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.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.