NBA Playoffs: Mavs and Spurs to embark on a journey for the ages

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NBA_nowitzki2_250.jpgIt’s usually not a good idea to over-hype a series, because the practice can only backfire. A great playoff series will organically drum up interest, as NBA fans are drawn to good, competitive games. So those series’ don’t really need help on the front. If a series isn’t so great? Well, then hot air, hot presses, and hot…virtual ink (?) goes to waste for absolutely no reason. In general, it’s best to let the nature of each series speak for itself, and though analysis on the possible nature of a series is quite alright, promoting one series as a “can’t-miss” matchup or the highlight of a particular round is very misguided.

Now that I have that disclaimer out of the way: this is a can’t-miss matchup and the highlight of the first round.

The Mavs and the Spurs play each other so well so consistently that I refuse to believe this series will be anything but highly entertaining. The two franchises bring out the best in one another, and have done so ever since the Mavs rose from solid playoff team to serious contender based on the Spurs model. It’s impossible to deny the formative influence that San Antonio has had on Dallas, and that influence is just one of many reasons why their rivalry is so compelling.

At the heart of this series are, of course, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. Duncan is the best Spur even if he’s no longer the most important, and despite the half-step he’s lost this season, TD is still one of the league’s most effective bigs. Nowitzki is a scoring machine, and while he’s never lit a candle to Duncan defensively, his ability to anchor an offense from the high and low post is somehow immune to the Spurs’ typically excellent defense.

All eyes in this series will be on Manu Ginobili, the man who not only kept the Spurs afloat down the stretch, but pushed them to new heights. It’s Manu’s return to prominence that has elevated the Spurs’ play, and his effectiveness could essentially determine this series. Otherwise, Dallas and San Antonio have so much balance that predicting the winner is pointless.

San Antonio will likely have the defensive edge and Dallas the offensive one, but those two strengths could easily flip based on a big scoring performance from Tony Parker or strong defense from Shawn Marion. Dallas has more depth, but they’re less consistent. San Antonio’s two quick point guards — Parker and George Hill — are tough to gauge because the former only recently returned from injury and the latter tweaked an ankle in the final game of the regular season. Dallas’ two centers have the size and strength to help limit Duncan, but how successful will they be?

There are so many questions left to be answered in this series, but the interesting thing is that the answers don’t indicate a huge swing one way or another. Even if Manu Ginobili keeps performing at an incredible level, that doesn’t mean San Antonio wins handily. Even if Shawn Marion and Caron Butler completely lock him down, that doesn’t mean Dallas wins easily. There are so many small, minute advantages still in play, but the sheer quantity minimizes the effect of each variable.

We know so much about these teams and how they play each other, but they’re so close that there’s literally no way to tell how it’s going to down tonight. That’s what makes this series a must-watch, and the history between the teams, their division rivalry, and geographic proximity are just supplementary bonuses.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania

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Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.

The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.

Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.

One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.

“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.

“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”

Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.

But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.

Paul George on return to Indiana Wednesday: “For whatever reason, I’ll be booed”

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This week is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “you can’t go home again” week of the schedule. On Saturday night, Carmelo Anthony will return to New York where Knicks fans should welcome him with cheers and open arms — he meant a lot to that franchise in recent years — but may very well not.

First up, however, Paul George returns to Indiana in a Thunder uniform Wednesday night.

There’s little doubt how he will be greeted by Indiana fans, who felt betrayed by a man they stuck by through recovery from a severe injury. George knows what is coming,

Here are the key lines from PG13:

“Boos. I honestly wouldn’t think it would be any other way. The Pacers fans outweigh the Paul George fans. That’s what I’m looking forward to. For whatever reason, I’ll be booed, but I’m gonna embrace that. I’m gonna thrive on that.”

For whatever reason? You asked to be traded and fans take that personally. There is no loyalty in sports — I have no problem with players asking out because teams show no hesitancy in dumping players they no longer have a use for (and fans are almost always good with that) — but he had to know how this would be taken in Indiana.

What George might want to worry about is stopping the red-hot Victor Oladipo (he averaged 35.7 points per game last week), because he and the Pacers are playing better than the Thunder right now.

Kawhi Leonard returns Tuesday on minutes restriction

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The Spurs have been the Spurs this season, going 19-8 with an elite defense and offense that’s good enough to get them wins, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level.

Starting Tuesday, they add Kawhi Leonard back to the mix.

He will return to the lineup against Dallas, but will be on a minutes restriction, coach Gregg Popovich said on Tuesday. He would not say how many minutes, although around 20 seems a logical starting spot.

Leonard is one of the five best players in the NBA (and that may be selling him short). He averaged a career-high 25.5 points a game last season, he’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and he finished third in the MVP voting last season.

However, there are going to be adjustments. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the focal point of the offense, but he could see fewer touches, particularly in crunch time. Kyle Anderson could see fewer minutes, and Rudy Gay may as well because Popovich liked some small-ball lineups last season with Leonard at the four. A lot of players will see their rotations change.

That said, it’s the Spurs. Do we really expect them to be anything but an incredibly good regular season team? One that is about to get better?

 

 

 

Pelicans’ Tony Allen out 3-4 weeks with fibula fracture

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The injuries just keep hitting the Pelicans. Guys like Solomon Hill and Alexis Ajinca are out for extended periods of time. Anthony Davis has missed four of the team’s last six games and is questionable for Wednesday night due to a left adductor injury.

Now comes the news that reserve guard Tony Allen will be out three to four weeks due to a nondisplaced left proximal fibula fracture, the team announced Tuesday. This is the part of the bone near the ankle.

Allen has played a limited role for New Orleans off the bench this season, averaging 12.4 minutes a game, and averaging 4.7 points. His reputation is that of a defensive stopper, and when he is on the court this season the Pelicans’ defense has been 5.6 points per 100 possessions better. However, father time has started to catch up with him and he is not the defender he once was.

Expect the minutes to bump up for Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore with this injury, which is not a bad thing as they have played well (they were knocking down threes against the Rockets Monday like they were named Curry), plus Ian Clark could get a little more run.