Gregg Popovich finds delicious, barbecued love in Mark Cuban's hate

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Though Mavs and Spurs fans may hate each other, I’ve honestly never had the impression that the Mavs and the Spurs themselves hate each other. Manu Ginobili can get under anyone’s skin and Jason Terry’s in-game yapping and posturing is sure to drive some opponents batty, but Mavs-Spurs seems predicated more on mutual respect than bile. Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki praise each other frequently, there’s physical play but little extracurricular contact (particularly with no Bruce Bowen around to play the villain), and the built-in tension isn’t because of a history of shenanigans, but because the teams have played each other so well so often.

That’s why Mark Cuban’s comments about “hating” the Spurs should surprise you in principle, if not in practice.

I don’t know that anyone on the Mavs roster hates the Spurs. They may not relish the thought of playing another tough game against a pretty terrific San Antonio team, but I think ‘hate’ would go far beyond the civility that has made this rivalry so intriguing. I don’t think Cuban hates the Spurs, either (he actually clarified his quote as a “respectful hate,”). After all, it wasn’t long ago that his team was constructed almost entirely in San Antonio’s image, including plugging in a former Spurs point guard as the head coach.

Gregg Popovich agrees, and he cites the visiting locker room cuisine as evidence. From Eddie Sefko and Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News:

On Wednesday, Cuban admitted the line, along with his annual crack about the San Antonio River’s cleanliness, “was gamesmanship. Just to increase the rivalry. Sell tickets.”

Popovich seemed to interpret Cuban’s words in that spirit. “It’s an exaggeration,” Popovich said. “If he hates us so much, he wouldn’t have that good barbecue in the locker room after the game.”

This is what Mark Cuban does. He drops some quotes to get the fans of both teams riled up, he creates additional interest (even in a series that needs it not), and puts himself in the middle of the action. What a lot of people don’t understand, though, is that while this is what Cuban does, it’s not who Cuban is.

I wouldn’t claim to be best friends with the man, but quotes such as these are gamesmanship, just as Mark described. This isn’t a “what will he say next?” owner riffing himself into shocking statement after shocking statement, but one who fully understands the implications of his actions and yet still chooses to do them in order to elicit a specific response. The only thing that’s shocking is that so many people are still taking the bait.   

Zaza Pachulia steals ball, starts break, blows open layup against Suns (VIDEO)

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Zaza Pachulia is riding the Golden State Warriors train for all it’s worth, in the good and the bad. In November, Pachulia hit a mid-range jumper and did a horse dance. If that was the zenith, Saturday night against the Phoenix Suns was the nadir.

Particularly because Pachulia blew a breakaway layup in which he definitely should have scored.

Instead, the Warriors big man stuffed the ball between the iron and the backboard, clumsily squandering his opportunity:

*Sad trombone*

Russell Westbrook’s no-look, two-hand, behind-his-head pass ignites Thunder break

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Russell Westbrook was just himself — hustling, attacking, and getting his fifth triple-double in a row Sunday night against the Pelicans.

But the play of the night didn’t get him any points or an assist. It was Westbrook hustling, getting to the floor to get a loose ball, then making the showtime pass to start a Globetrotters-like fast break that ended with an Andre Roberson dunk.

Westbrook had an impressive dunk of his own.

NBA VP Kiki VanDeWeghe on “unnaturual acts:” “Our rules are for every player”

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The NBA has tried to crack down on “unnatural acts” — players flailing body parts trying to draw a foul call.

At the heart of that is Golden State’s Draymond Green, who picked up a flagrant foul for the unnatural act of getting his leg high enough to kick James Harden in the face Thursday night. Green fired back at the league, saying in part, “It’s funny how you can tell me how I get hit and how my body is supposed to react. I didn’t know the league office was that smart when it came to body movements.” Green’s argument is that he was fouled in the air and the high leg was the natural act of him trying to keep his balance. (Doesn’t matter, it’s a reckless act and if you kick someone in the face you should get a flagrant foul. Also, try explaining the kick on Marquese Chriss on Saturday that way.)

Former All-Star NBA player as well as coach Kiki VanDeWeghe is now an NBA vice president and the guy who is the decision maker on these reviews and fouls. He spoke with Sam Amick of the USA Today about how those unnatural act rules are applied.

“Our rules are for every player,” VanDeWeghe told USA TODAY Sports. “We want each play judged according to the rules, as best possible, and the rules applied fairly across our whole league. That’s very important to us. We don’t make exceptions for players. They are applied to everybody.

“In Draymond’s particular case (against the Houston Rockets on Thursday), he had an arm flail which struck the player (James Harden) in the neck-head area. And then in addition to that, he had a kick up above the head of the defender. As he brought his leg down, his heel hit him in the face. It wouldn’t matter what player we’re talking about (it’s a foul)….

“Most of these are done to draw the attention of the referees. We noticed an uptick in these last year, and they needed to be addressed by the competition committee.”

While Green feels singled out — “marked” is what he tweeted — VanDeWeghe noted that competition committee included owners, coaches, GMs, people from the players union, and a lot of people with playing experience, who all sat down as a group and studied what is and is not an “unnatural act.” As Amick noted, it isn’t just Green who gets hit with these penalties, although he gets the headlines: Boston’s Marcus Smart was given a Flagrant One for his kick to the groin of the Miami’s Hassan Whiteside; Thursday LeBron James was given a technical foul for his blow to the head of the Clippers’ Alan Anderson.

So long as Green continues to make these acts — and the kick to Chriss Saturday suggests they are not slowing down — the crackdown will continue.

Watch Raptors PG Kyle Lowry throw a full-court alley oop to Pascal Siakam

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Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry is having an excellent year for the Eastern Conference Finals hopefuls, and part of that is due to his vision. On Saturday, Lowry threw a full-court lob to Pascal Siakam that was mighty impressive.

After a missed shot in the middle of the third quarter by the Atlanta Hawks, Lowry gathered the rebound on the left block and quickly turned his eyes downcourt.

Siakam, the No. 27 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, was streaking toward the Raptors basket and behind the Hawks defense.

Lowry took advantage with a long-distance heave after one dribble at the free-throw line, and Pascal was able to gather and softly lay the ball up at the rim.