Posts Tagged ‘Dirk Nowitzki’

Morning Shootaround — May 4


VIDEO: The Daily Zap: May 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors return to Toronto as underdogs | Celebrities covet the Clippers |  | Nowitzki on Game 7: ‘You’ve got to love it‘ | Wizards ready for next round

No. 1: Raptors return to Toronto as underdogs – The Toronto Raptors have grown used to being the underdog, so being overlooked in Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets is nothing new. Eric Koreen of The National Post explains how the Raptors plan to combat this doubt as they prepare to play in front of a raucous crowd at the Air Canada Centre:

Following a game as decisive as Friday’s Game 6, that is natural. Brooklyn had a plan to get the ball out of Kyle Lowry’s hands and make DeMar DeRozan take tough shots, and it worked. They had a plan to puncture Toronto’s wobbly perimeter defence, held up by the hobbled Lowry, the game-but-overmatched DeRozan and the laterally compromised Greivis Vasquez, and it worked. They even won the rebounding battle, the one aspect of the series that should have belonged Toronto, without exception. The Raptors won the fourth quarter, and made a half-hearted run at a comeback. This was not like Brooklyn’s efforts at the end of Game 5, though. It barely registered.

And in a way, that is perfect for these Raptors. For a team whose failure was assumed an inevitability and whose success was questioned all season long, they are now back where they were both before Game 1 and before the season started: as unquestioned underdogs, as the overlooked.

“To listen to some of this, we may as well not play Game 7,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after answering a few negatively tinged questions on Friday night. “Every game is different and I know our team will bounce back. We’ve got to come out of the gates a lot fresher, a lot harder, especially starting on the defensive end of the floor. Rebounding, 50-50 balls, transition defence, guarding the perimeter, having bigs at the rim, all of those things are a lack of defensive focus, and that’s where it all started.”

There is no reason to doubt that the Raptors are going to throw their hardest punch, if not their most technically sound. This team has gotten by on snarl, effort and defiance all year long. Sure, Paul Pierce has played in more Game 7s (eight) than the entire Raptors team (seven), but we should be well past that by the time Sunday afternoon’s game tips off. Few hours remaining before what could be their last game of the year, doubt is king.

Still, there are numerous concerns. With the complete disappearance of Terrence Ross this series, the Raptors are down to just six players that they can hope for a little punch from: Lowry, DeRozan, Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. Johnson has historically struggled in early-afternoon games, although Friday evening proved he could perform poorly under the moonlight, too. In general, the Raptors’ big men have failed to dominate the series as they should: Valanciunas in the paint, Johnson rolling to the basket and Patterson from the perimeter.

“Throughout the course of this series, we’ve been great on the glass,” Patterson said. “[On Friday], I think that they actually beat us on the boards. That’s something we can’t have. We have to get [Valanciunas] more of the ball, get him more post touches and take advantage of the size down low and make it easier for Kyle and DeMar. We rely on them too much.”

Sunday will prove a lot — whether Casey can concoct a game plan that responds to Friday’s unraveling, whether DeRozan can vary his offence in his most pressure-filled game ever, whether Valanciunas can assert himself on the game without turning the ball over frequently, whether Lowry can play like the star he has been for so much of this year in the biggest game of his career. This series has provided conflicting evidence on all of those counts. On Sunday, the Raptors could throw a boulder on those scales — on either side.

***

No. 2: Celebrities covet the Clippers – NBA ownership is a highly desired position for the uber-wealthy. And this desire increases ten-fold when the team is located in Los Angeles, a celebrity and uber-wealthy hotbed. That’s why the likely sale of the Los Angeles Clippers has sparked the interest of many celebrities who would like to call the Clippers their own. Billy Witz and Mary Pilon of The New York Times detail who has thrown their hat into the ring:

For most of the Clippers’ 30-year tenure in Los Angeles, they have been viewed as a punch line in hightops.

And so, a day after the N.B.A. commissioner gave the team’s owner, Donald Sterling, a lifetime ban and recommended that owners vote him out, the conversation about who might replace Mr. Sterling revealed the Clippers to be in a strikingly unfamiliar position: the toast of the town.

The prospect of an auction created a frenzy, with hands flying up, playfully and not, for a chance to bid on the most coveted commodity in professional sports, a competitive team in a major market. That means the Clippers, the forgotten franchise of Los Angeles sports, are suddenly the belle of basketball.

Oprah Winfrey is interested in forming a powerhouse partnership to buy the team with the Silicon Valley mogul Larry Ellison and the entertainment mogul David Geffen, Winfrey’s spokeswoman said. The billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Eli Broad is also interested, according to his spokeswoman. So is the boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. — along with his rival Oscar De La Hoya.

Dr. Dre, an icon of West Coast rap, has expressed interest in the team, as has Sean Combs, who may be an icon of East Coast rap but has caught Clippers fever just the same. “I will always be a Knicks fan,” he said on Twitter, “but I am a business man. #DiddyBuyTheClippers#NameYourPrice.”

The comedian Mindy Kaling said she, too, was interested in buying the Clippers, promising that “the uniforms will be the same but bedazzled.”

Of course, many, if not most, of the offers are unlikely to materialize. (No one is waiting for Judd Apatow and Don Rickles to submit an official bid anytime soon, despite Mr. Apatow’s tweet that they were considering it.) It would not be the first time celebrities sought to capitalize on a big story. (Mr. Mayweather just happens to be fighting in Las Vegas on Saturday.)

All the attention and adoration may be disorienting for the Clippers, a franchise that for a long time was perhaps the worst in pro sports, a basketball calamity that had two winning seasons in Mr. Sterling’s first 30 years.

The Clippers had none of the glamour of the Lakers, who have boasted a flotilla of Hall of Fame superstars playing before crowds studded with name-brand celebrities.

Now, there is an opportunity to replace one of pro sports’ most notorious owners with something that fans say surely must be better.

Baron Davis, a former Clipper who was once heckled by Mr. Sterling for not playing up to a six-year, $65 million contract, said it was important to have an owner who was a minority. Michael Jordan, the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, and Vivek Ranadive, the leader of the ownership group of the Sacramento Kings, are the only minority owners in the league.

“Diversity is important,” Mr. Davis said. “Especially with what happened here.”

Most agree that the Clippers have room for enormous growth on the business side. The team’s television deal, which expires in 2016, is nowhere near the 20-year, $3 billion deal the Lakers signed with Time Warner Cable two years ago. Until recently, Mr. Sterling rarely invested aggressively in his team on or off the court.

With a sale, the Clippers could receive the sort of bump that the Dodgers did when a loathed owner, Frank McCourt, was forced to sell. The Dodgers were acquired by a financial services magnate whose ownership group included Magic Johnson.

“It will be like a breath of fresh air; you just open the door, and this fresh breeze comes through,” said Mychal Thompson, the Lakers’ radio analyst, who once played for them. “But whoever the new owners are, they’re going to have to be really creative with this franchise to be able to compete for the hearts and minds of Lakers fans.”

Of course, there would be one surefire way to appeal to Lakers fans — and to write a storybook ending to the Sterling scandal.

Enter Mr. Johnson, the Lakers Hall of Famer who is revered for his charisma and business acumen, particularly for his efforts in African-American neighborhoods.

Mr. Johnson was dragged into the scandal when Mr. Sterling asked a woman he was often seen with not to post online pictures of herself with black men, including one in which she posed with Mr. Johnson.

“Don’t put him on Instagram for the world to see so they have to call me,” Mr. Sterling said in a recording released by TMZ. “And don’t bring him to my games. Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo, broadcast, that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”

Mr. Johnson has denied a report that said he was interested in joining a group to buy the Clippers, but that has not stopped Los Angeles from talking about it.

“If you want the Hollywood ending to all this,” said Mr. Perrin, the Clippers blogger, “it’s Magic Johnson.”

***

No. 3: Nowitzki on Game 7: ‘You’ve got to love it’ – Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are two of the best players of this generation and they each hope to continue their playoff run with a Game 7 win on Sunday in San Antonio. The pressure of Game 7 has not shaken either ball club much as both teams strive to be confident about the matchup. Jeff McDonald of The Dallas Morning News has more specifics on each team’s mindset before Game 7:

“Everybody talks about what seed you are, but players and coaches know all the teams are very close,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “There are no rankings, really. For the fans, for the league, it’s so great because all the matchups are so competitive.”

To which the buzzkill Spurs say, respectfully: Humbug.

If the Spurs had gotten their way, they wouldn’t have had any part of this April and May madness.

So much for that. Sunday afternoon at the AT&T Center, the top-seeded Spurs face a Game 7 reckoning of their own against No. 8 Dallas.

Sooner than anybody could |have expected, the Spurs’ championship hopes are on the line.

“I don’t care if it’s in four (games) or seven, I just want to beat them,” guard Manu Ginobili said. “Of course, you always want four, but there are some teams that are tough and some games where you make mistakes. It’s always better to win in seven than to lose 2-4.”

Dallas earned its way here with a 113-111 victory in Game 6 that provided another momentum swing in a series that has been full of them.

Five of the six games were decided in the final minute, by an average of 3.6 points. It has often been difficult to tell the difference between the No. 1 seed and the No. 8.

Had Vince Carter’s last-second 3-pointer not gone down in Game 3, it is possible the Spurs would be playing Game 1 against Portland on Sunday. Had Dallas not blown a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 1, perhaps the Mavs would have already sewn up a shocker.

“It’s a very good ball club over there. A very good team,” said Spurs forward Tim Duncan, who is 2-2 in Game 7s. “There are eight, nine, 10 good teams in the West. We’re here to win four games.”

To do that, and avoid losing a series to an eight seed for the second time in four seasons, the Spurs are going to have to show up on defense.

In Game 6, the Spurs surrendered two quarters of at least 30 points, including a 37-point fourth that allowed the Mavs to overcome a seven-point deficit and stave off elimination.

In the regular season, the Spurs were 31-4 when shooting better than 50 percent. In this series, they are 0-3 when hitting at least half their shots because they have also surrendered an average of nearly 112 points in those games.

“The deal is you play D or you lose,” Popovich said, reflecting on Game 6. “And our defense was awful.”

The Spurs have had little answer for speedy Dallas guard Monta Ellis, who is averaging 21.8 points in the series. With the season in the balance Sunday, they must also contend with Game 7 Dirk Nowitzki.

The Dallas MVP is 4-0 in Game 7s, averaging 28 points and 14.8 rebounds.

In his most recent — an overtime win over the Spurs in the 2006 conference semifinals — Nowitzki scored 37 points with 15 rebounds and sent the game into OT on a layup-and-foul that Ginobili would just as soon forget.

“It’s the ultimate thrill,” Nowitzki said. “It’s win or go home. Everything that happened before is out the window. Nothing (else) matters.”

That’s been the story of the series so far. The past has meant exactly squat.

The Spurs came in having won nine in a row over Dallas. Now the Mavs have a chance to send the 62-win Spurs into early vacation.

The Spurs have been here before, as recently as the NBA Finals last June in Miami, in a Game 7 they lost 95-88.

“I don’t think anybody’s nervous or shaken or worried about a Game 7,” Spurs guard Danny Green said. “Everybody’s pretty confident.”

There is a not-so-well-kept secret about Game 7: They are only much fun for the winners.

“It’s just that one game,” Nowitzki said. “It’s the ultimate competition. You’ve got to love it. You’ve got to embrace it.”

***


VIDEO: Inside Look at Wizards-Pacers

No. 4: Wizards ready for next round – The Washington Wizards benefited from their early elimination of the Chicago Bulls to get a few days of rest before their semifinal series against the Indiana Pacers. The time allowed the Wizards to look ahead and think about the damage they believe they can do in the playoffs, with hopes of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals or even all the way to the NBA Finals. Micheal Lee of The Washington Post details how the Wizards have utilized their rest and gauges their confidence level:

Since entering the NBA, John Wall has spent the first weekend in May with his family in Raleigh, N.C., or showing off his latest fashionable ensemble at the Kentucky Derby.Those plans have been altered considerably with the Washington Wizards making the NBA playoffs for the first time in his career — and then dispatching the Chicago Bulls in five games — but he doesn’t miss the vacation.

While the Pacers were playing a Game 7 against the Hawks, Washington was resting and preparing for their second-round matchup.

Veterans and young players alike have come together thanks to regular team-building gatherings this season.

A look at some of our favorite images from the past week.

“Happy to be in the playoffs,” Wall said Saturday. “I think it’s more important to be playing the sport I love. I’ve done [the Kentucky Derby] two or three or times, so that’s over with for me right now.”The Wizards waited patiently for theIndiana Pacers to dismiss the Atlanta Hawks in seven games to set up theirsecond-round matchup.In preparation for Monday’s Game 1 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Coach Randy Wittman has balanced giving his players necessary rest while engaging them in some spirited practices to maintain the competitive edge that has fueled this recent run of success.Washington has won eight of its past nine games, playing with an urgency that was lacking for much of the regular season. The series win over Chicago confirmed that the Wizards had the talent all along. Reserve swingman Martell Webster believes the team was strengthened by its struggles on the way to a 44-38 regular season record.

“People say this team has a lot of potential to be good down the line. Well, honestly, when you look at the postseason this year that we made it, we have a good opportunity to do some crazy things right now,” Webster said. “I think in our circle we realize that. For us, especially the veterans, we’re not worried about next year. We’re worried about right now. We feel we can do damage right now.

“We’re all playing at a level of play that a lot of people didn’t expect us to do, but we know what we’re capable of doing. It’s the fact that we know we can do something right now is the reason we have that sense of urgency and the reason why we’re playing the way we are.”

Webster believes the rest since Tuesday’s series-clinching 75-69 victory over the Bulls will be beneficial because the Pacers will have only one day to shift their focus to Washington. The break has been especially good forNene, who has worn a brace on his sprained left knee since he returned from a 22-game absence last month. Still, Nene said that like before Game 1 vs. the Bulls, he has had trouble sleeping in anticipation of the next round.

“Maybe I’m getting excited now because we’re going to play Monday no matter what,” Nene said. “Still, I been taking NyQuil or whatever his name. Looks like it’s doing reverse. I just need to take care of myself. The whole team need to take care of themselves, what we need to do, relaxing a little bit, because when the ball goes up, we need to be on.”

Wittman has stressed the importance of not breaking from routine, and for him, that has meant maintaining a low profile away from the court. “I don’t go around. I stay in. I want it to be as routine as possible,” Wittman said. “There’s probably not going to be a lot of people that say, ‘Hey, I saw Coach out.’ My wife does a lot of cooking, so she probably wishes differently. But that’s my routine. How we focused going into the Chicago series has got to be the same.”

When the Wizards started the season 9-9, Marcin Gortat boldly predicted the team would win 50 games. By advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2005, the Wizards have won 48 games and would need at least two victories to make Gortat look somewhat prescient. The franchise hasn’t won a game in the second round since 1982, but the Wizards are confident this is the team to end that drought.

“I’m looking for the gentleman who wrote article about me, that I’m stupid,” Gortat said when asked about his 50-win prediction. “Whoever we’re going to play, we still got a big chance to beat them. If we’re going to continue to play hard, if we’re going to continue to play so physical, having defensive pressure, each one of us continue to play well, there’s no way they can match with us.”

Wall said the Wizards began to play with more determination after an overtime loss to Charlotte on April 9, which momentarily knocked them to the seventh seed. They closed the regular season with four straight wins to move up to fifth place and haven’t let up since.

“We knew what we needed to do to keep our seeding and get a good spot in the playoffs, and we did that. Luckily, it’s translating into the playoffs right now,” Wall said, adding that the team must maintain the attitude of an underdog.

“You got people that doubt you your whole life, your whole career, and when you have the opportunity to succeed, you don’t pay them no attention. You just keep focusing on what you’re doing as a group and as an individual and try to win basketball games. It’s a different atmosphere. It’s the playoffs. You’re more focused on what you’re doing. Regular season, it don’t matter what you do.”

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Houston Rockets will bring back coach Kevin McHale for the 2014-15 season, according to David Aldridge. … The NBA will appoint a CEO to oversee the Los Angeles Clippers. … The Mavericks’ Jose Calderon is not likely to wear a mask in Game 7, despite breaking his nose in Game 6. … The Warriors and Clippers may have had a hallway altercation after Game 7.

ICYMI of The Night: Despite the Warriors’ loss on Saturday night, Stephen Curry still put on a show. One of his most impressive shots of the night was this four-point play towards the end of first half:


VIDEO: Curry’s four-point play

Count ‘em …

Curry4_medium

Showdown Sunday for final four first-rounders

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The first round’s final four teams are doing whatever they can to avoid going fishing

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Four quarters.

That’s it!

Four quarters.

It all comes down to this.

Four quarters, or more if need be, for the final four teams still alive on the most epic weekend ever in the first round of the NBA playoffs. From the emotional roller coaster of Saturday’s wild, three-game ride to — the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers, all three higher seeds — we finish with today’s two-part saga.

The Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors finish what they started in the Eastern Conference while the defending Western Conference champion and No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs defend the Alamo against those pesky No. 8-seeded Dallas Mavericks.

It goes without saying, no one wants to Go Fishing!

So the time for posturing is over. All that’s left is this double-header for all the marbles.

The final four must deliver on the promise of what we’ve already seen from this historic weekend of Game 7s. No pressure fellas, just epic finishes to epic series on an epic weekend …

NETS @RAPTORS, 1 p.m. ET (ABC) 

It has to be a comforting feeling for both of these teams knowing that a rested and focused Miami Heat team, the two-time defending champions, await the winner in the conference semifinals.

Either way, the Nets and Raptors couldn’t be better suited for one last battle.

As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out, just one point (967-966) separates them in the 10 games they’ve played this season, with each of them winning five times. This is a much-needed rubber match that pits one of the most well-seasoned teams in the Nets against a Raptors crew that is swimming in the deep end of the playoff pool for the first time.

But there are more than just numbers at stake today at the Air Canada Centre. There are legacies on the line for the likes of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who were brought to Brooklyn for moments like this, and for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, whose careers will continue to be built on defining moments like this one.

As a group those four stars have a combined 23 Game 7 starts under their belts … so at least one advantage, the experience edge, goes to the visitors from Brooklyn. Just don’t tell the Raptors, who have the sensational and dynamic DeMar DeRozan-Kyle Lowry duo (they are averaging a combined 44.8 points in this series) on their side.

***

MAVERICKS @ SPURS, 3:30 p.m. ET (ABC)

No one loves Game 7 like the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki.

No one.

His spotless 4-0 record in Game 7s – that’s right, spotless — no doubt makes him love this big stage even more. All he’s ever known in Game 7 is success, as Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com points out:

He knows nothing but the thrill of victory in the winner-takes-all series finales. Nowitzki is 4-0 in Game 7 action throughout his career, and his numbers in those games border on ridiculous.

You think joining a trio of Hall of Famers – Elgin Baylor, Bob Pettit and Hakeem Olajuwon – in the exclusive career 25-point, 10-rebound club is impressive? Nowitzki has averaged 28 points and 14.8 rebounds in Game 7s, with all of that experience coming between 2003 and ’06.

How silly is it that the big German was stereotyped as a “soft Euro” until he led the Mavs on a 2011 championship march without a series going seven games?

Dirk registered a points-rebound double-double in each of his four swings at a Game 7. The only other active players with four such Game 7 double-doubles in their career are Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.

Nowitzki has three 30-10 Game 7 lines. He’s the only guy who can make that claim in the basketball-reference.com database, which dates to 1986. The only two-timers in that time span: LeBron James and Karl Malone.

Of course, Duncan is mentioned among those Game 7 greats. The Spurs superstar big man has been at this so long that you knew he’d have this on his resume, too.

You know Duncan remembers well that Game 7 loss to the Mavericks from May 2006 in the Western Conference semifinals, an overtime defeat that saw Duncan torch the Mavericks for 41 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks in a failed effort. The Spurs are 3-5 all-time in Game 7s, boasting a rich history of highs and lows in those games, 2-2 record under the watch of Duncan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

A new chapter in this storied rivalry will be written later today.

It’s Showdown time for all involved in the final four of the best first round of the NBA playoffs we’ve ever seen!


VIDEO: The Game Time crew discusses the battle for Texas between the Spurs and Mavericks

 

No fluke Mavs have Spurs on the ropes

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Isiah Thomas and Sam Mitchell preview Game 7

DALLAS – The Mavericks have pushed the reigning West champion and top-seeded Spurs to a decisive Game 7 because they’re working their game plan to near-perfection. Dallas is improbably winning the 3-point battle, getting widespread contribution, nearly matching San Antonio’s defensive efficiency and Monta Ellis has become a very big deal.

“It’s called speed,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, asked why Ellis is so effective attacking the rim.

Only San Antonio point guard Tony Parker has more drives to the basket in the playoffs than Ellis, according to the SportVU tracking system, and Dallas’ defensive scheme is practically begging him to do so as the Mavs concentrate on choking off the 3-point arc.

The Spurs’ Achilles heel is locking down athletic squads such as Oklahoma City and Houston. San Antonio didn’t beat either one in eight regular-season games. Dallas won’t typically fall into the “athletic” category with Dirk Nowitzki, 35, Shawn Marion, 35 and Vince Carter, 37, so relied upon, but Ellis, 28, is penetrating with attitude and altering that dynamic.

He’s making life miserable for 36-year-old Manu Ginobili and anybody else trying to stay in front him. Ellis pumped the Spurs for 29 points — 22 in an electrifying second half — during Dallas’ stay-alive Game 6 win Friday night, his second game with 29 in the series.

“When he scores like that, he is to tough to stop,” Parker said. “We are going to have to control him.”

Ellis is Dallas’ leading scorer at 21.8 ppg. Only one other time in 12 previous playoff appearances has Nowitzki not led the team in scoring. That was a disaster, a 2007 first-round ousting as the No. 1 seed by Golden State, exactly what Dallas is attempting to do to San Antonio. Ellis played with decisive force in recent fourth quarters, and has helped to crumble a typically unbreakable end-of-game Spurs defense.

The Mavs’ success extends throughout the lineup. From Carter to Devin Harris to DeJuan Blair‘s inspired, revenge-minded hustle, Dallas’ depth has grabbed a much larger role in this series than a bench that was so important to San Antonio all season long.

Ginobili had his first poor game of the series in Game 6, having averaged 19 points in the first five games as San Antonio’s best player. Starting shooting guard Danny Green finally shot it well in Game 6 with 19 points after averaging 3.4 through the first five games.

Boris Diaw has come on in recent games, but Marco Belinelli has been a virtual no-show, averaging less than one 3-point attempt a game. Patty Mills is shooting 23.5 percent from deep. He’s 4-for-17 in the series after dropping six 3s on Dallas in their final regular-season meeting in April.

“I don’t know, it just happens,” Ginobili said of the Spurs’ bench struggles. “Some matchups are good for some players and some matchups are good for others. We’re 3-3 with home court advantage. I don’t think we’re in an awful position. We’re not a team that needs the bench to score 45 points. We take what the opponents give us.”

Dallas is doing all it can not to give up the 3-pointer. The Spurs have devastated the Mavs with the 3-ball for two consecutive seasons, but so far in this series they are losing that key battle. Only once has San Antonio made more 3s, and that was an irrelevant 10-8 advantage in Game 2, which Dallas won in a blowout.

The Mavs’ defense, ranked in the bottom 10 in efficiency all season, has limited the Spurs to 17.3 attempts a game, fewer than any team in the playoffs other than Washington and Memphis. They’re averaging nearly two fewer 3-point baskets than Dallas, which is shooting the 3-ball at 37.9 percent, slightly higher than San Antonio’s 37.5 percent. The Spurs led the league in the regular season at 39.7 percent.

It’s no fluke that Dallas has its longtime nemesis on the ropes.

San Antonio will be favored to win Game 7 on their home floor, but several concerning patterns could make end this playoff run much sooner than anybody could have expected.

Mavs push Duncan, Spurs to the brink

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mavs top Spurs to force Game 7

DALLAS – Tim Duncan started this unpredictably wooly series with 27 points and talking about doing this playoff thing a couple more times. In the middle of it, he turned 38.

By the end of Friday night’s Game 6, his goatee seemingly sprouting a few more grey hairs, Duncan was left explaining how former kicked-to-the-curb teammate DeJuan Blair dominated a fourth quarter that now has the top-seeded and reigning Western Conference champions staring down another improbable Game 7 long before they figured they would.

“We’re here to win four games, it doesn’t matter how many games it takes,” Duncan said, his voice terse. “We’re not worried about being disappointed. This is a very good ballclub over there. There’s eight, nine and 10 good teams in the West, so we’re here to win four games. We have one more at home to do that. We played great in the regular season so that we would be in this position to have homecourt. There’s no disappointment there.”

There certainly was no joy in the visitors’ locker room following a sloppy fourth quarter that led to Mavs 113, Spurs 111, to set up Sunday’s Game 7 back in San Antonio. The last one they played didn’t go so well last June in Miami after the Spurs somehow let Game 6 and another championship slip away in the final 28 seconds. It’s only the first round, yet suddenly the stakes are as equally high for this tight-knit group that regrouped so brilliantly this season to win a league-best 62 games.

Coach Gregg Popovich, being pushed to the limit by the scheming of Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, won the Coach of the Year award for their efforts. Now his team finds itself in the same precarious spot as the East’s No. 1 seed, the embattled Indiana Pacers. Both get Game 7 on their home floor.

“Well, you wouldn’t give it away, but it doesn’t guarantee you anything,” Popovich said of playing the finale at home. “We’ve won Game 7s and we’ve lost Game 7s.”

San Antonio led the eighth-seeded Mavs 87-82 with 9:15 to go. It seemed this would be a methodical ender for the Spurs, 52-1 during the regular season when leading after three quarters, a slow death for the home team like a boa crushing the final, desperate breaths from its prey.

But then we should have known better. The gutty Mavs have spent this series escaping danger and reinforcing their resiliency. Even in Game 5 when the Spurs seemed to be in total control from the start, there were the Mavs hustling to within four points in the final minutes, and a missed Dirk Nowitzki jumper from making it two.

This time, a 16-4 Dallas charge sparked by a scrambling defense and two steals by Blair, who had four on the night to go with 10 points and a game-high and career-playoff best 14 rebounds, led to a flurry of buckets in the 37-point quarter. By the time Dallas’ leading scorer in this series, Monta Ellis, who dropped 29 points for the second time, hit an eight-foot driving jump shot with 2:59 left, the Mavs, buoyed by a boisterous, believing crowd, went up 102-94.

A pair of late 3s accounted for the extra-thin final margin, but Blair, who stole Tony Parker‘s interior pass with 29.9 seconds left, then made enough free throws to skate away out with the win.

Earlier in the day on his local radio program, Carlisle fumed that he wasn’t proud of anything his team had accomplished to this point. “We should be the ones up, 3-2,” he said. “That’s how I see it.”

Maybe he was right. Maybe if Blair, whose energy flipped the Game 4 momentum in Dallas’ favor, hadn’t of kicked Tiago Splitter in the head in the fourth quarter of a one-point game, drawing a “hostile act” violation and automatic ejection, maybe the Mavs win that one to go up 3-1. Blair was subsequently suspended for Game 5.  The Spurs won by six.

On their three home games, San Antonio has been less than dominant, getting blown out in Game 2 and winning Games 1 and 5 by a combined 11 points.

“Of course it’s disappointing, but it is what it is,” said Manu Ginobili, just 1-for-8 for six points after averaging 19 in the first five games. “We have to go and fight and try to get it in seven.

“I don’t think we’re in an awful position.”

Blair would certainly enjoy putting them in one. He’s held a grudge against his former club all season for being ousted from the rotation first spot by Splitter, suddenly the Spurs’ best inside scoring threat, and then Boris Diaw, and finally being set free last summer.

“Of course,” Blair answered when asked if his massive Game 6 served as sweet revenge after watching Game 5 sequestered in his San Antonio hotel room. “It ain’t over yet, we’ve got Game 7 on their court. Winning on their court would be the best revenge.”

Nowitzki, a solid 22 points on 11-for-20 shooting, knows that feeling. The last time these two longtime rivals went seven games in the 2006 conference semifinals, Nowitzki bludgeoned the Spurs with 37 points and 15 rebounds. He and re-acquired guard Devin Harris are the only Mavs left from that series, but Popovich and the Big Three remember it well.

It kept them from challenging for a repeat, and possibly a three-peat after they won it all again in 2007. New Knicks president Phil Jackson recently reminded the Spurs that their three titles in five seasons do not constitute a dynasty.

Now they’re just desperate to avoid a second first-round exit in four years as the No. 1 seed.

Sunday is about one thing: survive and advance.


VIDEO: Ellis discusses Dallas’ Game 6 victory

Dirk knows Durant’s first-round pain

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The NBA TV crew previews Game 5 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series

DALLAS – During their 2011 Western Conference finals matchup, Dirk Nowitzki called Kevin Durant the future of the league. Three years later, the Thunder superstar is the runaway leader to win his first MVP award.

But he’s been scuffling so far in the first round and the second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, seeking a return to the NBA Finals for a second time in three seasons, find themselves in a dogfight against the seventh-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. After Durant scored just 15 points on 5-for-21 shooting (1-for-7 from beyond the arc) in Saturday’s 92-89 overtime win, OKC is fortunate to be going home tied 2-2 for Tuesday’s Game 5 (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

About a month ago, Durant said Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant are his favorite players in the league. He lauded Nowitzki for his humble, low-key style and said he studies Nowitzki’s moves and his training regimen. However, there’s one Nowitzki footstep Durant doesn’t want to follow.

In May 2007, with top-seeded Dallas knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by upstart Golden State, Nowitzki gritted his teeth through an uncomfortable and admittedly depressing MVP ceremony.

“I’ll still look back once my career is over [and think] it’s unbelievable that I won the MVP coming over from Germany,” Nowitzki said Sunday afternoon, one day after the surprising Mavs took a 2-1 lead over the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs. “But in the back of my mind it will probably always be connected to the first-round loss because I think we had a great chance that year.”

Durant has yet to find a rhythm against Tony Allen and the Memphis defense. He’s 40-for-101  (39.6 percent) from the floor and 9-for-34 (26.5 percent) from beyond the arc. Those figures are way off his season marks of 50.3 percent and 39.1 percent.

His slump actually started after his Michael Jordan-eclipsing streak of scoring 25 points or more in 41 consecutive games ended on April 8. In the final five regular-season games, Durant went 54-for-124 overall (43.5 percent) and 7-for-34 from deep (20.5 percent).

His first-round struggles harken back to Nowitzki’s 2007 MVP campaign. He averaged 24.6 ppg and accomplished the rare 50-40-90 trifecta — 50.2 percent shooting overall, 41.6 percent from 3 and 90.4 percent from the free throw line. But in the first round, Nowitzki’s trademark accuracy waned and with it went the Mavs’ hopes of returning to the NBA Finals. Dallas lost to the Miami Heat in the 2006 Finals.

            Nowitzki vs. Warriors (2007)                 Durant vs. Grizzlies (2014)

                   FGM-FGA    3M-3A                                    FGM-FGA    3M-3A

Game 1        4-16                0-2                                          13-25                3-7

Game 2        7-15                0-2                                          12-28               5-12

Game 3        7-16                0-1                                          10-27               0-8

Game 4        9-19                2-5                                           5-21                 1-7

Game 5        7-15                2-3                                             —                     –

Game 6        2-13                0-6                                            –                     –

Total              36-94            4-19                                     40-101              9-34

                     (38.3%)          (21.1%)                               (39.6%)          (26.5%)

“Once you lose in the Finals one time, I think your mindset is always anything but the Finals is a disappointment,” Nowitzki said. “The pressure’s high, but I think that’s what we compete for; we don’t compete [to] not make the playoffs, so yeah, we do put a lot of pressure on ourselves to perform.

“I think he’ll snap out of it, I really do. That was a big win for them [Saturday] night. I watched the fourth quarter and they were able to come back. Now they’ve got two home games, so I think they’ll be OK.”

Durant’s miserable Game 4, which wasn’t helped by slumping point guard Russell Westbrook also scoring 15 points on 6-for-24 shooting, nearly put the Thunder in a 3-1 hole, just as Nowitzki and the Mavs found themselves seven seasons ago. Reggie Jackson‘s 32-point effort evened the series and breathed new life into the Thunder’s championship hopes.

“We felt if we get through the first round [in 2007] we would have had a great chance to compete for a championship again,” Nowitzki said. “So, yeah, it’s a little of mixed feelings, always. I think, honestly, it helped me later on in ’11 be the closer that I was.”

As Nowitzki knows, title chances are fleeting, and unpredictable. Dallas didn’t get beyond the second round again until that 2010-11 season, when Nowitzki put it all together and led the Mavs to the franchise’s lone title.

Footsteps Durant would just as soon skip.

The NBA: A colorful land of opportunity

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Clippers offer silent protest of Sterling before Game 4

DALLAS – In the final seconds of Saturday’s thrilling Game 3 between the Mavericks and Spurs, a San Antonio player of Argentine descent rolled off a screen set by a player born in the Virgin Islands, drove the lane and somehow banked in a leaner over a 6-foot-11 Dallas defender who hails from Haiti.

Moments later, Dallas’ Spanish point guard inbounded the ball to an African-American teammate from Florida, who miraculously swished a 3-point game-winner from the corner. The first player to embrace him in mutual jubilation was a 7-foot German as the home team’s Jewish owner went berserk.

Perhaps no place on Earth is as racially, culturally and ethnically diverse and accepting as on the NBA hardwood and inside NBA locker rooms. Somewhere in Brooklyn, Nets center Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete in an American pro sports league, who most of us have already forgotten is the first openly gay athlete in an American pro sports league, probably marveled at Vince Carter‘s game-winner just like everybody else from sea to shining sea.

Saturday was another brilliant day in this first week of intense playoff basketball. As for humanity, it was an embarrassing day. Audio of a racial diatribe, purportedly the voice of 80-year-old Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling surfaced, and the ignorance and intolerance heard incited swift reactions of anger and outrage from the Clippers’ Doc Rivers and Chris Paul, as well as from members of every race in and out of the league.

LeBron James is right, there is no place in the NBA for out-of-touch, backward-thinking individuals. On Sunday, Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki similarly weighed in.

“Disappointing, very disappointing,” Nowitzki said. “I’m not sure if a guy like that [should be] allowed to own a team in 2014.”

The NBA quickly organized to investigate as new commissioner Adam Silver faces his first full-blown crisis. In a news conference in Memphis on Saturday night where he was attending Game 4 of the Grizzlies-Thunder series, Silver vowed an “extraordinarily” swift and thorough investigation. He was in Oakland on Sunday as the Clippers returned to the court against the Warriors.

The real shame is that Sterling, the longest-tenured owner in the league and whose racial intolerance has been chronicled for decades but never dealt with by the league, chose an insular life within the greater melting pot of Los Angeles and the NBA. He refused to shed obviously deep-rooted ignorance through the unique opportunity the league affords every player, executive, coach and staff member — to interact with and learn from and about people of all races and creeds.

The NBA opened the 2013-14 season with a record-breaking 92 international players from 39 countries and territories. It includes two players from Israel and players from Turkey, where the populace is mostly Muslim. Players hail from Latin America, Asia, every corner of Europe and down under from Australia and New Zealand. And, yes, Africa.

The league has gone to great lengths to expand its global reach. Its Basketball Without Borders program sends players and coaches overseas in every direction each summer to teach the game. As part of its expanding Global Games program, the NBA last fall sent teams to Turkey, China and the Philippines, among other destinations. The world’s first NBA Cafe opened Friday in Manila.

Mavs’ second-year reserve center Bernard James, an African-American, served six years in the Air Force. He fulfilled three tours that included extended stays in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The military is as diverse an organization as the NBA is and there’s no room for that type of mindset, that old way of thinking,” Bernard James said. “I feel like the world, and America especially, has progressed a lot as far as race relations. There’s no room for people who think like that and operate like that. It’s holding everybody back.”

He went on to describe his experience with the Mavs as something of a multicultural classroom.

“I’m pretty close to Sammy [Dalembert], he’s a Haitian guy, so I’ve been learning and understanding about his culture. Here, we have Jose [Calderon] (Spain), we have Gal [Mekel] (Israel), Dirk (Germany), Sammy, all these guys are from different places. Just being around them this much and getting to know them is definitely kind of eye-opening and gives you a closer look at their culture and how their lives have been.”

The idea was floated that the Clippers should boycott the postseason as long as Sterling remains on as owner. That is not a solution. It would make the playoffs more about Sterling than the players.

Allow Silver to handle the law and order, to push Sterling, if guilty, deep out of sight and out of mind.

Doc, CP3 and the rest of the Clippers need focus only on playing ball.

Mavs backcourt punishing Parker and Co.

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Vince Carter’s buzzer-beater gives Mavs 2-1 series lead

DALLAS – One minute, 54 seconds into Game 3, Gregg Popovich had steam spewing out his ears and he gave Tony Parker an earful.

On consecutive possessions, the All-Star point guard provided no defensive resistance as Jose Calderon routinely dribbled the ball upcourt, lost Parker and lofted passes to Samuel Dalembert and then Shawn Marion for easy buckets at the rim. After Marion’s alley-oop, Popovich leaped from his chair, angrily signaled timeout and marched directly toward Parker and chewed him out.

It was the beginning of another strange night for Parker and the Spurs.

Parker responded by ramping up his effort and he had an excellent first quarter, and 17 points at the half. But he had to work his tail off to get it. And guess what? Dallas made him work at the other end, too. Calderon, who looked like a moped in a backcourt full of speed bikes in playing only 16 minutes in Game 1, continued to turn the tables as he did in Dallas’ Game 2 road win, and had 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting as surprising Dallas led by five at the half.

Calderon made plays with his dribble, made floaters and knocked down two of his three 3-point attempts. He finished with 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting and nine assists in 30 minutes. Parker, who Popovich had told earlier that if he had to shoot 25 times then do it, played only 13:24 in the second half, scored two points, missed four of five shots and finished with 19 points on 18 shots.

“I don’t know,” Parker said of how the Mavs made him a non-factor in the second half. “It just happened, flow of the game in the second half. I played less, you know, and I don’t know, they didn’t do anything special.”

Maybe so, but the unfolding and improbable story line of this first-round series that the eighth-seeded Mavs suddenly lead 2-1 over top-seeded San Antonio is the dominance of the Mavs’ backcourt. No one could have expected Calderon, Monta Ellis and Devin Harris to outshine Parker, who is carrying a burdensome load, and his underachieving pals who had been so good throughout a 62-win season.

And, actually, Dallas’ 109-108 victory Saturday evening was indeed special. With 1.7 seconds left after Manu Ginobili spun in an off-balance leaner for the potential game-winner, Vince Carter, his heels barely inside the sideline, swished a desperation, fall-away 3-pointer from the deep corner after pump-faking Ginobili in the air. The shot instantly rekindled memories of Ray Allen‘s backbreaking 3-pointer against the Spurs late in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

San Antonio played Game 7 tough last June, but ultimately lost, leaving a feeling the Spurs allowed the title to slip through their fingers. Among some who watch the Spurs closely, there was some question after Saturday’s loss if they’re falling into a ditch they won’t escape.

“You always feel like it happens [last-second game-winners] more against you than in your favor, but it’s always tough,” said Ginobili, so far the Spurs’ only other reliable backcourt presence. “I’ve been doing this for 18 years and it’s happened multiple times and it hurts always, especially in the playoffs. We are not out. We lost a tough one, but we’ve got to come back on Monday and play even better so as to not to get in that position.”

The Spurs are getting no help from starting shooting guard and 3-point specialist Danny Green. Green, guarded by Calderon, whose lone defensive job is to stick to Green, hit his series average in Game 3 — three points. Popovich has taken to mainly benching him. Reserve Marco Belinelli doubled his series average coming in of 3.5 ppg. Patty Mills, who blitzed Dallas for 26 points and six 3-pointers late in the regular season, had five points Saturday.

In Games 1 and 2, Harris scored 19 and 18 points and shot 60 percent. In Game 3, Ellis tortured San Antonio for 29 points, 12 in the fourth quarter. Still, San Antonio led 100-95 with 2:11 to go but couldn’t close it out. Ellis, fending off the defense of Kawhi Leonard, scored seven points in the final 1:37 and tied it at 106-106 with 24.9 to go.

Calderon, Ellis and Harris have played so well they’re allowing Dallas to excel even with Dirk Nowitzki having entered Game 3 as the Mavs’ fourth-leading scorer, unheard of in his career. He had 18 points on a pedestrian 7-for-13 shooting on Saturday.

Parker has had to deal with the 6-7 Marion as Dallas continues to switch up its defensive coverages. Parker went 9-for-18 from the floor with six assists and four turnovers. He played 6:49 in the third quarter, started the fourth quarter, but came out three minutes into it. The Spurs found some success with a small unit that included Patty Mills and a rare appearance from Matt Bonner.

Popovich stuck with it and kept Parker on the bench until the 4:06 mark.

“Manu was rolling, he was playing great and he [Popovich] felt leaving me on the bench to have more energy for the last four minutes,” Parker said. “I trust Pop’s judgment. Me, personally, I feel fine. The team was playing well.”

Well enough until Carter’s heroics.

But the No. 1 seed shouldn’t be sweating like this, not against a team it had carved up over the past two seasons. If the Spurs’ backcourt doesn’t find Parker some help soon, it could be a very, very early summer.

Harris, healthy again, gives Mavs boost

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: The Mavs’ bench has helped them take a 1-1 series tie into Game 3 vs. the Spurs

DALLAS – The top five players in the 2004 NBA Draft have all led varied existences. No. 1 Dwight Howard? Well, there’ll be a movie one day. No. 2 Emeka Okafor‘s been serviceable, but he sat out this season with a neck injury. No. 3 Ben Gordon exited the collective fan consciousness years ago, not to  mention the Bobcats’ rotation.

Those three players will make $47.2 million combined this season. No. 4 Shaun Livingston is having a nice renaissance in Brooklyn years after a gruesome knee injury threatened to end his career altogether. He’s truly earning his veteran minimum $1.27 million salary.

So is the No. 5 pick, Devin Harris. Also on a minimum deal with Dallas, Harris’ career has come full circle. Traded to New Jersey in 2008 for Jason Kidd, Harris 2.0 has given the Mavs quickness, a little fire and a major jolt in their first-round series against the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs that is surprisingly tied at 1-1. Eighth-seeded Dallas will try to grab the series lead in Saturday’s Game 3 (4:30 p.m. ET, TNT) on their home floor.

“Obviously this is why I wanted to come back, to be in this type of situation, play these types of games and be in this type of series,” Harris said. “Right now, it’s a perfect fit for me.”

For a while, Harris couldn’t be sure he’d make it back on the floor because of his injured … toe? Harris hurt his second toe on his left foot early last year, but exams found nothing but a possible case of turf toe. The pain progressively grew worse, but it wasn’t until he got checked out by the Mavs’ medical staff during a free agency visit that the actual injury was revealed.

He had dislocated the joint between his second metatarsal and toe bone, and a tear of the plantar plate requiring surgery in August. It’s a rare injury for an athlete and it was determined that the likely cause was his unusually long second metatarsal.

Then came a setback, further delaying a recovery that was already going to wipe out at least the first two months of the season and was forcing him to alter the mechanics of how he ran to properly balance the weight.

“I was working my way back from the surgery and the way they did the surgery they took pressure off of my second [metatarsal], and your second, when you’re running is where more of the pressure goes,” Harris said. “It squished into my third [metatarsal] and it wasn’t equipped to handle that much pressure so it caused a stress fracture in the third toe. I had to back off and let it heal.”

He finally made his debut on Jan. 18, allowing coach Rick Carlisle to ease off rookies Gal Mekel and Shane Larkin. Against the Spurs, he’s proven invaluable, scoring 19 and 18 points, respectively, in the first two games on 15-for-25 shooting.

“He’s been great,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “I thought when he came back in January, that’s kind of when we were all healthy and that’s when we really started playing well on the road. He’s a big key for us off the bench. We don’t have a lot of penetrators out there. I’ve said it all year that he and Monta [Ellis] have a lot of responsibility to get in the paint for us and get other guys shots, get themselves shots. He’s been great on both ends of the floor.”

Before Dallas traded him away, Harris figured he was in the early stages of a long career in Dallas. His mom, dad and brother all moved with him from Wisconsin his rookie season. He played a key role as a second-year player in the 2006 semifinal series win over the Spurs, and the Mavs went on to advance to the franchise’s first NBA Finals. After the 2007 first-round bust against Golden State, then-coach Avery Johnson tabbed him as the starting point guard.

A year-and-a-half later he was out the door to New Jersey in a 2008 deadline trade for the veteran, a deal that was hotly debated in Dallas. Fans fretted throwing away speed, youth and potential for the aging Kidd’s court savvy and Hall of Fame-bound leadership.

Harris emerged as a first-time All-Star in 2008-09, averaging 21.3 ppg. It wasn’t long before the Nets shifted gears and sent Harris to Utah for Deron Williams. Utah later shipped Harris to Atlanta for Marvin Williams.

“When I first got there [New Jersey], we were expected to make the playoffs, and then they decided to make a move and were gradually trading away pieces, so the I became unhappy,” Harris said. “Utah was kind of like just a stop as well was Atlanta. Knowing that you’re not going to be in the plans, it’s kind of hard to find happiness.”

Harris sought happiness in free agency, but had few takers. He was set to accept a three-year, $9 million deal with Dallas. Then his physical revealed the true damage to his toe. Harris agreed to downgrade to a one-year, veteran minimum contract. The savings allowed Dallas to then sign Monta Ellis.

“You have doubts,” Harris said of his return to full health. “Obviously, I had to change a lot of things within my mechanics, but I was positive to know I would still be an active player. It’s been a long road since the summer. I’ve had a lot of things happen, stayed positive, worked hard and I’m in a good position right now.”

Crafty Carlisle puts Pop to the test

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Rick Carlisle (shown earlier this season) and the Mavs must be doing something right in the playoffs (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Rick Carlisle (shown earlier this season) and the Mavs must be doing something right in the playoffs
(Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

SAN ANTONIO – Ever since the Spurs and Mavericks were first paired up in the first round, Rick Carlisle hasn’t missed a chance to praise the wonders of Pop. Even before Gregg Popovich officially won the Coach of the Year award on Tuesday, Carlisle anointed him the undisputed king of the hill.

Then it was Coach of the Century. Followed by best coach in the league. Ever. Which pretty much covers the last 100 years.

If Carlisle, a former Coach of the Year winner and the last coach to lead a team from the Lone Star State to an NBA championship, wasn’t so dang syrupy in his admiration for Pop, you’d swear he was playing some kind of Jedi mind trick.

The eighth-seeded Mavs headed home Wednesday night filled with gusto after a thorough, 113-92 thrashing of Pop’s perplexingly bumbling top-seeded bunch. This best-of-seven series that many figured came with a black-and-silver broom is tied 1-1. And as noted late Wednesday night, this could well be Mavs, 2-zip.

Not that you could tell listening to Carlisle.

“The coaching matchup is a wipeout, really,” Carlisle said following Game 2. “I feel like I have boulders piled on top of me. This kind of thing, you know you’re playing the No. 1 seed and all that, you’ve got to dig as deep as you can. They’re going to come up with some things up their sleeve for Game 3 and we’re going to have to counter and be ready.

“I’ve said it: I think Pop’s the greatest coach in NBA history, and I don’t think it’s close.”

Still, it’s not like Popovich and the Spurs don’t know failure. The last time San Antonio entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, in 2011, it ended badly, with Memphis sending them home.

Carlisle and his staff came to San Antonio last Sunday with a tricked-up defensive scheme that the Spurs admitted caught them off guard. Dallas switched up matchups everywhere, closed out hard to limit 3-point shots — or at least limit the good ones — and barely went into its well-known zone.

This has been one of the league’s most porous defenses all season, yet they are completely discombobulating the clockwork-like precision of the almighty Spurs. San Antonio shot the ball well in Game 2 (50 percent overall and 50 percent from beyond the arc, as opposed to Game 1, in which they they shot 3-for-17 in threes) when they didn’t turn it over a season-worst 24 times.

Anybody not named Manu Ginobili is struggling from beyond the arc. He’s 8-for-12; everybody else is 5-for-25.

Surprisingly for Dallas, it’s success has come with Dirk Nowitzki wildly out of rhythm, having made just 11 of 33 shots. Monta Ellis came back with a good Game 2, but the Mavs have boosted their confidence with detailed defensive work and a team effort all around.

Can Carlisle keep weaving this magic against the Coach of the Century and the Western Conference reigning champs? Nowitzki half-joked that he wants to play Game 3 in San Antonio because Dallas hasn’t been very good at home. San Antonio led the league in road wins with 30, four more than the Mavs’ home win total.

With a 48-hour break between games giving ample time for both coaches to adjust, Popovich will go back to the drawing board, .

“We didn’t expect to go 16-0,” said Tim Duncan, who had 11 points in Game 2 after 27 in Game 1. “We’ll make adjustments. We’ll play better. It’s all we can do.”


VIDEO: The Mavericks evened the series with a win in San Antonio on Wednesday night

Mavs surprise as Spurs spin their wheels

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dallas dominates San Antonio 113-92 in Game 2 to even series

SAN ANTONIO –series that’s bolted off-script boils down to one simple reason as to why that is: The eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks have more players playing harder than the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs.

And now Gregg Popovich, the Coach of the Year whom his astute counterpart Rick Carlisle called the Coach of the Century, must figure out why that is.

And it could be worse. The Spurs were seven-minutes, 45 seconds and a trademark Dallas meltdown from heading a few hours up north down 0-2. Carlisle was so protective of Wednesday night’s 20-point lead that after Popovich emptied his bench with six minutes to go, Carlisle kept Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Monta Ellis out there for another three minutes.

“Having such a poor performance in the playoffs really bothers me,” said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, whose sizzling shooting for a game-high 27 points was buried by a multitude of lazy, lackadaisical Spurs possessions and a season-worst 24 turnovers.

“We,” Ginobili continued, “are going to definitely have to play much, much better to have a chance in Dallas.”

To have a chance in Dallas? Where the Mavs’ 15 home losses, two to the Spurs, are the most of any West playoff team? That’s how strange this thing has become.

Here we are through two games and the sixth-most efficient offense in the league during the regular season is being choked at every turn by the eighth-least efficient defense. The Spurs’ offensive rating (98.6 points per 100 possessions) in the series is barely a tick better than the Charlotte Bobcats, who are matched up against the Heat. Their defensive rating (108.3 points per 100 possessions) would rank 28th in the regular season, just ahead of the Bucks and Jazz. That’s bad company.

And who would believe that the Mavs’ playoff defensive efficiency in these strange first two games would position them third in the regular season behind the Pacers and Bulls?

“We are mixing things up a lot and doing things we don’t really want to do, but we have to because they are such a potent team and they have such great players; they have the Coach of the Year,” Carlisle said. “It’s a monumental task, but we are in this thing to win.”

Dallas surprised San Antonio in Game 1 with a tweaked-up defense that switched on pick-and-rolls and was wholly focused on chasing the Spurs off the 3-point arc. It worked. The Spurs went 3-for-17 from deep and, again, were fortunate to pull it out late.

In Game 2, there were no surprises. San Antonio made 10 of its 20 3-point attempts, so that wasn’t the issue. Into the second quarter, the Spurs were shooting better than 70 percent, yet as their shooting percentage kept rising, so did their deficit. The culprit was nine turnovers in the first quarter and six more in the second. Then there were all those missed free throws: 18-for-29.

“It’s a bad combination to not play good defense at one end and give the ball up at the other end and not shoot free throws very well either,” Popovich said. “That’s a bad combination at both ends of the floor. That means you got your butt kicked and that’s what happened tonight.”

This cohesive, finely tuned engine is suddenly missing pistons. Topping the list is small forward Kawhi Leonard. Other than Ginobili, photos of San Antonio’s reserves should be plastered on milk cartons. Marco Belinelli, a key acquisition this summer who meshed so early and so well, has been nonexistent. Ditto for Patty Mills and Boris Diaw. Starting shooting guard Danny Green has six points in two games. Unlike Game 1, Parker and Tim Duncan didn’t find open real estate to the rim this time and combined for 23 points. Duncan had 27 and Parker scored 21 in Game 1.

For Dallas, which basically went 10-deep in Game 2, role players have provided such a boost that they’re in this position despite Nowitzki going 11-for-33 from the floor in the two games. Devin Harris has been sensational with 37 points on 15-for-25 shooting. Marion had 20 points, Ellis went for 21. Former Spur DeJuan Blair and the erratic Sam Dalembert provided real juice.

And point guard Jose Calderon, the tortoise trying to play against the hare, bounced back and scored all 12 of his points in the Mavs’ hugely important third quarter that they won 32-24.

See, just as Dallas built a 56-41 lead with a couple minutes left in the first half, San Antonio knocked it down to 56-51 at the half. It was their one and only spurt of the night.

“All season, sometimes we let up a bit and compete all the way until we get in trouble,” Nowitzki said. “I like our intensity right now. It is a little dangerous going home because we have been a decent road team all year. At home, we have not figured it out yet.”