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.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.