The Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Dallas Mavericks 125-112 on Friday night at Moda Center in a game that saw the short-handed Blazers repeatedly threaten the Mavs, but never quite able to get over the hump. Here are three key takeaways from Friday's game.
The Blazers need Anfernee Simons' offense
How good was Anfernee Simons tonight offensively? With Jerami Grant, Malcolm Brogdon, and Deandre Ayton all out for the Blazers on Friday night, the scoring load fell on Simons' and Shaedon Sharpe's shoulders. Both delivered, but Simons was especially electric, with 30 points and eight assists in 35 minutes of action. Simons went on a personal 11-0 run against the Mavs in the second quarter to dig the Blazers out of a 17-point hole.
The Blazers defense is much improved this season, but they've had stretches where they look lost on offense. Having Simons back doesn't eliminate those stretches completely, but certainly minimizes them. Simons shot 10-21 (49 percent) on the night – the rest of the Blazers we 29-82 (34 percent).
Before suffering a torn thumb ligament on opening night, Simons was expected to receive the keys to the Blazers offense. Nights like this show why that's a good decision. Sharpe had 24 points on a solid 7-15 night, but Scoot Henderson, Toumani Camara, and Jabari Walker combined to go 14-47 from the floor.
Portland misses Deandre Ayton
Blazers center Deandre Ayton missed his second straight game with knee soreness on Friday. While he's not a particular focal point on offense, the Blazers desperately missed his paint presence against the Mavs. While Ayton isn't known as a monster rim-protecter, he has quietly been the Blazers' best interior defender by a long shot. In his absence, the Mavs played give-and-go on their way to 62 points in the paint. The Blazers did a good job defending the perimeter, but it's tough to win game allowing as many easy shots at the rim as they did.
Toung teams make mistakes
The Blazers did a good job fighting in this game. Every time the Mavs threatened to pull away and make it a laugher, Portland had an answer. That's no small feat for a young team still figuring out its identity, especially on a night where the offense outside of the starting backcourt struggled so much.
But, as is typical with young teams, that comeback magic ran out down the stretch in the fourth quarter. After the Blazers brought it to within one point with under 10 minutes to play, the more veteran Mavs were able to pressure Portland into bad shots and careless turnovers. The Blazers committed four turnovers and four fouls in the final quarter. Not egregious numbers, but, combined with poor shooting, ensured that the Mavs would be able to pull away for the win.
This is a hallmark of a young team in a rebuild. The first step is a roster lacking in NBA talent. The second is a roster with some promising pieces. The third is a promising roster that still needs a piece or two and has players breaking out but still hasn't learned to win games (you are here). The fourth step is a young, talented roster that sneaks into the playoffs only to get shell-shocked by a more experienced team. And the fifth step, if things work out right, is a roster that knows how to close out games, has balance, and financial flexibility.
That's the goal for three years from now. But in the meantime, the Blazers have to lose a whole bunch of these games before they can figure out how to navigate crunch time.
Up next for the Blazers – they visit the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday.