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Mavs' venerable shooters make Blazers look vulnerable

by | Special to CBSSports.com

DALLAS -- Peja Stojakovic must have taken a drink from the fountain of Jason Kidd. For the second time in two games, the Trail Blazers failed to contain a supposedly slow, diminishing Maverick on the wrong side of 30.

Stojakovic took the torch in Game 2 on Tuesday night, knocking down five 3-pointers three nights after Kidd drained six. Dallas not only takes a 2-0 lead in this first-round best-of-7 with the 101-89 victory, the Western Conference's best road team heads to the Pacific Northwest confident and ready to deliver a knockout shot.

It'll probably come from downtown.

"We were able to impose our will," Dallas guard Jason Terry said.

The runner-up to the Sixth Man of the Year award leads Dallas' seemingly endless bench brigade. Stojakovic, less than two months shy of his 34th birthday, scored 21, and of his five 3s, none was bigger than a corner number midway through the fourth quarter for the Mavericks' biggest lead (88-80) of the night up at that point.

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The Blazers called timeout right after, but as has been the case through two games, there were no answers. Asked to describe Portland's perimeter defense in a game the Blazers led for much of the first half, Andre Miller simply said: "I don't know."

The Mavericks have knocked down 18 3-pointers through two games, a strategy they say is by design. The Blazers prefer to pack the paint, a dubious approach against a team that doesn't have much of a low-post game. What was eating at Blazers coach Nate McMillan was the constant penetration, especially by Terry and fellow diminutive guard J.J. Barea.

If the Blazers could figure out how to defend on the 3-point line, maybe they're going back to Portland at 1-1. So far, they don't have a clue. The combination of keying on Nowitzki plus Dallas' drive-and-kick game has left the Blazers scrambling all over the court.

"The basketball is getting to the paint, which is forcing the defense to collapse, and we're losing these guys on the 3-point line," McMillan said. "Jason Kidd, Stojakovic, again tonight had a good night shooting the ball from 3."

McMillan came into the game wanting to make Kidd "work." Instead, the 38-year-old playmaker helped keep the Mavericks in the game earlier in the first half while Portland was controlling the tempo. Kidd had two 3s in the first half, and a three-point play. Dirk Nowitzki (33 points) carried over his fourth-quarter free-throw binge from Game 1, knocking down 15 of 17 from the charity stripe.

Nowitzki has been effective in this series in spite of 16-of-42 shooting because of the attention he commands. The other Mavs -- namely Kidd and Stojakovic so far -- continue to feed off the former MVP.

"That's tough because almost everybody can shoot on this team," Blazers forward Nicolas Batum said. "When you focus on Dirk Nowitzki, sometimes other guys get good shots. Jason Kidd did a good job in the first game and then Peja was huge. We know what [Stojakovic] can do, but sometimes he got lost because of Dirk inside, and Terry and Barea drive and kick out to the side."

Kidd's showing in Game 1 was a surprise -- even though he's third on the all-time list in 3-pointers made. Stojakovic happens to be fourth.

"Some nights they go in, some nights they don't," said Stojakovic, surrounded by a media horde around his locker resembling ARCO Arena circa 2004.

"His shot making was great and very timely, but his defense was better," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle beamed. "He just was really solid. He didn't let anybody drive by him all night, which was huge, and he just played a terrific all-around game.

"We're never sure which two or three guys may or may not get hot, but we need contributions from a lot of different guys on a nightly basis to be successful, and that's what we got tonight."

The Blazers could only wish for such division of labor. The Mavericks bench produced 39 points. The Blazers second unit accounted for only 11. None in the second half. One-time franchise player Brandon Roy, scoreless in Game 2, has only one basket in the series.

"Our bench hasn't been able to score," McMillan sighed.

The Mavericks scored their first 2-0 since the 2006 Finals. In the interim, Dallas lost its previous four Game 2s by an average of 17.5 points. The Mavs also perhaps exorcized the demons of Danny Crawford. Mark Cuban's team came into the evening 2-16 all-time in playoff games officiated by Crawford.

Portland is heading to the raucous Rose Garden for the next two games Thursday and Saturday. The Blazers enjoy one of the league's premier home-court advantages, but if they hope to return to Dallas for Game 5 on Monday, much less win both at home, they need to figure some things out.

"We'll see," Miller said. "We'll see."


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