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Mavericks 117, Trail Blazers 112: Death by the Three
A late three-point barrage from Spencer Dinwiddie ends the Blazers' strong road trip on a down note.
How's that for timing?
Just yesterday, Seth Partnow came on this very program and sounded the alarm bell that the Trail Blazers' top-10 defense was due for a regression because of the amount of open three-point looks they give up to opponents that hadn't been going in up to this point.
By the box score, those shots continued not to go in. The Mavericks shot 14-of-43 from beyond the arc. But the timing of the open ones they did make couldn't have been worse for Portland. Dallas' first surge came in the second half of the first quarter, which they closed with a 10-point lead; and then, at the end, Spencer Dinwiddie knocked down three in a row, playing with an edge that suggested he may have lost some money in the crypto markets this week.
The Blazers made the decision to not let Luka Doncic beat them, and he mostly did anyway. But double-teaming him proved costly as it led to a lot of open three-point looks, enough of which went down for the Mavs to pull this one out.
And even with all of that said, the Blazers were still in this one. Even on the final night of a six-games-in-nine-nights road trip. Even without starting center Jusuf Nurkic and sixth man Justise Winslow. Even with all of that, a 5-1 road trip was still in play until the final two minutes. As it is, you'll take 4-2 any day. As I've written several times, 3-3 is the goal for a stretch like this.
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Consider the following:
This trip included two back-to-backs and five of six games against projected playoff teams, mostly at full strength.
The Blazers played just one game on this road trip with their entire starting lineup available, in the win over Miami. Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons missed the opening two games against Phoenix; Jerami Grant and Nurkic were sidelined against Charlotte; Lillard rested the following night against New Orleans on a back-to-back while Nurkic remained out; and Nurkic sat once again in tonight's finale against Dallas.
The only game they were never in was the second of two games in Phoenix, without Lillard or Simons against a Suns team that's looked as good as anyone in the Western Conference thus far this season.
The games they won came in a variety of flavors: a couple of Jerami Grant scoring barrages (he had 37 tonight in the loss), buzzer-beaters from two different players, two defensive battles against Miami and Charlotte, and contributions from up and down the roster with all the absences. This included nice minutes from Nassir Little and Jabari Walker off the bench at points.
In four of the six games (the two exceptions being the two games against Phoenix), the Blazers won the foul battle, drawing more than they committed. One of the pillars of their defensive success thus far has been defending without fouling; the longer into the season that continues to hold, we can only conclude that's sustainable.
None of the four wins were of the "Damian Lillard bails them out by scoring 50" variety that had become a staple over the past decade. Lillard's play was uneven in the three games he played on this trip; he shot 6-of-16 with five turnovers against Dallas on Saturday. They're still finding ways to win that aren't just him going off.
With all of that in mind, they have to feel pretty damn good about where they stand coming back home for a week with games coming up against San Antonio on Tuesday, Brooklyn on Thursday and Utah on Saturday.
I'm still not quite ready to declare this team "great"—that will have to wait until around Christmas if this holds, and that's no guarantee with the schedule they have coming up in the next month. But I definitely think they're closer to "good" than I thought they were before the season.