Posts Tagged ‘Rick Carlisle’

If money isn’t the ultimate factor, ‘Melo and Bulls are a perfect match

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Where will Carmelo land?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Carmelo Anthony Freedom Tour ’14 is off and running.

If the high-scoring superstar can stomach leaving tens of millions of dollars in New York, this whirlwind wine-and-dine is bound to end where it starts: Chicago.

Anthony, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, is in the Windy City today meeting with the Bulls, including emphatic center and franchise backbone Joakim Noah, whose seemingly been in ‘Melo’s ear since around the All-Star break. On Wednesday, he’ll do a two-step through income-tax-free Texas. First to Houston to meet with the always scheming Rockets where general manager Daryl Morey has plotted a super team since he assumed office. Later in the day, he’ll trek north to Dallas where the Bank of Cuban is open for business. Owner Mark Cuban is swinging for the fences for a third summer, but this time he believes he’s got the roster to go with the cap space (albeit not max cap space).

On Thursday, the coach-less Los Angeles Lakers will make their pitch. And finally, Phil Jackson and his 11 championship rings as coach of the Bulls and Lakers will get in the final word for the incumbent Knicks.

Even then there’s theories floating about that maybe Jackson really isn’t all that keen on bringing ‘Melo back, evidence being the way he keeps needling Anthony to re-sign at a discounted rate, a notion Anthony first broached during All-Star weekend; that perhaps Jackson and rookie coach Derek Fisher would be better off without the pressure of expectation in Year 1; better off without a max (or near-max) deal gobbling up valuable cap space when New York will finally have it in abundance to go star chasing in the summer of ’15.

But then there’s the curious trade last week between the Knicks and Mavs, in which both teams trumpeted the deal as a move to motivate ‘Melo to sign with them. Dallas reacquired beloved center Tyson Chandler, their fiery leader and defensive task master on the 2011 championship team. To get Chandler, they also had to take on sinking point guard Raymond Felton.

The Knicks received four players and two starters off the Mavs’ 49-win team, including steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon and erratic center Samuel Dalembert. Jackson said he thinks ‘Melo would relish playing with the sharp-shooting and fundamental wiz Calderon.

But Jackson also spoke of “chemistry” reasons for shipping out Chandler. Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson cheered it as a move that makes Dallas more desirable for a big-fish free agent. In the days following the trade, Chandler, speaking on a Dallas-area sports radio talk show, described his relationship with Anthony as “professional.” He said off the court they stay out of each other’s way, and on it they respect each other.

Sound cozy?

Whether Jackson wants to offer Anthony a max contract — five-years for about $129 million — he holds the power to offer the 2012-13 scoring champ many more millions than any other team. The Bulls, Rockets and Mavs all have work to do to clear the cap space necessary to offer Anthony the maximum they can — four years for about $96 million.

Dallas, for one, won’t get to that number, and will seek to sell Anthony on taking less to partner with a still very capable Dirk Nowitzki at 36, a reformed volume shooter in Monta Ellis and his former teammate Chandler as a premiere rim protector. Cuban will sell the genius of coach Rick Carlisle, who challenged Gregg Popovich and the Spurs to seven games in the first round, and above all else a front office that has operated aggressively and creatively enough to remain contenders to various degrees for more than a decade.

Houston will tout James Harden and Dwight Howard, but signing Anthony will shuffle Chandler Parsons out the door. And there’s concern, at least on the outside, how Harden, Howard and Anthony will share one basketball. In Los Angeles, where Anthony spends much of his offseason anyway, a tag-team with Kobe Bryant (and cap space in 2016 when Bryant comes off the books) will be the hard sell.

So back to Chicago where the Bulls haven’t played for a championship since Michael Jordan hung ‘em up for a second time after the 1998 season. The formula seems ready-made for Anthony to drop in, take off and potentially take over a droopy Eastern Conference that has far fewer contenders than out West.

Coach Tom Thibodeau‘s defensive philosophy is entrenched in the Bulls’ DNA. Anthony’s scoring would instantly boost the Bulls’ offense that reached dreadful depths without Derrick Rose. Rose’s knees are a major question mark, and his salary — $18.9 million this season and up to $21.3 million in 2016-17 — can be fatal for long-term success if he can’t stay healthy. Then again, Rose could play the next 10 years injury-free.

With a roster that includes Noah patrolling the back line, two-way, youthful talent Jimmy Butler at shooting guard and Taj Gibson at power forward (assuming he’s not shipped out in an eventual sign-and-trade with New York) and Thibodeau at the controls, the Bulls and Anthony seem the preferable match.

Anthony turned 30 in May and is heading into his 12th season. A New York native, he loves playing on the Madison Square Garden stage. But transforming that stage into a championship parade will take patience beyond this year, a quality Anthony has acknowledged is in short supply at this crossroads of his career.

He’s earned more than $135 million in salary and made a small fortune from endorsement deals.

If Anthony can make peace with leaving tens of millions more in the city in which he grew up, then his Freedom Tour will likely end where it started today, in Chicago.


VIDEO: How will Bulls try to land Anthony?

‘Melo sits in center of Knicks-Mavs trade


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses ‘Melo’s future

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Mavericks fans never wanted to see the band split up in the first place. But a new collective bargaining agreement spiked with harsher tax penalties, plus an aging roster, convinced owner Mark Cuban to reassess his team-building strategy as an annual luxury tax payer and set out on a new course bound for cap space.

So out the door went several key contributors to Dallas’ 2011 championship team, but none more beloved than its one-hit wonder Tyson Chandler, the best center Dirk Nowitzki had ever played with and the one who complemented him the best. Even so, Cuban passed on paying Chandler major bucks over the next half-decade, fearful of fueling an overage, overpaid roster with no escape hatch in this new era. As Cuban has said time and again, he didn’t want to become the Brooklyn Nets.

So the New York Knicks stepped in with $60 million over four seasons.

On Wednesday, Cuban reclaimed his drummer, the backbone of a defense that’s sorely lacked identity and disposition since Chandler exited and became the league’s Defensive Player of the Year the very next season. To get Chandler, though, Cuban had to take on troubled point guard Raymond Felton, the state of his career in distress, and who now leaves the scorn of New York fans to become a pet project of adaptable coach Rick Carlisle.

Dallas sent steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon, whose lack of quickness, but intelligence and excellent shooting make him more suited for the Eastern Conference, and perhaps a decent fit  in Jackson’s Triangle offense under rookie coach Derek Fisher. Erratic starting center Samuel Dalembert, little-used shooting guard Wayne Ellington, and speedster point guard Shane Larkin, Dallas 2013 first-round pick who found only sporadic playing time last season, plus the Mavs’ two second-round picks (34 and 51) in Thursday’s Draft are headed to New York.

At the center of all this, like a radiant sun glowing brightly on all that orbits it, is discontented star Carmelo Anthony. Knicks new president Phil Jackson made his first major deal of his tenure seeking to unload salary and create cap space to begin a rebuild that will convince Anthony to stay in the Big Apple. Anthony has already opted out of his contract and will become a free agent on July 1.

One of three teams free-agent Anthony will grant a face-to-face meeting with, according to ESPN.com, is the Mavs (the Rockets and Bulls are the others). While Dallas was given long-shot odds before the trade to land Anthony, it stands to be an even tougher sell now because to fit him into available cap space once Nowitzki signs his new deal will require Anthony to accept a significant pay cut.

But, again, Melo has agreed to at least sit down with Dallas, which now has the 31-year-old Chandler to help woo his former teammate to his former team.

The Mavs continue to be one of the more active teams in the league over the past several summers, turning over the roster, save for a few key core components, in search of a mix to give Nowitzki, 36, a chance to contend again in his final few seasons. Since the title and the dismantling of that club, Dallas hasn’t finished better than the seventh seed and hasn’t advanced past the first round.

But last season’s 49 wins provided hope. Monta Ellis blended well with Nowitzki and Dallas boasted one of the most efficient offenses in the league. Their defense, however, never found its footing. That’s Chandler’s job now and Dallas will have to hope that the 7-foot-1 center can stay as healthy as he did in playing 74 games in the championship season, his rebound season after two years of dealing with injuries.

Chandler managed just 55 games last season and averaged 8.7 ppg and 9.6 rpg in 30.2 mpg. While Dallas upgraded its frontline, it seemingly took a step back at the point. Felton, for the time being, would seem to be the Mavs’ starting point guard. Free agent Devin Harris could be re-signed, or they could go a different route in free agency.

Now left without a draft pick, they won’t find one on Thursday night. But unlike when Cuban chose to let Chandler walk in 2011, the club has sufficient cap space available to be aggressive players in free agency. Targets include Luol Deng and Pau Gasol.

And, obviously, that scorer from New York.

Coach Bickerstaff receives Daly Lifetime Achievement award


VIDEO: Bickerstaff receives Daly Lifetime Achievement award

SAN ANTONIO – In 41 years as an NBA coach and executive, across five decades, Bernie Bickerstaff learned, deployed, imparted and maybe even forgot more X’s and O’s than used in all the episodes of Hollywood Squares combined.

But when it came time to reflect on his career – which continues these days as an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers – Bickerstaff defaulted to faces and names and people. That is the NBA he has most enjoyed, the one he thanked Thursday for “letting [him] come along on this wonderful ride for 40-plus years.”

“I’ve been fortunate to start a lot of good relationships,” Bickerstaff said, “with ball boys, with trainers, PR people, assistant coaches, head coaches, general managers, presidents, owners – and even some of those owners and general managers who decided they wanted to go in a different direction.”

Bickerstaff, 70, was presented with the 2014 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, as chosen by the National Basketball Coaches Association, prior to Game 1 of The Finals. As described by NBCA president Rick Carlisle, coach of the Dallas Mavericks, the Daly award honors competitive integrity, diversity, longevity and “the thing that Chuck always talked about, which was love and respect for the game.”

That love and respect was looping back toward Bickerstaff at the AT&T Center. Fellow coaches Pat Riley, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson made sure to be in the audience for Bickerstaff’s news conference. His sons John-Blair, an assistant on Houston coach Kevin McHale‘s staff, and Bernard were in the front row. And so was his wife of 46 years, Eugenia. “Like Chuck, she knew the buttons to push – she didn’t always know when but she knew the buttons to push,” Bickerstaff said.

Bickerstaff , a native of Benham, Ky., has worked at the NBA’s highest levels throughout his career, not just on the bench but in the front office. He became the youngest assistant coach in league history, joining the Washington Bullets’ staff at age 29 in 1973. He had made the jump from the University of San Diego, and the differences were immediately apparent.

“When I joined the Bullets in ’73 I didn’t have a clue about the NBA,” he recalled. “I was mesmerized by all the picks that they set. There was one, two, three, four picks, and basically in college you go off one screen and you go to the other side of the screen and that was it.

“And the talent. When you think of the team we had, we had [Wes] Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Archie Clark, Phil Chenier – the talent level was so much different than it was at the University of San Diego.”

In Washington, Bickerstaff worked for K.C. Jones and Dick Motta and helped the Bullets reach The Finals three times, winning the franchise’s only championship in 1978. In 1985, he was hired as head coach of the Seattle SuperSonics and led them to three postseason appearances in five years.

Of those Sonics clubs, his personal favorites, Bickerstaff said: “They were all 6-8, 6-9, so the things that you could do defensively. They were athletic, they were mentally tough. But we couldn’t get by the Lakers, you know?”

The Denver Nuggets offered Bickerstaff the role of president and GM in 1990, and he took over as head coach four years later, guiding them to the first No. 8 vs. No. 1 playoff upset in NBA history.

In 1997, he went back to Washington as head coach for three seasons. In 2004, the Charlotte Bobcats hired him as coach and GM. And Bickerstaff served between and after those gigs as an assistant with Chicago, Portland and the L.A. Lakers. In fact, when he temporarily took over on the Lakers bench between Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni in 2012, his 4-1 mark moved him high on that franchise’s all-time success list.

Bickerstaff ranks No. 41 all-time in NBA coaching victories (419) and No. 29 in games coached (937).

When San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich saw Bickerstaff near the interview room in the hours before Game 1’s tipoff, he heartily congratulated him. “He’s one of those guys you call a ‘lifer,’ like a lifer in the military or in the NBA,” Popovich said. “He’s helped many people be better coaches and better people, and that’s one of the reasons he’s here tonight for that award.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra grew up in Portland as a Trail Blazers fan when Bickerstaff was working in Seattle and teased him from the podium Thursday evening. “I didn’t like the Sonics when he was coaching there,” Spoelstra said, “but he had some great teams out there and all of his different spots.”

Said Bickerstaff: “I think the two fortunate people here tonight are Spo and Coach Popovich because they’ve got a chance to walk home with the crown.”

Brown, the former Cavs and Lakers coach, was brought into the league by Bickerstaff as Denver’s video coordinator in 1992. He hired Brown as an assistant in 1997, too, after his move back to Washington.

“‘NBA coach Mike Brown’ would not be in existence if it wasn’t for Bernie,” Brown told the Cleveland Plain Dealer upon learning of Bickerstaff’s award. “I’m thrilled for him. He’s got his name etched in stone in a few other places, but this place is one of the best. It’s a neat award for what Bernie has given to the game of basketball. He definitely has contributed to the growth of the NBA in his own way. His longevity in itself is an accomplishment.”

The Daly award, conceived in 2009, is dedicated to the memory of Hall of Famer Chuck Daly, who coached for four NBA franchises over 14 seasons, led the Detroit “Bad Boys” to consecutive championships in 1989 and 1990 and was voted one of the league’s Top 10 coaches of all-time in 1996.

The award is selected by a committee of NBA insiders, including Popovich, Riley, Billy Cunningham, Donnie Walsh, Lenny Wilkens, Joe Dumars and Phil Jackson. Past winners include Bill Fitch (2013), Riley (2012), Wilkens (2011), Tex Winters and Jack Ramsay (2010) and Tommy Heinsohn (2009).

Brooks keeps on pushing right buttons for Thunder

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Scott Brooks speaks after OKC’s practice on Wednesday

OKLAHOMA CITY – Since everybody else with an armchair coaching degree lobs criticism at the Thunder’s Scott Brooks, including, apparently, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Brooks figured he might as well sneak in a dig of his own.

During his team’s series-evening blowout of the San Antonio Spurs in Tuesday’s Game 4, guard Reggie Jackson rolled his ankle early in the first quarter. Brooks was asked his thought process as Jackson hopped around in pain and feared potentially to be out of commission.

“I was a little worried with Reggie when he hurt it in the first few minutes,” Brooks said. “I didn’t want to make a change in the lineup to get ridiculed, so I wanted to make sure I could get him a couple more possessions.”

Hey-O!

It was a rare shot of snarkiness from Brooks, who took to the postgame podium moments after Spurs coach Gregg Popovich belittled a reporter for asking a supposedly inaudible question because, as Popovich suggested, the questioner was oddly speaking with a mouthful of food. Brooks’ public speaking consists almost exclusively of monotone, mostly polite and low-key responses.

He rarely, if ever singles out players for criticism and steadfastly sticks to a script of optimistic, team-oriented answers. He consistently deflects credit onto his players and almost never inserts himself into the equation.

“No, that was a joke,” Brooks insisted of his spontaneous postgame wit after the Thunder’s light workout Wednesday. “That was my sense of humor. It’s a little dry at times.” (more…)

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

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Previewing the Spurs-Blazers conference semifinal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s likely got Carlisle on the other end.


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

Mavs push Duncan, Spurs to the brink

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mavs top Spurs to force Game 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday is about one thing: survive and advance.


VIDEO: Ellis discusses Dallas’ Game 6 victory

Harris, healthy again, gives Mavs boost

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crafty Carlisle puts Pop to the test

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not that you could tell listening to Carlisle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Mavs surprise as Spurs spin their wheels

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Mavs, line of demarcation is 3

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Mavs vs. Spurs, Game 2 preview

SAN ANTONIO – When Danny Green plays the Dallas Mavericks, he thinks fireworks. He kills Dallas from beyond the 3-point arc like no other team with a career-best 33 long balls in 12 regular-season games. Twenty-six of those 3s (on just 39 attempts) have come in the last two seasons, which includes him going 12-for-20 vs. the Mavs in four games this season.

So when Green got off just one 3-point attempt, and missed it, in the San Antonio Spurs’ skin-of-their-teeth Game 1 victory Sunday, it came as a significant surprise. The Mavs’ defensive strategy of switching coverages and chasing Green and the Spurs’ other sharpshooters — who averaged 10.5 made 3s on 24.3 attempts against Dallas this season — mostly worked. The Spurs, No. 1 in the league in 3-point percentage, went 3-for-17 in Game 1 with Manu Ginobili accounting for all three.

Just two weeks ago, the Spurs bombarded the Mavs with 16 made 3-pointers, a combined 11 from Green and Patty Mills, in a win at Dallas.

Where the pick-your-poison strategy narrowly backfired on Dallas was opening the middle for Tony Parker and Tim Duncan to work mismatches. Those two combined for 48 points with heavy damage inflicted in the paint, the difference in the 90-85 win.

But, as Dirk Nowitzki said after Game 1: “I guess two points is better than three points.”

The Spurs, who have won 10 consecutive games against the Mavs, enter tonight’s Game 2 (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV) anticipating that their neighbor to the north will again live and die by the same strategy.

“In regular season they didn’t switch as much, they’re playing pick-and-roll defense a lot differently,” Green said. “That’s the main difference in everything they’ve done defensively and that’s kind of slowed us up. I think the biggest thing is getting stops and just running; running and cutting and moving more.”

The Spurs’ assist number provide evidence of that slowing up. San Antonio is a precision-passing team and led the league in assists (25.2 apg) during the regular season. They had just 14 on 35 baskets in Game 1. The 90 points was the Spurs’ lowest output since using a makeshift lineup in a 96-86 loss at Chicago on Jan. 29.

“Regardless of what kind of defense they play,” Green said, “we have to continue to play how we play and that’s attack, drive-and-kick and find each other and make the extra pass.”

Both teams have had two days to reassess their options. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, named Coach of the Year for the third time Tuesday, was predictably coy as to how he expects Dallas coach Rick Carlisle to tweak his defensive approach, if at all.

“We’ll play the game and then find out what’s going on,” Popovich said. “No sense guessing.”