Things could have gone terribly, terribly wrong in Game 3 of the Portland Trail Blazers series against the Dallas Mavericks, With the Mavs entering the match with a 2-0, and the top story Brandon Roy's displeasure with an already shrunken role further diminished, Dallas could have killed the Blazers dead. Instead, Roy fought hard -- as he always has -- and produced, and the Blazers rallied to win. This is why 2-0 leads in the NBA Playoffs are so confusing. Are you supposed to win both of those first two homes games, or is a split more normal in contested series, with the pressure always being on the road team to make something happen?
Dallas, who fluttered into the playoffs as other teams around them drove hard, seemed as if the two games at home were a grand verification of their excellence and worthy status as a contender. It seems now that the Mavericks simply had Dirk Nowitzki (check), solid defense (check) and watched the Blazers' perimeter players conjure a metric ton of bricks. If the latter changes -- as it did for Game 3 -- then the second impetus for winning changes. And the first (Dirk) won't often change, but it could. And that'd leave the Mavericks staring at a wall, with victory on the other side.
So are the stakes in Game 4: Dallas can take back control it thought it already had but didn't, or Portland can capture Lady Momentum and convince itself this series is perfectly winnable. It's worth noting that Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and the ol' Pritchard bunch in Portland has never been out of the first round. There's a hunger here to realize some of that incredible potential that now seems so far in the past.
Marcus Camby has been all over the postseason, but even Andre Miller has been stuck in the first round in all six previous trips to the postseason. Gerald Wallace never got off the bench in Sacramento's deep runs to the conference finals, so while he has appearances beyond the first round, he doesn't have meaningful experience there.
That wide lack of postseason success isn't a burden: it's a further motivation. The Mavericks, of course, have their own motivations; the Curse of Don Nelson -- Dallas hasn't gotten out of the first round since the No. 8 seed Warriors booted them in 2007 -- needs to be squelched before Nowitzki gets too old, and the team seems to like Rick Carlisle, and would probably like to save his job. There are more subplots than a Tolkien here, and it's a wonderful bit of entertainment.