NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Mavs clinch — The Dallas Mavericks missed the playoffs last season for the first time in 12 years. But they can breathe easier now after clinching one of the final two spots in the Western Conference playoff picture with a 101-98 win over the Phoenix Suns. Despite the clinch, the regular season fight is not yet over for Dallas as it currently sits in the seventh spot, but could rise or fall to the sixth or eighth seed over the season’s final days. Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News has more on the clinch:
“It feels good to be back in the big dance,” said [Dirk] Nowitzki, who scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half. “That’s where competitors want to be — on the big stage in the playoffs.”
[Monta] Ellis had 37 points, including three 3-pointers in the third quarter when the Mavericks erased a 13-point deficit.
Nowitzki played the final minutes through a twisted left ankle, which he said hurt briefly, but he doesn’t expect it to hinder him moving forward.
The return to the playoffs is gratifying for all the Mavericks, but particularly Ellis and the veteran trio of Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.
“We feel official now,” Carter said. “We’re back where we feel we should be. This is a tough bunch. We walked in the day before training camp and looked at all the talent and said: ‘It can happen.’ We knew it was going to be a bumpy road, but there’s so much talent in this locker room.”
For Ellis, it will be only his third playoff appearance in nine NBA seasons.
“It’s lovely,” he said. “We set this goal at the beginning of training camp. Everybody doubted us. We knew if we won, it was automatic.”
Said Devin Harris of Ellis, who hit 15 of 23 shots: “He’s missed the playoffs a whole lot. You could tell he wanted it. I’m happy for him. And happy for the guys that we really accomplished something.”
That much is true. Nowitzki, Marion and Carter had been used to being in the playoffs for most of their careers. To be back is meaningful.
“It’s big,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “Our franchise, it stands for winning championships. And you can’t win a championship unless you get to the playoffs. I don’t know who our matchup is going to be. It’ll be tough, whatever it is. But we’ll be ready.”
No. 2: Durant studies Nowitzki — If they stay in the seventh seed, Nowitzki’s Mavericks will most likely play Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. This matchup will feature two of the premiere talents in the game, but don’t be surprised if you see a few unique moves duplicated. That’s because Durant has taken to study the moves of Nowitzki, as ESPN’s Marc Stein reports:
Durant doesn’t often reveal much beyond what we can all see out on the floor, but he recently confessed that he’s been swiping liberally all season from the Dirk Nowitzki playbook all season.
Turns out that, since November, Durant has been working with Adam Harrington as his personal trainer beyond his daily duties with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Which is the same Adam Harrington who briefly played alongside Nowitzki with the Dallas Mavericks more than a decade ago and has been studying the unorthodox coaching techniques hatched by Nowitzki’s longtime mentor and shot doctor from back home, Holger Geschwindner, ever since.
“It’s a lot more than just trying to copy the one-legger,” Durant said, explaining that he’s not merely focused on trying to mimic Nowitzki’s signature shot.
“Dirk’s got a lot of moves I’m trying to steal.”
Practice shots with both hands, off both feet and launched from a variety of stances and spins to improve footwork. Planting the heels and shifting smoothly onto the toes for better balance. Breathing techniques as the ball is released. Keeping the fingers wide, too.
Durant has been dabbling in all those Holger-centric areas of emphasis in his hourly sessions with Harrington, which typically take place in the evenings — home or road — whether it’s a practice day or after the Thunder fly into a new city on the night before a game.
Dirk, you see, is Durant’s favorite active player.
“It’s probably a tie between him and Kobe [Bryant],” Durant said after giving it some extra thought.
Yet there’s no disputing who’s the more natural role model for KD. It’s that 35-year-old, that 7-footer, who plays three hours away down Interstate 35 … and who just shot his way into the top 10 on the league’s all-time scoring charts in his 16th season.
You figure Durant will get there even faster at his current pace, given the insane levels of efficiency he’s hitting — sporting a PER of 30.2 for the season — and blessed with that extra dose of athleticism Dirk has always dreamed of.
Yet you can go ahead and give Dirk and Holger an assist or three in helping Durant navigate his path to that first MVP trophy. Harrington was predictably spotted sitting right next to Geschwindner, Der Professor, when the Thunder and Mavs dueled in Dallas in late March in a game the hosts eked out in overtime.
“I don’t know him so well,” Durant said of Nowitzki, “but I’ve always liked the way he goes about his business.
“And I’ve learned a lot from him by just studying the techniques.”
As if Durant, heading into a potential first-round matchup with Nowitzki’s Mavs, didn’t already have enough going for him.
VIDEO: Wizards sign Amaris Jackson
No. 3: Wizards make dream come true — Amaris Jackson is a 10-year-old who currently battles a rare type of cancer called renal cell carcinoma. She’s a huge basketball fan and her dream of becoming a professional basketball player came true on Saturday when the Washington Wizards inked her to a one-day contract. Brandon Parker of The Washington Post has more on this inspirational signing:
Ten-year-old Amaris Jackson, who is battling a rare kidney cancer known as renal cell carcinoma, signed a one-day contract with Wizards prior to Saturday’s home game against Milwaukee in conjunction with the Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic Foundation. As part of her one-day experience as a Wizard, Jackson took part in the pregame shoot-around, visited the locker room and led the team onto the court.
Jackson watched intently and excitedly from half court of the Wizards’ practice gym as the team walked through plays in preparation for Saturday’s game. When Wizards Coach Randy Wittman told the defense to set up in a 2-3 zone, Jackson whispered to assistant coach Sam Cassell that she knew what that scheme meant before pointing where each of the defenders should line up.
At the conclusion of the shoot-around, the players gathered around Jackson, who broke the huddle with a yell of “team.” The Takoma Elementary student then shot around with Trevor Booker and Martell Webster, who told Jackson that her left-handed shot looked better than Booker’s.
Jackson then proceeded to prove Webster right, draining a short jumper from the paint before Booker clanked the same attempt off the back of the rim.
“See, I told you, Amaris!” Webster said while laughing. “Book can’t shoot like you.”
Donning a No. 10 Wizards jersey with her first name on the back along with a red and blue hair ties to hold up her long, black pigtails, Jackson then took to the main court to do an individual workout with her favorite player, John Wall.
“It was fun . . . exciting, meeting all the players,” Jackson said. “It was awesome.”
After leading the team onto the court about 20 minutes prior to tip-off, Jackson was the first player introduced in the Wizards starting lineup, complete with her name and photo on the scoreboard. A few minutes later, she headed back to an office with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and General Manager Ernie Grunfeld to ink a one-day contract that made her the youngest NBA player in history at 10 years old.
“It was kind of a neat thing, not only for her, but it was kind of neat thing for our guys,” Wittman said. “Our guys I think had a special moment with her. So, that’s always good, to make sure you never take your eyes off the big picture.”
No. 4: ‘Melo asks about Thibs — The Atlanta Hawks’ win over the Miami Heat secured them the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and officially eliminated the New York Knicks from playoff contention. This disappointing season has caused many to question whether free-agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony will remain in New York or bolt for a more attractive situation in, say, Chicago. Frank Isola of The New York Daily News reports that Anthony recently asked a former Chicago Bulls player what it’s like to play for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, and apparently that’s just enough juice to squeeze out a glass full of speculation:
Anthony’s interest in Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau can be taken one of several ways. Anthony, who lives and breathes basketball, is merely interested in learning something about one of the NBA’s top coaches. In fact, Anthony will be working with Thibodeau, who was named to USA Basketball’s coaching staff last June.
Of course, Anthony’s impromptu background check on Thibodeau could also be his idea of due diligence since the Bulls loom as an attractive option this summer for the free-agent-to-be.
The Bulls are emerging as one of several teams, along with the Lakers and Rockets, who are expected to pursue Anthony if and when he opts out of his contract on July 1. The Knicks can still offer Anthony the most money, and [Phil] Jackson, the new Knicks president, is intent on re-signing the All-Star forward.
But with the Knicks getting eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday night by virtue of Atlanta beating Miami, Anthony, now in his 11th season, is well-aware that the clock is ticking on his career. He won’t be in the playoffs for the first time and knows the Knicks won’t have cap space until next summer.
Anthony will have to decide if he wants to wait another year before Jackson can make a significant impact, or jump to a ready-made team such as Chicago or Houston.
When asked on Friday why the Bulls have survived losing key players while the Knicks haven’t, Anthony said: “I have no clue. Thibs is a great coach, his system kind of reminds me of Gregg Popovich’s system.
“You put anybody in that system and it’s going to work. That’s what they’ve been doing. They’ve had guys sitting out all season long, guys that’s been in and out of the lineups and they seem to get it done.”
Anthony flirted with the idea of joining the Bulls before forcing a trade to New York, which was his top choice all along. But the chance to play with [Derrick] Rose, Joakim Noah and Thibodeau may be too appealing to pass up again.
Another factor could be Thibodeau’s close relationship to Anthony’s agent, Leon Rose, whose longtime friend William Wesley represents Thibodeau. They all fall under the same CAA umbrella.
In recent weeks, Jackson has hinted that he doesn’t want to feel beholden to any one agency, and his comments have been viewed as a knock on CAA. However, the Knicks’ relationship with that agency was viewed as a strength last season when they were winning 54 games.
Also, Anthony and another CAA client, J.R. Smith, have both played at a high level over the last month as the Knicks kept their season alive.
Ultimately, Anthony will make the decision on his own, and the Knicks’ offer of $125 million may be too good to pass up. But with the Knicks’ coaching situation unsettled and the playoff chase over, Anthony may soon be able to answer the question of “What is it like to play for Thibs?” for himself.
No. 5: Silver to take ‘fresh look’ at playoff format — New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will have plenty of time to make his desired changes to the league, and it appears he already has a few ideas of things which could potentially be improved. One of them, which he discussed during a San Antonio Spurs broadcast, is to shake up the current playoff format. Mike Monroe of The San Antonio Express-News has the full Silver quotes:
Conducting an in-game interview with Spurs broadcasters Bill Land and Sean Elliott during the telecast of Friday’s Spurs-Suns game at AT&T Center, Silver said the league needs to consider changes to the format that puts the top eight teams in each conference in the playoffs.
This season, that means one Eastern team with a losing record will make the playoffs while one Western team with at least 47 wins will be left out.
The Suns, who left Friday’s game with a 47-32 record after absorbing a 112-104 loss to the Spurs, would be third in the East with that record. The bottom four teams in the West all would have home court advantage in the East were the playoffs to begin on Saturday.
“I don’t know that there will be movement,” Silver said about changing the format. “My initial thought is we will take a fresh look at it. When these conferences were designed it was in the day of commercial (air) travel. It was very different moving teams around the country.
“In this day and age when every team is flying charter it changes everything. It’s one of the reasons we moved back to the 2-2-1-1-1 format for this year’s Finals.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: James Harden collected 33 points and 13 assists to help the Rockets rally past the Pelicans 111-104. … Brandon Wright secured a Mavericks victory with this huge block. … The Nuggets’ Evan Fournier proved that he doesn’t need to be standing to make a shot.
ICYMI: The Atlanta Hawks clinched the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a win over the Miami Heat on Saturday night. This marks the seventh straight season the Hawks will be in the playoffs, which is the longest streak in the East. Point guard Jeff Teague joined the NBATV GameTime crew after the game last night to talk about what the clinch means to the team.
VIDEO: Arena Link: Jeff Teague