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Blame lack of balance for Mavs' loss

PORTLAND, Ore. -- When the Mavericks are at their best, they’re a beautiful model of balance.

This is a team that had at least five players score in double figures in more than half of their games during the regular season. They’re an elite team when that happens, posting an .818 winning percentage in those games.

But the scoring-by-committee approach went kaput in their first loss this postseason. Jason Terry and Dirk Nowitzki had terrific offensive performances, combining for 54 points. The problem is that they had precious little help. The rest of the Mavs managed to contribute only 38 points, none of them hitting double figures in a 97-92 loss to the Trail Blazers on Thursday night in Game 3 of this Western Conference first-round series (Dallas leads 2-1).

“We wasted good performances by Dirk and Jet,” said Jason Kidd, who averaged 21 points in the two home wins but scored only eight points on 3-of-9 shooting in Game 3. “Those guys had it going tonight. The other guys, we all had good looks. They just didn’t go in for us. We’ve got to look at that on tape and in Game 4 be ready to knock down those shots to help those guys out.”

This isn’t the first time this series that a pair of players put the Mavericks on their back offensively. They got away with it in Game 1, when Nowitzki (28) and Kidd (24) were the only Dallas players to score more than 10 points.

Terry, the Mavs’ second-leading scorer this season, had his first explosive offensive night of the series Thursday after producing only 10 points in each of the first two games. He had that total in the first quarter and finished with 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting, his highest-scoring playoff performance since Game 5 of the 2006 NBA Finals.

Nowitzki had a normal playoff game by his lofty standards, scoring 25 points on 10-of-21 shooting.

The drop-off from there was drastic. Shawn Marion was the Mavs’ next highest scorer with nine points, which is his high for the series. Peja Stojakovic, fresh off a 21-point performance in Game 2, was a nonfactor with seven points in 22 minutes.

“We’d like to get more guys involved and able to score a few more points,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “But if you’re not getting a balanced game, you’ve got to have a couple of guys go for big numbers. There’s no set formula for us.”

There might not be a set formula, but the trend indicates that it’s trouble if the Mavs aren’t a well-balanced offensive machine. They’re a mediocre team when three or fewer players hit double digits, as evidence by their 8-11 record in such games this season, including this series.

“It’s going to be tough to win if we have two guys in double figures,” Nowitzki said.

The Mavs got away with offensive imbalance once this series. But if it becomes a pattern, their trend of premature playoff exits is also likely to continue.