Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Caplan’

Hot-headed Clips trying to cool down

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Clippers won a physical game in Oklahoma City back in late February

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The last time the Clippers and Thunder engaged in battle in late February, L.A. left Oklahoma City with a hard-fought W and three hard-earned Ts.

Technical fouls follow the Clips like a cartoon-strip storm cloud, always overhead, always ready to rain down at a whistle’s notice. Tonight’s meaningful Western Conference matchup between the Thunder and Clippers at Staples Center (10:30 p.m., ESPN), won’t be for the faint of heart or short of temper.

The Clippers are nipping at the Thunder’s heels, just 1.5 games back of the No. 2 seed, important because it guarantees homecourt advantage through the second round. These two title contenders enter tonight’s game ranking in the top seven in the league in three separate categories: Offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency and technical fouls.

“Obviously we’ve got to get better because we’re a very emotional team,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said recently in Dallas after another three-technical outing, in which he got one. “We probably lead the league in techs, something like that.”

Something like that. The Thunder is actually the league’s runaway technical-foul leader with 90. The Clippers are second with 76. It’s a recurring theme first-year coach Doc Rivers inherited and has made him ponder whether his team is too hot-headed. He’s worked hard to, if not eliminate, at least diminish the potentially detrimental trait in his team’s makeup.

“Emotional and mental toughness, they’re all in that same category,” Rivers said. “You have to be able to play with emotion. I don’t think anyone lives life greatly without it, but then you have to be able to control it.”

It’s easier said than done when dealing with a headstrong point guard, frequent target of agitators Blake Griffin and loose canon Matt Barnes.


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks about Blake Griffin and the state of the team

“We’re getting better at it,” said Barnes, who’s technical foul total stands at five, surprisingly low considering he’s been known to get nailed on reputation alone. He does have three of the Clippers’ league-leading nine flagrant fouls.

“All I can say,” Barnes said, “is it’s a work in progress for us.”

Which is enough to have Rivers genuinely concerned. The Clips’ penchant for getting caught up in officiating or the opposition’s antics makes them lose focus and cost them exactly when it can’t — in the postseason.

Last season’s disappointing first-round loss to Memphis in six games, which happened under ex-coach Vinny Del Negro, saw L.A. blow a 2-0 lead and get smacked with 10 techs. Five came in the final, height-of-frustration Game 6. Still, the Clippers earned at least one tech in five of the games.

“We have the fourth-quarter tech rule,” Rivers said. “We don’t want any of those because you can’t make up that. We just have to make sure we stay focused on our task.”

The fourth-quarter rule doesn’t always stick. On March 26 at New Orleans, Barnes got hit with one with 4:14 to go in a tight game. The Pelicans converted the gift free throw and won the game, 98-96, a costly loss for L.A. considering the razor-thin margin in the standings.

Paul earned his 10th technical of the season with five minutes to go at Houston on March 29. James Harden made the extra free throw to cut L.A.’s lead to 102-96. The Clippers would go on to win, 118-107. Over the last seven games, they’ve been whistled for seven technicals. They’ve been tech-free in the last two games, the first time the Clippers have done that since March 22 and 24.

“One thing we always talk about is fourth-quarter techs; we can’t have those,” Paul said. “I don’t care what’s happening. We’ve got to start getting ready for the playoffs.”

The importance is heightened in this final week of the regular season. Griffin and Durant each have 14 technicals on the season, tied for second-most in the league behind Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins with 15. A 16th technical results in an automatic one-game suspension.

It’s in the playoffs, though, where one extra free throw can make the difference between survival and an early exit. Especially so if the Clippers and Golden State Warriors meet in the first round. The teams have developed a healthy dislike for one another and the Warriors will surely be eager to put their Pacific Division rival’s mettle to the ultimate test.

The teams split a heated season-series, 2-2. A combined nine technical fouls were called, five on the Clippers, three on Griffin. Two of Warriors center Andrew Bogut‘s six technicals came against the Clippers. In a wild Christmas Day game, first Draymond Green got to Griffin with an elbow to the throat that drew double technicals. Early in the fourth quarter, Bogut and Griffin tangled and both received technical fouls even though the sequence was instigated by Bogut. The game was tied, 78-78.

Because it was Griffin’s second technical, he was automatically ejected. The Warriors won the game, 105-103. The next day, the league reviewed the play and ruled that Griffin’s actions were not worthy of a technical and, thus, he should not have been ejected. It didn’t change the outcome of the game, and it won’t in the playoffs either.

Such are the perils the Clippers must avoid.

“I think we’re OK because we all understand the big picture, that’s win,” said Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford, who has four technicals. “It’s OK to play on edge, it’s OK to play with that toughness, not just physically being tough, mentally being tough and weathering the storm. I think that’s good for us.”

Blogtable: Your All-NBA first team center

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


BLOGTABLE: All-NBA center | Coaches in danger | Playoff team needs new gear



VIDEO: The Starters discuss whether or not Joakim Noah is an All-NBA first team center

> Who’s your pick for first team all-NBA at center? Do you have a dark horse nominee?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Joakim Noah. Noah has been doing everything an NBA coach wants from a center – and more. He leads the Bulls in minutes, rebounds, assists, blocks and free-throw attempts – Dwight Howard leads Houston only in rebounds and blocks – and Noah ranks second on Chicago’s roster in steals. And did you notice “assists” on that list? Noah has been a true “point-center” in Tom Thibodeau‘s offense, picking up where Derrick Rose left off as a playmaker, finding cutters, resetting plays and driving to the rim when needed. He is hitting career highs in PER (20.0) and usage rate (18.6) and he leads all players, not just centers, with a 95.7 defensive rating.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Dwight Howard. He has returned to his old Orlando-type form and has been the most consistent big man in the league. Noah gets some love for being the lead horse that kept the Bulls in the playoff race despite Chicago’s many injuries and trades this season.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Tough, tough call. My top three picks were Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah and Al Jefferson. I eliminated Jefferson first for defensive reasons — he has only 74 blocks and has allowed 53.3 percent shooting at the rim. Through much consternation my first team all-NBA center is … Dwight. His 18.5 ppg on 59 percent shooting, 12.3 rpg and 7.4 net rating put him over the top. The do-it-all Noah has a net rating of 3.8, but a slightly higher PIE than Howard. He doesn’t score as much as Howard, but he runs the offense like a point guard and leads the Bulls in assists at 5.2 — that he only turns it over 2.4 times a game is in itself remarkable. As for a dark horse, is Anthony Davis a center? I love DeMarcus Cousins‘ offensive package, but his defense is more on par with Jefferson. DeAndre Jordan‘s 191 blocks, 13.8 rpg and 67.4 percent shooting make him my dark horse.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Joakim Noah over Dwight Howard, eye test over statistics. Howard has better numbers in most categories and his positive impact in Houston cannot be denied even by the biggest D12 detractors, but Noah will get a lot of votes for third, fourth and fifth place in the MVP balloting. Rightfully so. He has set the tone for a team that continues to win with defense and deserves credit on offense for becoming such a good passer. I guess that makes everyone a dark-horse nominee. DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Joakim Noah is, by far, the best and most important player on a top 4 seed. He’s the anchor of the Bulls’ second-ranked defense and though their offense stinks, it would be awful without him. Dwight Howard should be the second-team center, and after that, it’s hard to choose between Chris Bosh, Roy Hibbert and Al Jefferson. Bosh is the second-most important player on a team that’s won 53 games, Hibbert has anchored the league’s No. 1 defense, and Jefferson has carried an offense that has improved every month.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m going with Chicago’s Joakim Noah. I think he’s put together the kind of season (on both ends of the floor) that makes him worthy of a first team all-NBA nod in what’s really a crowded big man field. Plus, when you consider the fact that he’s done it all season without being able to play off of an All-Star and MVP like Derrick Rose, that makes Noah’s effort this season even more remarkable. My dark horse nominee is Charlotte’s Al Jefferson. He’s been the anchor for a turnaround that simply would not have happened if he wasn’t wearing a Charlotte Bobcats uniform.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: I don’t know how dark this horse is, and I haven’t filled out my ballot yet so I might change my mind, but I think Joakim Noah is my choice. Noah, Hibbert and Howard are, in my mind, the best defensive centers in the NBA. And while none of the three have been transcendent offensively, they’ve all been at least coherent. What sets Noah apart, at least to me, is that unlike the others, Noah is the undisputed heart of his team. With all the injuries and trades the Bulls have had this season, Noah has still come to play every night, and he never takes a play off.

Blogtable: The next coach fired is …

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


BLOGTABLE: All-NBA center | Coaches in danger | Playoff team needs new gear



VIDEO: Mike Woodson talks to the media after New York’s loss in Miami on Sunday

> Who will be the first coach to lose his job at season’s end?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m calling “asterisk,” because this might come down to semantics. John Loyer might be done as Detroit’s main guy but he’s only an interim coach anyway, a place holder till owner Tom Gores makes his next basketball decision. Then there’s Rick Adelman in Minnesota, who is likely to opt-out of his deal for next season and has to exercise that window in his contract in the next few weeks. But that would be by his own hand, not quite “losing” his job. Golden State’s Mark Jackson and Indiana’s Frank Vogel might be in jeopardy, should their teams’ postseason ambitions land with a thud this spring, but that still would require a couple more weeks at least. New York’s Mike Woodson, however, seems like he’s on borrowed time already, his new boss dropping hints about a coming triangle attack and other looming changes. Only Jackson’s tendency to ponder things – and maybe possible replacement Steve Kerr‘s TV contract? – might slow the process.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: John Loyer and Tyrone Corbin. The Pistons need a complete makeover and owner Tom Gores is looking to rid the team of GM Joe Dumars and any remnants from his time in the Motor City. The Jazz gave Corbin a chance to move ahead in new era after the legend Jerry Sloan stepped down after the Deron Williams saga, but Corbin hasn’t produced in Salt Lake City.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Utah’s Ty Corbin by a nose over New York’s Mike Woodson. Or vice-versa.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Rick Adelman, depending on the semantics in Minnesota. Fired, resignation — the change is coming. Maybe the Pistons beat the Timberwolves and remove the interim tag from John Loyer’s title in a bad way.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:Discounting John Loyer and Rick Adelman for the reasons Asch stated above, it’s most likely going to be Mike Woodson. Not only did his team have the most disappointing season, but it just hired a new head of basketball operations, a move which almost always produces a coaching change. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tyrone Corbin is also on the chopping block. He obviously wasn’t given much talent or experience to work with, but you don’t need a lot of talent to be a decent defensive team and the Jazz have been the worst defensive team in the league.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: One of the inevitable downsides of the end of any NBA season is that a few coaches will get their walking papers the morning after the last game. Detroit’s John Loyer will have that interim tag removed from his title, but not in the way that usually signals good things for an interim coach. Loyer, though, doesn’t deserve to do the coaching plank walk for a team that has underachieved this season. That honor, if you will, belongs to folks higher up the food chain in Detroit.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Well, the worst teams in the East are Boston, Orlando, Philly and Milwaukee. Only one of those teams isn’t supposed to be in the running — the Bucks. So I guess Larry Drew will be in the crosshairs. In the West, Utah, the Lakers, Sacramento and New Orleans are in the mix. So I suppose Mike D’Antoni will be in the conversation, with or without Rex Chapman‘s tweets. If I had to pick one, though? I guess D’Antoni, although I don’t necessarily think it would be a just maneuver. Too bad Phil Jackson already got a gig.

Blogtable: Finding a new playoff gear

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


BLOGTABLE: All-NBA center | Coaches in danger | Playoff team needs new gear



VIDEO: Bobcats big man Al Jefferson talks about Charlotte’s hopes for a long playoff run

Which playoff-bound teams (give me two or three) will play up to another level in the grind of the playoffs? Who will have trouble playing as well as they are now?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I start with the second question (ever notice how most respondents do?): Phoenix and Washington could suffer most from the just-happy-to-be-there approach, the Suns overachieving their way in (if they get in) and Washington desperate to qualify but with no real postseason experience. Atlanta figures to be a quick out but then, the Hawks haven’t played all that well anyway. Shifting into a better gear? Charlotte’s defense is suited to the playoffs and, if the Bobcats face the sideways Pacers, that could get interesting. Chicago always is a team to avoid, but that’s just the way the Bulls grind all the time, not due to any next level. I’d add Golden State, because their coach will feel urgency and the Warriors’ offense can get so dangerously hot.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Spurs, Thunder, Heat, Bulls, Clippers will rise. The Pacers, Raptors, Nets, Blazers will drop. Why? It’s pretty self-explanatory. The first five teams look like legit contenders while the latter four are not ready for the grind of the playoffs for one reason or another. In particular, the Pacers look like they’re ready to crater.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com:Oklahoma City has fought through Russell Westbrook‘s situation and injuries to two starters in the final quarter of the season, plus acclimating Caron Butler, so put the Thunder at the top of the list for teams that will play up. It seems weird to put Miami in this category, but the Heat have been coasting. They know what’s at stake starting April 19. Also give me Brooklyn’s vets. On the other side, I expect Dallas, if it gets in, will have trouble reaching another level. And, Toronto, with relatively little playoff experience, could be in for an early disappointment — especially with potential first-round foe Washington expecting Nene‘s return.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Heat will play up to another level. They can read a calendar as well as anyone. All that talk about the fatigue from carrying the trophy overhead for so many years? Ignore it. This will be the playoff Heat. Maybe someone beats Miami, but the Heat aren’t handing anything over. And the Thunder will play up to another level. Westbrook will be playing big minutes and won’t have to worry about back-to-backs, Kendrick Perkins should have his minutes up and Thabo Sefolosha will have been back about a week and a half and in a good rhythm.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’ll always look at defense to answer a question like this. The Warriors have gone through some controversy and have seemingly been treading water around the No. 6 seed for a while, but they’ve been the best defensive team in the Western Conference, with top-flight defenders on the perimeter (Andre Iguodala) and the interior (Andrew Bogut). That’s a formula for playoff success. For the same reasons, Chicago and Charlotte will be tough outs. Oklahoma City has had some defensive issues of late and could be in trouble if they match up with Phoenix, because no team has been more efficient against the Thunder this season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Brooklyn Nets look like one of those teams you don’t want to tussle with in the playoffs. The same goes for the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. All three have endured their fair share of troubles at some point this season and yet all three seem to have another gear they can get to in the postseason. I love what the Toronto Raptors are doing right now but I wonder if they’re ready for what coach Dwane Casey knows awaits them in the playoffs. They have put together a fantastic season that should be highlighted by an Atlantic Division crown. What comes after that, however, is the problem. A potential first-round matchup against either Washington or Charlotte could be a rough ride.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Waaaay back in October I was high on the Clippers and the Nets. And while Rick Fox and Sekou Smith may have made fun of me on the Hang Time Podcast for going all in on those teams, I’ve always felt that these were teams that would improve as the season went along, and I think they both have done exactly that. In the postseason, Chris Paul has always turned things up a notch, and now he has the players around him to be as dangerous as he’s ever been. And we’ve all seen how Brooklyn can handle Miami, so I think they’re in as good a place as they could be.

Dirk bumps ‘Big O’ to arrive at No. 10

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dirk passes Oscar Robertson for 10th on the all-time scoring list

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Dirk Nowitzki, with a patented fallaway jumper from a few feet off the right elbow, surpassed Oscar Robertson as the NBA’s 10th-all-time leading scorer.

Nowitzki, 35, joins the most exclusive of NBA clubs in which each member is recognized simply by first name or nickname. Dirk, the Dallas Mavericks’ sweet-shooting 7-footer and an original stretch-4, certainly has that covered.

“Amazing, amazing. I mean top 10 is unreal,” Nowitzki said following the 95-83 victory at Utah. “It’s been a crazy ride. Passing Big O, who obviously averaged triple-doubles numerous seasons, is unbelievable. It feels surreal still. All night I wasn’t really trying to think about it, I was trying to concentrate on the next shot. I knew how many points I needed, but I wasn’t really trying to think about it. I was trying to think about the next shot and how I could get open.”

Nowitzki, the 2007 regular-season MVP and 2011 champion and Finals MVP, now has 26,714 career points. He has also surpassed 30,000 total points that includes 128 postseason games.

NBA’s All-Time Top 10 Scorers

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 38,387

2. Karl Malone, 36,928

3. Michael Jordan, 32,292

4. Kobe Bryant, 31,700

5. Wilt Chamberlain, 31,419

6. Shaquille O’Neal, 28,596

7. Moses Malone, 27,409

8. Elvin Hayes, 27,313

9. Hakeem Olajuwon, 26,946

10. Dirk Nowitzki, 26,714

Nowitzki finished Tuesday night’s crucial 95-83 victory at Utah with a game-high 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting, including 2-for-3 from beyond the arc. He scored 13 points in the first half and moved past Robertson to open the fourth quarter off a pass from Devin Harris.

Fresh off being named the Western Conference’s Player of the Week, a four-game stretch in which he averaged 25.3 ppg, Nowitzki has propelled Dallas to a 4-0 road trip that has it in the driver’s seat to secure one of the final two playoff spots.

The Mavs (48-31) have three games left. They play San Antonio at home on Thursday and then finish with critical games against Phoenix at home on Saturday and then at Memphis on Wednesday.

Nowitzki, who struggled to regain his All-Star form last season after undergoing knee surgery during training camp, was devastated when the Mavs missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999-2000.

He started this season, his 16th, at No. 17 on the league’s all-time scoring list. Along the way he’s moved ahead of Jerry West, Reggie Miller, Alex English, Kevin Garnett, John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins and now the Big O.

Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant, No. 4 on the all-time list with 31,700 points, 592 behind No. 3 Michael Jordan are the only active players in the top 10.

This is Nowitzki’s final year of his contract, but he has made it clear that he plans to re-sign with the Mavericks for another two or three seasons.

“This is my 30th year in the NBA and one of the few times I’ve truly been in awe of an accomplishment,” said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, who has been with Nowitzki since the start of the 2008-09 season. “Top 10 all-time scorer is an unbelievable accomplishment because it’s a level of excellence that’s beyond belief, and then it’s being able to do it over an extended period of time with consistency. So one of the really unique accomplishments.

“And he’s going to keep eating up more people. He’s got a long way to go.”

By this time next season, Nowitzki very well could be the No. 7 all-time scorer in league history. It won’t take him long to track down No. 9 Hakeem Olajuwon (26,946), then No. 8 Elvin Hayes (27,313) and No. 7 Moses Malone (27,409). It might take into the 2015-16 season for Nowitzki to catch No. 6 Shaquille O’Neal, now 1,882 points ahead of Nowitzki.

If he ultimately moves ahead of Shaq, Nowitzki will nestle in nicely, likely for good, behind No. 5 Wilt Chamberlain (31,419).

Not bad for the one-time floppy-haired kid imported from Wurzburg, Germany.

“Like I always say, I think this stuff means more to me when my career is over,” Nowitzki said. “But this is a sweet one. Top 10 is definitely unbelievable.”

Plumlee brothers make their marks

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mason Plumlee spikes an alley-oop pass

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Traded to Phoenix last July, center Miles Plumlee‘s had a closeup view of the inseparable bond the Suns’ twin brothers Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris have always shared.

Miles and Mason Plumlee, a rookie center-power forward with the Brooklyn Nets, each might stand 6-foot-10 and around 240 pounds, but these brothers are not twins. Their version of brotherly love growing up was more like the push-and-shove of a textbook sibling rivalry.

“It’s funny, we were so competitive growing up, we fought more than we got along most of the time,” Plumlee told NBA.com recently during a phone interview. “But basketball was the one thing that kind of kept us together and brought us together even when we weren’t on good terms with one another.”

Surely then they had grown so close through basketball during high school that making the decision to do it again at Duke, with Miles, 25, heading there first, followed the next year by Mason, 24, was always part of the Plumlee plan.

“Not at all,” Miles said. “I committed to Stanford and he was going to Duke, so for a whole year that wasn’t the plan until certain things transpired. My coach [Trent Johnson left for LSU] and Duke came into the picture. If you asked me a year before, I would have said, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to play with Mason.

“We grew up and realized we don’t have to fight about everything and from then on we’ve been super-close, and it’s been fun to go on this journey with him.”

These days the brothers talk on the phone as often as best friends.

“We talked today,” Mason said, smiling, during the Nets’ recent trip through Dallas. “You spend a lot of time on the road, so just seeing what city he’s in, seeing what he’s up to. We’re very close.”

They’ve got plenty to talk about, too, as each is coming to the end of unsuspectingly successful seasons. Miles walked out of Indiana, traded with Gerald Green for Luis Scola after having spent 68 of 82 games his rookie season planted on the Pacers’ bench behind Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi. Mason, the 22nd overall pick by the Nets in June, figured to get much the same bench treatment on a veteran team and behind the likes of Kevin Garnett, Andray Blatche and Brook Lopez. 

Both are carving out a place in the league. Miles, the 26th pick by the Pacers in 2012, stepped into the starting center position with the Suns, a team most saw as one that would be bringing up the rear in the Western Conference. He got off to a fast start, averaging a double-double by showcasing an evolved low-post game and running the floor in the Suns’ up-tempo attack, while dispelling any notion he’s little more than a physical, solely defensive-minded player.

“The big thing for me has always been my confidence and being a little more calm mentally on the court,” said Miles, a candidate with Green for Most Improved Player of the Year. “I’ve always kind of had the skills and the talent, I just hadn’t had a chance to get that confidence going. I [played] roles in college and I played on a lot of winning teams and I loved it, but it’s part of the reason people were surprised I was drafted as high as I was.

“I showed some of the coaches and GMs in the draft process I had more to my game than the general public probably perceives. I just built on that, and you play through the post a lot more in the NBA than at the college level and that helped me slow down and extend my game.”

With five games left, Miles is averaging 8.3 ppg, shooting 57.4 percent, and 8.0 rpg. Phoenix (46-31) is clinging to a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

“He got going early and often, so that kind of made me want to get going myself,” Mason said. “Once I saw him doing it, I’d tell him if he had a good game and we were about to play that team, the coaches would see it in scouting and I would say, ‘I can do what he does.’ So I’d try getting a little playing time out of that, and just knowing that if he could make it happen, I could make it happen.”

Mason has played in 64 games, aided by the early, season-ending injury to Lopez, and he had his 19-game streak in the Nets starting lineup snapped Saturday when Kevin Garnett made his return from injury. Moving to the bench didn’t bother Mason, who scored 16 points on 8-for-10 shooting with seven rebounds in a win over Philadelphia.

He’s averaging 6.8 ppg on 64.0 percent shooting, and 4.1 rpg in 17.4 mpg, and will be playing in the postseason with the rejuvenated Nets. He’s played a key role. In the last 20 games, Mason is averaging 7.9 ppg on 66.3 percent shooting and 5.8 rpg in 21.2 mpg, like Miles, showing he’s more than just a physical big man.

“I never thought that,” Mason said. “I don’t really put too much stock into other peoples’ opinions. I just kind of do my thing and keep it moving.”

And don’t look now but in a couple years, there could be a third Plumlee in the league. Marshall is a 7-foot, 260-pound center at Duke. He’ll be a junior next season.

“It would be crazy to play against Marshall because he’s always been so much younger than us,” Miles said. “I’ve never had to take him quite as seriously because even when we were at Duke during practice, I was like I’m going to laugh it off.

“I’d have to take him seriously, so it would be a lot of fun to have him in the league.”

Ah, brothers.

Mavs, Suns put playoffs in own hands

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


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

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

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

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

Anything remains possible. Everything’s on the table.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. 7 Mavericks (47-31)

Tuesday: at Utah

Thursday: vs. San Antonio

Saturday: vs. Phoenix

April 16: at Memphis

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

No. 8 Suns (46-31)

Wednesday: at New Orleans

Friday: at San Antonio

Saturday: at Dallas

Monday: vs. Memphis

April 16: at Sacramento

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

No. 9 Grizzlies (45-32)

Wednesday: vs. Miami

Friday: vs. Philadelphia

Sunday: at L.A. Lakers

Monday: at Phoenix

April 16: vs. Dallas

MVP-charging KD closes in on MJ’s streak

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant is named the Kia Western Conference Player of the Month for March

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – It’s kind of understandable why Toronto Raptors guard Greivis Vasquez would compare MVP frontrunner Kevin Durant to Jesus after the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar capped a 51-point, 12-rebound, seven-assist effort with a long-range, game-winning 3-pointer in the final two seconds of double overtime.

Walk on water is about all Durant didn’t do.

Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, who plays against Durant four times every season as a Northwest Division foe, offers probably a more relatable comparison.

“He’s doing things that haven’t been seen since Michael Jordan,” Lawson told NBA.com.

He’s right. On several fronts this season, Durant is flying in the rare air of His Airness. Take Durant’s stat-stuffer at Toronto on March 21 that so awed Vasquez. No player had reached such totals in a single game since Jordan in 1991-92. Instantly rave reviews flooded the Internet and highlight reels were posted to YouTube for all to be bedazzled by Durant’s array of crossovers, spin moves, floaters and every other move that should be darn-near impossible for a darn-near 7-footer to put down on the floor.

“Coming from where I come from in D.C., all you did was dribble the ball a lot, all these different crossovers, these different moves, so that’s where I kind of learned it from,” Durant would say a week later during a stop in Dallas. “Me being so tall, I got a way from it, I played below the basket up until I got to the league almost, so I had to kind of work on it again and bring it back. I’ve been working on it these last few years and I’m having the confidence to try to pull those moves off…”

Then Durant, so caught up in humility, go figure, got all self-deprecating.

“And most of the time,” he demurred, “I turn it over or I throw the turnover after I crossover, I do something that’s not right.”

Durant is now on the cusp of another Jordan moment. On Jan. 5, with point guard Russell Westbrook little more than a week into his extended absence due to knee surgery, Durant scored 21 points in a breezy 27 minutes in a win against Boston. It remains the last time he’s scored fewer than 25 points in a game. Durant can make it 39 in a row of 25 points or more tonight when the Thunder play a critical game in the chase for the No. 1 seed against the San Antonio Spurs (8 ET, TNT). If he does it, Durant can tie Jordan’s modern-day streak of 40, which he accomplished twice (1986-87 and ’88), on Friday night at Houston (9:30 ET, ESPN).

Before Jordan, a streak of greater length dates back a half-century to Oscar Robertson‘s 47 in 1963-64. Before that, Wilt Chamberlain went an astonishing 106 consecutive games in 1961-62.

But back to doing things that haven’t been done since MJ. Here’s another: Durant, averaging by far a league-best 32.2 ppg (51.2 percent shooting overall, 41.2 percent from 3-point range), 7.6 rpg and 5.7 apg, is on pace to be the first player to average at least 30 points, five rebounds and five assists while shooting 50 percent from the floor since, yep, Jordan in 1991-92.

“He’s starting to make tougher and tougher shots and making it look easy,” Lawson said. “From the 3-point line it looks effortless, post-up game, he’s adding little things to his game. This year he’s adding assists, finding players. Like the stretch when Russell was out, he was playing, I think, out of his mind. He ’s just playing at a really high level.”

When Westbrook was out from just after Christmas through the All-Star break, Durant averaged 35.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg and 6.3 apg while shooting 52.7 percent overall and 39.9 percent from beyond the arc as the focal point of every defense he faced. The Thunder went 20-7 and Durant’s MVP campaign was in full bloom.

“He’s a great player, he does it all, rebounds, gets assists, he scores the ball, he can do whatever he wants on the floor,” Thunder wing Jeremy Lamb said. “Late in games he pulls it out for us, makes clutch shots. Amazing.”

With or without Westbrook, Durant, tied for second in the league with DeMar DeRozan in logging 38.4 mpg, has revealed new ways to make himself an unstoppable force. With less than two weeks to go in the regular season, it’s practically inarguable that he will win his first MVP trophy. If he does, it will be the second time that LeBron James, a four-time winner, will fall just short of becoming the first player to win three consecutive MVP titles since, no, not MJ, but Larry Bird from 1983-86.

And if there’s still a speck of doubt, there is one more no-one’s-done-that-since MJ tidbit. Durant, the Western Conference player of the month four times in the season’s first five months, averaged 34.5 ppg in March. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Durant is the first player to average 33 points or more in three successive months since, you guessed it, Jordan in 1989-90.

So when Vasquez said of Durant, “He’s like Jesus in this league,” maybe he simply expects him to walk on water.

He’s doing everything else.

Goaltending should have been called, but changes nothing

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is all for transparency when it comes to NBA officiating. However, the league’s admission Wednesday that the referees should have called goaltending late in overtime of Dallas’ 122-120 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night won’t make him feel any better.

Cuban was furious over the no-call that saw Warriors center Jermaine O’Neal block Mavs guard Monta Ellis‘ baseline floater with 16 seconds left in overtime and with the score tied 120-120. O’Neal passed to Draymond Green, who quickly got it to Stephen Curry, who made the game-winning shot with 0.1 seconds left on the clock. Cuban leaped out of his baseline chair and continued to voice his disagreement to the officiating crew of Danny CrawfordSean Corbin and Eric Dalen from behind the scorers table after the game.


VIDEO: O’Neal’s block leads to Curry’s game-winner

After a review of the play by the league office, Rod Thorn, NBA president of basketball operations, issued the following statement:

“Upon review at the league office, we have found that a shot taken by Dallas’ Monta Ellis with 16.0 seconds remaining in overtime was on the way down when initially contacted and ruled a block by Golden State’s Jermaine O’Neal, and should have been ruled a goaltend. The exact trajectory of the ball when touched was impossible to ascertain with the naked eye, and the play was not reviewable.”

Playoff implications were high. Golden State entered as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference and Dallas as the No. 7 seed. Had Dallas won it would have moved just one-half game behind the Warriors. The loss instead dropped them to ninth place and out of the playoff picture, at least temporarily. Had the Warriors lost, their already slim margin for error to maintain playoff position would have shrunk with a tough matchup ahead tonight at West-leading San Antonio.

Dallas led 106-102 with 1:43 to go in regulation and 108-105 with 1:16 to go, but it couldn’t close it out, a central theme in the Mavs’ disappointing 4-4 homestand that concluded with the loss to Golden State. They also led 117-113 with 2:32 to go in overtime, but were then outscored 5-0 in relinquishing the lead. Tied 120-120, Ellis tried to beat his defender Klay Thompson to the right, but Thompson stayed in front of him and forced Ellis to take a fallaway near the baseline. O’Neal, who was dunked on by Ellis late in the fourth quarter, went up and snatched the ball out of mid-air.

The Mavs raised their arms in unison, stunned that no goaltending call had been made.

“I think his [Ellis'] layup has a chance to get to the rim, and if that’s the case, you can’t just get it out of the air,” Nowitzki said. “To me, that’s a goaltend. I asked the referees what happened. The explanation was that the ball was two feet short. If that’s the case, then he can get it out of the air, but where I was from, I think it had a chance to at least hit the rim. That’s a goaltend to me.”

O’Neal disagreed as he described the play in the  Warriors’ locker room.

“It was like a second away from goaltending, if you’re too late, and I was on top of it,” O’Neal said. “I blocked it, grabbed it and outlet it. There’s no way they could have called that. When your hand is on top of the ball, that’s a good block. I caught it like this (showing his hand on top of the ball), I didn’t bat it, I caught it like this, so there’s no way they could have called it goaltending.”

Turns out O’Neal was wrong and Cuban was right. It doesn’t matter. The league’s admission does nothing to change the outcome of the game.

Dirk’s sweet 16th season in jeopardy

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Dirk Nowitzki discusses close overtime loss to the Warriors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The looming question is: Will Dirk?