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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 235) Playoff Time!

HANG TIME BIG CITY — I was sitting on the couch the other night, tuned in to the postseason, when I realized I didn’t know what day it was. Tuesday? Wednesday? It couldn’t be Monday, could it?

Welcome to the playoffs!

It’s that time of year, when every moment matters, when every game is must-see-tv. And the Hang Time Podcast crew has been on the ground from coast to coast checking out games, which was a great jumping off point for today’s podcast. 

But first, just as we began taping we found out about the tragic death of Prince, an artist we all grew up listening to and enjoying, and we had plenty of stories to tell as we paid our respects.

Once we got around to talking hoops, we went from the Thunder (and the Mavs) Dance Party to Atlanta’s impressive start, from the hot hot heat Miami has brought over the first two games to the Warriors and how long they should let Curry recuperate. We even talked about the Knicks and Lakers, and how those legendary franchises are moving forward without playoff participation.

Check out all that and more on Episode 235 of The Hang Time Podcast … Playoff Time!

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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VIDEO: Thunder/Mavs Game 2 All-Access

Morning shootaround — April 20


VIDEO: Highlights from Tuesday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No need to fret over Curry | Villanueva fires back at Westbrook | Nowitzki joins Mavs’ growing injury list | Suns happy to keep Watson

No. 1: Why not to fret over Curry’s ankle injury It is more than understandable if Golden State fans are a little edgy — even with their team up 2-0 on the Houston Rockets in their first-round series. Missing the reigning MVP will do that to a fan base. Stephen Curry got some good news on Tuesday, though as an MRI on his right ankle revealed no serious structural damage. Curry remains questionable for Game 3 on Thursday (9:30 ET, TNT), but as Marcus Thompson II of the Bay Area News Group points out, Curry’s body language reasons reveals this is no injury to fret over:

He’s not on crutches or wearing some bulky brace. He hasn’t needed a cortisone shot, which he took in the 2013 playoffs to play through a severely sprained ankle.

More than that, Curry’s mood is a sign of relief for those whose hearts bleed blue and gold. His entire disposition screams “everything is fine.” When he’s not fine, he can’t hide it well.

Past ankle sprains revealed a darker Curry, whose smile was wiped away by frustration, whose eyes revealed an inner war between faith and doubt.

He is not in that space now. After Monday’s game, he was his normally jovial self. His biggest concern right now is the boredom of having to watch instead of play.

Another sign this is not a big concern: Curry would have been holed up in the training room getting ’round-the-clock treatment. Under Armour would have been scrambling for custom shoes to prevent another injury. Doctors would have had him trying RoboCop contraptions to protect his precious wheel.

Instead, a giddy Curry was jumping off the bench in celebration. When James Michael McAdoo joined the bench (there is only room for one inactive player, and the second half was McAdoo’s turn), Curry relocated. He ended up sitting among fans, closer to the scorer’s table than his team. It didn’t stop him celebrating from his seat, jumping up for highlight plays and reloading his right arm, the imaginary barrel of a rocket launcher, on 3-pointers.

With his black blazer in a sea of gold T-shirts, he looked like a conductor of a cheer orchestra as his teammates beat Houston without him. He didn’t come close to resembling the guy of yesteryear who wasn’t sure if his ankle would stunt his stardom.

With all that said, Curry is not completely out of the woods for Game 3 — though it’s going to take an act of Congress to keep him off the court.

This is new territory for him. He is an ankle expert after dozens of sprains, several management techniques and two surgeries. His expertise is not so vast here, which explains his abbreviated pregame warm up before Game 2.

What’s unknown is what this foot injury requires to heal. Curry left room for the possibility he could be wrong about Game 3. Maybe four days off won’t be enough. Maybe the team shuts him down again to be extra cautious, especially since the Warriors know they can beat the Rockets without him.

Plus what we don’t know: Can he cut the same way? Will he be able to drive against a pressure defense, jump and land with the same fluidity? Or will he have to stay on the perimeter and hoist 3-pointers to keep his foot out of harm’s way?

Those are all the questions that will be answered in the coming days as his right wheel gets presidential attention. As of now, Warriors fans can be confident in this: This is nothing like it was in 2013.

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Numbers preview: Thunder-Mavs


VIDEO: Thunder vs. Mavericks: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — When the Oklahoma City Thunder made The Finals in 2012 with their four best players all under the age of 24, we thought they’d return every year.

But the Thunder have yet to make it back and failed to make the playoffs entirely last year. And now, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook hitting free agency in the next two summers, Oklahoma City may be running out of time.

Both Durant and Westbrook are healthy this year, but the Thunder have been somewhat of an afterthought with two historically great teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings. Of course, the postseason is an opportunity for the Thunder to prove that they can compete with the Spurs and Warriors.

Before they can do that, though, they’ll need to get through the Dallas Mavericks, a veteran squad that made a late-season push to get into the playoffs an earn the 6 seed in the West.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 3-6 series in the West, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)

Pace: 99.4 (9)
OffRtg: 109.9 (2)
DefRtg: 103.0 (12)
NetRtg: +6.9 (3)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Dallas Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_okc_shooting

Thunder notes:

20160414_4th_post-break

Dallas Mavericks (42-40)

Pace: 96.4 (23)
OffRtg: 104.8 (10)
DefRtg: 104.3 (16)
NetRtg: +0.6 (14)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Oklahoma City: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

20160414_dal_shooting

Mavs notes:

The matchup

Season series: Thunder won 4-0
Nov. 22 – Thunder 117, Mavs 114
Jan. 13 – Thunder 108, Mavs 89
Jan. 22 – Thunder 109, Mavs 106
Feb. 24 – Thunder 116, Mavs 103

Pace: 98.7
OKC OffRtg: 114.5 (2nd vs. DAL)
DAL OffRtg: 103.9 (15th vs. OKC)

Matchup notes:

Playoff Scenarios: What’s at stake on final night of season

HANG TIME BIG CITY — 81 games down, one to go. After Wednesday, the NBA regular season will be over, but even with the end around the corner, there are still more questions than answers. Luckily, we’ve got Wednesday night, the results of which will determine the playoff matchups. So what’s the scenario? Let’s take a look at all the different ways this could play out …

  • For a few playoff teams, Wednesday’s games will have no impact on their postseason standing. In the Western Conference, the top four teams are locked in: the Golden State Warriors (1), San Antonio Spurs (2), Oklahoma City Thunder (3) and Los Angeles Clippers (4) are set. In the Eastern Conference, Cleveland (1), Toronto (2), Indiana (7) and Detroit (8) are assured of their spots. So the Cavs will host the Pistons, while the Raptors will host the Pacers.
  • The 3, 4, 5 and 6 seeds in the Eastern Conference couldn’t be much closer. The Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat both enter Wednesday night with 48-33 records, while the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets are both 47-34. Miami owns the tiebreaker over Atlanta and Charlotte, Atlanta owns the tiebreaker over Boston and Charlotte, and Boston owns the tiebreaker over Charlotte and Miami. If Miami wins or Atlanta loses, the Heat win the Southeast Division. If Atlanta wins and Miami loses, the Hawks win the Southeast Division. Got all that?
  • Miami could finish anywhere from the No. 3 spot to the No. 6 spot. No matter what else happens, if the Heat beat the Boston Celtics (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), they will be the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Hawks will be the No. 4 seed.
  • After that, it gets pretty complicated. If the Heat and Hornets lose and the Hawks beat the Washington Wizards (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), the Hawks will be the 3 seed. The Heat and Celtics would then have the same record, with Boston holding the tie-breaker, meaning the Celtics would get the 4 seed, and the Heat would finish 5th, leaving the Hornets 6th. If the Heat win or the Hawks lose, the Hawks finish 4. If Miami loses and the Hawks and the Hornets win, the Hawks would finish 3, while Boston would be 4, Charlotte in 5, and the Heat would finish in the 6 spot.
  • The highest the Celtics can finish is the No. 4 seed, if they beat Miami and Atlanta beats Washington. If Boston loses and Charlotte wins, the Celtics will finish 6.
  • The best the Charlotte Hornets can achieve is a No. 5 seed. If the Hornets beat the Orlando Magic (8 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass) and Miami wins, the Hornets will finish No. 5 and the Celtics will finish No. 6. The Hornets also clinch the 5 spot if the Hornets, Hawks and Celtics all win. If the Hornets lose to the Magic, they are guaranteed the No. 6 seed. Same if the Hornets and Celtics win and the Hawks lose.
  • In the Western Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks are all still jockeying for the 5, 6 and 7 positions. The Blazers enter Wednesday’s games 43-38, while the Grizzlies and Mavericks are 42-39.
  • Dallas can finish No. 5 if it wins and Portland loses. Dallas will finish No. 6 if it wins and Portland wins, or if Dallas and Memphis both lose.
  • Memphis has one game left, and it’s a big one: at Golden State (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), with the Warriors trying to go to 73-9, breaking the 72-10 regular season mark held by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. If Memphis wins and Dallas loses, the Grizzlies will finish in the No. 6 spot. If the Grizz lose, or if they win and Dallas wins, Memphis lands in 7th.
  • For the final Western Conference playoff spot, Houston and Utah are both still alive, although the Rockets hold the tiebreaker edge thanks to their 2-1 record against the Jazz this season. The Rockets host the Sacramento Kings (8 p.m., ET, NBA League Pass), and if the Rockets win, they’re in. For Utah, the Jazz have to not only hope for a Rockets loss, but also find themselves needing to win what will be an emotionally-charged game in Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant will play his final regular season game as the Lakers host the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Morning shootaround — April 12


VIDEO: Highlights from Monday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Mavs clinch playoff berthLakers mum on Kobe’s minutes in finale | Thompson supplants Mozgov in starting lineup | Report: Rambis will be back in some capacity; Knicks eye Blatt | Report: NBA restricting Colangelo’s access with Team USA

No. 1: Williams, Nowitzki push Mavs into playoffs — By the time last night’s Mavs-Jazz showdown in Salt Lake City got started, the Houston Rockets were well on their way to a win in Minnesota. That meant the log jam for the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in the Western Conference got that much tighter thanks to No. 9 Houston’s soon-to-be victory. Behind the play of two Mavs long hated by Jazz fans — Dirk Nowitzki and ex-Utah star Deron Williams — Dallas won to clinch a playoff berth for the 15th time in Nowitzki’s 18 seasons. Eddie Sefko from The Dallas Morning News has more:

The two most hated Mavericks in Utah dragged their team into the NBA playoffs Monday night.

Dirk Nowitzki, always a villain in the eyes of Jazz fans, and Deron Williams, whose unceremonious departure from Utah was a major reason beloved coach Jerry Sloan resigned, spent Monday sticking needles in the Jazz and sewing up their spot in the playoff party with a 101-92 victory.

The Mavericks won their way into the postseason the same way they had put together a six-game winning streak that ended Sunday at the Clippers. They used stifling defense and a sensible, slow pace to grind the Jazz into submission.

They led 86-71 with five minutes to play, but the Jazz pared the deficit to 88-80 with 2:42 to go, forcing Carlisle to call a timeout. Wesley Matthews came up with a tough 3-pointer that swished for an 11-point lead, and the Mavericks were able to make enough free throws to wrap up their 15th playoff berth in Nowitzki’s 18 seasons.

His teammates said they saw a look in Nowitzki’s eyes at the start of the game, like he was in no mood to miss the playoffs. He acknowledged he felt great going into the game and wasted no time showing that with 10 first-quarter points, setting set a terrific tone for the Mavericks.

“We got some guys who wanted to make the playoffs,” Nowitzki said. “I think not a lot of guys gave us a chance looking at our roster before the season.

“We made the playoffs in a tough West. That’s good. But we’ve been in the playoffs a couple times since the championship, and we’re always a first-round exit. So hopefully we’ll keep this momentum and see what happens.”

Williams, who had 23 points and six rebounds, is despised in Utah. He gave them another reason to not care for him Monday.

“It was a playoff game because there was so much at stake,” he said. The booing, he added, “got me going out there. Not only the booing, but the stuff that was being said. It definitely got me going.”

Williams also believed the Jazz’s youth worked against them in what was the biggest game of the season for both teams.


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki talks after the Mavs’ big win in Utah

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Blogtable: Predicting the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race

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


BLOGTABLE: Predicting East’s middle seeds? | Predicting West’s bottom seeds? |
Top moment from 2016 HOF class?



VIDEOBlazers take down Kings in Sacramento

> By this time next week, which teams will be seeded No. 5, 6, 7 and 8 in the Western Conference? And which team is most at risk of missing the playoffs and why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

No. 5: Grizzlies
No. 6: Blazers
No. 7: Jazz
No. 8: Mavericks

I think the Jazz-Mavericks slotting will hinge on their game in Salt Lake City Monday. And I don’t think any of the four is in danger of missing the playoffs, because if there’s any justice in this silly association, the Houston Rockets need to suffer the same fate in the West that the disappointing Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards experience in the East. They’ve been playing with fool’s gold, kidding themselves that they had the makings of a title contender built around their version of a bearded Carmelo Anthony and the Big Tease.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Grizzlies
No. 7: Rockets
No. 8: Jazz

If the broken Grizzlies had built themselves one game less of a cushion, I might have said they were headed for one of the great swan drives since Greg Louganis retired. But a big win at home Tuesday night over the Bulls means they’ll only lose a spot and slip to sixth, moving the Blazers up into fifth, where they could even have a longshot upset chance in first round against the Clippers. I believe Houston at Dallas Wednesday night is the elimination game in the West. If the Rockets win, they hold tiebreaker over Utah and take seventh. If Mavs win, they’ll barely hang at No. 8. The loser is the odd man out of the playoffs.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Grizzlies
No. 7: Mavericks
No. 8: Jazz

Memphis is heading in a bad direction, with enough reason for concern the last couple weeks or so that the Grizz might be fortunate to only drop one spot from the current standings. Obviously Dallas and Utah are both at risk of dropping out of the top eight. The Mavs are probably at a greater risk because the closing schedule is Rockets, Grizzlies, at Clippers at Jazz, Spurs.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Grizzlies
No. 7: Jazz
No. 8: Rockets

The Mavericks have own four straight but that was a soft stretch. Their remaining games are all difficult and they close out in San Antonio, where the Spurs haven’t lost, although admittedly Dallas will likely see the B team.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Jazz
No. 7: Mavericks
No. 8: Rockets

Another “who the heck knows” question. So much depends on Wednesday’s Houston-Dallas game, and you never know what version of the Rockets you’re going to get. I’ll guess that Portland wins out and finishes 45-37, while the other four teams in the mix finish tied at 42-40. That would leave Memphis as the odd team out, with a 4-7 record against the rest of the group. Of course, they would just need to win one of their last four games to avoid that fate (if I somehow correctly guessed the results of the other 17 games involving these teams).

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Mavericks
No. 7: Rockets
No. 8: Jazz

“The Revenant” turned out to be a bad omen for the tormented Memphis Grizzlies: As ravaged as they’ve been by injuries, they’re unlikely to win any of their remaining five games against winning teams. And so everybody gets to move up. The unreliable Rockets (along with the Blazers) have a favorable schedule, which can enable them to jump two spots. Am I showing too much faith in them? Maybe.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog

No. 5: Blazers
No. 6: Mavericks
No. 7: Jazz
No. 8: Grizzlies

I hate to say this, but I don’t think the Rockets are gonna make it. When they’re on, they can be a lot of fun, but when they aren’t clicking, they are a disaster. And I know Memphis is the five seed now, but they’ve lost six straight, have more players injured than healthy, and have a killer schedule down the stretch, including two games against the Warriors, plus games at the Clippers and Mavericks. If I’m Golden State and have the wins record locked up, would you rest guys the final game against Memphis if it guarantees facing them in the first round?

Analytics Art: Lowry, Wiggins and Dirk among week’s worst shooters


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry is a nominee for Kia Player of the Month for March

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

As the calendar flips to April and practical jokers execute their best (read: worst) pranks, the NBA landscape heads to the home stretch before playoffs roll around. For the most part, seeding has already been set. But for the tighter races in the Eastern Conference and toward the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture, now is not the time for players to slump.

And yet, two players on this iteration of the week’s coldest shooters are suiting up for teams either guaranteed to reach the postseason or fighting for a spot to get there. The team at PointAfter, part of the Graphiq network, will break down three of the week’s worst shooters using interactive data visualizations.

Note: Statistics in this article cover games from March 25-31.

 

Guard: Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors 

Kyle Lowry is posting the best season of his career.

Toronto’s bulldog point guard is shooting a career-best 38.6 percent from 3-point territory this season to go with a career-high 21.5 points per game. His numbers over the last week, however, have been far from the norm.

The 30-year-old veteran played four games over the past seven days, shooting a combined 23.1 percent from the field. Let’s just say that making less than one in four shots is not good. Add in the fact that Lowry went 7-of-30 from beyond the arc (including a ghastly 0-of-8 showing against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday), and this was, without question, the worst shooting week of Lowry’s season.

Raptors fans better hope the team’s best player snaps back to form soon, or there’s a good chance Toronto will get bounced in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year.

 

Wing: Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

Though former No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins scores points in bulk, he still needs to improve some holes in his game before he can be considered an All-Star-caliber player. Despite his size (6-foot-8), the 21 year old averages only 3.6 rebounds (a full rebound below his rookie average) and has a rebounding percentage of just six percent.

He also dishes out two assists per contest, so his volume scoring is really the one true saving grace at this point of his career. Of course, he’s shooting just 29.2 percent from beyond the arc this season and sputtered through a lackluster week.

Aside from a 32-point outburst against the Phoenix Suns on Monday — in which Wiggins did most of his damage at the free-throw line, going 17-of-21 — Wiggins shot 31.4 percent from the field. His performances throughout the month of March were otherwise stellar, though, so consider the latest hiccup just the normal ups and downs of a young player.

 

Forward/Center: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks

What future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki has been doing as a 37 year old this season is nothing short of remarkable. According to Basketball Reference, the 7-foot German would become the third player in NBA history to average at least 18 points and six rebounds with a true shooting percentage of 55 percent or better after turning 37. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it twice, and Karl Malone did so once.

Of course, when you consider that Dirk has shot 305 3-pointers this season, and the other guys shot eight 3s combined in their three such seasons, Nowitzki’s campaign has to be deemed the most impressive.

But even Nowitzki is human, and it showed over the past week. After sitting out the March 25 loss against the Golden State Warriors, Nowitzki shot 6-of-15 against the Kings, 4-of-17 against the Nuggets and 5-of-23 against the Knicks in three games.

Somehow, the Mavs managed to escape with a 2-1 record despite Nowitzki’s shooting slump to keep their playoff hopes alive.

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Analytics Art: The three hottest shooters in the NBA this week


VIDEO: Utah’s Rodney Hood scores 30 points in first half vs. Lakers

By Will Laws, Special to NBA.com

Teams are fighting for their playoff lives as the calendar turns to April. This week, two Western Conference sharpshooters helped their clubs keep pace in the frantic race happening on the postseason bubble. Meanwhile, a veteran experiencing a bit of a down season up north showed he could still make a difference with his shooting stroke.

PointAfter breaks down the three hottest shooters of the week with interactive visualizations.

Note: All weekly statistics cover games between March 25-31.  

Guard: J.J. Barea, Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks were briefly out of the Western Conference playoff picture after losing 10 of their first 13 March contests. Their smallest player propped them back up into a tie for seventh place this week by helping them claim two victories to end the month.

J.J. Barea logged a double-double (18 points, 11 assists) in a nine-point road win over Denver on Monday, then poured in 26 points off the bench in a 91-89 triumph over the Knicks, the most scored by a Dallas reserve this season.

The 31 year old has made at least half his shots in Dallas’ last four games, and he finished March shooting 49 percent from downtown. Barea rediscovering his shooting touch after three mediocre seasons from beyond the arc has helped him post a career-best 15.1 PER this year. He could be an unlikely hero for the Mavericks in their quest for the postseason.

 

Wing: Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz

For this generation of NBA players, the ultimate compliment when you’re playing the Lakers is having Kobe Bryant ask to guard you. Rodney Hood experienced that on Monday night after he dropped 30 points in the first half of Utah’s clash against Los Angeles. Bryant hardly let Hood touch the ball in the second half, and the second-year wing didn’t score a point in the second half.

No matter — the damage was already done. The game ended up as Bryant’s worst loss of his career, a 48-point shellacking that Hood sparked by making 8-of-9 3-pointers in the first half. He was easily the most dangerous scorer on the court, whether you measure by efficiency or raw point total. No other player scored more than 17 points or came close to matching Hood’s astronomical 115.4 true shooting percentage.

Hood also acquitted himself well in Utah’s overtime loss to Golden State, notching 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting. But it was his utter domination of the Lakers that he’ll remember when he looks back on his “sophomore” season in the league.

 

Forward/Center: Patrick Patterson, Toronto Raptors

Patrick Patterson has taken a back seat in Toronto’s offense this year, and for good reason. He’s posted career lows in usage rate (12.3 percent), field goal percentage (42 percent) and scoring rate (11 points per 40 minutes). However, he can still provide the occasional boost off the bench for the Raptors.

The stretch-four was 7-of-13 from deep this week, including a 16-point outburst in 20 minutes against New Orleans on Saturday that saw him sink all three of his treys.

Patterson impacts Toronto on offense more than most realize. He shoots 39 percent from deep in the Raptors’ franchise-record 50 victories compared to 33 percent in their losses, and the team’s offensive rating increases by 7.5 points when he’s on the court.

With the six-year veteran launching more 3s than ever before this year (3.8 per game) and providing savvy defensive play, he’s still positively affecting the Raptors despite his reduced role.

This story was published by PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Will Laws is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA players, NBA historical teams and dozens of other topics.

Morning shootaround — March 26


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Dallas capable of 2007 payback? | Rest takes priority for Spurs | Pistons getting cozy at home | Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote

No. 1: Dallas capable of 2007 payback? — It’s not the ideal way to go about knocking off one of your conference’s elite teams. But if the Dallas Mavericks have to go the underdog route and angle for a first-round upset of the NBA defending champion Golden State Warriors, well, they know such a crazy thing can happen. Back in 2007, it was Golden State in eighth place in the West, ousting a Mavericks team that won 67 games and was hoping for a return trip to the Finals that spring. Dallas played well enough in its loss to the Warriors in Oakland Friday – with star Dirk Nowitzki sitting for rest – to entertain such thoughts, wrote Tim McMahon of ESPNDallas.com:

“They did it to us, so hey, you never know,” said Mavs guard J.J. Barea, a rookie towel-waver on that 2006-07 Dallas team who scored 21 points as a fill-in starter in Friday’s 128-120 loss to the Warriors. “We could do it to them.”

If the playoffs started now, the Mavs would have the opportunity to trump the “We Believe” bunch for the biggest postseason upset in NBA history.

Those Warriors in ’07 had good reason to believe they could beat the Mavs. Golden State swept the season series, including a blowout in the final week when coach Avery Johnson foolishly rested his stars instead of attempting to prevent the Warriors from making the playoffs. It also helped that Golden State had Don Nelson, who knew all the deep secrets about Dirk’s game, scheming to stop his former prodigy.

These Mavs, who have a coach in Rick Carlisle whose schematic sorcery pushed the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs to seven games in the first round a couple of seasons ago, can convince themselves that they can compete with the best team in basketball.

Dallas players point to their Dec. 30 rout of the Warriors without focusing too much on the minor detail that reigning MVP Stephen Curry sat out that game. And the Mavs’ two meetings with the Warriors this month were close well into the fourth quarter.

“We’ve definitely proven we can play with them,” guard Raymond Felton said after scoring 17 points. “We’ve proven we can beat them. … If that happens that we play them in the first round, it’s going to be a battle, that’s for sure.”

There’s no such thing as a moral victory for a team that’s fighting for its playoff life. However, the Mavs hopped on their bus for the drive to Sacramento with their heads held high after somehow making it a one-possession game with a few minutes remaining despite Nowitzki and Deron Williams wearing warmups and watching from the bench, and Chandler Parsons viewing from home hours after undergoing season-ending knee surgery.

“If we’re at full strength, I think we have the firepower to put up a fight,” said center/forward David Lee, sporting the championship ring he received in a pregame ceremony before putting up 12 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists in his Bay Area return.

“They would obviously be the heavy favorites, and they’ll be the heavy favorites against anybody they play not named the San Antonio Spurs.”

One minor problem for the Mavs: They’d have to figure out a way to stop the Splash Brothers, who have combined to average 71.5 points in the Warriors’ two wins over Dallas in the last week.

It’s unclear how much help Dallas owner Mark Cuban might be if the teams clash in the postseason. Cuban, who did not travel to Oakland for Friday’s game, got busy from afar with criticizing the game’s officiating. He put out some strong stuff for the 4.9 million followers of Twitter feed about which he might just hear from league HQ:

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 No. 2: Rest takes priority for Spurs — For many NBA fans, this is Easter Weekend and will be celebrated as such right through Sunday. For the San Antonio Spurs, it’s more like Festivus – as in, “the rest of us.” Rest annually is a priority for the Spurs at this time of the season and rest is what several of the Western Conference powerhouse’s key players were scheduled from what otherwise would have seemed a crucial clash with the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday:

Granted, in the case of forward Kawhi Leonard, injury is the concern rather than fatigue. Leonard still is nursing a bruised right quadriceps suffered against Miami Wednesday. It kept him out of the Spurs’ game against Memphis Friday, a game from which coach Gregg Popovich withheld Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. Leonard’s sore thigh muscle remains too “tight” to play, but the plan to sit out Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker from Saturday’s ABC prime-time game at OKC and a Grizzlies rematch Monday in Memphis is entirely discretionary. We’ve all been down this road before with the Spurs, per ESPN.com.

That’s a luxury San Antonio can afford, considering the win Friday night locked up no worse than the No. 2 seed for the Western Conference playoffs with 10 games remaining in the regular season. The Spurs can now rest key veterans as the regular season comes to a close, which in turn increases the minutes for inexperienced role players such as Kyle Anderson and Jonathon Simmons, as well as newcomers Andre Miller and Kevin Martin, who could all be called upon during the postseason.

The victory on Friday was San Antonio’s 37th straight at home, which ties the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the longest home winning streak to start a season in NBA history

“You just try to do your best,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You don’t want to decondition them and you don’t want to lose rhythm. But you want to rest.”

LaMarcus Aldridge made that an easier proposition by knocking down 7 of 8 shots in the first quarter on the way to 17 points, the most he has scored in a single quarter all season. Aldridge poured in a total of 32 points, including 21 in the first half, while

Duncan started off the opening half hitting 4-of-5 for eight points. He also recorded five rebounds and five assists before finishing with 12 points and eight rebounds.

Heading into the game, Miller averaged 8.3 minutes in his previous 10 contests, while Martin averaged 10.4 minutes over the same span. The duo contributed 16 and 34 minutes, respectively, versus Memphis and gained a level of comfort in their new surroundings and new teammates that could pay dividends for San Antonio in the postseason.

Duncan called the situation “a good experience game for a lot of different guys, a good execution game for us. A lot of these guys haven’t been in our offense and executed everything perfectly to this point.”

They didn’t execute perfectly against the Grizzlies, either. But that’s inconsequential as the Spurs accomplished their goal of keeping everyone as healthy as possible heading into the playoffs, while providing needed game experience for their role players.
“It’s obviously good for these other guys to get minutes and play in situations where they get used to the guys,” Popovich said. “Kevin just got here. Kyle has … rarely started. It’s all good experience. It can only be good for them.”

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No. 3:  Pistons getting cozy at home — If a man’s home is his castle, as the old saying goes, the Detroit Pistons’ Palace (of Auburn Hills) has been their refuge and salvation in chasing a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Two-thirds of the way through their franchise-record nine-game homestand, the Pistons are 5-1 and now two games in front of the Chicago Bulls for eighth place in the East standings, thanks to their impressive victory Friday over conference rival Charlotte. Detroit scored 72 points in the first half and survived a considerable late scare from the Hornets. While veteran teams in Chicago and Washington deal with East angst, the young Pistons took another step in their quest to play with the league’s big boys. Here are some details from the Detroit News:

Throughout their up-and-down season, the Pistons have been plagued by stretches of playing to the level of their opponent. In several of their marquee games, the Pistons have come up with an empty effort.

Not this time.

In a critical matchup for their final playoff push, the Pistons played one of their best games of the season, against a team that had dominated them in both meetings this season.

Reggie Jackson said it was as satisfying a win as the Pistons have had this season, especially given the implications.

“Definitely with the way we’ve been punched in the mouth by them twice, especially with the position we’re in, fighting for a playoff spot,” said Jackson, who had 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists. “This is one of the better wins for us, where we felt like we controlled the game. The only thing better would be if we closed out those last few minutes.”

In those last few minutes a 26-point lead with 7:49 remaining shriveled to five with 37.6 seconds left. But the Pistons were able to close it out, with four free throws in the final stretch

That lapse normally might have driven coach Stan Van Gundy berserk, but given the need for wins to solidify a playoff spot, he wasn’t nearly so critical.

“We need to win and move on,” Van Gundy said. “We played 39 great minutes. We really outplayed a very good team for 39 minutes and then their last five guys played really well. Against their best players, we were dominant and it was a great 39 minutes.”

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 21 points and seven rebounds, Marcus Morris 20 points and seven rebounds and Andre Drummond notched his 60th double-double of the season with 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Pistons, who are 5-1 — ensuring a winning record — on their nine-game home stand.

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No. 4: Gentry gets ‘confidence’ vote — When you add up the pieces – 45 defeats against just 26 victories, an emergency room’s worth of injuries and the capriciousness with which NBA head coaches get fired these days – you might reasonably conclude that New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry would be dealing with some job insecurity. But Gentry doesn’t see or feel it, nor should he if we’re to take Pelicans GM Dell Demps at his word. Demps gave Gentry the proverbial vote of confidence Friday for reporters while expressing some for himself, according to ESPN.com:

With Alvin Gentry standing by his side, New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps dismissed a report indicating friction between the two and emphasized his support for the head coach.

“I just want to say, my confidence in Alvin has not wavered,” Demps said Friday. “The only regret that I have is that our team is not at full strength. And Alvin hasn’t had the opportunity to coach the team at full strength. I think he’s done a fantastic job.”

The Vertical reported earlier Friday in a video on its website that Demps has second-guessed Gentry often this season, including in front of Pelicans players and staff and opposing teams.

But Demps, in his first interview with local media since September, disputed the claim
“I told [Gentry] this last week: I think our guys are playing hard. Last night was a great example of how hard our guys played and competed,” Demps said. “All the credit goes to Alvin and the coaching staff. I think our guys are still getting better, I think guys are showing up and working every day, and they’re buying in.

“I’m thrilled with the system, I’m thrilled with everything that’s happened. And I think it’s irresponsible reporting for someone to come and say something like that. Because it’s totally untrue.”

Coming off a 45-win campaign that saw them earn their first postseason berth since trading Chris Paul, the Pelicans were widely expected to make a leap this season.

But injuries have ravaged the roster. New Orleans, now 12th in the Western Conference with a 26-45 record, has lost 243 games to injury and shut down five players — Anthony Davis (left knee), Tyreke Evans (right knee), Eric Gordon (right finger), Quincy Pondexter (left knee) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (right wrist) — for the rest of the season.

Asked if he has any concerns about his job security as a result of the struggles, Demps said, “I feel great about my job. I come to work every day, and I feel great about it.”

Gentry, in the first year of a four-year contract that he agreed to amid last season’s NBA championship run with the Golden State Warriors, said he expects to be back in New Orleans next season.

“Yeah, I do. I do,” Gentry said. “I don’t have any doubt about that. I’ll be back, and we’ll be much better because we’ll be much healthier.”

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Hard to blame a Splash Brother for some sibling overconfidence these days:

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: D’Angelo Russell’s “ankle touched the ground when I rolled it” but the Lakers are hoping the “crazy pain” he felt is nothing serious for the rookie. … The Houston Rockets are getting effort and production from James Harden that, let’s face it, without which they they can’t survive as a playoff aspirant in the West. … Kevin Durant, who won’t have Kawhi Leonard to worry about on the court Saturday night in OKC, stands by his long-ago opinion and still likes Paul George’s game better than Leonard’s. … David Lee had to wait longer than the rest of them, but he got both his 2015 NBA championship ring and some overdue love from the fans in Oakland Friday. … As the days dwindle down to a precious few…

Nowitzki expects to opt in, retire as a Maverick unless…

When Dirk Nowitzki climbed higher one night earlier this season on the NBA’s all-time scoring list – the one that doesn’t count points from the old American Basketball Association, and thus pushes Julius Erving and Moses Malone farther down in the pecking order – a reporter remarked that the Dallas Mavericks’ veteran star was closing in on Wilt Chamberlain, No. 5 at 31,419 to Nowitzki’s 29,341 as this weekend began.

Kareem,” Nowitzki corrected, an indication that he planned to keep playing and scoring for some time to come, moving closer to if not surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s record of 38,387 points.

Nowitzki confirmed Friday that his plan at least will carry him through next season, after he picks up the player option this summer on his current Mavs’ contract:

Nowitzki wasn’t scheduled to play Friday, with Dallas coach Rick Carlisle opting to rest the 37-year-old sharpshooter on the second game of their team’s four-game West Coast swing.

Keeping Nowitzki around and involved has been one reason Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donn Nelson haven’t taken their roster down to the studs, preferring to utilize the 7-footer’s talents as the cornerstone of playoff aspirants these past few years.

While stopping well short of rattling a saber about playing elsewhere should that commitment change, Nowitzki did at least acknowledge he would assess 2016-17 anew if the Mavericks shift directions.


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