Mavs hold all the cards

    All of the excitement and charisma surrounding the Portland Trail Blazers after their recent flurry of dramatic comeback wins came to a screeching halt at the hands of the defending Western Conference champion Dallas Mavericks in a disheartening 103-96 loss on Sunday night.

    Head coach Nate McMillan’s first words immediately after his team was defeated in Sunday’s match-up against the Mavericks were, “It was a good run.” McMillan’s five simple words were in reference to Portland’s ability to rally from seemingly insurmountable deficits of late, including their late-game antics in the home opener against Minnesota and the historic 27-point comeback versus the Hornets on Friday night.

    The truth is that it has been a good run for the Blazers and ongoing relations with their faithful. The past couple of days, there has been a buzz around Portland’s lone professional franchise that was nonexistent in previous seasons, as fans around the city have expressed immense interest in the happenings of the team. Every Blazers victory spurs greater and more widespread interest in a team that nearly lost its entire fan base after the nightmare of last season.

    The major difference between this season and last isn’t the fit physique of Zach Randolph, Portland’s comeback ability or the emergence of rookie Brandon Roy. No, the main difference is that this season the fans genuinely care how the Blazers fare on a nightly basis.

    As the seconds ticked off the clock on the Rose Garden scoreboard, Blazers’ fans looked absolutely stunned. Their mouths were gaping and they were shaking their heads in disbelief, looking at a score that showed the Blazers on the verge of suffering their first home defeat of the season. When faced with the same scenario last season, fans would have expected an epic meltdown that included a 30-plus loss. And to add insult to injury, most fans wouldn’t have stayed to watch it happen. They would most likely have found their way to the exits before the start of the third quarter.

    The Blazers’ run of amazing, last-second victories is easily the best occurrence for the team and its fans since the rebuilding process began a few years ago. So, while coach McMillan claims the run is officially over, that isn’t the entire truth.

    Dallas may have beaten the Blazers on the court behind exceptional performances by Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry, who combined for nearly half their team’s output with 50 points. The Mavericks were also able to effectively shut down Portland’s number one option in Zach Randolph with quick, ball-hawking double-teams, which took the big man out of his rhythm and forced him to pass or turn over the ball.

    ”All of the pressure forced me to get the ball out of my hands,” Randolph said. “When they were coming with the double-teams I had to kick it out. I had a couple of turnovers when I threw the ball away. I really got worked on that double-team.”

    The Mavs forgot to prepare for Portland’s first overall draft pick, LaMarcus Aldridge, who had been suffering from a shoulder injury that has kept him out of all games so far this season. The rookie received a standing ovation from the crowd when he entered the game and made them scream even more with his performance. In less then 20 minutes, Aldridge scored 10 points, mostly on offensive rebound putbacks with eight total boards (six of which were offensive), impressing the crowd in his first NBA action.

    ”It was good to get my first points, especially after going 0-2 in my first couple of shots. After that I could calm down and just play basketball,” Aldridge said. “The crowd helped me out because I was a little nervous, and when they stood up it really let me know that I’m in the house and I can play basketball now.”

    Last season’s Western Conference champions handed the Blazers their third loss of the season, their first in front of a crowd at the Rose Garden, which ends the run as far as wins are concerned. However, the portion of the run that appears destined to continue at full force is the fans’ newfound interest in the team. One loss won’t go far in erasing the buzz that Z-Bo, Jarrett Jack and now Aldridge have developed with their unexpected play thus far. That is here to stay as long as this young Blazers squad continues to overachieve.