Posts Tagged ‘Dirk Nowitzki’

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).

Mavs’ Carlisle threw wrench at Spurs, can Blazers’ Stotts add the kitchen sink?

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Previewing the Spurs-Blazers conference semifinal

SAN ANTONIO – If Terry Stotts doesn’t answer his phone, he’s probably still on the line with his former boss Rick Carlisle.

The second-year Portland Trail Blazers coach is next in line to take his shot at the living legend that is Gregg Popovich, the Coach of the Year, the coach of the No. 1-seed San Antonio Spurs, the coach who stood 48 minutes away from wondering what the hell happened while retreating to his wine cellar for the remainder of the playoffs.

“I’m certainly glad it is over,” Popovich said Sunday evening following his team’s first complete performance in Game 7 of this first round series, a 119-96 start-to-finish thumping of Carlisle’s upstart and eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks. “It kept many of us up night after night trying to figure those guys out. Rick did a great job with his game plan.”

Stotts served as Carlisle’s offensive coordinator in Dallas for four seasons, including the 2011 championship run when Dallas beat Kobe Bryant‘s Lakers, Kevin Durant‘s Thunder and LeBron James‘ Heat in succession.

Stotts’ Blazers are a rock-and-fire offensive featuring cold-blooded point guard Damian Lillard and All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who’s coming off 29.8 ppg and 11.2 rpg against the Rockets in the first round, and 56 percent shooting against San Antonio in the regular season. 

What Portland is not, much like Dallas, is a lock-down defensive squad.

Among West playoff teams, only the Mavs entered the postseason with a worse defensive rating than the Blazers. So Stotts will have a keen interest in studying Dallas’ film to see how a season-long turnstile defense successfully choked off San Antonio’s lethal 3-point game, and limited the Spurs’ precision offensive attack to 93 points or fewer in three of the first four games. The Mavs had the series split 2-2 at that point, and felt they could have commanded a 3-1 lead.

“The games to steal was Game 1 (90-85 Spurs) and then maybe Game 4 at home (93-89 Spurs) when they really weren’t quite used to what we were doing defensively yet,” Dirk Nowitzki said. “Over the series, they attacked our defense better and better.”

Particularly Tony Parker. Carlisle knew he didn’t have the more talented team and needed to devise different approaches in an attempt to temporarily, if not longer, discombobulate the Spurs machine. Dallas practically begged Parker and Tim Duncan to do the damage while they sold out to cut off everybody else best they could. It worked on Danny Green until the final two games. Marco Belinelli was never a factor and Patty Mills shot 26.1 percent from beyond the arc.

All-in-all, Dallas made 10 more 3s in the series than San Antonio, whose 49 3-pointers were just seven more than the Spurs made in their four-game regular-season sweep of the Mavs.

“Rick Carlisle is one of the most clever guys around, and trying to follow all of his stuff is really difficult,” Popovich said. “That was the toughest part for us, in addition to them playing so well.”

Earlier in the series, Popovich told Parker to shoot 25 times if that’s what the defense dictated. Only that’s not the way Parker’s wired to run an offense that’s always looking for the next pass. Parker averaged 14.5 shot attempts in the first four games. Gradually, a scorer’s mentality began to take hold in Game 5 when he put up 23 shots, followed by 23 more in Game 6 and 19 in Game 7 when he scored a game-high 32 points on 57.9 percent shooting.

“I just knew that I had to be aggressive if we wanted to have a chance to win the game because of the strategy that the Mavericks chose,” Parker said. “They just dared me to score.”

In Sunday’s first half, Parker went 9-for-12 from the floor for 24 points, and just two assists. His shooting chart looked like a giant blob under the basket. Only three of his shot attempts came from outside the paint. San Antonio led by 29 in the second quarter and 68-46 at halftime. By the time he exited at the 5:47 mark and the Spurs leading 111-81, Parker had tied his season-high of 13 free throw attempts, eight more than he shot in any of the previous games in this series.

“You have to give a lot of credit to the Mavericks,” said Parker, who scored 62 points in the first three games and 77 in the final three. “They tried to switch, they tried to do different stuff to get us out of our game, and it worked the first three, four games. We had a hard time to play our game, to play Spurs basketball, to move the ball. Finally, Pop decided to just let me go and be aggressive and see what happened. It worked out pretty good.”

So the Spurs advance to find another young and talented up-and-comer to challenge their time-tested superiority. Golden State last year put a scare into Spurs Nation with a hotly contested six-game series. Now it’s the Blazers, a younger, more explosive version of Dallas with 3-point bombers stationed around Aldridge.

Two more athletically gifted teams in Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers begin their semifinal series on Monday night.

“That was a great warmup, if I can call it a warmup,” Parker said of the just-completed series with Dallas. “It was tough to play in.”

As the Blazers head to San Antonio for Game 1, it’s now Stotts’ turn to figure out how he can keep Popovich up at night. So if his phone is busy, it might be a while.

He’s likely got Carlisle on the other end.


VIDEO: Spurs cruise to Game 7 win to finish off Mavericks

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.