Posts Tagged ‘Dirk Nowitzki’

No surprise, Dirk agrees with Dallas


VIDEO: Nowitzki stays in Dallas

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The most predictable deal of the offseason has come through: Dirk Nowitzki will re-sign with the Dallas Mavericks on a three-year deal in the $30-million range.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein was first to report the new pact, which guarantees Nowitzki a 17th and 18th season, and gives him a player option on the third year.

Whether the timing suggests the Mavericks are out of luck in recruiting Carmelo Anthony to Dallas is unclear, although the expectation around the league is that Anthony will return to the New York Knicks on a max deal.

If Anthony doesn’t work out, Dallas has had strong interest in spending its sizable cap space on small forward Luol Deng, and also has interest in Rockets small forward and restricted free agent Chandler Parsons. Houston has maintained it will match any offer sheet made to Parsons, although that could change if they wind up landing Anthony.

Anthony met with both the Rockets and Mavericks on Wednesday.

Nowitzki, 36, made $22.7 million last season and averaged a team-high 21.7 points and 6.2 rebounds. With Nowitzki fully recovered from knee surgery that forced him out of the early portion of the 2012-13 season, Dallas, with Monta Ellis in the fold, produced one of the most efficient offenses in the league.

Defense was the Mavs’ Achilles heal, and they took steps to address that shortcoming by re-acquiring championship center Tyson Chandler in a deal with the Knicks. The Mavs’ front office also believes Chandler could help them land Anthony.

Nowitzki vowed to take a significant pay cut and came through as expected, accepting a deal that virtually appears to mirror the three-year, $30 million deal Spurs forward Tim Duncan accepted two summers ago.

According to Stein, Nowitzki will keep his no-trade clause. The player option after two seasons when he’ll turn 38 is interesting, allowing Nowitzki a final chance to explore the league’s power structure if the Mavs have not made it back to contender status in the Western Conference.

Long-shot Mavericks make short, straightforward pitch to Melo

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime crew discusses ‘Melo’s Texas tour and what’s next

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – If Carmelo Anthony isn’t all that keen on seeing himself plastered on buildings like a monster-sized Fathead in a uniform he’s never worn and holding a trophy he’s never hoisted, then maybe the Dallas Mavericks’ simplistic approach will give them a chance to land the coveted free agent.

Unlike the red-carpet recruiting jobs that the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday and the Houston Rockets on Wednesday unveiled for their guest of honor, Mavs owner Mark Cuban and his team of recruiters kept their meeting with ‘Melo to old-school basics: A conversation.

“What I can tell you is that we made this purely a business meeting,” Cuban wrote to Mavs fans who follow him on his CyberDust app. “No tours. No banners. All basketball and business.”

Dallas is considered the dark horse in this supposed five-horse race with Anthony’s Knicks, the Bulls, the Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers, who get their crack at Anthony on Thursday. On Tuesday he spent eight hours meeting and eating with Bulls brass and players Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.

James Harden, Dwight Howard and even Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler entertained Anthony during his six-hour stay in Houston. The Rockets opted for the special effects, splashing images of Anthony in a Rockets uniform adorned with the No. 7 — that being Jeremy Lin‘s current No. 7 — outside and inside the Toyota Center just as the Bulls had done at the United Center the day before.

Anthony then departed for Dallas, landing at Love Field late in the afternoon. A black limousine whisked him to Cuban’s sprawling Dallas mansion. All-in-all, Anthony was in and out in less than three hours, sparking a round of Twitter jokes of all the things that can’t be done, or take much longer, than the Mavs’ time with Melo.

https://twitter.com/DwainPrice/status/484514426515492865

There was no stopping off at the American Airlines Center to pick out a locker stall or to catch a glimpse at the Mavs’ basement practice court (Dallas remains without an off-site practice facility), or even just to check if maybe somebody had photoshopped him into a blue and white, No. 7 uniform (no word how 2013 second-round draft pick Ricky Ledo would have felt about that).

The plan going in was to sell Anthony on settling for less than a max deal by convincing him that the franchise’s impressive track record under Cuban, the craftiness of coach Rick Carlisle and a roster that includes an aging, but capable Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and now Anthony’s former Knicks teammate Tyson Chandler could deliver him to the promised land quicker than any other team.

The incumbent Knicks can offer New York’s native son the most lucrative contract by a long shot — $129 million over five years. The Mavs as well as any other team can offer four years and a maximum of $96 million. Dallas would have to shed payroll to get close to a starting salary of $20 million.

One way would be for Nowitzki to take less in his own negotiations that are on hold until they get final word from Anthony. Nowitzki, 36, has said all along he plans to take a significant pay cut from the $22 million he made last season, likely in a similar deal to three years, $30 million Tim Duncan signed with the Spurs in 2012.

The Mavs have targeted a big fish in each of the last three summers, failing to land Deron Williams in 2012 and Dwight Howard a year ago. If Anthony makes them 0-for-3, next-tier candidates include the likes of Luol Deng and the Rockets’ restricted free-agent small forward Chandler Parsons, plus the Mavs’ own free agents Devin Harris, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter.

If time allotted per team means anything, Anthony’s decision will likely come down to the two team’s most expected anyway, his hometown Knicks and the hard-charging Bulls.

Opt out and Wade remains King of Miami

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pat Riley on Big Three staying in Miami

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Any red-blooded capitalist will tell Dwyane Wade to take the money and run. He earned it.

Only this isn’t free-wheeling Wall Street, it’s the salary-capped NBA. And Wade is no longer a wolf, now a flicker of the former “Flash” of South Beach. Therefore the remaining $41.8 million over the final two years of his contract is no longer a value, but a hindrance to his franchise’s only path forward as a title contender.

And so it is the moment of truth for Wade, just 32, but aged hard by throbbing knees: Opt-in, take all the money contractually owed to him, yet surely suffer the vilification of his own fans; or opt out for the good of the team, re-sign at a discount, and secure his legacy as one of Miami’s all-time most cherished sports stars.

There is no middle ground here. If Wade opts in it will almost assuredly kill the Big Three era. Wade’s salary would hamper president Pat Riley‘s ability to reinforce the roster and LeBron James – the centerpiece of the franchise and the first of the three to opt out of his contract earlier in this week — will take that as his cue to relocate his talents elsewhere.

While the overwhelming focus is on what James will do, it is Wade who controls the Heat’s future. He can follow Kobe Bryant and gobble up a significant percentage of his team’s cap space. Of course, Wade, who has earned more than $121 million in salary alone during his 11-year career, can, like the rest of us, gauge Bryant’s title chances over these next two seasons.

If Wade opts out, as some reports have him doing this weekend, the expectation is for forward Chris Bosh to do the same, allowing the Big Three, with four consecutive Finals appearances and two rings during their time together, to work in concert on deals that allow Riley to get to work on “re-tooling” the team.

There is, of course, a stunningly convincing blueprint for all three to take less if contending for championships is truly the ultimate goal. The San Antonio Spurs’ Big Three combined to make $29 million this season, or $1 million less than Bryant took home. Tony Parker, the Spurs’ 32-year-old All-Star point guard, made a pedestrian $12.5 million this season, and will again next season.

In 2012 at age 36 and seemingly physically slowing down, Tim Duncan signed a three-year contract for $30 million. At the same age, Kevin Garnett signed a three-year, $36 million extension. Next week, Dirk Nowitzki, also 36, is expected to sign a new deal in a similar range.

Wade is obviously a younger player, but considering the health issues that limited him to just 54 regular-season games while on a season-long maintenance plan — one that surely must continue into the foreseeable future — and clearly slowed him in the Finals, accepting a similar contract could be asked of Wade.

There is one glaring difference, however, between the aforementioned players and Wade that could push him to seek a bit more in return in a reworked deal — none were asked to opt out of a lucrative deal already in place.

Wade is realistic enough to understand the cap ramifications of opting in vs. out, and what it means for the Heat’s ability to stay together, contend and plausibly rewrite history. After playing in four consecutive NBA Finals, it’s doubtful Wade, who has sacrificed salary and stature in the progression of the Big Three, could stomach a return to mediocrity, despite the millions he will be asked to leave behind.

And he’s likely honest enough with himself to realize that his twilight could be short. His knees are robbing him of prime basketball years, a shame, but also a reality.

Can he last four more years? Maybe he has only two left. The clearest picture is for Wade to opt out and accept a lesser deal in the neighborhood of four years and in the range of $40 million to $50 million.

It might not be the American way of doing business, but odds are it keeps James in town, keeps championships in play and retains Wade’s status, perhaps not as the King of the Heat, but as the King of Miami.

Post-trade, Mavericks feel well positioned for run at ‘Melo

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

melo

The Knicks can offer Carmelo Anthony the most money, a reported $129 million over five years, compared to a maximum $96 million over four years anywhere else. (NBAE via Getty Images)

DALLAS – Aggressive as they were, the Dallas Mavericks couldn’t land the big fish the last two summers. Still, the crew of the S.S. Cuban isn’t deterred. They’re prepared to chug back out to sea for another go.

For this expedition, Mark Cuban and co-captain Donnie Nelson believe their hook is finally lined with the savory bait that could make this season’s whopper, Carmelo Anthony, bite.

“My feeling is that if I’m a prospective free agent out there, we became a lot more attractive,” Nelson, the Mavs’ president of basketball operations said Thursday, a day after he pulled the trigger on a deal with the New York Knicks that returned 7-foot-1 center and defensive anchor Tyson Chandler to Dallas. “I don’t know many front lines that not only have that kind of punch in terms of inside-outside [Chandler and Dirk Nowitzki], but also two great guys, great teammates, guys that you love to go to war with night in and night out.”

The king fish, LeBron James, remains mostly a pipe dream around here, but there is growing confidence that Anthony will give the Mavs as fair a look as he will his re-tooling, hometown Knicks under Phil Jackson, the tantalizing roster of the Chicago Bulls and that of the hyper-aggressive Houston Rockets. ESPN.com reported earlier this week that Anthony will grant the latter three teams face-to-face meetings when free agency begins next week.

The Mavs lacked a roster with enough enticements to convince Deron Williams and then Dwight Howard to come aboard. Now, a trio of Chandler, Nowitzki and Monta Ellis, coming off arguably the most efficient season of his career, drastically changes the dialogue — even with Ellis eligible to opt out after next season and Chandler set to become a free agent — the Mavs’ front office believes.

Landing Chandler, the fiery leader of the Mavs’ 2011 championship squad, an ardent supporter of coach Rick Carlisle and his system, and, of course, a friend of ‘Melo’s, was a key step in that strategy.

“He wants to win, and he wants to be in a system and he wants to be in a culture,” Chandler said of Anthony during a conference call Wednesday. “I think that’s going to go into a big part of his decision-making.”

Chandler said he will “absolutely” be in Anthony’s ear.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team and the organization,” Chandler said. “At the end of the day, free agency is kind of an individual thing …  But I’ll tell you one thing: Dallas isn’t a bad place to be; it’s a great opportunity and clearly we’ve done it in the past. It’s not a hard place to sell. I’m going to do whatever it takes.”

Chandler’s arrival cut slightly into the Mavs’ cap space. They don’t quite have room to squeeze in a full max contract once Nowitzki signs, likely for around $10 million per season. But Dallas does have options, such as trading backup center Brandan Wright, who is due $5 million next season, to a team with cap space.

Dallas, with no picks in Thursday night’s Draft after sending two second-rounders to New York in the trade that also swapped starting point guards — Jose Calderon to the Knicks and Raymond Felton to the Mavs – made no effort to jump into the first round, which would further dig into this summer’s cap space.

“Starting July 1, every penny is going to count,” Nelson said.

There’s also a growing sense that star players like Anthony are locks to play for whichever team can stack the money the highest. Howard left millions on the table in leaving Los Angeles for Houston. James, by opting out, likely will sign for less even if he stays in Miami as a means to help it add impact players.

Star players who have already cashed in on one max contract have made a tremendous amount of money — some $135 million in salary alone in Anthony’s case — and seem to be more acutely aware of the salary cap brought forth by the collective bargaining agreement and the limitations it can impose on capped-out teams. There seems to be a greater awareness placed on situation than solely salary.

During All-Star weekend, Anthony told reporters as much.

“As far as the money goes, it’s not my concern,” Anthony said. “My concern is to be able to compete on a high level, a championship level, coming in this last stretch of my career. I want to compete at that level.”

The Knicks can offer Anthony the most money, a reported $129 million over five years, compared to a maximum $96 million over four years anywhere else. Jackson has challenged Anthony on his stance, suggesting he should re-sign with the Knicks at a reduced rate to make it easier to build around him.

Still, at least for the coming season, the Bulls, Rockets and Mavs provide the greater opportunity to win now.

The Mavs, a 49-win team last season and pushed San Antonio to seven games in the first round, aren’t without flaws. At the moment, the disappointing Felton is their starting point guard. They hope to re-sign Devin Harris as well as veterans Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, who has become a terrific 3-point shooter.

No matter what happens on those fronts, the pitch to Anthony will challenge him to find a team with a better core to win this season, plus the vast cap space to add another max player and more next summer.

The Mavs, and especially their fans, understand these high-stakes expeditions come with no guarantees. Still the S.S. Cuban is fueled up and ready for another round of deep sea fishing.

“With our system,” Nelson said, “with Rick being one of the best [coaches] in the business, in my opinion, of taking guys and figuring it out on the fly; and then you’ve got Tyson as a defensive backdrop and certainly one of the best power forwards in the league to play the game and a future Hall of Famer, Dirk, and cap space, we’re positioned pretty well.”

Dirk won’t be drama king in free agency

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

mavs

Dirk Nowitzki will be a free agent on July 1, but don’t expect him to leave the Mavs. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Dirk Nowitzki will enter free agency next week with all the drama of a palm tree twitching in a South Beach summer breeze.

Hyperventilating Miami Heat fans can only dream of such simplicity.

“We’ll get together pretty quick,” Nowitzki said recently of his free agency plans during a radio appearance on the Dallas Mavericks’ flagship station, 103.3 FM. “[Mark] Cuban knows I don’t want to go anywhere, and he doesn’t want me to go anywhere. We’re guessing that’s going to be over pretty quick and we can focus on making this franchise even better.”

Nowitzki, 36, will become a free agent for the second time in his career on July 1, just as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will, and potentially Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Nowitzki could chase a second title elsewhere, if he wanted to, with contenders lining up to add the deadliest 7-foot perimeter shooter to ever play the game.

But that’s not Nowitzki’s thing. He wants to stay in Dallas despite celebrating just three playoff wins since beating the Heat for the 2011 championship, to try to re-create the magic with the only franchise he’s ever known. Owner Mark Cuban is a lucky man. He doesn’t have to resort to challenges of manhood — Stay, “if you’ve got the guts” — like Heat president Pat Riley did last week. Or have to guess the thoughts, and whose voices, might be floating through the mind of his superstar. Or to convince Nowitzki to take less money than he could — or should — demand to stay.

Nowitzki, through a good chuckle, has already said he won’t be going the extension route of Kobe Bryant.

The Mavs’ leader in just about every meaningful statistical category in franchise history, and now No. 10 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, has never employed a traditional agent. He doesn’t play games. He says what he means and means what he says. And come July 2 or 3 or thereabouts, Nowitzki will have likely signed a contract for two or three more seasons at $10 million to $12 million per, a deal similar to the one another one-team guy, Tim Duncan, will complete after next season.

It is, however, interesting to ponder the hypothetical “what if,” as in what if Nowitzki and the Mavs had not won the 2011 championship, and the clock was ticking down? Would he be so steadfast about a return to a team with a turnstile roster over the last three seasons and hasn’t finished higher than the No. 7 seed? That hasn’t made it out of the first round six times in the past eight seasons? That is again a long shot this summer to land a star free agent to ease Nowitzki’s burden?

Rewind to the spring of 2010 and to a decidedly dejected Nowitzki following the No. 2-seed Mavs’ first-round loss to the No. 7-seed San Antonio Spurs. It came after a 55-win season that included the blockbuster trade to acquire aging All-Star point guard Jason Kidd. Nowitzki held the option to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent. He was turning 32 years old, still in the wheelhouse of his prime.

It was the third first-round-and-out in the four seasons since Nowitzki led the Mavs to the painfully unforgettable 2006 Finals against Miami. The immediate mood was glum; the future murky. And for the first time, Nowitzki, who even back then rarely drifted from his Dallas-only mantra, seemed to suggest that looking around might be his best option.

“I don’t know, this is all pretty fresh. I just have to keep my options open at this point, see what’s going on,” Nowitzki said the next day during the team’s exit interviews. “I have to get over this disappointment for a while. I’ll probably drown my sorrows for a bit and then I’ll start thinking about stuff like that in a week or two. As of now, I just want to keep my options, see what happens.”

Those early pangs quickly subsided and soon Nowitzki was back to his usual Dallas-or-bust refrain. He ultimately opted out to become a free agent, and by July 5 he had inked his name to a new contract, even agreeing to a hometown discount by leaving $16 million on the table for Cuban to use elsewhere to fortify the club. A summer trade brought in oft-injured center Tyson Chandler, whose defensive tenacity and overt leadership greatly empowered Nowitzki’s remarkable postseason run to a career-satisfying first title.

And a much easier decision today. So move along, nothing to see here.

The Mavs finished in the eighth seed last season, but won 49 games in the competitive Western Conference, just two games back of sixth-seed Golden State. The roster is far more stable than any of the past three entering the offseason and Dallas is loaded with cap space, hopeful of improving by landing a free agent such as Luol Deng or Pau Gasol, if not a LeBron or a ‘Melo. With a ring on his finger, that’s good enough for Dirk.

Never a drama king, he’ll be happy to leave the July fireworks to LeBron and those other guys.

Morning Shootaround: June 16


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played June 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Bulls looking to make blockbuster move | Report: Sixers taking extended look at Wiggins | Orlando a big fan of Smart’s intangibles | Report: Heat’s Allen mulling retirement | Nowitzki makes pitch for Anthony

No. 1: Report: Bulls looking to make deals to upgrade lineup — If the just-completed 2014 Finals have taught other NBA teams anything, it’s that building a team like the Spurs — one replete with superstars and solid, dependable depth — is the way to go in today’s NBA. The Chicago Bulls have apparently taken notice and are willing to part with just about anyone not named Derrick Rose, writes Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

According to several NBA sources Sunday, the Bulls have been actively looking to improve the starting lineup at almost any cost, with Derrick Rose the only untouchable player — and not by choice.

“They are looking to exhaust as many assets as it will take,’’ one source said of general manager Gar Forman and head of basketball operations John Paxson.

But the source said it was “doubtful” whether that meant the long-rumored departure of coach Tom Thibodeau could come into play.

Carmelo Anthony is still Plan A as the Bulls and the rest of the NBA await to see if the Knicks forward will opt out of his contract. But the Bulls are more active in their pursuit of Kevin Love than initially rumored. Also, don’t rule out LeBron James coming into play again if the four-time MVP opts out of his deal.

(more…)

Morning Shootaround — June 11


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played June 10

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Leonard gives Spurs a preview of their future | Hollins still hoping for coaching gig | Report: Lakers meet with Scott again | Nowitzki: Chances ‘slim to none’ he’ll leave Mavs | Battier a master at stealing play-calls

No. 1: Leonard gives Spurs an early look at their future Through the first two games of The Finals, Kawhi Leonard was a virtual non-factor as he had just 18 points in the series and was being outplayed by his matchup, LeBron James. The Heat’s star had another solid game (22 points), but Leonard broke out of his funk in a major way in Game 3. He poured in 29 points and powered San Antonio’s rout and as our Steve Aschburner notes, gave the Spurs a good look at what the team might look like when Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker hang it up:

Kawhi Leonard, the presumptive future of the San Antonio Spurs, was sorely needed in the present, lest these 2014 Finals slip too quickly into his and the Spurs’ past.

So the future was now in Game 3 against the Miami Heat, Leonard scoring a career-high 29 points and shadowing LeBron James into the sort of mere-mortal game San Antonio will need if it hopes to do this year what it couldn’t do last.

Leonard was jerked out of his foul-plagued funk in the two games in San Antonio by some pep talks and tough love from the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan as if he was, oh, Roy Hibbert. And he responded, mostly by ignoring the circumstances of these games and playing as if this were January.

Offensively, Leonard attacked Miami from the start, hitting all five of his shots in the first quarter and scoring 16 of the Spurs’ 41 points that period. Defensively the 6-foot-7 forward with the pterodactyl wingspan and Wolverine hands helped limit James to 22 points, just eight over the final three quarters when San Antonio’s fat lead cried out for something special after halftime.

Leonard had been outscored 60-18 by James in Games 1 and 2 combined, but he had the edge this time by seven. By relaxing, by seizing the moment while forgetting how momentous it was, Leonard sparked the Spurs to a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and stuck Miami with its first home loss of the postseason (8-1).

“That’s how he’s played all year long,” Popovich said. “He’s got to be one of our better players on the court or we’re not good enough. That’s just the way it is.

“You know, it’s the NBA Finals. You can’t just be mediocre out there if you want to win a game, and everybody’s got to play well, and he did that.”

Popovich acknowledged that he and others within the team had talked with Leonard in the two off-days before Game 3, though he declined to share. “Family business,” the Spurs coach called it.

Though the specifics were cloaked, the message seemed obvious.

“We just wanted him to be who he’s been the whole year, in the regular season and in the playoffs,” Popovich said. He said Leonard “overreacted” to the fouls called against him and “became very cautious.” “And he doesn’t play like that,” the coach added.

Said Duncan: “We’ve been on him about continuing to play.”

Leonard’s 29 points weren’t just his NBA career high – they apparently were the most he’d scored since high school. He had 26 for San Diego State as a freshman in a game at Wyoming, Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears reported, and 26 in an April game against Memphis this season. He’s the first player to set his personal scoring high in a Finals game since the Nets’ Kenyon Martin went for 35 in Game 4 against the Lakers in 2002.


VIDEO: Relive the best moments from Kawhi Leonard’s monster Game 3 (more…)

Westbrook: Ibaka won’t be fooled again

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Spurs-Thunder Game 6 preview

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Spurs’ Game 5 strategy to use Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw as “stretch” power forwards to bait Thunder rim protector Serge Ibaka out of the paint worked just like Gregg Popovich drew it up.

Ibaka admitted the ploy threw him off, and he had his first dud since joining the Western Conference finals in Game 3. Yet any notion that the San Antonio’s two role players suddenly present an unsolvable riddle for the Thunder in Saturday’s do-or-die Game 6 (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) literally made point guard Russell Westbrook shake his head.

“They’re not the first stretch-4s that we’ve played,” Westbrook following the team’s morning shootaround. “We played Dirk [Nowitzki], LaMarcus [Aldridge], Kevin Love, all these different bigs that can shoot the ball at a high percentage, so we know what to do.”

Then Westbrook sort of chuckled thinking of Diaw and Bonner as being the type of gunners he had just listed.

“Boris Diaw, Bonner, man, they can shoot the ball, but that’s nothing we’ve never seen before. We know how to guard somebody that can shoot the ball. Serge knows what he’s supposed to do, we know what we’re supposed to do as a team, so we’re not worried about that.”

And there this was this final guarantee from Westbrook regarding Ibaka’s ability to make himself a presence in the paint in Game 6 assuming the Spurs continue to try to drag him away.

“He won’t be dragged away,” Westbrook said. “He’ll be locked in tonight.”

The home team has been the one locked in through the first five games of a series that coaches and players on both sides have punted on reasons why we’ve yet to see a fourth quarter that matters. Earlier in the playoffs, road teams were stealing games. The Thunder wrapped up their second-round series on the Los Angeles’ Clippers home court.

The Spurs, the regular season’s best road team, are only 2-5 on the road during the postseason going back to Game 3 of the second round at Portland. They’ve also lost nine straight, including blowout losses in Games 3 and 4 of this series, at the Thunder’s raucous Chesapeake Energy Arena. Oklahoma City has won four consecutive home playoff games going back to their Game 1 loss in the second round.

HOME SWEET HOME

The home team has won every game in this series and has dominated all of the key statistics. A look at the Thunder’s production at home versus the road in the Western Conference finals:

Home      Road

FG%                  47.1            42.8

3FG%                34.2           28.2

OffRtg              111.5            94.6

DefRtg              95.6            125.0

FB PTS              16.5             9.3

PITP                   45.0           36.7

Opp PITP         38.0           53.3

Reb                     47.0           36.7

Blocks                9.0            3.0

Steals                 9.5             5.3

Popovich and Thunder coach Scott Brooks both say their teams’ energy and effort have dictated the wild fluctuations of this series more than game-to-game, or even in-game, adjustments.

The home team has simply played with more force and defensive determination for 48 minutes. Consider in their two home wins the Thunder averaged 9.0 blocks (3.0 on the road) and 9.5 steals (5.3 on the road). Those stats go hand-in-hand with their Jekyll-and-Hyde fast-break points that are so crucial to OKC’s offensive success: 33 in two home games compared to 28 in two road games.

Those turnovers and fast-break points work the Thunder crowd into a lather, turning an already hostile environment into one in which visiting teams feel as though the walls are caving in around them.

“Just because we’re home we can’t relax and think we’re automatically going to win because we’re at home,” Kevin Durant said. “This team [the Spurs] is looking to get to the NBA Finals, so we know how desperate they’re going to be to win the game, how hard they’re going to come out and play. We’ve got to match it. We know the circumstances.”

Time for K.D. to sink his teeth into Game 6

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Spurs-Thunder Game 6 preview

OKLAHOMA CITY – The MVP was asked if he’s put his imprint on the Western Conference finals.

“You know, it [is] a different series compared to the first two, whereas you’ve got to beat this team with a group of guys,” Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant said. “Against the Clippers, me and Russell [Westbrook], we came out and scored 40 points a piece and [were] able to win, but this team makes you play with everybody. We knew that.

“You’ve got to do it on both ends of the floor. I feel like I put my imprint on the series. It may not be in the usual way that people expect me to go out and score 40 a game, but I think I put my imprint on the series.”

As Durant and the Thunder head into Saturday’s do-or-die Game 6 (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT), Durant is correct in that he doesn’t have to score 40 and he shouldn’t feel burdened to carry the team by dominating the ball. Against the precision and depth of the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City needs a focused team effort to survive.

But if the Thunder wants to see June, they must have their leader thrust himself to the forefront of the effort. He must attack with an unrivaled determination and desire to win the game, to put forth a LeBron James foot-on-the-throat performance a la Friday night’s elimination of the Pacers. Afterward, budding Indiana star Paul George said of James: “He really just sunk his teeth all over this game.”

He needs to heed the catch-phrase of one of his two favorite players, Dirk Nowitzki, and “let it rip.” Nowitzki is the last player to win a Game 7 in San Antonio.

Durant seemingly hasn’t simply let it rip throughout this postseason. He’s left us to ponder at times if he’s even having fun. When momentum has turned against OKC, he’s become visibly frustrated. His body language has become unusually slumped, and after losses his postgame demeanor at the podium has shown shades of immaturity, a trait that seems to have replaced unbridled optimism from a player who just three weeks ago delivered one of the most impassioned MVP speeches of all time.

He’s even established a mantra to soften the blow of losing.

“I’ve learned not to let basketball take over my life,” Durant says.

But if he wants another shot at the championship, if he wants to knock the old-guard Spurs out of the way as he did in 2012, Durant must take over Game 6 with a steel-clad will to win.

“I’ve seen the best of the best not perform well statistically in the biggest games of the year, but their passion, their effort, just their desire to win was higher than everybody else’s,” said five-time champion Derek Fisher, his jersey No. 6 emblematic of his chase of a sixth ring. “And so Kevin doesn’t have to show up and score 40 points and have MVP numbers against them, but we need everybody to show up just with the desire to win that is stronger than our opponents’.

“We won’t necessarily have to ask for anything else but that.”

Durant has answered the call in back-against-the-wall moments in these playoffs. He scored 36 and 33 points in Games 6 and 7 against Memphis in the first round. In a must-win Game 6 on the road, Durant went to the free-throw line 15 times, a barometer of his determination to be the aggressor.

He hit huge baskets down the stretch of Game 5 against the Clippers when the Thunder flipped defeat into a pivotal victory with a dominant final three minutes. And he was excellent in the final three quarters of the Game 6 clincher in Los Angeles.

In this series, Durant’s offensive production — 24.8 points on 47.4 percent shooting (36.0 percent from 3-point range), 3.4 assists and 6.0 free-throw attempts — appears low, but those numbers are somewhat diluted by the blowout nature of all five games. There hasn’t been a fourth quarter that’s mattered and Durant has averaged just 6.7 minutes in the final period.

His true imprint on this series has come on the defensive end in the Thunder’s two wins. OKC is at its best when he’s crisp and alert, using his length and quickness to seal off entry passes into the paint yet still able to close out on 3-point shooters like Danny Green.

So now here he is at Saturday’s crossroads, the Thunder’s leader and the league’s MVP, one win away from forcing a Game 7 and a potential rematch against LeBron and the Heat; one loss away from going home unfulfilled.

“I’ve always been the guy that’s going to bring it, and that’s going to play to win,” Durant said. “So it’s a must‑win, and I can’t sit home and think about it every single minute of the day, but I’ve got to know how important it is.”

Game 6 is all about leaving his imprint, sinking his teeth into it and letting it rip.

The points will follow.

Film Study: Splitter D keys Spurs

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Trail Blazers vs. Spurs: Game 2

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – If there was a postseason Defensive Player of the Year award, the early leader would have to be Tiago Splitter.

After seven games of keeping Dirk Nowitzki in check in the first round, Splitter has done the same to LaMarcus Aldridge in the conference semifinals, helping the San Antonio Spurs to a 2-0 series lead.

The Spurs’ offense has been ridiculously efficient, scoring almost 120 points per 100 possessions over their last five games. They basically won Thursday’s game with a stretch of 12 possessions (spanning the first and second quarters) in which they scored 29 points.

But their opponents have been two of the three worst defensive teams (among those that made the playoffs) from the regular season. And maybe more impressive is that they’ve held two top-five offensive teams under a point per possession over their last three games.

A big key to that has been Splitter’s ability to defend both Nowitzki and Aldridge one-on-one. They are the two of the most prolific mid-range shooters in the league. But if you can contest those mid-range shots, they’re better for the defense than layups or 3-pointers. And the best way to avoid the layups and 3s is by not helping the defender guarding Mr. Mid-Range.

Splitter allows the Spurs to do that. And if he can keep his man from shooting too efficiently, his team is in really good shape.

According to SportVU, Nowitzki shot 21-for-45 (47 percent) against Splitter’s defense in the first round. In the conference semis, Aldridge has shot 8-for-25 (32 percent) against Splitter, including 2-for-13 in Game 2.

Aldridge’s favorite spot on the floor is the left block. Nine of his shots in Game 2 came from that spot with Splitter defending him. He made his first one, and then missed the next eight.

Here’s a compilation of those nine shots …


VIDEO: Splitter Defends Aldridge

From the same spot, Aldridge was 2-for-3 against Boris Diaw. When he hit two straight turnaround jumpers (here and here) midway through the fourth quarter, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich immediately sent Splitter back into the game.

On another day, Aldridge would certainly have made more than one of those nine shots. But Splitter has the size and discipline to use a simple and effective method for defending him. Stay in front, stay on the ground and contest the shot.

Aldridge can get more open looks by getting away from Splitter, as he did a few times on Thursday.

Early in the first quarter, he got a wide-open elbow jumper off a pick-and-pop with Damian Lillard, with the three Spurs who weren’t defending either Lillard or Aldridge staying at home on their man …

20140509_aldridge_pop

Midway through the second quarter, Aldridge got two straight layups (one he made, one he missed) by curling off a pin-down screen from Lillard.

20140509_aldridge_curl

The Spurs cleaned up their defense on those after that, but Aldridge clearly got better looks at the basket when he caught the ball on the move. That will be something to look for in Game 3 (10:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN).