PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Those beards aren’t coming off yet.
Chris Kaman scored a season-high 26 points and the unshaven Dallas Mavericks boosted their faint playoff hopes with a 96-91 victory over the slumping Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night.
Kaman added 11 rebounds for the Mavericks, who were 2 1/2 games back of Utah for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference, and two games behind the Lakers. Dallas (38-39) has just five games left, but four of those are at home.
Led by veteran Dirk Nowitzki, a handful of the Mavs have been growing out their beards since early February, vowing not to shave until they reach .500 and make the playoffs. Kaman is among them.
“I’m not sure how excited everyone else is about it because I don’t think they like how it looks,” he said. “But I’m not really thinking about it because it’s important for us to finish the season on a good note and we have the next five games to do that.”
After the game, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said he held Nowitzki out of the fourth quarter because of a sore foot. Nowitzki said it wasn’t serious and he would play Wednesday when the Mavericks host Phoenix
“We just felt like, either way, it was more important to keep him out,” Carlisle said.
The Mavs led by as many as 26 points, but the Blazers closed the gap in the fourth quarter — even after sitting most of their starters.
Rookie Will Barton came off the bench with 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Blazers, who have lost eight straight for their longest losing streak since the 2005-06 season. Portland (33-44) was eliminated from the playoffs after Friday night’s 116-98 loss to the Houston Rockets.
Rookie Damian Lillard’s layup narrowed Dallas’ lead to 88-80 with 4:48 left. The Blazers pulled closer at 88-83 on Barton’s jumper.
O.J. Mayo and Shawn Marion had consecutive baskets to slow Portland’s momentum, but Eric Maynor’s layup and a pair of free throws got the Blazers within 94-91 with 39 seconds left.
After Mayo missed a 3-pointer on the other end, Lillard’s attempted layup with 6.9 seconds to go didn’t fall. Marion scored at the buzzer for the final margin.
“We’re one of those teams that lets other teams back in so it was kind of frustrating, but we’re lucky there wasn’t much time left on the clock because I think it might have been a different game,” Kaman said.
Barton’s breakout performance had the Blazers in an upbeat mood following the game, despite the loss. Barton had 18 points and 11 rebounds in the second half alone.
“Yeah Willie B! Yeah Willie B!” two-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge shouted a cross the locker room. “What did you eat today?”
Barton, who was a second-round pick by the Blazers out of Memphis, was brimming with confidence.
“Everyone on the team says I’ve got a special talent,” he said. “You’ve just got to wait your turn sometimes.”
Portland was without starting forward Nicolas Batum for the third straight game because of a sore right shoulder. Victor Claver started in his place.
Elton Brand missed his third straight game for the Mavericks with a sore right calf.
The Mavs went up 13-3 early and Kaman took over with 12 points in the opening six minutes alone. His short jumper late in the second quarter gave Dallas a 46-24 lead.
The Blazers were stung when guard Wesley Matthews was helped off the court with a right ankle injury with 8:27 left in the second quarter. The extent of the injury was not immediately known but Matthews was on crutches following the game.
The three-year NBA veteran was averaging 15 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists going into the game.
The Mavericks led 56-32 at the break. Dallas extended the lead to 79-53 late in the third quarter after Vince Carter’s 3-pointer.
With an 81-61 Dallas lead going into the final quarter, Portland rested its starters except for Lillard, a five-time rookie of the month. The young group narrowed the Mavs’ lead to 86-72 after Maynor’s long jumper with 7:37 left.
Barton got alley-oops from Maynor for back-to-back dunks, making it 86-76. The Blazers re-inserted some of their starters, including Aldridge, for the final push but came up short.
As for his beard, Kaman said he’s thinking about keeping it.
“I don’t care it’s a lot of work. I just let it go,” he said. “It’s like a Chia Pet.”
Notes: Should they stumble, it would be the first time since 2000 that the Mavericks miss the playoffs. … Mavs rookie Jared Cunningham, a local favorite because he played at Oregon State, was inactive for the game. … The Blazers’ 24-point deficit at halftime was their largest of the season. … Dallas wrapped up a four-game road trip 2-2. The Mavs were coming off a 117-108 victory over Sacramento. … Dallas won the season series against the Blazers 3-1.
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