Posts Tagged ‘Dallas Mavericks’

Mavs, Suns put playoffs in own hands

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant gets a record, but the Suns get the win

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Memphis Grizzlies, the team supposedly no high seeds want to see in the first round, is on the outside looking in. The Oklahoma City Thunder, a favorite to win the West, is 0-4 in the last month against the current No. 7 and No. 8 seeds they very well could face.

Following a busy Sunday in which the San Antonio Spurs showed zero fear for the slumping Grizzlies, the Phoenix Suns outlasted the Thunder again and the Dallas Mavericks sweated out a two-point win at Sacramento, the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race continues to be as unpredictable as it is tight.

The Mavs and Suns have put their playoff fates in their own hands. Beyond that, any sorting out with 10 days left in the regular season remains premature because No. 7 Dallas (47-31), one-half game up on No. 8 Phoenix (46-31), which is one game ahead of No. 9 Memphis (45-32), all play each other in the season’s final five days (see remaining schedules below).

Anything remains possible. Everything’s on the table.

The miracle Suns, predicted at the start of the season to be a franchise banking on a high lottery position, have bounced back strong after arguably the season’s most devastating loss at the Los Angeles Lakers a week ago, followed by a heartbreak home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

In the last three nights, Phoenix has won at Portland and beat OKC, 122-115. The Suns also outran the Thunder on March 6, 128-122. Meanwhile, it makes OKC 0-4 over the last month against potential first-round foes Phoenix and Dallas. Of the Suns’ five remaining games, four are on the road.

Dallas has rebounded from a disappointing 4-4 homestand and looks to finish its road trip 4-0. The Mavs play a third consecutive West bottom-feeder Tuesday when it visits the Jazz. After holding on for dear life against the Clippers on Thursday, they followed up with wins at the Lakers and Sunday’s 93-91 nail-biter against the Kings.

An interesting twist in the schedule has Dallas playing host to San Antonio on Thursday, then the Suns playing at San Antonio on Friday and then at Dallas on Saturday. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich could opt to rest multiple players in either game of the back-to-back considering the No. 1 seed is all but sewn up.

As for the Grizzlies — who hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Phoenix, but not Dallas — they’ve dropped four of six, and were no match for the Spurs in Sunday’s 112-92 trouncing. Next up is a home date with Miami on Wednesday before absolute must-have games against Philadelphia at home and the Lakers on the road.

Here’s how the remaining schedules shake out for the Mavs, Suns and Grizzlies:

No. 7 Mavericks (47-31)

Tuesday: at Utah

Thursday: vs. San Antonio

Saturday: vs. Phoenix

April 16: at Memphis

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No. 8 Suns (46-31)

Wednesday: at New Orleans

Friday: at San Antonio

Saturday: at Dallas

Monday: vs. Memphis

April 16: at Sacramento

=================

No. 9 Grizzlies (45-32)

Wednesday: vs. Miami

Friday: vs. Philadelphia

Sunday: at L.A. Lakers

Monday: at Phoenix

April 16: vs. Dallas

Morning Shootaround — April 4


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers may be done with Gasol | Jackson acknowledges Anthony’s tough road | Cuban to fund HGH study | Riley opens up on Heat’s road

No. 1: Lakers may be done with Gasol … for good — Two days ago in an interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin, Lakers forward Pau Gasol recounted his bout with vertigo that, until Tuesday, kept him out of L.A.’s lineup since March 23. The former All-Star big man is still dealing with issues from vertigo and, as playoff-eliminated L.A.’s season heads into its final seven games, it is unlikely Gasol will suit up between now and then. With this season likely over, Gasol, an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, might not be a Laker again, too. Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times has more:

Pau Gasol might have played his last game in a Lakers uniform.

The team is leaning toward sitting him for its final seven games while he recovers from a severe recurrence of vertigo.

He won’t play Friday against Dallas after dizziness kept him confined at the team hotel Wednesday while the Lakers played Sacramento. He flew back on the team charter that night after missing a fifth game because of the illness.

It was the latest downturn in a rough season for Gasol.

In addition to various verbal tussles with Coach Mike D’Antoni about his role in the offense — and the small-ball concept in general — Gasol missed seven games in February because of a strained groin and three games in December because of a respiratory infection.

He leads the team in scoring (17.4 points a game) but is shooting only 48%, the second lowest accuracy of his career.

Gasol, 33, becomes a free agent after this season, sure to take a pay cut from the $19.3 million he currently makes but unsure where he will land. If it’s somewhere else, his last game with the Lakers will have been a nine-point, four-rebound effort in a 124-112 loss Tuesday to Portland.

***

No. 2: Jackson praises ‘Melo, acknowledges his burden — As we wake up on the morning of April 3, the New York Knicks are in sole possession of No. 8 in the Eastern Conference. That’s a surprising state for a team that has grossly underachieved this season and, yet, finds itself somewhat in control of its postseason destiny. New Knicks president Phil Jackson addressed the media on Thursday and (somewhat) praised the team for its rise and singled out All-Star Carmelo Anthony as well. Jackson had compliments — but also some criticisms — for Anthony in a state-of-the-team address with New York media, which Fred Kerber of the New York Post details:

In 17 days as Knicks president, Phil Jackson has seen the best of times, he has seen the worst of times.

And he has seen a lot to like in Carmelo Anthony.

Jackson, during a 16-minute state-of-Knicks Nation address with the media Thursday at the team’s Greenburgh practice facility, praised the energy and effort he has witnessed from the Knicks while admitting they have been playing to the level of the opponent.

“They’ve been up and down,” said Jackson, who reiterated he has “no intention of coaching” again.

“I’ve thought they’ve played a lot better against higher-quality teams or tougher teams than they have sometimes against also-rans. But they’re playing with great energy now and they’re playing with purpose, and I appreciate that.”

Among other positive developments, the 13-time NBA champion – a record 11 times as a coach, twice as a player — has seen Anthony flash parts of his game that certify the All-Star forward as among the true elite. Jackson and Anthony have chatted, but the talks did not address the player’s future. The here and now – specifically a push to the playoffs in the final six games – is sort of big.

“Carmelo’s really stepped into another level of trying to help players,” said Jackson, who referred to a critical assist Anthony made during the victory at Sacramento. “That’s one of the things we see that Carmelo can do and that he’s grown as he’s gone along.”

,,,

“We’ve had a couple occasions to talk. We haven’t really delved into the future as much as what’s going on [and] getting to know each other…see how he’s feeling about playing,” Jackson said. “He’s had to carry a big load. It’s been a tough year for him. But it’s been a tough year for everyone. It’s not just isolated with him, but I think he feels the weight of it a lot more on himself.”

Looking forward and evaluating how to lessen that load is big for Jackson as he and all the president’s men try to figure out how to improve the Knicks. With collegiate games going on, Jackson has had a chance to meet with scouts and personnel evaluators.

If the Knicks make the playoffs, some players suggested the Knicks can do some damage. The chief reason, as Jackson sees it, are the contributions from the likes of J.R. Smith and Amar’e Stoudemire to ease Anthony’s load.

“Now they have more than one option out there on the floor, and I think that we’ll give teams trouble,” said Jackson, who explained the playoff format is big for evaluating the future.

“You’re playing a team in a seven-game series, you’re really seeing who’s going to be attacked, how they stand up to the pressure, who performs in the critical situations, what the grind of a multiple-game series does to a team and how they react,” Jackson said. “Those are all valuable lessons.”

While many believe coach Mike Woodson is living on borrowed time, Jackson spoke positively about how the team has responded.

“Mike has a philosophy. It’s worked for him in the past. It’s worked for him in Atlanta,” Jackson said. “One of the reasons why they’ve been successful in the last month and a half … has been their defense has improved.”


VIDEO: Knicks president Phil Jackson talks about the team’s surge of late

***

No. 3: Cuban backing HGH study — Earlier in the season, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he thought human growth hormone research could be done better, at least in terms of how it relates to athletes. It seems Cuban is putting his money where his mouth is, writes Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com, who says that Cuban is helping fund a university study on HGH:

Cuban said Thursday he has made a significant financial commitment to fund a potential university study on the issue.

“It’ll be a two-year study that applies HGH to injuries preoperative to postoperative injury recovery,” Cuban said before the Mavs-Los Angeles Clippers game at Staples Center.

“So if you’re able to retain more muscle going into an operation because you’re working out and HGH helps your muscle. And you’re able to regain it faster, then we cut the recovery time.

“And it’ll be geared around one type of injury that has hundreds of thousands of examples a year. So we’ll be able to do a placebo environment without hurting anybody, right? So here’s the way we do it now. And here’s how we do it with HGH. So hopefully it will accelerate recovery.”

Cuban declined to divulge many details because the study needs approval from the Food and Drug Administration and Drug Enforcement Agency. He would not specify the university that plans to do the study other than to say it has a highly respected medical school.

Because of the need for approval from the government agencies and other paperwork, Cuban is not certain when the study would begin.

Cuban broached the subject of HGH use for athletes recovering from injuries at the NBA Board of Governors meetings in October …

“I just want to know what reality is,” Cuban said. “And if we can improve recovery time, obviously that’s a plus for all of us, but there was never any basis in fact for not allowing it for use [while recovering from injuries]. It was all marketing. So let’s find out. Let’s find out what’s real and not real.”

***

No. 4: Riley sees Heat’s big picture – As most know, the mastermind behind the Miami Heat’s signing of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade was Heat president and NBA icon Pat Riley. His ability to land those three All-Stars have made the Heat the power they are today. And in a fantastic story by ESPN.com’s Michael Wallace, we get a look into not just how that 2010 bonanza went down for the Heat, but also how Riley and Heat owner Mickey Arison has plans to keep Miami among the NBA’s elite for as long as he possibly can:

Riley’s résumé, as a Hall of Fame coach and executive, along with his reputation one of the league’s most respected — and shrewd — businessmen in the game, have made him as polarizing as he is successful. But his methods and high-risk gambles have frequently produced championship results — seven, to be exact — from his days coaching the Showtime Lakers and overseeing major overhauls of the Heat’s roster. But even Riley, who once compared himself during trade talks to a riverboat gambler, has concerns about the uncertainty that looms after this season.

“You always fear,” Riley told ESPN.com. “It’s not a real fear. I always have concern when players are in the situation they’re in. But we feel we have the best organization in the league for those players to stay, and to also attract others to want to come here. With our three guys, we hope that this turns into a generational team. And that it’s not just we’re at the end of this four-year run right now because players have some options this summer.”

Riley’s confidence in his roster has withstood some frustrating and inconsistent stretches this season. The Heat president started his career coaching Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy to four titles over the span of nearly a decade in the 1980s. Now Riley, who turned 69 last month, has visions of a perfect bookend to his decorated career.

The goal is to retool the Heat’s roster around James, Wade and Bosh to keep them together and in title contention for another handful of years and produce another dynastic decade. Despite difficult financial decisions looming amid a more punitive luxury tax set to kick in this offseason, Riley hopes to rely on three franchise pillars that have kept the Heat proactive and productive all these years. It starts with stability.

Riley believes he still works for a team owner in Micky Arison who remains as committed to winning and producing an elite product now as he was when they first met 19 years ago. Securing James in 2010 was the most recent splash, but Riley points out that Arison has been willing to create waves for decades. The process began in 1995 when, just two months after Riley was hired, Arison signed off on a trade that brought in Alonzo Mourning and later led to deals for P.J. Brown, Juwan Howard, Tim Hardaway and Dan Majerle. Riley said what the Heat pulled off in the summer of 2010 was similar to what they initially had visions of doing over a nine-month span in the mid-1990s before the NBA voided Howard’s contract.

“Ever since I came here, and Micky and I hooked up, the whole concept was you wanted to win,” Riley said. “He really wanted to win and wanted to put on a great show and have a great product. Right off the bat, right out of the blocks, we were able to trade for Alonzo. Then the league took Juwan away. But Micky has always been one that tactically and with great thought, weighing all the pros and cons, has swung for the fences. And I have too.”

While many believe James, Wade and Bosh — three of the top five picks in the 2003 draft — began plotting their course to eventually becoming teammates during their time together in the 2008 Olympics, Riley already had planted his own seed the day Wade signed his first major extension in 2006.

“This is how I think you plan and have a vision and look forward, hoping you can do something that’s special,” Riley said. “Coaching Kareem and Magic and James Worthy, and playing against [Larry] Bird, [Kevin] McHale and [Robert] Parrish, and [Joe] Dumars, Isiah Thomas and [Bill] Laimbeer, you need to have three really, really great players. There’s two superstars and another truly great player. You’ve seen that on pretty much all championship teams have had that kind of element.”

Riley remembers getting a call from Heat general manager Andy Elisburg on July 11, 2006.

“Andy was at a gas station,” Riley said. “And he said Dwyane had accepted his extension, and it was a three-plus-one [three years guaranteed, plus one option year]. And it was Dwyane and LeBron James and Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire and a bunch of other guys that signed their extensions and they’re all three years with one option. And I said, ‘Well, who are the other guys?’ And he gave me the list. And I said, ‘Well, we’re going to be players in 2010.’”

But amid all of Riley’s roster building and burning and rebuilding over the years, very little emphasis was ever placed on the draft or tapping into the foreign-player market.

“Everything we did from 2006 to 2010 was to be able to sit down at the table with LeBron and Chris and Amar’e and [Carlos] Boozer and Mike Miller, all these guys, to try to bring them to Miami,” Riley said. “We were fortunate that they came, but we also planned for it. There have been some deals that we’ve made that haven’t worked, but they haven’t really been deals that really cost us a lot or hurt us.”

But Riley admits he’s had to adapt in some other ways to better relate to modern NBA culture. In the past few seasons, he has opened a Twitter account, relented on his stance against players wearing headbands and has allowed James’ manager and the personal trainers for James and Wade greater access.

But mostly, Riley steps back and allows coach Erik Spoelstra to legislate the team culture.

“LeBron, being who he is in this world, in this game, has a very heavy load,” Riley said. “There’s a heavy load off the court and on the court. It’s a lot different than what it used to be. He manages everything he has to manage that maybe Magic Johnson didn’t have to manage back in the 1980s. I’ve adapted to that.”

***

No. 5: D’Antoni, Kaman burying the hatchet? — Just a little over a week ago, Lakers center Chris Kaman was openly complaining to the media about coach Mike D’Antoni‘s gameplan and useage of him this season. But it appears a chat with D’Antoni’s agent may have helped Kaman see just how hard D’Antoni’s job has been and softened the tension between the two, writes Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Warren LeGarie, the agent for embattled Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, was doing all the talking.He was doing the pointing, jabbing his index finger into Chris Kaman’s chest. LeGarie also stood up periodically to yell down at the Lakers center hunched in a courtside seat Tuesday night, ball in his lap, postponing his pregame court work to listen.

Head bobbing in emphatic declarations, LeGarie gestured numerous times toward the Lakers bench where D’Antoni is positioned during games. Kaman threw his hands up a few times but had little to say to LeGarie, who represents so many NBA coaches and executives that he qualifies as more of a power player in this league than any 7-footer.

Kaman is the type who has done far more talking than listening in his life, and some of his talking this season has been about D’Antoni’s rigid, uncommunicative, distrustful coaching of the Lakers while not giving Kaman consistent playing time. Just one week earlier, Kaman had revealed that D’Antoni hadn’t talked to him for the previous three weeks.

D’Antoni has one more guaranteed season left on his Lakers contract, and the club is leaning toward retaining him despite some privately disgruntled players and massive public disdain. It’s not clear which way the organization will go with him.

But Kaman’s 15-minute conversation with LeGarie ended with the agent yelling two words to Kaman: “Thank you. Thank you.”

After the Lakers’ 124-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers was complete, I asked Kaman about his pregame chat with LeGarie and whether it had given him any new perspective on D’Antoni’s situation.

“We were just talking,” Kaman said. “We were just talking about everything. He’s just a good buddy of mine.”

I asked Kaman where he stands now in his feelings about D’Antoni.

“It’s been a tough year for him, as it has been for a lot of guys,” Kaman said. “Me, in particular, just being in and out, in and out, just trying to figure my way through all of this, I can sort of put myself in his shoes and try to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘What would I do if I was him?’ And it’s hard to answer that question; it’s a tough position.

“Especially with all the injuries we’ve had and all the different things we’ve had to go through, I think it’s no easy task for a coach. Especially with the Lakers. This is a first-rate organization, and they do things better than most. They’re used to winning, and it’s a lot of pressure. And all these injuries didn’t make it any easier for him.”

Bear in mind, just one week ago Kaman was saying this season was “by far” and “tenfold” worse than any other in his 11-year NBA career.

While not naming a name and saying “it doesn’t get anyone anywhere” to spout negativity with the season a lost cause, Kaman said last week that the key to good coaching is “being a mediator as opposed to being someone in authority all the time. It’s about putting little fires out—small fires here or there—and keeping everybody’s egos together and managing that. Players know how to play if you give them enough guidance in the beginning.”

Late Tuesday night, when I asked Kaman if D’Antoni’s communication could’ve been better, Kaman said generously: “It always can be better with any coach, not just Mike. It’s such a big balance to be a head coach. It takes a lot. It takes a lot out of you. You see guys who can’t even finish years sometimes; they have to defer and hand it over to someone else. It drives people nuts.

“It takes a special person to coach a team, and in this day and age, the way the game is played, it’s a lot of pressure. You get two, three years, maybe, and then you’re outta there if you don’t produce. It’s no easy task. So I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and put myself in his shoes; it’s tough. It isn’t easy. With all the injuries and everything, it’s hard to say what would’ve happened if we would’ve had a healthy team.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rockets point guard Pat Beverley expects to return in time for the playoffs … UNC forward James Michael McAdoo is headed to the NBA Draft … Rockets assistant coach-turned-University of Houston coach Kelvin Sampson could earn $1 million a season in his new gig … The Celtics might be interested in re-signing forward Kris Humphries this summer … Guard Jodie Meeks wants to stick with the Lakers next season … Former Heat center Alonzo Mourning is reportedly headed to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

ICYMI of the Night: The Mavs’ Brandan Wright gives Blake Griffin a taste of his own (dunking) medicine … 


VIDEO: Brandan Wright powers home a dunk over Blake Griffin

 

Dirk’s sweet 16th season in jeopardy

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki discusses close overtime loss to the Warriors

DALLAS – The home-cooking the Dallas Mavericks dearly needed during a franchise-long eight-game homestand never materialized, not even in the final moments of Tuesday’s crushing overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors when the Mavs couldn’t believe Jermaine O’Neal wasn’t whistled for goaltending.

Dallas, which would have found itself alone in seventh place with the win, instead again fell out of the wild West playoff picture into ninth, one-half game behind Memphis and Phoenix with seven games remaining, including five on the road. Owner Mark Cuban stood in defiant disbelief behind the scorer’s table after the buzzer sounded on Golden State’s 122-120 victory, and distributed choice words to the officiating crew that included longtime nemesis Danny Crawford.

Cuban likely didn’t sleep well considering the toll, as he noted prior to the game, this all-consuming playoff chase exacts on his blood pressure.

“Everything’s stressful to me,” Cuban said. “For those 48 minutes it’s incredibly stressful. It was actually more stressful a couple of weeks ago because we were just going into this thing [the homestand], but now we’re here.”

A couple of weeks ago, Dallas blasted Oklahoma City at their place. They were 40-27 and in seventh place with eight consecutive home games ahead. Inside Tuesday night’s melancholy Mavs locker room, a familiar scene over this 4-4 homestand, one which the Mavs went 1-3 in overtime games and failed to put together consecutive victories, unfolded.

Monta Ellis, who was excellent with 27 points, again bolted the scene before reporters were allowed to enter the locker room. Left to explain why Dallas habitually can’t get stops or a crucial rebound in the final minutes were 37-year-old sixth man Vince Carter and the always stand-up superstar Dirk Nowitzki, whose 33 points on 13-for-21 shooting and a spectacular 6-for-8 from beyond the arc, plus 11 rebounds, wasn’t enough to finish the job.

“All four losses that we took were just brutal, just gut-punches,” said Nowitzki, who missed the playoffs last season for the first time in 13 years. “If we pull out one or two somehow, I think it’s a decent homestand. But we didn’t.”

Over the eight games, Nowitzki, 35, averaged 22.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 2.9 apg. Overall, the grueling nature of these final, must-have contests plus the four overtime periods that extended his minutes to 35.3 a game, an increase of three minutes a game more than coach Rick Carlisle prefers to play him, proved tough on Nowitzki’s aging legs, and it showed in a couple of rough fourth quarters and in his shooting percentages: 45.7 overall, 33.3 from beyond the arc and 81.6 from the free-throw line, all well below his season averages that have him on the verge of another 50-40-90 campaign. Only Steve Nash has accomplished such marksmanship at Dirk’s age or older.

The Mavs have put themselves in jeopardy of wasting what has been a magnificent season for Nowitzki in his 16th year. He has steadily climbed the NBA’s all-time scoring list and needs just 33 points to pass Dominique Wilkins for 11th place, and he needs 85 points over the final seven games to pass Oscar Robertson and become a top 10 all-time scorer.

Nowitzki is averaging 21.6 ppg on 49.1 percent shooting (39.2 percent from beyond the arc), 6.2 rpg and 2.7 apg this season. The only other players to put up at least 21.0 ppg on 49 percent shooting, 6.0 rpg and 2.0 apg at age 35 or older? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it four times from age 35 to 38, and Karl Malone did it three times from age 35 to 37. Both made the playoffs in each of those seasons.

The looming question is: Will Dirk?

Blogtable: The rest of the West

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Buying into the Spurs | Fixing Indiana | West 5-6-7-8



VIDEO: Shaquille O’Neal predicts the Mavericks will hang onto a spot in the West

> How do you see the final four spots in the West finally being settled? In what order? And how do you figure that?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: With Houston and Portland rasslin’ around at Nos. 4 and 5, and Golden State’s breathtaking overtime victory at Dallas Tuesday creating a little space, I’m thinking it’s three teams fighting for the final two spots. The Mavericks better not reel long from that loss Tuesday; they’re in the midst of a tough late trip, with even Sacramento and Utah looking scary when you have more at stake than they do. Memphis faces San Antonio and Miami a little more than 72 hours apart next week, and closes with games against Phoenix and Dallas. I’ve underestimated the Suns all season, but I’m not going to do it now. They could miss the postseason and still consider this an upbeat year. Dallas and Memphis? Not so much. I’m guessing Grizzlies in, Mavs out, decided on the season’s final night in Memphis.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: When you asked a version of this question several weeks ago, I said the scrappy, overachieving Suns would be the team left out.  Then they went and won six in a row.  However, I still believe Phoenix misses the playoffs.  The Suns have the toughest schedule — three at home and five on on the road to finish, including six games against West playoff teams.  In order, I’ll go with: Portland, Golden State, Memphis, Dallas.  The Blazers have weathered the storm, and with LaMarcus Aldridge back in the lineup, they have the easiest path to the finish with five home games and only one roadie at Utah left.  Of the Warriors’ final eight games, only two tough road games at San Antonio and Portland.  The Mavs and Grizzlies will battle it out for those last two spots and if it comes down to that final showdown game of the regular season, I’ll take Memphis at home.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: The Warriors’ injury situation makes this especially tricky. But this is how I see it shaking out: No. 5 Trail Blazers No. 6 Warriors, No. 7 Grizzlies, No. 8 Mavericks, No. 9 Suns. I still think Golden State has enough to hold onto the spot they’ve occupied for nearly the entire season. Memphis has the least threatening schedule of the remaining three teams. Dallas doesn’t have an easy path by any stretch — and they finish with Phoenix and Memphis — but the Suns, to me, have the roughest finishing kick. They’ll look back at their non-effort blowout loss at the Lakers on Sunday as a playoff killer.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Warriors, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Mavericks. I would have dropped the Rockets into that bottom four because of the health problems, but they have a pretty easy finishing schedule of three playoff teams the final nine games, albeit with some back-to-backs. The Warriors have tough road games against the Spurs tonight and the Trail Blazers, but look at the next four after San Antonio: Kings, Jazz, Nuggets, Lakers. If there’s a momentum-builder in the Western Conference, that’s it. I dropped the Suns because their next opponents are the Clippers, Trail Blazers, Thunder, Pelicans and Spurs. But Phoenix has been beating logic all season, so watch it happen again.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Portland is safely in the No. 5 spot, with a one-game edge in the loss column and only one road game (in Utah) and three (potential) playoff teams left on its schedule. Golden State looks good for sixth, with a two-game edge on the other three teams and six of their eight remaining games against the bottom six in the West. So it will (sort of) come down to the Dallas-Memphis-Phoenix round-robin on the 12th  (PHX @ DAL), 14th (MEM @ PHX) and 16th (DAL @ MEM). I think they’ll all go 1-1 in those games, but Memphis will pick up an extra win elsewhere (they have more remaining games against non-playoff teams) and the Mavs will win the Dallas-Phoenix tiebreaker thanks to a win in that April 12 game. So I’m sticking with what I wrote a month ago. The Suns will miss out because they have the toughest schedule of the group.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: As of today, Portland, Golden State, Dallas and Memphis are in the 5-8 spots, and they are each 6-4 in their last 10 games.  And Phoenix is right behind them, 8-2 in their last 10.  If I had to choose a team not to make it, and I guess that’s what you’re making us do here,  I’d go with Phoenix. They’ve been so good all season, but at some point their magic has to run out. Doesn’t it? And as far as the other four teams finishing, I’ll go Portland, Golden State, Memphis, Dallas, although you might as well just flip a coin and see how it all plays out.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I am counting Minnesota out of the race and think that Portland and Golden State will hold on to their fifth and sixth rankings irrespective of the remainder of the schedule. Those two teams have an adequate buffer on Memphis, Phoenix and Dallas. Of the Grizzlies, the Suns and the Mavericks, the latter two teams play five of their remaining games on the road compared to the Grizzlies’ four games away from home. All three teams have one set of back-to-back games. But Phoenix’s schedule is most daunting because other than playing Portland, San Antonio and Dallas on the road, the Suns also have to host the Clippers, Oklahoma City and Memphis in their last eight games. And Dallas and Memphis, with their veteran experience, would certainly be favorites ahead of Phoenix to maintain their composure down the stretch. So — in short — my final four spots would be Portland, Golden State, Memphis and Dallas.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: That’s a tough race, but I think it will end with Blazers, Warriors, Mavs and Grizzlies in this order. I’m sorry for the Suns, but they have the most difficult schedule and they lack a veteran guide. The Blazers got their mojo back with LaMarcus Aldridge and the Warriors are too far to surpass them. The final two spots are the most difficult to predict. Dallas, Memphis and Phoenix are in a tight race that will probably be decided only in the final days of the regular season, when each team plays against the other two. And once again, I’m sorry for the Suns.

Morning Shootaround — April 2


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wade: Big Three haven’t talked opt out yet | Warriors band together in OT | Howard has fluid drained from ankle | Report: Lillard nearing deal with adidas | Lakers to build new practice digs

No. 1: Wade: Big Three not decided on future plans yet– The playoffs are nearly here, which means all eyes will be on the Miami Heat to see if the squad led by stars Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh can make a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance and, perhaps, win a third straight title. Whenever Miami’s playoff run comes to an end — and likely, well before that even happens — the next topic folks will discuss is whether or not James, Bosh and Wade will opt out of their contract this summer. ESPN.com’s Darren Rovell reports that in an upcoming ESPN the Magazine article, Wade says he and the rest of the Big Three haven’t broached that topic yet:

Miami Heat teammates Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh all have opt-outs in their contracts at the end of this season, but no collective decision has been made as to whether they will all choose to test the free agent waters.

The three met before they made their free agent decision in 2010 and could have another such meeting before their June 30 opt-out deadlines, which allows them to leave in 2014, 2015 or 2016.

Wade revealed on Tuesday as part of an interview for the cover story of an upcoming issue of ESPN The Magazine that the three, who have gone to three straight Finals and won the last two, plan to have that conversation at some point.

“I’m at a position where I don’t really have to worry about it,” said Wade, who also won a title for the Heat in 2006. “I’ve been with the same organization for now 11 years. We’ve won multiple championships, so it’s no reason where I need to think about that yet. I’m not at a point where we are a bad team and I need to think about the future so right now I’m really focused on just enjoying this team, enjoying our quest to try to ‘Three-peat.’ And when the season is over, and whatever happens, then I will sit down and I will sit down with Chris and I will sit down with Bron and I will sit down and make the best decision for myself and my family.”

Last week, Bosh hinted that he and LeBron would stay in Miami when he answered “True” to a question posed by ESPN’s Dan Le Batard as to whether he and James would be back with the team next year.

“When we sat down and we signed our deals and all of us made sure we had an opt out in that fourth year, that was our option, so the option is there and you would hope that someone wants to be able to use their option as a player,” Wade said:

“As players, you only have so much time and you only have so many moments where you have the ability to control your own fate, so it’s not a bad thing at all if that’s what someone is thinking. I haven’t had that conversation with Chris. I haven’t had that conversation with Bron,” he added.


VIDEO: LeBron James talks with Steve Smith about his contract future with the Heat

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No. 2: Warriors come up with big OT win — With less than 10 games left in their respective seasons, last night’s Warriors-Mavericks game in Dallas took on plenty of significance. Both Dallas and Golden State are, in their own ways, fighting for their playoff lives. And both put on a classic game last night as the Mavs built a sizeable first-half lead and seemed to be in control for a win before the Warriors came back and forced in OT. In the extra period, Steph Curry took the spotlight and delivered a game-winning jumper with :00.1 left to give Golden State some extra breathing room in the postseason chase. Our Jeff Caplan was on hand and details how Golden State stuck together all game long: 

Jermaine O’Neal will always be remembered most for his days as an Indiana Pacer. But now the 18-year veteran seeking one last shot at glory plays for the Golden State Warriors, a team that’s fought through injury and adversity, and down the pressure-packed stretch run just might be the antithesis of O’Neal’s fraying former club.Starting at center once again Tuesday night for the injured Andrew Bogut in a game magnified by playoff implications for both the Warriors and Mavericks, O’Neal ripped Dallas for 20 points, eight rebounds and one massive, game-altering blocked shot. Late in the fourth quarter, Mavs guard Monta Ellis dunked over O’Neal to give Dallas a 102-97 lead and a wave of momentum in an arena buzzing with playoff-style excitement. This time, as Ellis tried to turn the corner, O’Neal made his move. He snared Ellis’ baseline fallaway with his right hand with 11.6 seconds to go in overtime, and in one motion brought it down and fed it out to Draymond Green, who got it to Stephen Curry, who ended it with a tough, contested jumper over Jose Calderon from the left wing with 0.1 seconds showing on the clock.

As time expired, the Warriors, rallying late in the fourth and again in overtime, celebrated the 122-120 victory as furious Mavs owner Mark Cuban, befuddled that no goaltending was called on O’Neal, engaged in an animated discussion with the referees.

The margin for error in Tuesday’s game was as razor thin as the separation in the standings. A Dallas win would have moved them one-half game behind Golden State, who now head to San Antonio to grapple with the Spurs’ 18-game win streak. Instead, it’s the Mavs who slipped from seventh to out of the playoff picture in ninth, one-half game behind Memphis and Phoenix.

The Warriors, feeding off a belief that many see them as down and out, found a different interpretation of a wild 53 minutes in Big D.

“This is late in the year and I have seen teams say how easy it is to let go of the rope,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “This is a team that’s not going to do it. Contrary to anything, we’re not going to do it. This is a quality win against a team  that had everything going their way and I’m proud of these guys. They deserve the credit.”

Jackson called his bunch a “tied-together team,” and emphasized, “I don’t think you need more evidence.”

Sharpshooter Klay Thompson, who had 27 points, including the game-tying 3-pointer with 1:01 to go in regulation, played up the Warriors’ unbreakable mindset.

“People think we’re down and out, it just proves we have a lot of basketball in us,” Thompson said. “We never hang our heads. We might have done that in the past, but this is a changed team. When we get those guys [Lee and Bogut] back, we’ll be even better.”


VIDEO: Golden State’s players celebrate a big win in Dallas

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No. 3: Howard has fluid drained from left ankle — Much like fellow All-Star big man Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers, it sounds like Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard is going to do all he can to be fully healthy for the playoffs. Howard is recovering from an ankle injury and had some fluid drained from it, but remains confident he’ll be fully ready to go once the playoffs begin, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Aiming to be 100 percent by the playoffs, center Dwight Howard said Tuesday he had fluid drained from his left ankle for a second time but that he is “not worried at all” that the issue will linger through the remainder of the Rockets’ regular-season schedule.

“There was more fluid in there the next time I saw the doctor,” Howard said. “It was best I get the fluid out and just rest. I’m not worried.”

Howard, who missed four of the Rockets’ past six games, has no target date to return, but he won’t play Wednesday in Toronto.

Forward Terrence Jones sat out Tuesday with flu-like symptoms.

Coach Kevin McHale said a timetable has not been determined on point guard Pat Beverley’s return, saying the Rockets will “play it by ear.”

“(Howard) had a shot in the back of his ankle to ease some of the pain,” McHale said. “He had some swollen soft tissue in there. When that calms down, he’ll go.”

Howard missed three games last month before returning to play against Charlotte and Philadelphia. The soreness returned in the third quarter against the Sixers last Thursday. He sat out Saturday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and is sitting out this week’s two-game trip to Brooklyn and Toronto.

“The main thing is that I am able to run and be who I am without any concerns,” Howard said. “For a while, I (felt good) in both games. But after a while, it started hurting again so I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do. (Playing in those two games) wasn’t smart.”

***

No. 4: Report: Lillard nearing deal with adidas – To say that 2013-14 has been a breakout season for Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard is a bit of an understatement. Lillard, who is second on the team in scoring (21.1 ppg) and leads it in both assists (5.6 apg) and 3-pointers made (204), became an All-Star this season and helped Portland surpass last season’s 33 wins weeks ago. It’s no surprise that more marketing opportunities are opening up for him and as Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com reports, a new shoe deal is coming down the pike for the Blazers guard:

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard and adidas are on the cusp of finalizing a multiyear, lucrative shoe endorsement deal barring any hiccups, a league source informed CSNNW.com.Once official, an announcement is expected in the coming days.

“We’re close,” Lillard told CSNNW.com on Tuesday. “Nothing final yet. I’m excited.”

Adidas had a 30-day exclusive window to reach an agreement with Lillard and that period was set to expire on April. 1, according to another source briefed on the situation. If a deal was not reached, conversations with Nike and other shoe rivals would have commenced as soon as this week, we’re told.

However, the talks have progressed to the point where adidas is in the driver’s seat.

Lillard, along with his agent Aaron Goodwin, were spotted on Tuesday with adidas’ officials at the JW Marriott in downtown Los Angeles, Calif., where positive back and forth dialogue took place, CSNNW.com learned.


VIDEO: Damian Lillard talks after his monster game against the Lakers on Tuesday

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No. 5: Lakers to build new practice facility — The Los Angeles Lakers have plenty of history and a future Hall of Famer in Kobe Bryant on their roster that they hope will entice some free agents to look their way this summer. But one thing that likely won’t draw tons of free agents to L.A. is the Lakers’ outdated practice facility. The Lakers, though, are working with a local company to buy five acres of land on which they’ll one day build a new practice facility, writes Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

For all the glitz and glamour surrounding the Lakers’ franchise, their current practice facility does not exactly exude such a mystique.

The Lakers have only one basketball court and its office space is somewhat cramped. So in an effort both to expand room for their day-to-day operations and provide a mechanism to lure free agents beyond their storied championship history, the Lakers plan to build a modern practice facility in El Segundo.

The Lakers did not provide any details on the beginning or completion date. But they announced entering an agreement with CDC Mar Campus, LLC to purchase a five-acre undeveloped portion at Campus El Segundo near the northwest corner of Mariposa Avenue and Douglas Street. The completion of the purchase hinges on the City of El Segundo’s approval.

The Lakers currently practice at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, a building shared with the NHL’s Kings and a skating rink that is often open to the general public. The Lakers would own their future facility and would have more room to accommodate their business and basketball operations. The Lakers’ marketing, ticketing, corporate sponsorships and community relations are located in a different building about a block away. The Lakers also have no sign of their logo outside of the building proclaiming their existence.

The Clippers opened a $60 million practice facility in Playa Vista in 2008 that includes two basketball courts, spacious offices and expansive video and weight rooms. They had practice before at Spectrum, an El Segundo health club, and L.A. Southwest College.

Part of the Lakers’ thought process entails wanting to have another mechanism to attract free agents, according to a source familiar with the details.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Pacers’ Paul George is an All-Star, but he hasn’t been living up to the scoring task of late for Indiana … Suns guard Goran Dragic gets his own Slovenian music video tribute … Blazers forward Victor Claver isn’t happy with his role and playing time in Portland … Jason Kidd downplays his new Coach of the Month Award

ICYMI(s) of the Night: There were lotsa great blocks in Dallas last night, starting with Shawn Marion‘s denial of Marreese Speights and ending with Jermaine O’Neal‘s game-saving block that led to Steph Curry‘s game-winner …


VIDEO: Marion takes flight to deny Speights’ jam


VIDEO: Jermaine O’Neal gets the crucial late-game denial vs. the Mavs

Morning Shootaround — March 30



VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Doc sends Davis to locker room | Sixers win | Carter wants to re-sign with Mavs | O’Neal praises Mark Jackson | Tuckers seeks a larger contract from Suns

No. 1: Doc sends Davis to locker room – The Los Angeles Clippers are rolling. They’re 15-2 over their last 17 games, and last night, despite losing All-Star Blake Griffin early to injury, they  were able to defeat the Houston Rockets 118-107. Unfortunately, things aren’t all roses in Lob City, as coach Doc Rivers was forced to call arena security to escort forward Glen Davis to the locker room midway through the game. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times has the story:

Losing All-Star power forward Blake Griffin with back spasms had already put the Clippers in a tough predicament, but it got more difficult when Coach Doc Rivers grew so upset at Glen Davis that he had the backup forward escorted from the game.

The Clippers just pressed on, walloping the Houston Rockets yet again, 118-107, Saturday at Toyota Center, to sweep their four-game season series.

But after the Clippers clinched a playoff spot for the third consecutive season, Rivers was forced to address the Davis situation.

“He was emotional tonight and we told him to go sit down,” Rivers said. “And I just thought he was a distraction. When guys are a distraction, I don’t think they should be on the bench.”

After Rivers had pulled Davis early in the second quarter, Davis yelled something at Rivers, who in turned yelled, “Sit your big … down.”

A few seconds later, associate head coach Alvin Gentry went to talk to Davis at the end of the bench, but Rivers then told the team’s security to take Davis to the locker room.

Rivers obviously still was upset at his power forward, which left the Clippers even more short-handed because Griffin was still in the locker room getting treatment.

“Nothing went on with me,” Rivers said. “I thought Baby was too emotional.

“And for me if you’re too emotional, I always send you back to the locker room and keep you back there until the next game. I love Baby. I just didn’t think emotionally he was ready to play tonight so we told him go to the locker room.”

***

No. 2:Sixers win – The long, national nightmare is over as the Philadelphia 76ers are back in the win column after trouncing the Detroit Pistons 123-98 last night. The Sixers 26-game losing streak tied the mark set by the 2010-11 Cleveland Cavaliers for worst streak in NBA history. However, the win also pushed the Milwaukee Bucks lead on the worst record in the league to two games over the Sixers. It should be an exciting race to end the season. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer has more on the win:

The Sixers downplayed the victory.

“It’s just like another win,” reserve guard Tony Wroten said. “It’s the NBA. You all are talking about the pressure. We weren’t worried about a streak. We were just trying to get better every day.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he never mentioned the losing streak to his team.

“I never went into a room and said, ‘We have to get out of the streak,’ ” he said. “We talked about, ‘Let’s bang out great days.’ I’m glad tonight that the win validates that.”

The win was a big lift for a franchise that turned into the laughingstock of professional sports during the skid.

ESPN had been poking fun at the team after each of its recent losses. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon even roasted the Sixers Friday night for losing 26 consecutive games.

That’s because they equaled the run of futility established by the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the 1976 and 1977 seasons. The Cleveland Cavaliers tied that record and set an NBA mark with 26 straight losses during the 2010-11 season.

No. 27 never came, as the Sixers dominated the lifeless Pistons (26-47), handing them their 11th loss in 13 games.

“I think we came out with fire like we try to do in a lot of these other games,” Sixers rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams said. “We didn’t change anything. We wanted to win the ball game just like we’ve been doing every single day, every game, and every practice, just going out there playing hard.”

While they were made fun of, the Sixers said the losing streak didn’t affect them.

Sacrificing wins has been part of the team’s plan since Sam Hinkie was hired as general manager in May. The Sixers are using this season for player development, evaluating talent, and developing a culture. In the process, they hope to lose enough games to secure a top pick in the NBA draft in June.

“Our judgment day isn’t today, and it won’t be tomorrow,” Brown said before the game. “We are on a three- to five-year plan. Obviously, we want to win. We want to win every time we come on the floor. I coach to win. Our players play to win.”

Surely this victory provided relief for the Sixers, right?

“Not a relief,” [Hollis] Thompson said. “It’s just a sign that we have been doing the right things and working on the right things, and it’s finally playing off.”

***

No. 3: Carter wants to re-sign with Mavs – Vince Carter is 37 years old, but this has not stopped him from having a great season in Dallas averaging 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists in just 24.4 minutes per game. He’s a key contributor for the playoff-hopeful Dallas Mavericks, who utilize Carter’s new-found 3-point game which he has developed over his last three seasons in Dallas. This contribution allows Carter to hope he will be re-signed by Dallas this offseason, despite his age. Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News has more:

In three seasons with the Mavericks, Carter has seen them go from defending champions to barely making the playoffs to missing them entirely.

Neither he nor anybody else knows if this season will produce a return to the postseason. But Carter does know two things.

This team is better than last year’s. And he desperately wants to hang around to see this rebuilding project through to the end.

Or at least next season.

“I think I’ve earned the right to stick around,” Carter said.

The 6-6 future Hall of Famer will be a free agent after this season. Carter’s three-year contract he signed before the 2011-12 season has been a huge bargain, as the Mavericks paid him only about $9.3 million for those years of work.

He hopes it is a no-brainer that he re-signs with the Mavericks.

“My fingers are crossed,” he said. “Next year might be even better. We can attract some more people, more talent. Now I know my role, and I know the system, it’s second nature to me now. I know the city very well. I’m stepping out, going to SMU games and getting out and about. I’m very comfortable here.

“I like the guys. I like the nucleus we have here. With my role and the way I play and the way I go about things, it really helps guys here. And they like that. Hopefully, that’s enough so that they can still have trust in me enough to play significant minutes and help the other guys out.”

It’s hard to say the 37-year-old Carter has put together one of the best seasons of his career if you base it solely on numbers. If you factor in personal satisfaction, however, it may be the best year he’s ever had.

Carter probably won’t win the NBA’s sixth man of the year award, but he’s deserving of consideration. He’s the true definition of the role. He plays about half the game, averages a point every two minutes played, can still levitate like it’s 1999 and has a burning desire to see this team continue to get better.

And that includes seeing what happens next. But Carter is wise enough to know that things may not work out.

“The business side, it happens,” he said. “And maybe they need the money. But I’m hoping we’re talking right here at this time next year.”

Carter’s play as this season has gone along has made it clear he’s not finished as a player. While he enjoys the mentoring role — you can see him on the sideline offering his experience to younger players during games — he’s still a gamer.

And he likes being the sixth man on a good team.

“In the beginning, that first year, it was learning how to go about it,” he said. “It’s still having the starter’s mentality, be aggressive, make plays, but within the confines of the offense. And understanding my role.

“That’s the biggest thing for all players, particularly for guys coming from a starting position into a backup role, is accepting the new position. Once I understood it, everything is easier.”

***

No. 4: O’Neal praises Mark Jackson – The Golden State Warriors, at 45-27, would be the sixth seed in the Western Conference with a first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers if the playoffs started today. Not a bad spot, but lower than many expected the Warriors to be this season after their playoff run last year and with the addition of Andre Iguodala this offseason. But despite these rough spots, center Jermaine O’Neal can’t stand speculative talk about how the Warriors should fire coach Mark Jackson. Diamond Leung of the San Jose Mercury News has O’Neal’s comments:

Warriors veteran big man Jermaine O’Neal called any talk of firing coach Mark Jackson “ridiculous” and “unfair” before offering a vote of confidence unique to his own NBA career.

O’Neal is considering retirement, and if the 35-year-old were to decide to play next season, he said it would be because of Jackson and that the team he would choose would be the Warriors.

“It’s a couple reasons why I will come back,” O’Neal said Saturday. “This fan base, this organization is first class, and obviously my teammates are great, as well.

“But the No. 1 reason that I will come back and play another year is because of Coach Jackson. I’m absolutely, 100 percent positive about that. He makes it easy to come in this gym every day, and there’s not a lot of coaches that do that.”

O’Neal, whom Jackson noted was “underpaid” and “a steal” while playing on a $2 million, one-year contract, said he would choose Golden State despite the distance from family because Jackson has shown just how much he cares about his players.

Offering up an example, the business-minded O’Neal said Jackson allowed him to miss practice Tuesday so he could go to Mountain View to attend Y Combinator’s Demo Day, which features startup companies making presentations.

O’Neal also appreciated how Jackson has been mindful of putting too much of a physical burden on him because of his age and experience.

With Andrew Bogut going down with a pelvic contusion in Friday’s win against Memphis, O’Neal’s presence in the lineup could be needed once again for Sunday’s game against New York as the Warriors look to close out a playoff berth with 10 games left.

“To me, it’s one of the most unfair things that I’ve seen in a long time,” O’Neal said. “And it truly is a team that’s 18 games over .500. Eighteen. And we’re talking about firing a coach with 10, 11 games left?

“Here’s the facts. To everybody that’s negative out there, you may not ever see this again. I know that firsthand because I’ve been in the position. It may take 10 years to be back in that position, so do you want to accept us with open arms and continue to show the support?”

***

No. 5: Tucker seeks a larger contract from Suns – It’s no secret that Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker is a bargain at his current league-minimum contract of $884,000. He’s arguably the motor which keeps the Suns’ high-energy engine running and he does so while averaging 9.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 steals (along with superb defense) in 30.9 minutes per game. This bargain for the Suns may not last long, as Tucker hopes to sign a larger contract this summer. Paul Coro of Arizona Central Sports has the quotes:

Suns forward P.J. Tucker picked up a technical foul recently and joked that he wants the Suns to have it taken out of next year’s salary.

For one, Tucker knows he will be making much more money next season after playing on a veteran’s minimum contract for the next two seasons. It also played his hand that he wants and expects to be back with the Suns next season despite becoming a restricted free agent in July.

“Of course, why would I not?” Tucker said. “They brought me here. I think I exceeded their expectations and mine with what has transpired. Of course, I want to retire a Sun.”

Tucker, 28, was a second-round pick by Toronto in 2006 who was assigned to the D-League and released before his rookie season ended. Tucker became an overseas star, playing in Germany, Ukraine, Israel and Puerto Rico, before he joined the Suns’ Summer League team in 2012 and signing a two-year, partially guaranteed deal.

He emerged as a standout defender and the Majerle Hustle Award winner and started all season this year with improved 3-point shooting. “Forbes” magazine named Tucker the most underpaid player in the league for his $884,000 salary.

“The love I have for this organization will always be,” Tucker said. “They gave me a chance to prove myself and actually to prove that I’m a player in this league. It’s almost emotional for me to think about everything I’ve been through and for them to give me an opportunity to do it. Not just to be on the team, but in two seasons, I’ve started a whole year and a half for the team on a minimum contract. That doesn’t happen.

“When I sit back and think about it, which I never do, it’s too much. So I’ll always be indebted.”

Friday night’s game emphasizes Tucker’s value to a team beyond being a locker room leader. Knowing they have a defender of the caliber, strength and versatility of Tucker allow the coaching staff to assign him to top wing scorers like Carmelo Anthony and create a defensive game plan around that.

In restricted free agency, the Suns will be able to match any offer sheet that Tucker signs with another team and keep him. He knows his value is about to skyrocket.

“The moment you sit back and think, ‘Hmmm,’ that’s the moment you’re losing,” Tucker said. “You can’t do that. Not right now I can’t.

“I’m nervous but excited at the same time. This is the most important time in my career. I kind of took a pay cut to come so this is my one chance.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Andrew Bogut suffered a pelvic contusion and was scheduled to undergo an MRI on Saturday. … The San Antonio Spurs win their 17th-straight game. … Chris Paul recorded 30 points and 12 assists to lead the Clippers past the Rockets.

ICYMI of the Night: Ebony Nettles-Bay is an AAU high-school basketball player who was diagnosed with cancer in September. If you haven’t read her story, you can (and should) here. She’s a huge LeBron James fan who had the dream of meeting him. This inspired the hashtag #LeBronMeetsEbony which you may have seen on social media. Her dream came true last night as she met her hero in Milwaukee. James spoke about the moment after the game.


VIDEO: James on Ebony Nettles-Bay

Mavs getting the full Monta in 4th

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Ellis sparks Mavericks to win over Nuggets

DALLAS – Two nights after Monta Ellis outscored the Minnesota Timberwolves 12-2 down the stretch to get his team to overtime, if ultimately not the victory, he crushed the Denver Nuggets on Friday night with a furious flurry of dazzling drives, pinpoint dishes and even 3-point buckets.

The Dallas Mavericks are getting the full Monta in fourth quarters, a significant weapon to have next to one of the great all-time closers in Dirk Nowitzki. Ellis poured in 14 fourth-quarter points against the Nuggets on 6-for-6 shooting. He dropped 10 points in the final 6:29 after Denver had quickly shaved Dallas’ 11-point lead to 99-96. Ellis finished with 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting, plus seven assists and four rebounds, and the Mavs won 122-106.

“I was just taking what the defense gives me, being patient,” Ellis said. “We run a screen-and-roll, come off, see how the defense is playing and make the right plays.”

Ellis has been making the right plays most of the season. He’s played in all 70 games, shaking off a hamstring strain earlier in the season and illness more recently to stay on the floor as the Mavs joust with Memphis and Phoenix for the final two playoff spots.

The three-year, $25 million contract Ellis signed last summer is looking like one of the great bargains of this season. He’s averaging 18.8 points, 5.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds. Ellis, who leads all players in drives to the basket by a fairly wide margin, is getting his points in much more economical fashion than in the past with Golden State and Milwaukee. He’s shooting 45.7 percent overall, which would go down as his highest mark since the 2007-08 season when he shot 53.1 percent with the Warriors. And he’s averaging 15.1 shot attempts a game, which stands to be his lowest mark since that 07-08 season.

The clutch factor has been a bonus. After his latest fireworks against the Wolves and Nuggets, Ellis has notched double-figure point totals in the fourth quarter 10 times in 70 games this season. His shooting percentages soar in the final period to 48.4 percent overall and 38.6 percent from beyond the arc — he’s shooting just 33.1 percent from deep overall. His percentages, as well as his 5.2-point scoring average in the fourth quarter are his highest among all quarters.

“He’s got the confidence to do it,” Nowitzki said of Ellis’ ability to close out games with scoring binges. “Confidence in this league is like 80 percent. There’s obviously some skill involved, but if you have that confidence you can do it and you do it a couple of times, then you’re there. You’ve arrived.

“He’s been great all season for us when we do give him the ball at attacking and making stuff happen. He’s shooting the 3-ball really well lately. If he’s in a rhythm shooting like that, he’s tough to guard because he comes off the screen-and-rolls so quick. If they go under and he knocks those shots in, he’s tough to guard.”

Coming off Wednesday’s disappointing overtime loss to Minnesota in which Nowitzki missed a potential game-winner in the final seconds and played 39 minutes, Dallas needed Ellis’ extra burst. Nowitzki asked out for a quick breather with 3:57 to go with Dallas up 109-99. The 35-year-old power forward wouldn’t need to return. Ellis made sure of that with an assist to Brandan Wright for a dunk before nailing a step-back jumper followed by a pair of 3-pointers.

“He really answered the bell down the stretch,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “That was a spectacular run to end the game. We needed every ounce of what he gave us.”

March madness hits Dallas early

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Ricky Rubio and the Timberwolves get past the Mavs in OT

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In a couple weeks March Madness will descend on the Dallas area when the Final Four arrives at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

At the American Airlines Center, home of the Dallas Mavericks, the madness has arrived early with five consecutive games that produced more wild swings than Charles Barkley on the back nine. Games against Chicago, Portland, Indiana, Boston and Minnesota featured scoreboard swings totaling some 160 points, plus 29 lead changes and 22 ties.

Despite amassing big leads in four of the games and coming all the way back from down 22 in the fifth, Dallas went 3-2 in those games.

In the first three games, Dallas built leads between 16 and 30 points, lost them all, yet managed to salvage wins against the Blazers and Pacers. The close calls prompted Dirk Nowitzki following the Pacers win to suggest the Mavs should do themselves a favor and not get too far ahead too early. After all, losing big, early leads quickly has been something of a Dallas calling card this season: Six games in which its led by at least 16 points have ended up in the loss column.

It didn’t help when the Mavs waited until late in the third quarter to run away from the woeful Celtics and go up by 15 points. Only that lead diminished, too, in all of three minutes, but this time Dallas never lost the lead — it got down to one point — and survived in the final seconds for the win.

On Wednesday, the Timberwolves turned the tables from the previous blueprint by being the ones to jump out early. They went ahead 37-24 in the first quarter and busted it open by 22 points early in the second quarter. Buried? Not exactly. Dallas stormed back to within six at halftime, nearly won it in regulation, led by five in overtime, but then couldn’t close it out. Nowitzki put Dallas up one, Kevin Love answered for the lead with 17.1 seconds to go and then Nowitzki’s last chance didn’t fall in the final seconds.

“It becomes a game of Russian roulette, whether you can make the last shot or not,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said.

For a team clinging to the edge of the playoffs, it’s a dangerous way to live.

The madness might be only just beginning as Dallas plays the third game of its franchise-long eight-game homestand Friday night against unpredictable Denver. But first, a look back at the zany last five:

Feb. 28: Bulls 100, Mavs 91

Biggest leads: Mavs 16 (38-22, 10:17, 2nd); Bulls 9 (100-91)

What happened: Joakim Noah physically dominated Dallas in the fourth quarter. The Bulls won the period, 27-15, after trailing the entire first half and leading by just one point in the third quarter.

March 7: Mavs 103, Trail Blazers 98

Biggest leads: Mavs 30 (44-14, 8:31, 2nd); Blazers 7 (89-82, 8:36, 4th)

What happened: Dallas led 33-10 after the first quarter, but after the lead swelled to 40-10, Portland went  on a 79-42 run, and then led 98-92 with 4:26 to go. One of the most improbable comebacks ever was halted as the Mavs mustered the energy to end the game by scoring the final 11 points.

March 9: Mavs 105, Pacers 94

Biggest leads: Mavs 17 (35-18, 9:53, 2nd); Pacers 5 (55-50, 8:58, 3rd)

What happened: The Pacers got it down to 48-45 at halftime and came out strong in the third quarter to grab a 55-50 lead. Then things reversed again with Dallas going ahead 73-62. Indiana made it 94-90, but Dallas closed it out with an 11-4 run.

March 17: Mavs 94, Celtics 89

Biggest leads: Mavs 15 (64-49, 4:19, 3rd); Celtics 4 (37-33, 7:26, 2nd)

What happened: Boston scored six points in the first eight minutes of the third period as Dallas opened up its largest margin, only to lose it on a 12-0 Boston run to close the quarter. The Mavs went back up by 12, 78-66, with 6:25 left. With 21.6 seconds left, Dallas’ lead was down to 90-89, but a couple free throws and a defensive stop saved the Mavs from an embarrassing loss.

March 19: Timberwolves 123, Mavs 122 (OT)

Biggest leads: Timberwolves 22 (50-28); Mavs 5 (120-115, 3:03, OT)

What happened: Neither one of these teams is very good at holding leads and, well, that proved out. Dallas demolished a 22-point deficit and got to within six at halftime, only to fall behind 107-94 with 6:48 to go in the game. Monta Ellis outscored Minnesota 12-2 to give Dallas a 113-111 lead, but the defense failed and the game went to overtime. Dallas had it until it managed one field goal in the final 3:03 and got outscored 8-2.

Morning Shootaround — March 18


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

What might have been for Denver | The Barnes effect | World according to Thibs | Poking Dirk

No. 1:  So these are the Nuggets? — The Nuggets had an offseason that everyone in Denver would just as soon forget. Their general manager, Masai Ujiri, left for Toronto, their Coach of the Year, George Karl, was fired. And the only thing that was worse than that offseason was … well, the regular season. The once high-flying Nuggets are out of the playoff picture a year after winning 57 games. It hasn’t been pretty.

But after their big win over the Clippers Monday night, a win which snapped Los Angeles’ 11-game winning streak, the Nuggets were left to think about what might have been. From Christopher Dempsey at the Denver Post:

But the Nuggets have found a way to play a better brand of basketball this month. They’re 5-5 in March after losing all but three of their 12 games in February. The Clippers had won 11 straight games before the Nuggets took them down, powered by a 14-2 run to end the game.

“You look at it, we shot ourselves in the foot a lot this season,” guard Randy Foye said. “Had a lot of injuries. But everything happens for a reason.”

“We’d definitely be in the playoffs right now if we took care of the Sacramentos and the Minnesotas of the league,” Nuggets guard Ty Lawson said. “We definitely could be in playoff position. It’s a little bit frustrating.”

Because the Nuggets aren’t in playoff position, the finish of the season is getting acute attention. There are things the Nuggets want to accomplish in the final month of the regular season, which for them will end on April 16.

Topping that list is carving out an idea of exactly what kind of team they will be in the future.

“I think we’re playing better,” Lawson said. “We’re starting to find ourselves a little bit better, doing exactly what coach wants. I think we’re gaining a little bit of steam, giving ourselves an identity.”

VIDEO: Nuggets end Clippers’ streak

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No. 2: Matt the man – The Clippers may have an L1 next to their line in the daily standings, but there’s not a team in the league that doesn’t realize how good this team is and how good it can be come playoff time.

That’s been the case for a while, now. The big difference lately. Well, to hear Dan Woike of the Orange County Register tell, it, it had to do with a key decision — of many he makes all the time — by coach Doc Rivers:

On Jan. 20, Rivers made one of those decisions, moving Matt Barnes into the stating lineup for Jared Dudley. Since then, the Clippers have gone 20-6.

“I thought his energy matched that group better,” Rivers said Monday. “Matt’s defense has really improved as the year has gone on, and that’s really helped that unit.”

Before the Clippers’ game with the Nuggets, Barnes was a part of the top two five-man lineups in terms of net efficiency, with a minimum of 150 minutes played.

In those 26 games, Barnes is averaging 11.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists. As a starter, Barnes is hitting 40.3 percent from 3-point range compared to just 26.6 percent from deep in the 23 games he came off the bench.

A key to that has been Barnes getting to the deep corners in transition, spotting up for the highest-percentage 3 on the floor while opening driving lanes for Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.

“You just want to create space,” Barnes said.

Barnes said adjusting to playing with the starters hasn’t been too difficult.

“Defensively, it’s always been easy for me, no matter what group I’m playing with. I think offensively, there’s so much attention paid to Blake and Chris that if you find space and keep the floor spaced, you’re going to find open shots,” he said. “They’re trapped and doubled a lot. If you make yourself available and cut, passers are going to find you.”

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No. 3: Thibodeau gets all philosophical on us – Few teams in the Association follow the lead of their coach more than the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Bulls. Coach Tom Thibodeau is a demanding, defense-first mastermind who has an injury-riddled team playing some of its best basketball of the season.

ESPN’s Scoop Jackson caught up with Thibs to ask him how he has taken the Bulls, a team that has had so much going against it this season, to the point where no one wants to go against them in the playoffs:

What do you believe in the most?

 Balance.

Really?

For me, there’s five things I look at after every game. It’s the defense, the rebounding, low turnovers. I think those three things put you in position to win. Then its inside-out and sharing the ball. So it’s five-man offense, five-man defense. Make a commitment to one another and be balanced.

Is this basketball we’re talking about or life?

[Laughs] Well, basketball is really a microcosm of life. There’s a lot of things you can take from this game and learn. And a lot of lessons from basketball that you can apply to life and certainly a lot of things that you can take from life and apply to basketball. Adversity. Hey look, you are going to face it in life. Being mentally tough when you face adversity, I think, whether you face it in life or basketball, it’s similar.

But if you have that balance in both, it applies the same?

Yeah, yeah. As it applies to us, we feel good about our team. We love the challenge. And at the end of the day, it’s what we think, it’s what we believe. And whatever that is, we’re probably right.


VIDEO: All-access with Tom Thibodeau

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No. 4: Moral: Don’t go to sleep on Cubes – The Mavericks seem to have awakened from their slumber. They’re a solid-14-6 since a yawning 9-8 in January, they’re on track for a 50-win season, they’ve won three in a row (including a stomping of Oklahoma City the other night) and they’ve climbed to within a game of sixth-seeded Golden State.

We’re not saying this is all the doing of Dirk Nowitzki or owner Mark Cuban. But Cuban may have had something to do with it, according to Dwain Price of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram:

Cuban took time before Monday’s game against the Boston Celtics to tell the media of a conversation he had with Nowitzki earlier in the day. It’s about as critical as Cuban as ever publicly been about Nowitzki.

“I think sometimes he loses concentration, and I think we’ve got to get past that,” Cuban said. “I mentioned it to him today. I asked him how his nap was during the game [Sunday at Oklahoma City]. He laughed. At least that’s while I was facing him. When I turned my back and walked away, I don’t know.”

Nowitzki had two first-quarter rebounds against the Thunder and finished the game with just four boards and 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Cuban also was none too pleased that Nowitzki had just 12 points and six rebounds during last Tuesday’s 108-85 loss on the road to the Golden State Warriors.

Asked why he was publicly challenging Nowitzki, Cuban said: “That’s only because I did it already personally.”

“Dirk always goes through a little slump during the year where he needs to remotivate. And I think we’ve seen that for a couple of games, and I think he’s going to come back stronger, particularly after three days and those naps he’s gotten through the last couple of games.”


VIDEO: Mavericks dump Thunder on March 16

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Our Jeff Caplan points out the un-luckiness of the Celtics on the road … If the NBA playoffs were a one-and-done, like March Madness, the smart money would be on the Phoenix Suns. So reports NBA.com’s Fran Blinebury … The Sixers lost their 21st straight game on Monday night. But it wasn’t very pretty, even for the victors, the Indiana Pacers …

ICYMI of the Night: Sometimes you have to look all over to find a really cool play. Sometimes, it just smacks you in the face like a Play of the Day …


VIDEO: Gerald Green can dunk

Luckless Celtics go 0-15 on road vs. West

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Nowitzki, Mavs fend off stubborn Celtics

DALLAS – Not even St. Paddy’s Day could bring Boston a little road luck. This charmless Celtics crew gobbled up 21 offensive rebounds and in the third quarter held the Dallas Mavericks to 14 points, yet it was still only good enough to find another silver lining rather than that elusive rainbow.

The unlucky C’s played without point guard Rajon Rondo, whose surgically repaired right knee still isn’t ready for back-to-back action. Twenty-four hours after losing a 121-120 heart-breaker in overtime Sunday night at New Orleans, Boston clawed and scraped its way back against Dallas from deficits in each quarter and as large as 15 points, but ultimately came up short in the final minute, 94-89.

“To come in here and have a chance, I feel like a broken record talking about silver linings,” first-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, “But that would be one.”

The loss burdened this bunch with a piece of unwanted Celtics history as the only club in franchise history to go winless on the road against the Western Conference — 0-and-15.

“It’s not something we shoot for and it’s not something we’d like to do,” Stevens said. “The West is clearly better than the East, I don’t think anybody would argue that, but at the same time we’ve had our chances in a couple of those games.

“It’s frustrating. Most of the season has been frustrating.”

Boston’s best chance to beat the West went down the tubes Sunday night when Pelicans forward Anthony Davis clubbed them for 40 points and 21 rebounds. The chances were there Monday night, too, as the Celtics, wearing their green sleeved uniforms with shorts bearing a clover on each leg, quickly erased a nine-point deficit in the second quarter and briefly led 37-33, their largest lead of the game. They scored six points in the first eight minutes of the third quarter to fall behind 64-49 and then finished it with a flurry, a 12-zip run to make it 64-61 at the end of three.

“I never thought that,” Mavs guard Monta Ellis said when asked if he thought it was over when the lead swelled to 15. “They’ve been playing like this the whole season. They always play the whole 48 minutes so we knew they were going to come back and make a run.”

Before long the Mavs were back up 10, 76-66. But the Celtics weren’t going down without flashing some more Irish fight during their last stand out West. With 5:02 to go, Avery Bradley drained  a corner 3 to make it 78-74. They closed to 82-80 and then 90-89 after Bradley bumped Ellis near midcourt without a call, stripped him and streaked in for the score with 21.6 seconds to go.

Down 92-89 with 19.8 seconds to go, Jerryd Bayless, who scored 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, attacked the basket off a broken play coming out of a timeout. He put up a tough shot between two Mavs defenders, missed it off the glass, but got the rebound. He went back up, but Vince Carter met him with a swat.

“It [the play] got messed up because they switched it,” Bayless said. “They switched the play and they started denying Sully [Jared Sullinger]. But we were able to get, I thought, a good look, but it didn’t work out.”

As luck would have it, it was Carter’s first blocked shot since February. Game over.

The Celtics, losers of five in a row to fall to 22-46 overall and 8-25 on the road, have lost their 15 road games against West teams by an average of 10.7 points. They’ve lost by as many as 31, 24 and 23, but the last nine have come painfully by single digits.

Their previous trip out West could have been soul-crushing, a four-game whitewash that included a three-game sweep by the West’s three worst teams — the Lakers, Kings and Jazz.

“We’re not giving up,” Bayless said.

It’s just with points so hard to come by for this team, especially when Rondo doesn’t play, it makes it extremely difficult to win on the home floors of the other conference.

“I’m frustrated obviously by our lack of success; I am not frustrated by our effort,” Stevens said. “Our effort was pretty high-level again. They’re really giving it everything they have.”

On all days, they just needed a little bit more luck.