As the highest-seeded Western Conference team to win its playoff opener, the Dallas Mavericks should be feeling pretty good about themselves.
Sure, the Mavs are happy to be up 1-0 on the Portland Trail Blazers going into Game 2 on Tuesday night, and happier still to have won with their defense.
But they also remember what happened last year, when they got giddy about winning a grind-it-out opener at home against San Antonio. Dallas got smacked around in Game 2 and wound up also losing Games 3 and 4 on the way to being eliminated in six games.
"They really came out smoking in Game 2 and were all over us," Mavs star Dirk Nowitzki said Monday. "They were just more ready, I felt like, and then we had to react, and it was kind of too late. That's what the Blazers are going to do tomorrow, they're going to leave it all out there. We've got to be ready for the first hit and be aggressive also, and just go from there."
Last year's Game 2 meltdown was no isolated incident. It continued a trend that stretches back to the high point in franchise history, when Dallas took a 2-0 lead on Miami in the 2006 NBA finals.
The Mavs followed that win with a loss and eventually lost the series. Starting there, they've followed eight of their last 10 postseason victories with a loss. Both exceptions came in a 2009 first-round series against the Spurs, which happens to be the only series they've won since reaching the '06 finals.
It's a bad habit they know they have to break.
"It starts in practice," said guard Jason Terry, who along with Nowitzki are the only players left from the '06 club. "If you've watched us the last two days, we're treating this as Game 1 all over again. I mean, we came in, we prepared, we went at each other hard. Everybody was pretty in-tune about the game plan. It's all about focusing in on the task. Nothing else matters."
A lot of strange things happened in the opener of this series, from Dallas' Jason Kidd scoring 24 points -- three more than he had in any game this season -- to Portland center Marcus Camby having more assists than Kidd.
Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan found it especially curious that the Mavericks took 29 free throws while his team took only 13. The disparity was even more mind-boggling considering Dallas scored only one basket in the paint in the second half. He voiced his complaints about the officiating, and on Monday was fined $35,000 by the league office.
McMillan also was perturbed by his club's wayward 3-point shooting (2 of 16) and the poor production from Gerald Wallace (4 of 13, eight points) and Brandon Roy (1 of 7, two points).
"For the most part, we had open looks," McMillan said. "We're going to get open looks the way their defense plays. We've got to knock those shots down."
The Blazers lost out on hustle plays, too, things that don't always show up in the stat sheet but are glaring on tape. That tape was rolling before they hit the practice court Monday.
"It just looked like they wanted it more than we did," McMillan said. "Those are plays that you must make in playoff games to give yourself a chance to win."
The flip side to all this is that despite doing so many things wrong, Portland was within a basket in the final minutes and only lost 89-81. The Blazers figure that if they can clean up even only a few of these trouble spots then they can be headed home with a split.
For Blazers star LaMarcus Aldridge, Dallas actually is home. He went to his mom's place for a home-cooked meal Sunday night, and has enjoyed being around friends and family. It certainly hasn't detracted from his focus because he scored 27 points in the opener. He also helped pester Nowitzki into making only 7 of 20 shots, a ratio Portland would gladly take again.
"Being at home hasn't really been an issue for LaMarcus," McMillan said. "He's focused on what he needs to do."