Dallas Mavericks

Tyson Chandler, Take a Bow. Mavericks, Take a 2-0 Lead.

Weird game at American Airlines Center last Saturday night. In Game 1 of the Mavs-Blazers first-round series, Jason Kidd made six 3-pointers, Marcus Camby had more assists than Dallas' point guard and the Mavs shot 19 fourth-quarter free throws to Portland's two.

The Mavs survived an ugly game, but things have got to change if they hope to go up 2-0 in the series in tonight's Game 2.

Namely, Dallas has to play faster to play better. There were only 83 possessions in the game, by far the lowest of any Game 1 in the NBA's first round. Portland's half-court defense is as physical as it is good. The Mavericks need to push the pace and get open looks in their early offense. The higher scoring the game, the better Dallas' chances.

I think Roddy Beaubois will be back in uniform tonight after missing Game 1 with a sore foot, but I'm not sure we'll see him in the game. The Mavs also need more than five combined hoops from Jason Terry (2), Shawn Marion (2) and Tyson Chandler (1).

Remember, after a grind-it-out, six-point win in Game 1 last year against the Spurs, the Mavs kerplunked in Game 2 at home. Apparently satisfied by their Game 1 success, they came out flat, fell behind San Antonio 9-0 and eventually lost by 14. I don't have to remind you that Dallas lost Games 3 and 4 and the series in six.

If the Mavs are amped to play this game, we'll be able to thank one player. I know Jason Terry thinks he is the emotional leader of this team but, sorry, it's Chandler.

A scene from Game 1 was telling: After blocking a shot, Chandler flexed his muscles and let out a primal scream. Exactly none of his teammates as much as raised an eyebrow, much less ran over for a high-five or back slap. Undaunted, Chandler ran up the court with arms waving, bringing the crowd to its feet.

Willing passengers or not, he's dragged Dallas' defense up a notch or three this season.

On Monday Chandler earned the highest defensive honor ever for a Mavericks player, finishing third behind Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett in the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year voting. He averaged 10.1 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game this season. For a change, the Mavs finished among the NBA's Top 10 in points allowed.

The Mavs have been playing basketball since 1980 and have never had a better defensive player. In fact, I'll say that Chandler -- sorry, 1988 All-Star James Donaldson -- is the best center in Mavs' history.

That said, if Chandler's defense is the best thing about this series the Mavericks won't win it.

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Richie Whitt
Contact: Richie Whitt