PORTLAND, Oregon — First, the Trail Blazers held LeBron James to just 11 points. Two nights later they held Dirk Nowitzki to 17.
And just like that, Portland is pointing to an improved defense for two key wins.
The latest was on Thursday night when Portland overwhelmed the Dallas Mavericks with a 35-18 third quarter en route to a 108-87 victory. LaMarcus Aldridge had 20 points before sitting down for the entire fourth.
Damian Lillard finished with 18 points, including 10 over a stretch of just under six minutes in the fourth before he also took a seat.
Portland trailed 50-46 at the half before a decisive 18-4 run in the third quarter.
"I think the best part about it was that we won on both ends of the floor," Lillard said. "We defended really well in the first half, we just couldn't really get ourselves going like we would have liked to offensively. The second half, we put both ends together and that's why we were able to pull away."
Dallas went into the game averaging nearly 112 points in their first four games of the season. Nowitzki was averaging nearly 21.
But Nowitzki said it was the Mavericks' defense that failed them against the Blazers.
"We couldn't get the stops we needed as the game turned into a walk-up-the-court game and that's not us," he said. "We've got to get stops to get the ball moving."
The game was delayed several minutes midway through the fourth quarter when a fan collapsed. The woman was rushed across the court by stretcher as a paramedic performed CPR. She was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, but there was no immediate information about her condition.
Nicolas Batum had eight points, nine rebounds and nine assists, but he too rested in the fourth quarter after the Blazers had built a sizable lead. Batum has four career triple-doubles.
The Trail Blazers were coming off a confidence-boosting 101-82 victory over the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers that snapped a brief two-game losing streak. Lillard broke out of a season-opening funk with 27 points, and Portland held James to just 11 points, his lowest total in 115 games.
Asked if he thought the team's defense was better this season, Blazers guard Welsey Matthews said: "I think it is. And I think it has to be."
The Mavericks lost their season opener at San Antonio but went on to win their next three, including a 118-113 victory over Boston on Monday.
"We've been doing a lot of good things but our defense has been inconsistent," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. "We have to make a stand there. I have to look closely at what we're doing and make sure we're doing the right things and have the right guys in at the right times. We don't have a lot of time to sit around and mope."
It is the first of back-to-back road games for the Mavericks, who visit the Utah Jazz on Friday night.
The Mavericks double-teamed Aldridge from the start, but he led all scorers with 10 points in the first quarter.
The Blazers pulled ahead 28-24 with 10:10 left in the first half on consecutive 3-pointers from CJ McCollum off the bench. Monta Ellis' layup gave Dallas a 35-33 lead.
Nowitzki hit a 19-foot-jumper from out front, then added a 3-pointer over Aldridge, and the Mavericks took a 45-38 lead. Nowitzki had 12 points in the second quarter and Dallas was up 50-46 at the half.
Robin Lopez's dunk pulled the Blazers within 52-51, and they took the lead on Aldridge's fadeaway jumper. Wesley Matthews pumped both fists and yelled after his 3-pointer made it 71-59.
But Chandler Parsons, who had scored just two points in the first half, hit consecutive baskets and narrowed it to 71-66.
Chris Kaman's put-back layup gave the Blazers an 88-70 lead in the fourth quarter as the rout was on. Kaman scored 12 off the bench.
Mavericks: Owner Mark Cuban is interviewed in the latest edition of Rolling Stone and reveals his greatest mistake was letting Steve Nash go. He also says that "losing hurts far more than winning feels good." ... Nowitzki scored 12 points in the second quarter alone, but the Blazers held him to just two points in the second half. ... Parsons had scored 20 or more points in the past three games; the Blazers held him to 11.
Trail Blazers: F Joel Freeland was available after missing the past two games with a left foot sprain. ... Portland had lost seven of the last 10 to Dallas going into the game.
THIRD QUARTER WOES
Nowitzki says he's not sure why the Mavericks have been having trouble coming out after the half. "We better figure it out pretty quick. Seems like we don't come out with any energy. That's really unfortunate, we have got to correct that. Teams are coming out in the second half determined to pick up the pressure and we have not responded."
Portland's bench outscored the Mavericks' 52-35. The reserves made seven of 12 3-point attempts and shot just over 57 percent from the field. "That's what we need them to do. You never know when you're going to be called, but you have to be ready. And they were ready," Matthews said.
Mavericks: At Utah on Friday night.
Trail Blazers: At the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night.