Updated: April 19, 2010, 1:20 PM ET

1. Turning Back The Clock

By John Hollinger

PHOENIX -- It's common to think of the Portland Trail Blazers as a young team, and for the most part they still are. But Sunday, a pair of old geezers with a combined age of 70 -- 36-year-old Marcus Camby and 34-year-old Andre Miller -- helped the Blazers to a 105-100 Game 1 upset of Phoenix, providing the first genuine drama of the 2010 playoffs.

Miller dominated offensively with 31 points and eight assists, exploding for 15 points in the deciding fourth quarter. The highlight was a 3-pointer with 4:28 remaining in which the career 20.9-percent shooter held his snapped wrist up for effect as if he were another Miller from L.A. -- one named Reggie. His rare triple gave Portland an 88-87 lead it would never relinquish, kicking off a 14-5 run over a three-minute span that all but put the game away.

"We talked about forcing the issue a little bit and not relying on jump shots," said Miller. "I was just trying to get the ball upcourt before they could set their defense and force some mismatches."

"He did a fantastic job," said Suns coach Alvin Gentry. "He is one of those guys that is very comfortable with the basketball in his hands as far as backing down and making plays. He's not a great outside shooter, but he controls the game with his isolation. We've got to do a better job of guarding him and we've got to do a better job coming down on him like we're supposed to. We had some breakdowns in that area."

Miller had to save the game one more time at the end, making the game-icing free throws with 3.7 seconds left after some loose foul shooting by the Blazers in the final 90 seconds gave the Suns a chance to tie the game late. But Steve Nash's long 3-point attempt with five seconds left hit the front of the rim and bounced away, and the Blazers had the win.

Portland made six trips to the line in the final 90 seconds, but only Miller produced two points -- the other Blazers missed six of eight to make the final seconds far more interesting than they should have been. When Jerryd Bayless bricked a pair with 12 seconds left and the Blazers leading 103-100, the Suns had a chance to tie. However, without a timeout the Suns couldn't get a great look. Nash dribbled across half court behind a double screen and fired for the tie from well beyond the line but couldn't send the game to OT.

Yet it was Camby who arguably had an even greater impact. Going against the league's top-ranked offense, the veteran shut down top scorer Amare Stoudemire and dominated the defensive glass. Camby scored only four points, but finished with 17 rebounds and three blocks while playing on a gimpy ankle that he rolled in practice on Saturday.

While Camby acted his age on a couple of late-game plays -- missing two free throws with 1:21 left and then a breakaway dunk with 50 seconds remaining that could have put the game away -- by then he'd already done his damage.

Camby's biggest play came just seconds earlier, when he stole the ball from Stoudemire on a left-block isolation with 1:29 left and the Suns down five. Just prior, he teamed with Miller on a similar play to draw a charge on Stoudemire, after Camby had forced the right-dominant Stoudemire left and into an awkward shot attempt that sent him crashing into a rotating Miller. For the night, Stoudemire had 18 points on 19 shots, committing four turnovers and handing out just two assists.

"He's a long guy and does an excellent job of blocking shots," said Gentry. "So Amare is going to have to step it up and find a way to score for us, and we've got to get him the ball in a good location."

"They did a phenomenal job defensively," said Stoudemire, "They clogged up the lane there a little bit so it was kind of difficult to get in our offense."

The upgraded defense continued a late-season trend for Portland. The Blazers went 16-3 down the stretch in games played by Camby, including Brandon Roy-less victories over the Lakers and Thunder. Only three of those 19 opponents hit the century mark, and while Phoenix just scraped over the line Sunday, the Blazers held the Suns to 41.8 percent shooting and eliminated their transition game (only four fast-break points).

As one Blazers spy pointedly told me before the game about the trade that brought Camby to Portland, "We thought he was a good player. He's a very good player."

For the Suns' part, they insisted that they can play better and perhaps they're right. Phoenix made only 11-of-32 from 3-point range after leading the league in the regular season at 41.2 percent. As if to drive home that point, Nash said, "We just didn't play well" four times in his postgame press conference.

However, one wonders if there's something deeper that favors Portland in this matchup. The Blazers won two of three in the regular season, including once without Roy, and now have stolen home-court advantage from the Suns in this playoff series. While it's still early, the game played out almost exactly like the team's three regular-season meetings. And as long as the Blazers' two old guys keep leading the way, they seem like the team best-poised to break the favorite's monopoly on the first round.

John Hollinger covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

Dimes past: March 30 | 31 | April 1 | 2-3 | 4 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9-10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 17

2. How To Keep Howard Off The Floor

By Ric Bucher
ESPN The Magazine


ORLANDO -- If All-Star center Dwight Howard has to be on the floor for the Magic to win an NBA title, the Charlotte Bobcats provided the blueprint for keeping him off it. Actually, the blueprint has been utilized before. The Bobcats simply proved it still works by limiting Orlando's leading scorer to five points and seven rebounds in 28 foul-plagued minutes. It might've been less, but when the Bobcats closed to within six with 5:19 left, coach Stan Van Gundy put Howard back on the floor with five fouls. He survived to the end, as did the Magic, 98-89, thanks to 32 points from Jameer Nelson. But, in spite of all the happy chatter about Howard's nine blocked shots, it had to be troubling to see their anchor reduced to role-player status.

For while the Cats might not have enough bricks and mortar to actually build a series upset from the blueprint, there's a good chance some other team in the East does.

The Plan, Part I: Double-team or crowd Howard early.

"Keep the ball out of his hands and he'll get frustrated," says Bobcats center Tyson Chandler. "If you get him frustrated, then he'll force things."

It took Howard nearly 3½ minutes to get his first shot, and when he did, Theo Ratliff immediately fouled him and Stephen Jackson suggested he get used to it.

Part II: Make Howard earn his points with that iffy 59.2 percent free throw stroke. Howard's first free throw was wide left, nearly missing the rim. The second was not nearly as wide, but still missed. He would finish 1-for-6. Adding a few more ticks to the Frustration Meter.

Part III: Make him earn every inch of ground and air space near the paint. Howard, tangled up with Chandler, swung his arms in frustration and picked up a second foul with 30.6 seconds left in the second quarter.

"Their big guys are going to hit him every chance they get," said Van Gundy. "And if they get one foul in retaliation, they've done their job. He can't get any of those."

Part IV: Challenge him at the rim. Eight of those blocks were in the first half. Charlotte's aggression finally paid off when drives by Gerald Wallace and Jackson drew Howard's third and fourth fouls 27 seconds apart in the third quarter. A lead that had grown to 22 then shrunk to 10 by the end of the period with Howard watching.

"I was frustrated," Howard said. "Defensively, I just tried to help my team out. I told my guys, 'Don't foul them. Send them to me.' And that's what they did."

But that's not what Van Gundy wants, at least not often enough for the Bobcats to outscore the Magic in the paint 38-26. "They can't be coming at him 25 to 30 times a game," Van Gundy said. "It's just going to be tough to avoid fouls if that's the situation."

When asked how he might avoid the ticky-tack frustration fouls, Howard said, "Good question," but didn't have an answer. Nelson rescued him again.

"Not get frustrated," said Nelson. "Once he gets frustrated, he flails. As a point guard, I have to be in his ear the whole game, the whole series. We don't need those fouls."

They also need Howard to figure that out.

Ric Bucher is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.

3. Nowitzki Comes Through For Mavs

By Jeff Caplan


DALLAS -- If Sunday night was Dirk Nowitzki getting lucky, then San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will have to come up with something more creative and a whole lot more effective than his third-quarter Hack-a-Damp for when Nowitzki is just plain good.

It was Nowitzki who called himself lucky, mentioning really just a few off-balance toss-ups early on that found the bottom of the net. Then just about everything he touched ripped nylon in a huge 36-point effort on just 14 shots.

Nowitzki made 12 of them and he drained all 12 of his free throws. That's a final tally of 26 shots, 24 buckets and one perturbed Popovich, who mostly tried, unsuccessfully so, to employ single coverage on the Dallas Mavericks' star. A few attempts at double coverage turned into a Mavericks layup drill, and ultimately Pop took out his frustrations on the mediocre foul-shooting big man Erick Dampier in Dallas' 100-94 Game 1 victory at American Airlines Center.

"We wanted to put him at the line," Popovich said of the stiff-shooting Dampier, "and hoped he would miss free throws rather than Dirk killing us the way he was."

To read the entire column, click here.

4. Daily Dime Live Recap

ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Saturday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.


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