Posts Tagged ‘Mavericks’

2014 Free Agency — Still Going …

From NBA.com staff reports

Just because LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol and so many other high-profile free agent targets have already made their decisions doesn’t mean this summer’s free agent party is over. The center of the basketball universe is in Las Vegas for Summer League, that’s where the games are being played and the movers and shakers are stationed right now. But the grind of free agency continues all over the place. We’re not done yet …

Update, 1:17 a.m. — Take some quiet time, Pau

After a long day of team decision-making and contract-negotiating, Pau Gasol is ready to ponder his vacation and his future … quietly, of course.

Update, 11:42 p.m. — Rio still feeling the Heat

Another original “Heatles” member is getting closer to being back in the fold, with Mario Chalmers getting a couple more years in Miami.

Update, 11:33 p.m. — Three more years!

Looks like Pau Gasol is ready for the (semi) long haul in bringing a title to Chicago, working on a three-year deal for reasonable price.

Update, 9:48 p.m. — More shooting for SVG

The Detroit Pistons ranked 29th in 3-point percentage last season. And it’s been obvious from the start of free agency that priority No. 1 for new president and coach Stan Van Gundy is improving that mark. He started by adding Jodie Meeks (40.1 percent from three last season) and Cartier Martin (39.1 percent). Now, he’s adding more shooting with the additions of D.J. Augustin (40.1 percent) and Caron Butler (39.4 percent)...

None of these four guys can make a huge impact individually. But collectively, they will space the floor for Detroit’s bigs. And none of them break the bank, with contracts that can easily be worked into trades.

Of course, Greg Monroe remains unsigned as a restricted free agent. Butler probably shouldn’t be a starting small forward anymore, but he could definitely make Josh Smith more of a permanent four than he was last season.

One more note: The Augustin addition is bad news for second-year point guard Peyton Siva, whose contract would become guaranteed on July 20 if he’s not waived by then. Siva must not have made enough of an impression on Van Gundy in Summer League.

Update, 8:40 p.m. — Birdman back

LeBron James is gone, but the rest of the Heat’s rotation is quickly coming back together. Earlier Sunday, Miami reached an agreement with Mario Chalmers on a new contract. And now, it’s the Birdman who has re-upped.

Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and James Jones are still free agents, but the Heat are reportedly working things out with Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem.

Update, 7:02 p.m. — Three-way deal for Ariza

Before the Draft, the Houston Rockets agreed to send Omer Asik to New Orleans. On Saturday, they agreed to sign Trevor Ariza to a four-year contract. And on Sunday, those two deals came together in the form of a three-team sign-and-trade transaction.

Update, 6:30 p.m. — Mirotic is on his way

Pau Gasol isn’t the only international big man that the Chicago Bulls are adding this summer. Nikola Mirotic, a first-round pick in 2011 from Montenegro, announced that he’s on his way as well.

Update, 6:06 p.m. — His name is Rio

Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade may have lost Superfriend LeBron James, but they will still have Mario Chalmers to yell at …

Update, 5:58 p.m. — Rockets pass on Parsons

In a bit of a surprise, the Houston Rockets will let Chandler Parsons head to their division rivals, who have made some upgrades (Parsons and Tyson Chandler) this summer …

At one point, we thought the Rockets were going to have a lineup of Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Parsons, Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard. As it turns out, they’ve dealt away their depth (Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin), swapped Parsons for Trevor Ariza, and helped three fellow Western Conference teams (Lakers, Mavs and Pelicans) improve. They’re also giving the Washington Wizards an asset…

Update, 5:16 p.m. — Champs in tact

Fourteen different Spurs logged at least one minute in the playoffs. We know now that at least 13 of the 14 will be back in silver and black (Aron Baynes remains a restricted free agent) …

Update, 5:07 p.m. — Together Forever

Kirk Hinrich once played for a couple of teams other than the Chicago Bulls. Really. But he won’t be leaving Chicago again, at least not this summer …

Update, 4:32 p.m. — Mavs get at least one SF today

The Dallas Mavericks are still awaiting word from the Houston Rockets on their offer sheet for Chandler Parsons, but that isn’t stopping them from signing a back-up plan. If you need size on the wings, you could do worse than Richard Jefferson, who has shot 41 percent or better from 3-point range in three of his last four seasons

Update, 4:20 p.m. — Hinrich will be a Bull forever

The Charlotte Hornets were in the market for Kirk Hinrich, but with their agreement to sign back-up point guard Brian Roberts, it appears that Kirk Hinrich will be back in Chicago for more years of being Derrick Rose‘s back-up and/or fill-in …

Update, 3:48 p.m. — Kemba’s new back-up

Much to the chagrin of Hang Time’s Sekou Smith, Luke Ridnour‘s services are no longer needed in Charlotte, because Brian Roberts is a Hornet once again. He’ll be the first guy to play for the Charlotte version after playing for the New Orleans version …

Update, 3:24 p.m. — Deng had choices

Joining Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra in sunny South Florida is a pretty good move, but Luol Deng had other options on Sunday…

Update, 2:30 p.m. — Filling LeBron’s shoes

LeBron James took Luol Deng‘s job in Cleveland. And now the Miami Heat have replaced James with Deng. Bosh, Deng and Wade isn’t a bad core to build around …

Update, 2:05 p.m. — Show Luol the money

There are a few teams still looking for a small forward who can play both ends of the floor. Luol Deng knows that and knows he can take advantage of the market …

Update, 1:55 p.m. — Trying to get (most of) the band back together

The Heat will have Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh back, but there are still some more roster spots to fill, and some guys they can bring back. The Birdman is one of them …

Update, 1:50 p.m. — Who?

The Bulls are moving on without that guy who scores 27 points a game …

Update, 1:30 p.m. — Wolves draw a line in the sand

The Timberwolves aren’t selling Kevin Love for pennies on the dollar …

Update, 12:35 p.m. — Melo’s City, Melo’s Heart

It’s not the most original concept, but you see the trend here …

Update, 12:21 p.m. — Still waiting on Rockets

Tick, Tock!

Update, 11:56 a.m. — Heat still a 50-win outfit?

Jeff Van Gundy says yes.

Update, 11:50 a.m. — LeBron Jersey of The Day

Welcome home!

Update, 11:26 a.m. — Evan Turner smiling through free agency

Jay and Bey don’t care about free agency!

Update, 11:09 a.m. — Gilbert explains how he and LeBron cleared the air

The greatest rebound of Dan Gilbert‘s professional career has to be coming back from his dreaded letter after “The Decision.” Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press weighs after talking with Gilbert, who took Albom through his reconciliation process with LeBron:

He pondered that as the plane descended into Florida. He and James hadn’t spoken since that night. Four years. They’d seen each other a few times. “I’d sit on the baseline when he came back to play in Cleveland. He’d look at me from the free-throw line. Not good. Not bad. Just look.”

Now he was scheduled to meet James, in secret, to discuss what seemed impossible just days earlier — a return to the Cavs. The whole world was hanging on the news. But as Gilbert glanced out the window, for a moment he wasn’t a billionaire Detroit businessman or an NBA owner. He was every guy seeing his ex-wife after the divorce, every teen guitarist seeing a former friend who broke up the band.

“I had told LeBron’s guys, whether he comes back or not, I really want to clear the air. It shouldn’t be like this.”

He hoped that part would go smoothly. Then someone on board yelled the media had discovered his plane was en route, and a new airport had to be quickly found.

Gilbert realized nothing was going to be easy.

The moment of truth

But then, saying you’re sorry never is. You do it anyway. Long after the basketball smoke clears from this story, that’s the human part we ought to remember.

You shouldn’t be known for the worst thing you ever did. Gilbert entered that private home meeting by himself, no assistants, and sat down at a dining-room table across from James and a few associates.

“First thing I said to him was, ‘LeBron, you know this is true. We had five good years and one bad night. Like a marriage that’s good and then one bad thing happens and you never talk to each other again.

“ ‘I’m just glad we’re here, whether you come or not, LeBron. This has been hanging over my head.’ ”

To his surprise, he soon heard James saying the same thing. The superstar said he regretted the infamous “The Decision” broadcast. He said he didn’t think it out properly. In short, many of the things Gilbert was thinking about his own actions.

“I apologized and we talked and it took maybe 15 or 20 minutes. That’s it. Then I said, ‘Is that enough about the past?’ And we started talking about the future.”

Update, 10:40 a.m. — Wizards replace perfect fit with a Hall of Famer

Even swap?

Update, 10:38 a.m. — Mavericks-Rockets rivalry extends off the court

Never let business get personal.

Update, 10:20 a.m. — Rockets on the clock for Parsons

This is going to be a long day in both Houston and Dallas as the Rockets consider their options on Chandler Parsons. The countdown clock is ticking for Daryl Morey and Co. Do they match the Mavericks’ offer sheet to Parsons now that Trevor Ariza is in the fold?

They have until 11:59 p.m. to decide.

Update, 9:50 a.m. — The ultimate power

The power of LeBron!

Update, 9:40 a.m. — Deng, Heat far apart

The Heat can close the gap and stay relevant in the Eastern Conference chase with Deng in the fold.

Aldridge: Clock ticking for Rockets to match offer sheet on Parsons

 

parsons

Chandler Parsons averaged 16.6 points and 5.5 boards last season for Houston. (NBAE via Getty Images)

The clock finally began ticking toward resolution on a great number of NBA fronts Thursday, when the Houston Rockets officially received a three-year, $45 million offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks for restricted free agent Chandler Parsons. The Rockets now have three days to decide whether to match the offer sheet and keep Parsons, or decline to match and allow Parsons to go to the Mavericks.

The Parsons sheet, which includes a 15 percent trade kicker (meaning if either Houston or Dallas trades him during the life of the contract, he’s due an additional 15 percent of his remaining salary) and a player option after the second year, was signed early Thursday morning.

Houston’s now facing a dilemma. The Rockets have moved to create enough cap room to make a maximum contract offer to Miami unrestricted free agent Chris Bosh, with trades that would send Omer Asik to New Orleans and Jeremy Lin to Philadelphia for future Draft picks. Those trades can now be carried out with the expiration Thursday of the July Moratorium on all contract signings and trades.

Once those deals are finalized, Houston can offer Bosh a max deal for four years and almost $90 million.

The problem for the Rockets is that if Bosh doesn’t agree to sign with Houston in the next three days, the only way Houston can match the Mavericks’ offer sheet for Parsons is to use the cap room it is saving for Bosh. If Bosh does agree to sign with the Rockets, Houston can exceed the cap in order to match the offer sheet and keep Parsons. But that is the sequence that must take place.

Houston had indicated it would match any sheet for Parsons, and the Rockets may well match this one. But it may cost them a chance at Bosh, which Houston views as the perfect power forward to play alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden.

And the Rockets, of course, are further hampered because Bosh has expressed a preference to continue playing with LeBron James. But Bosh may not know where James is going to play next season in the next 72 hours, as James decides whether to return to Miami or go home and play with the Cavaliers, the team that drafted him first overall in 2003 and that is near his Akron hometown.

The Rockets tried to work out sign-and-trade scenarios with the Mavericks for Parsons before they officially received the offer sheet. But once Houston was given the paperwork, under league rules, it could no longer entertain sign and trade possibilities. The Rockets can now only match or not match.

If the Rockets do match, they won’t be able to trade Parsons for one year without his consent, and they can’t trade him to the Mavericks at all. Nor can his contract be reworked in any way.

The option year is especially vexing to the Rockets and owner Les Alexander, according to a source. They couldn’t trade Parsons without his okay during the first year as stated above. That would leave them only one season with him before he could potentially become an unrestricted free agent — the same summer that Howard could opt out and be unrestricted. Howard and Parsons share the same agent, Dan Fegan.

This scenario unfolded after the Rockets declined their 2014-15 team option on Parsons, making him a restricted free agent. If the Rockets had picked up that one-year option, Parsons would have become an unrestricted free agent in 2015, able to sign anywhere. The reasoning behind that decision was that even though Parsons could get offer sheets in 2014, the Rockets planned to match anything. And it gave the team time to try and sign Parsons to a long-term deal before he hit unrestricted free agency.

No surprise, Dirk agrees with Dallas


VIDEO: Nowitzki stays in Dallas

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

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

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

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

Anthony met with both the Rockets and Mavericks on Wednesday.

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

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

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

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

Rockets’ pitch puts ‘Melo in Lin’s place


VIDEO: David Aldridge and the NBA TV crew talk about where Carmelo Anthony might land

There have always been unwritten rules of the game:

— Taking out the starters in the fourth quarter of a blowout.

— No dunking or nailing a 3-pointer at the buzzer with a double-digit lead.

— Don’t throw the ball off an opponent’s face to get an out of bounds call.

But apparently there are no rules of decorum these days during the offseason. Or they’re getting a lot harder to define.

First we had Jason Kidd making a full-court press to replace Larry Drew as head coach of the Bucks even though Drew still held the job at the time.

Now we have the Rockets rolling out the welcome mat as part of their pitch to Carmelo Anthony by installing an image of the free agent over the front door to the Toyota Center wearing a No. 7 jersey.

Trouble is, that No. 7 belongs to Jeremy Lin and he’s still on the team.

Of course, if Anthony were to decide to throw in with Dwight Howard and James Harden and move to Houston, it would require that the Rockets trade Lin in order to clear out space under the salary cap. The word is that general manager Daryl Morey even has a deal — Philadelphia? — already lined up in the event that Melo picks the Rockets.

Still, is this a Lin-sult?

It is not the first time that Anthony and Lin have been a bad fit in the same colored uniform jerseys. Back in the early part of 2012 when Linsanity was the toast of New York and became a global phenomenon, Anthony was injured and on the sidelines. When the All-Star forward finally returned to the Knicks’ lineup, the pair did did not mesh, the offense bogged down and Anthony griped loudly.

The Rockets pursued Lin, who was a free agent in the summer of 2012, and eventually wrested him away from the Knicks by including a “poison pill” offer of a $15-million salary in the last of a three-year contract. Anthony called that “a ridiculous contract.” The Knicks didn’t match the offer and Lin has gone on to enjoy two seasons of being an integral part of the Rockets’ rotation. Until now.

After spending Tuesday in meetings with the Bulls, the Melo-thon moved onto Houston for a Wednesday morning meeting with the Rockets that turned into lunch before he was scheduled to fly to Dallas to meet with the Mavericks.

The Rockets welcoming committee consisted of team owner Leslie Alexander, team president Tad Brown and Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, along with Howard and Harden. According to reports, the two sides met into the middle of the afternoon.

“It was just a really good meeting,” Drexler told reporters. “Carmelo is probably one of the best scorers in the history of the NBA. Anytime you have a chance to get a guy of that magnitude, you’ve got to pull out all the stops.”

It goes without saying that Lin wasn’t on hand to offer a hug or that No. 7 jersey.

What’s interesting is that if Anthony were to choose the Rockets, he might not even opt to wear No. 7. He wore No. 15 in college at Syracuse and at his first NBA stop in Denver. He couldn’t wear No. 15 in New York because it had already been retired in honor of Hall of Famer Earl Monroe. That number has currently been assigned to Rockets’ first-round draft choice Clint Capela, but something surely could be, ahem, worked out.

Apparently, the unwritten rules are even harder to read in the summer.

 

Mavs’ switch means Spurs don’t have to

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Tony Parker speaks at practice ahead of Game 2

SAN ANTONIO — Assist to Dallas. That first round series took a lot longer than the Spurs would have liked. Being put into that Game 7 situation so early was a precarious situation they would rather have avoided.

But with all the switching on pick-and-rolls done by the Mavs’ defense, it did have the Spurs comfortable to face the Thunder to open the Western Conference finals.

“We are very prepared for switching because first round, Dallas, that’s all they did,” said point guard Tony Parker. “And it took us a lot of games to adjust to that. And Portland tried to do that, too, the last two games. So I think we are prepared and we know what we have to do to keep the ball moving and to continue to play our style even if they switch.”

The Spurs’ goal is always to keep the ball moving quickly and get it to the open spots in the defense and they are probably the best in the NBA at doing it. Now as OKC plays without Serge Ibaka as a defensive anchor in the middle of the lineup, it’s a way to exploit the Thunder badly.

“That’s the goal,” Parker said. “We try to be patient and go to the best matchup. We try to move the ball and, if it’s Timmy, we try to give it to Timmy (Duncan). At some point in the fourth quarter, it was for Boris (Diaw). So, I think it’s very important for me or Manu (Ginobili) to stay aggressive. At the same time, look at the match-ups. Kawhi (Leonard) has a lot of match-ups, too.”

Diaw was particularly effective when Thunder coach Scott Brooks went with his small lineup and was able to take Caron Butler down into the low post. Twice in the space of three possessions, when the Spurs were regaining control in the fourth quarter, Diaw simply overpowered Butler to score.

“I think when they did that, Boris was very good in the paint,” Ginobili said. “When we play teams that are small, it’s great to have him, because he can guard (smalls more) and post up in those situations. So, he really helped us. But we have done it against OKC. We know they can do it. Hopefully, we attack the seams well, and if somebody helps, hopefully, we find open teammates. But probably the Dallas series helped us.”

 

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.

MVP ladder: Blake takes his place (no. 3)

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com



VIDEO: Player of the Month honors for Blake Griffin … why not? He’s certainly earned it

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Admit it, you doubted Blake Griffin would get here. You didn’t think he’d improve this much in such a relatively short period of time.

Seriously, it’s okay to fess up now.

Because Griffin is real. The hype is justified. He’s more than just a pitch man and a walking, talking and dunking highlight reel waiting to happen. Griffin is a legitimate MVP candidate and the clear-cut No. 3 (in a two-man race) behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

Griffin has separated himself from the rest of the pack outside of the top three of the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder. It’s been a season-long labor of love for Griffin, whose own coach Doc Rivers, as well as others like Dallas Mavericks boss Rick Carlisle, can’t say enough about Griffin’s hard work and dedication paying off the way it has this season for a Los Angeles Clippers team that is in thick of things in the Western Conference playoff chase.

Joakim Noah and James Harden round out the top five of the Ladder this week.

Dive in here for more on who made the cut on this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!

 

Blazers needing a big boost from Aldridge’s return to lineup

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: This all-access look inside the Portland Trail Blazers sheds some light on their season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Stare at it long enough and you’ll get dizzy.

Those Western Conference standings that saw the Portland Trail Blazers among the best of the best for the better part of this season have suddenly flipped. Instead of tapering their way into the playoffs, the Blazers in the same boat as the Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks — sweating out their playoff prospects each night.

Not long ago, the reverse was true. LaMarcus Aldridge was playing at an MVP level. Damian Lillard was dazzling as he avoided the dreaded sophomore slump. Swingmen Wes Matthews and Nic Batum were shooting the lights out as underrated starters. Center Robin Lopez was the surprise pickup of the offseason.

Now, the Blazers are in a pressure-packed race to the finish.

And they know it. The sense of urgency surrounding this team is palpable with just 10 games left. The Blazers are the only team in the Western Conference playoff mix playing sub-.500 basketball (3-7) over their last 10 games. My colleague, Fran Blinebury, was spot on when he insisted that the Blazers are letting their season slip away during this post-All-Star swoon.

They need a lift in the worst way heading into tonight’s game against Atlanta at Philips Arena (7:30 ET, League Pass), losers of three straight games and nine of their last 13. Portland hopes to get a big lift in the form of Aldridge, who missed the past seven games with a lower back injury. The chances of him returning to his MVP form from earlier this season are slim. But at least they’ll have him back as the conduit to an offense that has been among the league’s best all season.

Even that doesn’t guarantee the Blazers will survive a wicked and rugged Western Conference playoff chase that is as good as it’s been in years. There’s no sense in examining the good or bad times now. There’s only these final 10 games and the need to get back into a playoff gear.

“You have to understand it for what it is,” Lillard said. “When you’re hot, you know you’re playing well but you have to stay focused. And when you hit that bump in the road and you lose some games, and we’re struggling right now, you have to stick with it. We have to keep grinding and keep playing. And that’s where we’re at right now. We had that high moment. We knew some adversity was going to come. And it’s come. We just have to keep playing and stick together.”

Aldridge, one of the veteran leaders on this team, was adamant about the tough times coming at some point. He didn’t know that they’d come at his expense, with the injuries. He knew they would be a part of the Blazers’ season, though. They always do.

“I’ve seen it before, we had one of those good teams back in the day and injuries hit,” he said. “You have one guy go down and you have a good team, and one injury to the wrong guy or somebody not being right can definitely change your season. That’s why earlier in the season I was stressing taking care of our business while we were hot and winning as many games as we could so we’d have that cushion when we needed it later in the season and guys were beat up. We’re not a lock for the playoffs now, but if we take care of our business, we should make it.”


VIDEO: Things looked good for the Blazers before the All-Star break

They certainly aren’t acting panicked. Thursday morning’s shootaround concluded with the requisite long-distance shooting contest (which was won by Thomas Robinson), an event you’d expect to see from a team confident it can hold onto the West’s No. 5 spot it occupies.

Looks, however, can sometimes be deceiving. Aldridge and Lillard know exactly what’s at stake as the leaders of this team. Portland coach Terry Stotts does, too. Adding extra pressure, though, makes no sense.

While Aldridge prides himself on analyzing every detail, Stotts has kept an even keel all season, digesting the highs and lows the same way.

But even he recognized there would be some upheaval at the All-Star break, when injuries set in and the rotation had to be tweaked accordingly.

“We’ve had to change how we’ve been playing,” he said. “LaMarcus has been in and out of the lineup. Joel Freeland, who was a big part of the rotation, got hurt right before the All-Star game. That was part of it. Integrating some other guys, C.J. McCollum got healthy right around then, so we had to integrate him. A big part of our success was how well we’d been playing offensively. We’ve improved defensively the last 25 games. Our defensive numbers have improved but offensively, for whatever reason … players are so good in this league that offensively, you have to trust that will work out for you. But right now, getting LA back, there was a little bit of a transition period getting back and we have to go through that. Time’s getting short, everybody knows that we have 10 games left, and we have to take care of business.”

No one knows that better than Aldridge, who has watched the Blazers bog down in his absence from the rotation.

“I definitely had a chance to watch,” he said. “But it’s not the same when you’re not out there. I’m not trying to be arrogant, but our offense just doesn’t flow the same when I’m not out there. It flows a little bit different when I’m out there. It’s hard to assess it when I’m not out there. I think everybody is looking in the mirror right now trying to figure out what the can do better.”

Lillard, who has endured an education on being opponents’ No. 1 defensive target in Aldridge’s absence, is convinced that the Blazers aren’t rattled.

“The confidence definitely is not shattered,” he said. “There’s just a different pressure in the West. You can’t just be good, you have to be outstanding. We’ve got 45 wins and the Clippers have 50 wins and the Thunder 52 and they’re top three in the West. They have five more wins, seven more wins than we do and we could drop out of the playoffs mix if we don’t handle our business. I think that speaks for itself. Six through nine in the West would all be third in the East. That says it all. We just can’t get caught up in what everybody else is saying about us. What matters is if we’re going to stay locked in and take care of our business until the very end.”

At this rate, it could take until the very end for the Blazers to lock down the playoff spot that looked like a sure thing just months ago.


VIDEO: Terry Stotts talks about his team’s struggles after a loss to Orlando

Morning Shootaround — March 24


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Woodson takes blame, Knicks postseason hopes on the brink | Bryant confident as ever Lakers will get back to the top | Heat defensive focus lags, struggles continue | Thunder will contend as long as Westbrook’s knee holds up

No. 1: Woodson shoulders blame as Knicks fall to Cavs, postseason hopes hang in the balance — Done in by Jarrett Jack. Is that the epitaph that will be written on this season for the New York Knicks? After Cleveland’s veteran point guard, filling in for All-Star Kyrie Irving, shredded them late to snap their eight-game win streak, it’s a legitimate question. Knicks coach Mike Woodson took the blame, a noble endeavor considering he was going to get his fair share anyway. But the Knicks’ postseason hopes hang in the balance every night and losses to the likes of the Cavaliers destroy the cause, as Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com points out::

Atlanta lost on Sunday afternoon, so the Knicks knew exactly what was at stake when they took the court on Sunday evening. That made the loss to the Cavs all the more catastrophic.

“We didn’t handle our business,” Woodson said, “and I’ve got to take full responsibility for that.”

“It’s tough,” Carmelo Anthony said. “We should’ve won this game. We gave it away. They earned it. They beat us.”

The Knicks were up 15 at the half but allowed Cleveland to score nine straight to start the third quarter.

“I thought we came out a little flat,” Anthony said.

Anthony led the Knicks with 32 points but went cold late, missing 11 of his last 13 shots and all five in the fourth quarter.

The Knicks as a whole went 5-for-18 in the fourth and missed 11-of-15 3-pointers in the second half.

“They were just scrapping more, I think,” J.R. Smith said. “They were more hungry than us in the second half. … It’s a huge opportunity lost, one we can’t afford. But we can’t get it back. Just got to go out there on the road and win some games. Hopefully, [the Hawks] keep losing.”

That’s what the Knicks have been left with in this roller-coaster season: hoping the eighth-place Hawks can continue to give away their lead.

For what feels like the 30th time this season, the Knicks failed to do that. And it leaves Woodson and his team in a difficult spot. According to Elias Sports Bureau, just one team in the past 30 years has overcome a deficit of more than four games with 14 games or fewer to play in the regular season to make the playoffs.


VIDEO: Sunday’s top 10 plays

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No. 2: Kobe in touch with Jim Buss, confident Lakers will get back to winning ways — Whatever he lacks in good health Kobe Bryant more than makes up for in unabashed confidence in himself and the Los Angeles Lakers resilience. This despicable season will be forgotten, as soon as he can get back to health and as soon as Jim Buss and the rest of the Lakers’ front office brass finish their franchise makeover. These tough times, Bryant insisted during an interview with ESPN’s sports business ace Darren Rovell, will not last. He did, however, acknowledge that things are going to be different without Dr. Jerry Buss around to fix the Lakers’ issues:

Bryant, who signed a two-year, $48.5 million extension with the team in November to lock up his 19th and 20th seasons in L.A., reiterated his message of urgency to Buss to return to the top as soon as possible.

“This organization is just not going to go [down],” Bryant said. “It’s not going to take a nose dive. But I think we need to accelerate it a little bit for selfish reasons, because I want to win and I want to win next season. So, it’s kind of getting them going now as opposed to two years from now.”

Despite already airing his concerns about what direction the Lakers might be heading, Bryant said his faith is as strong as ever in the Lakers’ ability to bounce back to contender status.

“Extremely confident,” Bryant said. “That was one of my concerns [when he re-signed] and they assured me, ‘This is fair for you for everything you’ve done for the franchise and will continue to do while being able to construct a team that is going to contend for a championship here over the next couple of years.'”

Bryant also responded to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban‘s assertion that “I don’t know if the Lakers will ever be the Lakers,” because of the absence of longtime owner Dr. Jerry Buss, who died last year.

“It will be different,” Bryant said. “You can’t lead the way [Dr. Buss] did. Because Jeanie is different. Jimmy, who is running basketball operations, is different.

“So they have to find their rhythm and get in sync with each other and figure out exactly what their leadership style is going to be. It’s nearly impossible to try to separate basketball operations from the business standpoint so you got to kind of get in sync that with that and have one voice that is leading that charge. But once that happens, the idea might take shape. But you can’t look at what Dr. Buss did and say, ‘I’m going to try replicate that,’ and be exactly what he was. That’s just not going to happen.”


VIDEO:
Mavericks guard Monta Ellis was a flash against the Nets Sunday

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No. 3: LeBron and Spoelstra point to lagging Heat defense as their struggles continue Bellyaching about your team’s energy, effort and championship focus in the wake of seven losses in your last 11 games is not a shocker, not even for the Miami Heat. But it’s good to get some specifics. And the Heat, fresh off of yet another head-scratching defeat (Saturday night in New Orleans), provided plenty. And it’s all about their defense, which has been uncharacteristically porous of late. That’s something everyone, from coach Erik Spoelstra and LeBron James and Chris Bosh, in the Heat camp can agree on. Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel highlights the particulars:

    “We’re not accustomed to this type of play, these types of standards, particularly on the defensive end,” coach Erik Spoelstra said before giving his team Sunday off in advance of Monday’s visit by the Portland Trail Blazers to AmericanAirlines Arena. “And if we want to change, we have to look inward. Every single one of us, including the staff, including the players, have to make changes.”

Forward LeBron James said the Heat are failing on the defensive end both individually and collectively.

“First of all,” he said, “you have to guard your man, and rely on help second. But when you break down, you’re going to have to rely on the help, and we’re not getting both.

“First of all, guys are not playing their man. And guys get beat, which you will be, which will happen in this league, because there’s great players, the help comes. We’re not doing anything.”

Factor in the Heat’s longstanding rebound issues and the defensive pressure has been unrelenting.

“Sometimes we get stops and we don’t get a rebound. Sometimes we don’t get stops,” forward Udonis Haslem said. “It’s a lot of different things. At this point, we’ve got to put it all together, we’ve got to get stops and rebounds. We can’t get a stop and then give up an offensive rebound and get another 24 [seconds on defense].

“We’ve got to guard the ball, and then when the ball gets in the paint, we’ve got to step up, we’ve got to contest. Shot goes up, we’ve got to box out both bigs and got to get it and go.”

The frustration has shown on the court and in the locker room.

“Defensively, we can’t stop a nosebleed,” center Chris Bosh said. “No good blitz, the pick and roll coverage, one-on-one defense, everything is bad.”


VIDEO: Check out the Kevin Love Show from Sunday, starring … Kevin Love!

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No. 4:Thunder’s title hopes rest on Westbrook’s knee – Miami and Indiana aren’t the only places where championship hopes are in doubt these days. Folks in Oklahoma are also wondering just how fragile their title aspirations are in the wake of yet another knee scare from All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. Even with MVP frontrunner Kevin Durant destroying the competition night after night, the Thunder’s confidence is tied directly to the health of Westbrook and that knee. It’s a dangerous way for an entire state and fan base to live. But it’s the only way they, according to Barry Tramel of the Oklahoman:

Nobody in our state slept well Friday night. Starting with Scotty Brooks, Sam Presti, Westbrook’s clothier, Rumble, that woman who screams “Russellllllllllllllllllllllll” during his foul shots and most everyone with a cable or satellite dish in every hamlet from Tuskahoma to Tonkawa.

For about 20 hours or so over the weekend, we all wondered if Russell Westbrook’s knee was tore up again. Westbrook limped off the court in Toronto on Friday, and the wind was replaced by “aarghs!” and “gulps” sweeping down the plain.

Of course, now word is that Westbrook is OK and might even play either Monday night (Denver in OKC) or Tuesday night (at Dallas). Whew. That was close.

Thunderland knows the feeling of life without Westbrook. Knows it all too well. And it stinks. When Westbrook went down with a torn meniscus in the Houston series last playoffs, the Thunder scraped by the Rockets, then was bullied by the Grizzlies in a five-game series defeat. When Westbrook has sat out periodically this season, the Thunder has mostly struggled, save for a magical 10-game winning streak in January during which OKC was the league’s best team.

Westbrook’s latest scare is reason to ask this question. Is the Thunder better prepared to play without him this season than last season? If Westbrook limps off in some game soon, or in the middle of a playoff series, is the Thunder better-equipped to survive?

Depends on what survival means. Win the NBA championship? No. Not going to happen without Westbrook riding shotgun.

But go deeper in the playoffs? Win a tough West semifinal? At least challenge the Spurs or the Clippers or whoever emerges as the Western Conference elite? Yes.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: This is a different Raptors team than you are used to, one that is rising to the late-season challenge … Andre Miller finally clears the air about what went down in Denver … No one is doing it better these days than the bench mob from Phoenix … Kobe Bryant announces his partnership in a new business … Rockets big man Dwight Howard is practicing but remains “day-to-day” with that tender ankle … The surprising comeback for Steve Nash has already hit yet another injury snag

ICYMI of the Night: Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins wants you to know that this is his world and the rest of the big men in the league are just living in it …


VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins goes hard for his 32 points and 12 rebounds