NBA Playoffs: Suddenly those Spurs are back, and the Mavericks don't know what to do about it

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Duncan_layup.jpgUh-oh. Those Spurs are back. The ones that have all those pretty little banners hanging up in the AT&T Center. The seemingly mistake free ones. For one night at least, those guys were back.

Tim Duncan was his cyborg-efficient self. Manu Ginobili continues to play like a man on fire. They defend but do not foul. They rebound well. They have some guy named Richard Jefferson who can drive the lane or knock down the wing jumper if you leave him open (and Dallas kept leaving him open). Their offense was simply efficient.

The Spurs were up 9-0 before anyone knew what happened. When Dallas did realize something was up, Dirk Nowitzki was on the bench with two fouls (a problem he spent much of the night battling). The Spurs could not seem to miss and pulled away to a 102-88 with that evens the series, which now heads back to San Antonio.

Nowitzki was a key part of the story (as he always is). In game one he made it look effortless and was 12 of 14 shooting, he was as hot as he can be. In game two he balanced things out by shooting worse than normal, 9 of 24. That is 24 shots to get 24 points. When your star does that — whether it be Dirk or Duncan or Kobe or Wade or… — the only way you get the win is a lot of help.

He didn’t get a lot. Caron Butler was the only other starter in double digits, but he needed 17 shots to get his 17 points. Not efficient. Jason Terry had a good game (and led the Mavs with 27 points) and hit 9 of his 19. But Jason Kidd was 1 of 7, Shawn Marion 2 of 7. None of it pretty, some of it due to good Spurs halfcourt defense.

A lot of it due to the Spurs only having 8 turnovers, limiting the easy transition buckets for the Mavericks and slowing the pace of this game way down.

Meanwhile, the Spurs were very efficient shooters — Duncan was 11 of 19, Jefferson 7 of 12, Ginobili 8 of 13, the entire team 8 of 15 from three. They were hitting the shots.

And they never let that early lead go, they kept growing it, all the way to 20 at one points. Then a 12-0 Mavs run in the fourth made it interesting for a moment, but these were those Spurs, the ones of old. They have seen a thousand of these runs, they do not get scared or flustered. They just kept hitting shots, kept doing what they do and doing it efficiently. They kept defending.

The Mavericks needed in game two — will need in San Antonio — some spark, some fire. May we recommend Rodrigue Beaubois, who sat out for a second straight game at the discretion of coach Rick Carlisle. That guy is a walking, talking ball of energy on the court. Dallas could have used that.

Coming into this series, the one thing the Mavericks showed was a professional, confident, steady locker room demeanor. They walked and talked like a team ready to make the big step forward. Now they are being tested in that belief. We know how the Spurs are going to react, they have those pretty little banners, they are the veterans of a thousand campaigns. But the Mavericks, are they only confident after beating the Clippers at the end of a long regular season? Or was that confidence real, this game being the outlier?

Tune in Friday and find out.

Bulls say Jimmy Butler has knee strain, no timetable for return

<> during the second half at TD Garden on December 9, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Bulls 105-100.
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Exhale, Bulls fans. Jimmy Butler‘s left knee injury isn’t as serious as it looked. The injury, which Butler suffered just before halftime of Friday night’s Bulls loss in Denver, looked bad at the time, and Butler had to be carted off the court. But on Saturday, the Bulls announced that an MRI revealed no tear in the knee, just a strain, and he’ll go back to Chicago to get treatment.

An MRI performed today on Bulls forward Jimmy Butler’s left knee confirmed that he sustained a knee strain in the second quarter of last night’s game against the Denver Nuggets.  The timeline for his return to play will be determined by further evaluation in Chicago and his response to treatment.

Butler will not play tonight in Minnesota. Beyond that, it’s unclear. But the fact that it’s just a strain and not anything more serious indicates that he won’t be out long.

Report: NBA considering expanding rosters for greater D-League integration

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 04:  A detail of the NBA Players Association logo with the slogan " THe Players' Union FIghting for You" is seen on Theo Ratliff of the Los Angeles Lakers as Derek Fisher, President of the National Basketball Players Association, speaks at a press conference after NBA labor negotiations at The Westin Times Square on October 4, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
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The NBA Development League is in a weird place right now. It’s growing as more teams are placing importance on it and adding single-affiliate franchises, but it’s still not a true minor league. Players don’t make very much money unless they’re already signed to NBA deals, and teams have to have an open roster spot or waive someone they have currently signed to call someone up. Unless you’re sure you’re going to get called up at some point, it’s smarter for fringe players to sign overseas to make more money than go to the D-League.

The NBA is trying to do something about that. According to a new report, the league is interested in potentially expanding NBA teams’ rosters as part of the next CBA to allow for greater integration between the NBA and the D-League, and allow teams to have a couple of so-called “two-way” roster spots.

From Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com:

The NBA likes the idea of expanding rosters from the current limit of 15 to as many as 17 as part of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement with the additional spots designated for two-way contracts that will mean more money for some players and more control of select prospects for the parent clubs.

While it will be one of several major issues on the table as the league and the players’ union eventually ramp up negotiations on the new CBA that could end as soon as the conclusion of the 2016-17 season, if either side opts out by Dec. 15, the concept of a contract that would cover the minor leagues as well as the majors is a pressing topic for the hopeful D-League. And since the NBA runs the executive side of the D-League as well as most of the basketball operations for the minor-league clubs, the D-League and the NBA usually speak as one.

The proposal would mean as many as 60 new jobs for players, if rosters do increase by two and depending how many of the 30 NBA teams utilize both spots. That, in turn, would mean a deeper talent pool for the D-League as it grows from 19 teams this season to 22 in 2016-17 and possibly more in what is projected to be the first season of the new CBA. And that would mean more prospects for the NBA to develop without paying major-league salaries.

According to the report, players signed into these two-way roster spots could make as much as $100,000 to play in the D-League (player salaries currently max out around $25,000), which could incentivize players to stay home and play in the D-League rather than pursue overseas opportunities.

The plan is still early enough in the discussion stage that one of the most bottom-line elements — money — has not been settled. According to insiders, though, the thinking is to set the minor-league portion of the dual contract in the neighborhood of $100,000 a season, give or take $25,000.

That would only be for hopefuls with two-way contracts, not all D-League players with salaries that currently peak at $25,000 if they have no NBA deal. Salaries of players sent down with NBA contracts, usually rookies or second-year prospects, would not be altered. But even with a small number of players in the minors impacted, officials figure the chance to make a minimum of $100,000, while showcasing themselves in front of NBA scouts and executives most every game, while getting to be relatively close to home, will convince 60 players to accept a deal in the minors in North America rather than opt for more money overseas.

If the player with a two-way deal gets promoted, he will make the pro-rated minimum of NBA money. If he is sent back down, it will be with the cushion of $100,000 as the floor for the season, not the $25,000, $19,000 and even $13,000 (based on current numbers) others are making in the minors. There is also the possibility those tiers could increase with the next CBA as well.

Obviously, this isn’t going to happen until the next CBA is announced, if then. But it makes total sense, especially as the NBA gets closer to having true one-to-one affiliation. Right now, there are 19 D-League teams, each affiliated with an NBA team—10 as single-affiliates and nine under hybrid ownership models. Next year, the Bulls, Hornets and Nets are set to have their own D-League teams as well. It’s not hard to imagine that within the next few years, all 30 teams will have their own affiliates. And when that happens, there will need to be a mechanism in place for them to call players up and send them down that’s more in line with a true minor-league system like the one Major League Baseball employs. Even if that involves paying D-Leaguers more money and paying for two extra roster spots, it’s worth the trade-off in the long term if more top basketball talent stays in America rather than going overseas.

Report: Nets progressing in GM search, should have one by trade deadline

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 23:  Center court sports a projected Brooklyn Nets logo prior to the game against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Barclays Center on November 23, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Nets have been without a general manager since January 10, when Billy King stepped down coinciding with the firing of head coach Lionel Hollins. Since then, a few names have come up in rumors about their search, including Danny Ferry, who appears to be out of the running. But there may be a new GM in place soon.

Via Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post:

Not that the Nets will be able to do much at the deadline, since they don’t really have a lot to trade that will be of interest to other teams, and at 13-38 they’re already essentially out of playoff contention. But having a GM in place will allow them to get a head start on planning for the offseason, which will include free agency, hiring a new coach, scouting for the draft … actually, forget that last part.

Mavs rookie Salah Mejri tries to talk trash, Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan laugh at him (VIDEO)

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 21:  Eric Bledsoe #2 of the Phoenix Suns is fouled by Salah Mejri #50 of the Dallas Mavericks during a preseason game at American Airlines Center on October 21, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.   NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Spurs beat the Mavericks by 26 points on Friday night, a game all of the Dallas players would love to forget. But there was a funny moment for rookie big man Salah Mejri: after a dunk, he appeared to yell something at the San Antonio bench. Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan were completely nonplussed.

For what it’s worth, Mejri later tweeted that he wasn’t intending to be disrespectful.