The Mavericks were a Kobe Bryant fourth-quarter 3-pointer away from moving up to No. 2 in the West and into a first-round series against the injury-depleted Hornets.
Instead, there is a No. 3-No. 6 series against the Blazers, and trouble ahead.
It is a series that offers mirror images, from aging-but-savvy playmaking points guard (the Mavs' Jason Kidd, the Blazers' Andre Miller) to outside shooting power forwards (the Mavs' Dirk Nowitzki, the Blazers' LaMarcus Aldridge) to versatile hybrid forwards (the Mavs' Shawn Marion, the Blazers' Gerald Wallace) to defensive-minded, rebounding centers (the Mavs' Tyson Chandler, the Blazers' Marcus Camby).
There is a reason teams wanted to avoid Portland in the first round. In this case, the Mavericks drew the short straw.
The Blazers could become someone's second-round nightmare as well.
Beware the Blazers
One of the best things about the NBA playoffs, particularly after they moved to a best-of-seven format in the first round, is the better team almost always wins. Upsets rarely happen.
That said, don't be surprised to see Portland knock off Dallas in the first round. The teams split their season series, with the Blazers narrowly losing both road games. The trade deadline acquisition of Gerald Wallace has energized the Blazers, whose Wesley Matthews should draw some Most Improved Player votes.
Nobody can guard Dirk Nowitzki, one of the league's matchup nightmares. But the Blazers are tough mentally thanks to coach Nate McMillan and the Rose Garden remains one of the league's tougher arenas in which to play.
Blazers are Dirk-stopper
Despite a series of injuries throughout the season, the Mavericks rolled to a 57-25 record and the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
It's too bad they drew the one team that will give them problems.
The Trail Blazers split the season series with the Mavericks and went 2-1 against them when Dirk Nowitzki was in the lineup.
Nowitzki, the Mavericks' power forward and primary scorer, makes his living by shooting over smaller defenders and being quicker than larger ones. But against LaMarcus Aldridge, he doesn't have the size or speed advantage.
Nowitzki averages 20.7 points per game against the Trail Blazers for his career, less than any other team in the NBA. It's hard to believe the length of Aldridge doesn't have a little bit of an effect on him.
And that's part of the reason the Blazers will upset the Mavericks.
Let's make it unanimous
Los Angeles Times
Just gives a warm feeling to know we are all in agreement across the wide-ranging Tribune family.
The Mavericks finished the season on four-game winning streak, but that is somewhat deceptive, considering three were against non-playoff teams. Before that they lost to the Lakers, Warriors, Blazers and Nuggets.
It all starts and finishes with the Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki, who will certainly see plenty of the length and intelligence of Nicolas Batum, who has been a student of all things Nowitzki.
The Clippers' Chris Kaman said in early April that his German Olympic teammate was struggling with his knee. How that knee holds up against Batum and the game-planning of Nate McMillan will be the No. 1 key to the series.