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This is it, the final stretch. After last night’s contest against the Dallas Mavericks, there are just ten (!!) regular season games left.

With spots six through nine in the Western Conference separated by just two games, it’s going to be a race for the right to be swept by the Warriors in the first round. After dropping a heartbreaker in overtime to these same Mavs on Sunday, the Blazers had a chance to get one back on their home court. With both teams trying to make a playoff push, this was a must win all around. There will be no limping into the post-season this year.

Thankfully, Old Man Dirk scored quite a few less points than the forty he dropped on Sunday, and the Blazers were able to walk away from the game that much closer to an improbable playoff berth.

Sensing the urgency, Coach Stotts opted to change up his starting lineup for the first time in forever—Noah Vonleh out, Moe Harkless in. The Blazers had a little more speed and a little more switchability on defense, and the results to start were promising. Though Harkless is still mired in a shooting slump and can’t hit an outside shot to save his life, he was active on cuts to the rim around the old, molasses-footed Dirk Nowitzki. Moe dusted the old German en route to ten early points in the first few minutes of action.

The problem with going small, however, was that it left Mason Plumlee on an island to guard last game’s hero, Salah Mejri. The Salamander was just too big. Much as he did last game, Mejri took full advantage of his newfound playing time—he feasted at the rim out of the pick and roll, and also was a game-changer around the rim on the defensive end.

After a back and forth first quarter, Ed Davis picked up his lunchbox and went to work. Davis was absolutely everywhere on the court—offensive rebounds, putbacks, steals, easy dunks, made free throws, you name it. Dude racked up approximately fifty-seven points in his first six minutes, which was great seeing as how both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were struggling from the field.

If it wasn’t clear there was a playoff atmosphere prior to tip, it sure was clear after both teams got a little chippy late in the second. Deron Williams and CJ came together after Williams took exception to CJ using him to try and break his fall. On the very next possession, Mejri tried to block a dunk attempt from Al-Farouq Aminu. A foul had been called prior to shot, but that didn’t stop Salah from chasing down Aminu and barking right into the back of his head. Not lacking in confidence, the rookie picked up a technical for his trouble.

With both Dirk and Deron struggling from the field as well, old favorite Wesley Matthews picked up the slack and knocked down all of the three pointers and shot all of the arrows. Somehow, despite a very disjointed half, the Mavs were down just four going into the break.

To start the third, Portland’s defense found another gear. Dirk stayed missing, Wesley lost his range, and Dame had a highlight block on Mejri at the rim. Portland ran a bizarre triple switch defense that seemed to confuse both themselves and the Mavericks, and somehow it was just enough to gum up Dallas’s offense. The Blazers opened up an eleven-point lead, their largest of the night, behind a Lillard three and a timely Harkless putback. They held onto that double-digit lead for most of the rest of the quarter.

Holding serve and clinging to a ten-point lead, the Mavericks had a huge chance to make a dent with a wide open three from Williams but he pushed it long. JJ Barea then picked up a technical, the Blazers hit back to back buckets, and Portland's lead ballooned to fifteen. Rick Carlisle, who had been nursing a bad attitude all night, took his second to last timeout with seven plus minutes left in the fourth quarter.

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When Dame hit a fadeaway three, falling out of bounds, over the outstretched arms of Dirk to beat the shot-clock buzzer, it was pretty obvious it was Portland’s night.

To Dallas’s credit they never completely folded, cutting Portland’s lead to six with just two minutes left to play. Allen Crabbe sunk a three that all but sealed things, and while the Mavericks kept hitting buckets to force the Blazers to play things out, this wasn’t going to be a Northern Iowa situation. The Mavs were out of timeouts and their best play was a step-back three from Deron Williams. That ain’t gonna cut it, and Portland walked away with the 109-103 victory.

The Blazers will be back at it tonight against the Clippers in Los Angeles. Time to finish the season out strong.

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