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Friday, April 29, 2011
Feel-good night for adversity-stung duo

By Jeff Caplan

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry have shared plenty of postseason heartache and on Thursday night they both finally got to exhale, if only temporarily, and enjoy a playoff moment.

Nowitzki scored a game-high 33 points and had 11 rebounds, and Terry finished with 22 points and a game-high eight assists to steer the Mavs to a first-round series win over the Portland Trail Blazers in six games with a 103-96 victory.

It all almost slipped away in another Blazers fourth-quarter comeback. Portland chipped Dallas' 17-point lead with 1:25 to go in the third quarter to 86-85 with little more than five minutes to left. This time, the Mavs made the plays to pull away late and end the Blazers' season.

The series win is especially significant for the two-man game of Nowitzki and Terry, the lone survivors of the 2006 NBA Finals failure when Dallas blew a 2-0 lead and lost four in a row to the Miami Heat. Since that series, the Mavs have won a single series and even that one is discounted because it came against an injured San Antonio Spurs team in 2009.

Even Mavs fans seemed to be holding their breath, expecting the Mavs to cave and lose the series even though they entered with 57 wins and as the No. 3 seed.

"Jason Terry and Dirk, these guys have been here a long time," third-year coach Rick Carlisle said. "It is so meaningful for them both to help us move on right now. They've both been hearing about it a long time as we all have...We knew it was going to be a brutally hard series, but we also knew it was something we needed. We also knew that we needed to beat them and do it in a way that was in character with a team that deserved to move on. We don't want anything easy and, coincidentally, the next team we're playing is not going to be easy either."

The next team is the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant's club closed out the New Orleans Hornets in six games on Thursday night as well. Despite all the star power, they don't enter the second round series with the same indomitable swagger as the past few seasons. Still, it won't keep the Lakers from being the prohibitive favorite.

The series begins Monday night at Staples night.

"Not a lot of people picked us to win this series and not a lot of people are going to pick us to win the next series," Nowitzki said. "We're just going to go out there and keep competing, play smart and play off each other the way we have all season and we'll just see what happens."

Nowitzki is one of four players to average 25 points and 10 rebounds over his playoff career. He finished this series averaging 27.3 points and 7.8 rebounds. Although his shooting percentage dipped to 45.2 percent after a career-best 51.2 percent during the regular season, he profited from a consistent march to the free throw line.

He made 56-of-63 at the stripe. Terry, who averaged 17.3 points in the series and emerged as the team's decisive second-leading scorer after a slow start, was tied for second on the team with Tyson Chandler in free throw attempts with 20. Gerald Wallace's 12 free throws in Game 6 made him Portland's leader with 32 trips to the line -- 31 fewer free throws than Nowitzki took.

Terry scored 10 points in each of the first two games and then averaged 21.0 over the final four. He finished the series shooting 48.7 percent overall, well above the 37.7 and 38.9 percentages of the past two postseasons. His 3-point average stands at 36.0 percent.

"It feels good," Terry said.