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One observation after the Dallas Mavericks fall to the Portland Trailblazers, 121-118

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A four game winning streak, snapped.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks fell at home to the Portland Trailblazers on Sunday night, losing a barn burner 121-118. Damian Lilliard led the Blazers with 34 points and 11 assists. Luka Doncic poured in 44 points in defeat for Dallas.

The Blazers came out gunning in the first, connecting on 6-of-11 from beyond the arc and putting Dallas on their heels. The Mavericks, on the other hand, coming off a game where they hit a franchise record 25 threes, did not connect on a single three in the quarter and they took eight. Luka Doncic carried the Mavericks early, scoring any way he wanted and putting up 13 points. Dallas found themselves trailing after one quarter, 34-25.

Fortunes reversed themselves in the second quarter, with Dallas hitting seven from beyond the arc to just two for Portland. The Mavericks scored well for most of the period, getting Kristaps Porzingis involved and to the free throw line. But defensively, they continued to suffer allowing both putbacks and easy attempts at the rim. Once again Doncic caught fire offensively, hitting three straight threes after getting hit in the face on a drive. Portland found themselves frustrated with the officiating (Dallas had a 12-to-3 free throw advantage at the half) and Lillard picked up a technical foul. The Mavericks finally took a lead with just under a minute in the quarter and led 61-58 at the half.

With Doncic and Lillard connecting on threes to start the third quarter, it seemed like we might be in for another offensive shoot out. The Blazers kept fire whereas the Mavericks started oddly, attempting to get Porzingis going on offensive end which didn’t pan out and Dallas couldn’t contain the Blazers defensively. Portland shot an insane 15-of-21 for 45 points in the quarter and jumped ahead to a 103-91 lead heading into the fourth.

The Mavericks were unable to make a dent in the Portland lead with Luka on the bench, despite Jalen Brunson putting in work offensively. With 6:50 left in the game Portland was up 112-99 with the game well in hand. Their offense went frigid and the Mavericks started a slow and steady march to pull within one at 1:55 on the strength of 12-0 run. Lillard single-handedly kept the Blazers ahead until a Doncic pass to Dorian Finney-Smith for three tied things at 116 all. Lilliard once again answered the call, hitting a backbreaking three. The Mavericks would answer with a lay in to pull within one. The Blazers scored again on a busted play to lead by three. Doncic actually got an incredible look to send the game into overtime but he was unable to bury the triple. The Dallas Mavericks fell 121-118.

Now, one additional thought

The defense is terrible across the board

It’s hard to know where to begin. Dallas is atrocious at defense. This team is LAST in the league in defensive rating since January 20th.

But before discussion execution, I want to understand the intent of what the Mavericks are doing. They played drop pick and roll coverage, again, against the Blazers and in the first three quarters Portland shot 53% from three. While they finished at at 45%, meaning they finally missed a few in the fourth, I want to understand just why the coaching staff thinks it’s important to allow the shots they do. It would be one thing if the paint defense was good, but it sucks too (and we’ll get to the main reason why in a moment).

Bringing in Josh Richardson for defense only to have Dorian Finney-Smith match up with Lillard is a coaching choice I do not understand. Finney-Smith is a good help defender. He’s a great team defender. He is an average man to man defender and Lillard is a world beater. It’s something I do not understand because Richardson has more active feet than Finney-Smith and the Blazers put him in a blender.

Then we should get to his help in pick and roll situations in Kristaps Porzingis. If you follow me at all on social media or listen to me on podcasts, you know I’ve been out on him for sometime. This game was another example of what is either an inability or unwillingness to make a positive impact. He got torched on drives off pick and rolls, often letting Lillard go around him in an attempt to hunt a block, which simply did not work because he’s not fast or athletic enough (which is not a slight, Dame is excellent). In post defense, Kanter embarrassed him. In help defense off drives he has concrete in his shoes. Look at this non help where he won’t leave 27% three point shooter Derrick Jones Jr.

Either that, or he’s too slow to react and both stink. Of players who get significant minutes, Porzingis might be the worst defensive player in the league at the moment.

It’s not just Porzingis, basketball is a team game. Maxi Kleber and Tim Hardaway Jr. getting wrecked by Carmelo Anthony ended up being huge in this game, for example.

But the Mavericks signed him to be the anchor of a defense and he simply doesn’t do much for them these days. This is a problem the Mavericks have to figure out. Their offense isn’t as good as it was last year, so having a defense that is somehow much worse at the moment will not cut it. The Mavericks made significant progress these last four wins on the offensive end. Now they need to find something on defense because what they’re doing does not work.

Here’s the postgame podcast, Mavs Moneyball After Dark. If you can’t see the embed below “More from Mavs Moneyball”, click here. And if you haven’t yet, subscribe by searching “Mavs Moneyball podcast” into your favorite podcast app.