portland's best bench player, but the Blazers needed him to step up as a true No. 2 option given Gerald Wallace's struggles. He wasn't able to do that, but it's understandable given the circumstances.

Grade: B

Rudy Fernandez: At the top of the blame game chart in Portland will be reserve guard Rudy Fernandez, who has cultivated a reputation for being soft and coming up small in big moments for years now. Fernandez was a total non-factor in the series, averaging just 2.8 points in 13.5 minutes and struggling to stay in McMillan's playoff rotation after playing 23.3 minutes per game during the regular season. Fernandez shot the ball without confidence and it showed in the numbers: 22.2% from the field, 30.0% from deep. He wasn't able to make plays with his passing or his defense, either. Blazers coach Nate McMillan singled him out for praise for his ability to handle Barea, but it seemed like he was just trying to be nice and/or build Fernandez's confidence. This series was a mess for Fernandez and it leaves his future in Portland very much in question.

Grade: D

Overall Grade: The Blazers desperately wanted to take a step forward in the playoffs this year and committed big money to Wesley Matthews and Gerald Wallace to make that happen. Instead, they go home at the same spot they did last season, losing a Game 6 at home in the first round. Portland showed heart and competitiveness at times during the series but their execution on both ends of the court was lacking for huge stretches. GM Rich Cho has a lot of decisions to make this offseason. Unless the Blazers get Greg Oden back healthy or Roy makes a meaningful recovery of skill, it's difficult to see this core group advancing further in next year's postseason.

Grade: C
Posted on: April 28, 2011 11:28 pm
Edited on: April 29, 2011 1:26 am
 

Series in Review: Lakers-Hornets

Posted by Royce Young

Series MVP: Andrew Bynum


Yep, not Kobe. Bynum, often a critical figure in the Laker starting five, was big -- literally and figuratively -- for Los Angeles these six games. He averaged a double-double, capping it with an 18-point, 12-rebound, two-block performance in the deciding game. There was a big opportunity for Bynum because of the Hornets' lack of quality size inside, and Bynum exploited it all six games. Bynum has become the cornerstone to Laker success in the postseason and he's off to a pretty good start, I'd say.

Best Play: Kobe crams over Okafor



Just the statement this made was almost jarring. Kobe, coming into the game on a sprained ankle that had everyone talking about his availability and effectiveness, rose above one of the league's top shot blockers and stuffed it. The message was sent early in Game 5 -- this series was not coming back to Staples.

Best Play Runner-Up: Chris Paul twists Bynum up


CP3 is just a wizard with the ball in his hands. Like, seriously, I think he has powers in those hands that aren't natural to this world. The way he subtlety brought his off-hand up to mimic a shot was brilliant. Only CP3. 

Biggest Disappointment: Pau Gasol

Matched against an inferior front line, Gasol was entirely absent in Games 1 and 2. Really, there was no excuse. In Game 1, it actually looked as if Gasol didn't realize he was playing. He was going through motions, just timidly jogging up and down the floor. He fumbled a big pass from Kobe in crunch time out of bounds and actually had people comparing him to Kwame Brown for a minute. He straightened himself out with three solid games to close, but he can do better. And he'll have to if the Lakers want a third straight title.

Best Moment: "I'd hit my mama..."




Kobe and Chris Paul are widely known as good friends off the court. But CP3 sent a little message in Game 4 with a hard foul on Kobe. The two bumped a bit after the play and had words. After the game, Cheryl Miller asked Paul about it and he delivered an excellent line. "I'd hit my mama too if she was out on the court."

Worst Moment: The absence of David West

Hard not to think about what this series might've looked like with David West on the floor for these six games. Not just having a better body inside to take on the Lakers' frontline, but giving Paul his scoring buddy to rely on in the pick-and-roll would've been huge. I'm not going to say this series would've been different in terms of the final result, but at least the Hornets would've had a better chance.

Best Performance: CP3's Game 4


Goodness. 27-15-13. Or 23-7-6 in the second half. Paul was on another planet that night. He was fantastic in Game 1, good in Game 2, great in Games 3, 5 and 6. But that Game 4 was one for the ages. A tremendous, terrific, wonderful effort that illustrated just how amazing Chris Paul is.

Best Game: Game 1

There wasn't exactly a classic in this series, meaning any game that came down to a final possession or a big shot. But Game 1 in Los Angeles definitely had the biggest moments and swings. CP3 was great, Kobe was drilling big shots, and the Hornets were stunning everyone. It was one of the most enjoyable games of what was one of the most amazing opening weekends of the playoffs we've seen in a while.
Posted on: April 28, 2011 11:00 pm
Edited on: April 29, 2011 1:07 am
 

Grading the series: Lakers finish Hornets in 6

Posted by Royce Young



The Lakers put away the Hornets in six games with a 98-80 win in New Orleans. Time to pull out the red pen and mark up this test.

LOS ANGELES LAKERS


Kobe Bryant: A bit up and down for Kobe. He averaged better than 22 points per game and had good percentages, but in the Lakers' losses, he was a bit erratic. He was bad in Game 2, but the Lakers handled the Hornets easily that night. In Game 5, he wasn't, and L.A. lost by five. But a commendable effort battling through an ankle sprain to not only score the ball, but defend Chris Paul. Kobe wasn't great, but even in his mediocrity, he was pretty darn good.

Grade: B

Pau Gasol: He woke up in the final three games, but for Games 1 and 2, he was so average that people were actually wondering if Marc was the better of the two. Pau was just so disengaged. He wasn't into it. He floated. It was frustrating to watch, mainly because of the Hornets depleted front line. I mean, look at who Gasol was going against. Aaron Gray, Jason Smith, Carl Landry and D.J. Mbenga. Not exactly players that should be stopping him. He responded well the last three, but still, those weren't the dominant games you'd expect from a player as gifted as Gasol. He needs to be better.

Grade: C


Andrew Bynum: I said it in this other piece, but Bynum was the MVP of this series. He played six very good games, was involved, aggressive and locked in on both ends. He took advantage of the Hornets inside group and scored in double-figures every game. He was the dominant big man he's supposed to be.

Grade: A

Overall grade: Should this series have taken six games? Absolutely not. Did the Lakers reveal a good number of holes and make a lot of people rightfully question their ability to win a third straight title? Without a doubt. But they also won the series, and don't forget that the Hornets had one of the very few players in basketball that has the ability to win games against anyone all on his own. The Lakers weren't great, but they were good enough.

Grade: B

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

Chris Paul: Like a cold-handed slap in the face, CP3 reminded everyone that he is, indeed, still the best point guard in basketball. He was downright terrifying. His Game 6 was a complete disappointment, but the weight of carrying a depleted roster against one of the premier teams in the league gets heavy. I mean the Hornets won two games against the defending champs with Chris Paul and four ball boys on the floor at one time. That's impressive. I give him a pass for the Game 6 clunker.

Grade: A

NOLA front line: For a second there, we were all shocked at the words coming out of our mouths. Aaron Gray... important? But things came back down to reality. This was obviously the biggest mismatch on the floor, and while Emeka Okafor battled valiantly along with Gray, Carl Landry, Mbenga and Jason Smith, they just weren't hanging inside. The Lakers dominated the paint, owned the glass and overwhelmed the Hornets.

Grade: C+

Monty Williams: This was Williams' first trip into the postseason as a head man and I'd say he got his group as well prepared as it could be to take on a team that is head and shoulders above. He used the Lakers' strength against them, exploiting mismatches on switches. With Paul and Jarrett Jack together in the backcourt, the Lakers had a hard time matching up. It was a solid gameplan, but it was only destined to work for so long.

Another plus for Williams though was his willingness to go deep into his bench for help. Too few coaches do this in big games. Williams wasn't afraid to trust players that didn't have a ton of playing time to their name this season. This was partly because his options were limited, but he didn't hang on to his rotations, which I thought was good.

Grade: B+

Overall grade: Stealing Game 1 was shocking. Taking another was even more jarring, and it actually had us wondering if the Hornets had a chance. Think about that. Before this series, no one -- not even Hornets' fans -- saw this matchup as anything more than opening round fodder for the Lakers. The Hornets were just breakfast, as LeBron would say.

Instead of that happening, the Hornets found themselves in a VERY important Game 5 in Los Angeles, a place they had already won. Pull off that game and there's a real chance at an upset. Regardless, winning two games -- one in Staples -- was an impressive feat for this underdog.

Overall grade: A-

Posted on: April 28, 2011 4:52 pm
Edited on: April 28, 2011 5:06 pm
 

Kobe gets foul on Okafor upgraded to flagrant 1

Posted by Royce Young

According to the Lakers, via ESPN LA, the NBA has upgraded a foul by Kobe Bryant on Emeka Okafor from Game 5 to a flagrant 1.

The foul came with 3:14 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Lakers 106-90 win over the Hornets.

Are we sure the NBA didn't just get confused and give Kobe a flagrant for his dunk on Okafor? Because that was just wrong. Nasty, dirty, awesomely wrong.

Hornets' coach Monty Williams wasn't thrilled with the overly physical play and singled out Shannon Brown specifically.

"I know it's going to be a physical game, but I thought they swung at us a few times last game," Williams told reporters. "I thought Shannon should've been ejected, and if he's not going to be ejected, he shouldn't be able to play tonight. When you throw your elbow like that at a guy, I know the rule is you have to connect, but if he connects, that's a fight. It could turn into more stuff. So I expect a physical game, but I expect a fair game. That's how we play."

With the series returning to New Orleans and a rabid crowd ready to roar, I would bet on some fireworks inside the arena tonight. The Hornets clearly took issue with some of the hard Laker fouls. I'm sure Carl Landry has been sharpening those elbows a bit today.
Posted on: April 28, 2011 3:49 pm
 

Kobe misses shootaround, could get heavy minutes

Posted by Royce Young

Kobe Bryant missed Laker shootaround today and did not speak with reporters. Of course the reason being his ailing left ankle.

Kobe played 29 minutes in the Lakers' Game 5 win and ripped off two pretty fantastic dunks. However, the ankle still isn't 100 percent and according to reports. Bryant was seen limping around a bit following shootaround.
But that doesn't mean Kobe will be taking things easy. Via ESPN LA, Phil Jackson indicated Kobe could be seeing heavy minutes during tonight's potential close-out game of the Hornets.

"This is a game we'll go all out to win and if it's 40 minutes we'll do it," Jackson told reporters. "We're certainly not out of the woods on this situation, just because he had to play the day after, or two days after he sprained his ankle."

Would we expect anything less from Kobe? From refusing MRIs to dunking over a shot-blocker on a bum ankle, this is what Kobe does. Wouldn't shock anyone a bit if he dropped 40 tonight to finish off the Hornets. At least it wouldn't me.

Posted on: April 28, 2011 9:40 am
Edited on: April 28, 2011 9:45 am
 

Playoff Fix: Hornets-Lakers Game 6

The Los Angeles Lakers can advance to the second round with a Game 6 win over the New Orleans Hornets. Posted by Ben Golliver.
odom-lakers


One Big Thing: After a lackadaisical and lost Game 1 effort that allowed 109 New Orleans points, the Los Angeles Lakers have locked in on defense, holding the Hornets to an average of 85.5 points in Games 2 through 5. Playoff basketball always starts on the defensive end, and the Lakers have proven that in this series, doing their best to win the battle on the glass and contain a plucky, overachieving and fearless Hornets team to take a 3-2 series lead. In Game 5, the Lakers were able to force 19 Hornets turnovers, a number that isn't sustainable for New Orleans if it hopes to stave off elimination at home in Thursday night's Game 6. 

The X-Factor: In a series with such a disparity in talent, length and bulk in the frontcourt, it's been a bit surprising to see how closely tied L.A.'s success has been to Kobe Bryant's performance. In Game 5, Bryant changed the complexion of the game with two monstrous dunks. His teammates obviously fed off of the spark, playing more loosely and with that Laker swag/confidence that has been absent for much of this series. All five Lakers starters scored in double figures and shot 50% or better, reaching a level of balance that is simply overwhelming for New Orleans, who can match Bryant with Chis Paul but have no answer for the Lakers 2-8. The overlooked aspect of Game 5? Bryant scored just 19 points and played only 29 minutes. He's got plenty left in the tank for Game 6, despite the tweaked ankle.

The Adjustment: It's been an ongoing process, but the Lakers have begun to lean more heavily on their interior tandem of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum offensively. Their combined point totals in Games 1 through 5: 21, 23, 31, 27, 34. Game 5 was really the model they'll look to reproduce in Game 6, as the 34 combined points came on just 23 attempts and included 12 combined trips to the foul line. Getting to the stripe on the road is generally a difficult proposition, but the Lakers were able to bully their way to 24 free throw attempts in Game 3 and 30 in Game 4. They shot 30 free throws again in Game 5 and will look to continue the parade in Game 6. New Orleans has three possible hopes here: L.A. reverts to ignoring its bigs in the halfcourt offense, Gasol shrinks back to his Invisible Man form from game 1, or Bynum gets in early foul trouble himself.

The Sticking Point: The Lakers' intensity level has been up and down this series, and they'll be walking into a cauldron in Game 6. Hornets fans, uncertain of their team's future, have been out in full force throughout the series, and Paul has ranged from amazing to spectacular through the first five games. One of the league's great competitors, Paul has already delivered the "this is all or nothing" quote in advance of Thursday night's game and has made his appeal to the home fans. The Hornets haven't looked afraid of the defending champions once during this series and Paul and company won't go down without a fight. 
Posted on: April 28, 2011 8:52 am
Edited on: April 28, 2011 5:44 pm
 

Playoff Fix: Blazers-Mavericks Game 6

The Dallas Mavericks have their first chance to close out the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday during Game 6. Posted by Ben Golliver.
dirk-blazers

One Big Thing: The Dallas Mavericks, up 3-2 over the Blazers in the series, look to be in full command. The last time we said that, though, Brandon Roy turned everything upside down by exploding for a miraculous fourth quarter in Game 4. Portland doesn't necessarily need another miracle, some consistent scoring from the backcourt would do just fine. Dallas, meanwhile, has been efficient offensively this series, even if it hasn't led to huge point totals, but it must find a way to get to the free throw line on the road. Their Game 3 effort (23 attempts) was much better than Game 4 (10 attempts). DallasNews.com notes that the Mavericks are 1-9 in Game 6s and 0-5 on the road. Continuing to contain Portland's backcourt while also getting to the free throw line is a solid formula for putting a dent in those numbers.

The X-Factor: The Blazers' offense has been anemic all series, cracking 90 points just once in five tries and shooting 25% or less from three-point land three times in the five games. The long ball, and the offensive balance it provides, is key: Portland's offense produced 97 points and looked best when guard Wesley Matthews caught fire early in Game 3. Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge is seeing increasing amounts of attention inside -- with his scoring production dipping every game so far -- and someone must step up to stretch the defense or it will be another long night. The candidates: Matthews, Roy, guard Rudy Fernandez and forward Nicolas Batum.

The Adjustment: The Mavericks haven't received enough praise for their ability to make the necessary defensive adjustments in this series. They've mostly shut down Portland's famous lob plays to Aldridge. They've crowded and frustrated Roy into a 2-7 shooting night in Game 5 following his Game 4 explosion. They've succeeded in containing Gerald Wallace throughout the series, more or less. The final necessary adjustment isn't about Xs and Os, it's more mental: they need to seal the deal on the road. To do that, the Mavericks need to protect the ball. Portland is now 9-0 in its last nine home games against Western Conference playoff opponents, winning the turnover differential battle by an average of 6.4 in those games. That's an astounding number, and it speaks to the Rose Garden's ability to rattle opponents and Portland's ability to step up its defense at home. Dallas was -7 in Game 3 and -4 in Game 4 on turnovers. They'll need to cut down on some of the sloppy, unforced errors if they way to erase the Blazers' dominant homecourt advantage.

The Sticking Point: We're just five games into the playoffs but Portland has already done its fair share of public complaining. Coach Nate McMillan questioned the officiating after Game 1. Aldridge has made mention of his fatigue multiple times. Matthews and guard Patty Mills took exception to a hard screen by Brian Cardinal during garbage time in Game 4. Aside from Roy's rally, the Blazers have appeared to be a very disjointed bunch on the court, and the talk off the court has given off the impression that perhaps they've bitten off more than they can chew mentally. Dallas, meanwhile, withstood the emotional Roy rollercoaster to dominate at home in Game 5. Portland has banded together multiple times this season -- in the wake of injuries to Roy and center Greg Oden, some early season road struggles, after the midseason trade for Gerald Wallace -- and they'll need to do it one more time if they hope to stave off elimination.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com