Mavs can't escape their playoff demons

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Just when it seemed this team might really be different, the Dallas Mavericks reminded us why they don't deserve to be trusted.

Especially not when it matters most.

For a few quarters Saturday, the Mavs played like a team that was the polar opposite of the soft reputation that has been slapped on them. They were tough. They were physical. They were aggressive. They were dominant defensively.

Then they morphed into the same ol' playoff Mavs, putting them in danger of yet another premature postseason exit.

A 23-point lead disappeared in the matter of a dozen minutes and change. Brandon Roy, who has no knees but apparently unlimited heart, outscored the Mavs by himself in the fourth quarter to carry the Blazers to the biggest comeback in Portland playoff history.

Toward the end of the third quarter, it seemed as if the Mavs' focus shifted into checking out hotel availability and club VIP lists in Los Angeles. By the time their attention returned to the Rose Garden, there was a deafening roar with the Blazers en route to becoming the third team in the shot-clock era to win a playoff game after trailing by at least 18 entering the fourth quarter.

Blazers 84, Mavs 82. Series tied, 2-2.

"This is definitely up there with the most frustrating losses," Dirk Nowitzki said.

That's quite a mouthful for the face of the Mavericks' franchise over the last decade.

After all, the Mavs specialize in playoff misery. Their postseason slogan might as well be Where Awful Happens.

This is the only team to be one and done as a No. 1 seed since the first round went to a best-of-7 format. The Mavs also managed to be fishing by May as a No. 2 seed.

This is a franchise with 11 consecutive 50-win seasons and no championships to show for it, having been booted in the first round in three of the last four seasons.

This doesn't trump the Miami Meltdown, when the Mavs blew a 13-point lead midway through the fourth quarter against the Heat. That was the beginning of a four-game flop after taking a 2-0 lead in the 2006 Finals, which caused championship parade plans to be canceled in downtown Dallas.

You'd think this team would know better than to prematurely celebrate, huh? Apparently not.

"We thought it was over with," Shawn Marion said. "They were down by 23 and we let our guard down."

They let their guard down and didn't guard anybody.

Especially not Roy, who had 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the fourth quarter.

A Portland team that matched a franchise playoff low with 11 points in the first quarter -- and would have done it again in the third if not for Roy's 3-pointer in the final seconds -- scored 35 points on 15-of-20 shooting with no turnovers in the fourth. It was a despicable defensive performance even by the low standards of the early Dirk-era Dallas teams.

Give Roy a ton of credit for his spectacular, gutsy performance, particularly considering the emotional roller coaster he's been riding as a former superstar forced to become a role player due to knee problems. Put a bunch of the blame on Mavs coach Rick Carlisle -- as he did -- for failing to make adjustments as Roy scored on isolation play after isolation play.

But X's and O's are far from the only reasons the Mavs earned ridicule at the Rose Garden. Intangibles had just as much to do with this disaster.

The Mavs displayed an amazing lack of killer instinct. They showed a maddening lack of mental toughness. A veteran team exhibited an alarming lack of poise. They made their army of critics look smart.

Maybe the Mavs recover in this series, which has yet to see a road team win. However, the thought of the Mavs as legitimate contenders is laughable at this point.

A team that had been trying so hard to distance itself from a painful recent playoff history has to be haunted by those postseason demons now, no matter how many faces and names have changed over the last few years. And no matter what the Mavs say.

Who really believes the Mavs are tough enough to not let an oh-no-here-we-go-again vibe creep into their mindset?

"Totally different team," Jason Terry said. "We're way mentally tougher than that team when we were up 0-2 and they came back on us. This is a totally different situation."

Sorry, but these sure look like the same ol' Mavs.

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.