Van Exel reminded his teammates of the comments before Tuesday night's game, then scored 21 points to help Dallas beat Portland 108-96 in a game where the Blazers' emotions and aggression got the best of them.
Scottie Pippen was ejected with 2:11 left for throwing a punch
at Van Exel, Rasheed Wallace was tossed with 58 seconds left in the
third quarter for his second technical foul -- both for arguing with
officials. Bonzi Wells got a flagrant foul in the first quarter that helped Dallas take control.
"They approached us like we're soft," Van Exel said. "I'm
getting all the phone calls from their players about how they're
going to do this to us and do that to us, and I told the guys
before the game, `This team really feels we have no heart.' That's
a terrible situation to be in. You never want anybody to feel that
This was the Mavs' fifth win in six games and it stretched their lead in the Midwest Division to a full game over San Antonio. So Dallas might not be the toughest team in the NBA, but it is one of the best.
"Being soft -- if this was boxing, that's one thing. But this is basketball," said center Raef LaFrentz, who had 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. "Sometimes you need to be physical, sometimes you need finesse. This group here, they went for skill rather than physical bruisers."
When the teams met March 14, Portland, which had just ended a
12-game winning streak, led by 46 en route to a 132-106 victory.
That game was physical, too, with Dale Davis getting ejected and
later fined and suspended for throwing a punch at Shawn Bradley.
This time, the Blazers went away from their inside game and
couldn't keep up with the Mavericks. Portland lost for the fifth
time in seven games.
"We need to come out and play with more energy," said Pippen, who had 10 points. "We didn't start the game with the energy and the focus we needed. I thought we could pound the ball inside with Rasheed and Dale, but we didn't use that game. We tried to run and shoot with this team and that's not to our advantage."
Wells had 26 points and nine rebounds and Wallace had 16 points and six rebounds.
Neither Wallace nor Pippen would discuss their ejections, but coach Maurice Cheeks addressed the subject of officiating -- a hot topic considering the Blazers also had three technicals and a flagrant foul in a loss to San Antonio on Monday night.
"We've got to stay off the referees," Cheeks said. "I'd say we let the referees take us out of our game. Referees are human. They're going to make mistakes, both ways. When you're losing you think everything is going the other way."
The whistles started blowing when Wells threw an elbow to Finley's head while coming down after biting on a pump fake. Finley hit both free throws to put Dallas up 29-26.
The Blazers, who never led again, were within 79-76 after a
layup by Ruben Patterson, but Wallace said something to an official
and picked up his second technical, an automatic ejection. His
first one came a minute into the second quarter for jawing at
officials while at the scorer's table, waiting to come into the game.
Portland was within 89-86 with 5:14 left when Finley hit a
3-pointer and later added three free throws after being fouled by
Pippen on a 3-pointer.
With 2:11 left, Pippen and Van Exel had just crossed midcourt when they collided. Arms started flying and the players had to be separated. Van Exel got a technical, Pippen got two. As he left the court, he took the ball from an official, but bounced it back several steps later.
"He started twisting my arm," Van Exel said. "I gave him a
shot and he gave me a shot back."
Mavericks coach Don Nelson also got a technical foul during the
Wallace had 26 technicals and two ejections this season. ... Davis and Bradley hardly squared off as Bradley played only seven minutes. ... The Mavs have 54 wins, second-most in team history. They have five games left to try breaking the club record of 55. They're also 31 games over .500 for the first time in franchise history. ... Dallas is 7-0 when Eduardo Najera starts. He replaced Nowitzki.