Not too much time has passed since the Dallas Mavericks and the Portland Trail Blazers met in the First Round of the NBA playoffs last spring, but the cast of characters of one of these teams received a big time face lift. And it wasn’t the team that won that playoff series last April.
After this season’s trade deadline, which saw Portland trade their starting small forward (Gerald Wallace) to New Jersey, their starting center (Marcus Camby) to Houston, and fire their head coach (Nate McMillan), this current version of the Trail Blazers hardly resembles the unit that put so much pressure on the Mavericks last spring.
Of the twelve players who saw minutes in that series for Portland, only three still remain on the roster in LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and Wesley Matthews.
Not only does the roster overhaul represent a big difference in the current state of each franchise, but so does each team’s current playoffs situation. The Mavericks, while coming into tonight only percentage points behind Memphis for fifth place and two and a half games from being out of the playoffs all together, are in the heart of the battle for seeding. Meanwhile, the playoff fight for Portland is nearly non-existent.
In short, these clubs have taken two very different paths after their meaningful meeting months ago. Though it’s unfortunate to see the Trail Blazers fall as far as they have, it just speaks to how difficult it is to sustain consistent quality over long periods of time in the NBA. It wasn’t long ago that Portland was the young up-and-comer in the NBA with Aldridge, guard Brandon Roy (now retired), and center Greg Oden (waived in March) primed to make Portland a contender for years to come. It takes high quality players to be a good basketball team, but a smart front office mixed with a lot of luck is what makes it last.
For every consistent run of 50-win seasons and playoff appearances you see the current Mavericks or San Antonio Spurs on, you get a dozen 2007 Golden State Warriors, 2008 New Orleans Hornets and Portland Trailblazers, 2009 Denver Nuggets, and so on. Currently the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Memphis Grizzlies have the tag of a new, quality team/contender with a seemingly solid base. With luck that will continue, but keep in mind how difficult it is to take the step from solid team into a yearly contender. It is quite an underrated part of the process.
With that, the Mavericks and Trail Blazers met tonight in a game that turned out nearly as spirited as the ones during last season’s playoffs, including an amazingly clutch buzzer beater by LaMarcus Aldridge to win the game. Though the old guard like Aldridge and Dirk Nowitzki put on their usual performances as one would expect in an overtime thriller, new figures like Brandan Wright (two highlight dunks) and Raymond Felton (30 points) both made their presences felt at separate points throughout the night.
Though Portland did stray from this season’s script and beat the Mavs 99-97 who very much needed this game, they remain in a state of unknown as they move closer to an offseason that will surely be full of change.
As for the Mavericks, they trek on in search of their 12th consecutive playoffs appearance. A quest that just became a tad more difficult with a loss in a game they desperately needed.