NBA Playoffs: Saturday is the last stand

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G_Wallace.jpg8 teams play today, 4 in Game 3’ss, and 4 in Game 4’s. But for the underdog in each of these contests, this will be their last stand in the hopes of a competitive series. If these teams want to force a Game 7, forget about the elimination game, whenever it comes. Today is their last stand. Here’s a look at what they need to do if they don’t want to wind up like Custer.

Charlotte (hosting Orlando): The Bobcats have done everything to make this a competitive series, and still the Magic have held them at arm’s length. Playoff basketball returns to Charlotte for the first time in a long time today and there’s no way to anticipate what kind of crowd will be on hand for the Bobcats’ playoff debut. They need an emotional crowd, because this team has to surge behind it, play with intensity, and capture every loose ball.

 The Magic are in high gear right now, and burying the Cats at home would make a sweep very likely. As feisty as the Cats have been all season, they have also been known to mail in their fair share, as veterans are wont to do. Going down 3-0 would put the Cats in a hole they would probably be unmotivated to climb out of.

The key is going to be Raymond Felton. Felton was considered a wash against Jameer Nelson before the series started, and now it looks like a complete mismatch. Nelson has been efficient from three, proficient at point, and devastating on the drive. Felton not only has to contain Nelson, but figure out how to get a few buckets of his own. From there, it’s the luck of the three pointer behind a home crowd they need.

Portland (hosting Phoenix): And everything looked so good after Game 1, too. No series’ momentum has swung like this one, with the Suns looking unstoppable in the last two games once they switched Grant Hill on Andre Miller and started defending like they gave a crap. Portland hasn’t just seemed outmanned (and they are, with injuries to Brandon Roy, Greg Oden, Joel Przybilla, and Nicolas Batum), but outclassed. They haven’t responded at all to a raucous home crowd, and have let the Suns dictate the tempo.

A loss tonight would mean three in a row, headed back to Phoenix for an elimination game, potentially coinciding with the announcement of an extension for Amar’e Stoudemire. That’s a lot that can go wrong for the Blazers in that situation, so they need a win today to even the series and force at least two more. They have to adjust to Jason Richardson who went off for 42 points last game and has torched them from the perimeter in transition. They’ve got to slow the ball down, and while they need to stop the ball in transition when Nash is leading the charge, he’s much deadlier when finding open three pointers. They’ve got to keep their heads on, or they might as well start packing up the Rose Garden.

Milwaukee (hosting Atlanta): Another potential sweep series. The Bucks haven’t played badly. That’s the killer. They’ve gotten Brandon Jennings to contribute consistently.They’ve had Ersan Ilyasova step up as a big man. And they’ve gotten good team play. And they just haven’t come close to scratching the Hawks. Milwaukee is going to have to get this done dirty if they want to win, otherwise, this will be a sweep.

The key is going to be turning this game into one of those ugly, slow affairs. While the Hawks run at a slow pace, they have the talent advantage, so more possessions favor them. The Bucks need to turn it into a low possession game and try and connect from the arc, something they’re not great at. John Salmons is going to need the game of his career. A game 4 with a chance to rest up before meeting Orlando is going to be a big carrot for the Hawks.

Thunder (hosting Lakers): Okay, OKC. You got the first playoff win in the first playoff game. And you were loud as hell. But now you have the Lakers’ attention. And while your crowd will likely be close to as loud as they were Thursday night, you’ve got to imagine the Lakers will probably come out with a little fire after facing defeat. The Lakers know a Game 4 win effectively ends this series, with three closeout games in a tight series left, two at home.

If the Thunder can take this game and put LA back on their heels a bit, they’ve got a three game series in which anything can happen. They’ve played well in LA, falling short both times but remaining competitive, so they’d have a lot of hope to pull the miracle. But first thing’s first, they’ve got to win today.

The key is going to be to follow the same formula as the last game. Attack inside, rely on Kevin Durant to have a hot night, have Russell Westbrook destroy whoever is “guarding” him, and swarm on defense. Most important is going to be the defense on Pau Gasol. Gasol has been killer in this series, with everything from off-ball movement leading to dunks, to that patented rainbow fader of his. Jeff Green can’t handle him, neither can Nenad Krstic.

The Thunder have to get Andrew Bynum in foul trouble so they can put Serge Ibaka on Gasol. Another option that may seem crazy would be to go to Etan Thomas, who hasn’t played much at all as the season wore on, to match Gasol’s length and range. Thomas can impact the boards, and might be a better defensive matchup. Then again, it’s Etan Thomas.

This game will say a lot about where both franchises are.

Reports: Boston interested in trade for Andrew Bogut, Mavericks not there. Yet.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 08:  Andrew Bogut #6 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts to scoring during the second half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on November 8, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.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 Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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There has been speculation around the league that now that the Dallas Mavericks are struggling, there will be a sell-off. Harrison Barnes is a future lynchpin, Dirk Nowitzki isn’t going anywhere, but there are a lot of players that are more win-now than the place the Mavericks seem to be, so those guys could get moved for future assets.

At the top of the list: Andrew Bogut.

In a shock to nobody, there is a report that Boston would be interested, via A. Sherrod Blakely at CSNNE.com.

As the February trade deadline draws near, the Boston Celtics are expected to take a close look at adding a defensive-minded, rebounding big man with Dallas’ Andrew Bogut likely to emerge as a target.

The former No. 1 overall pick is the final year of a three-year, $36 million contract he signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2014. He is due to make $11.027 million in this, the last season of the contract.

Dallas (4-15) has the worst record in the NBA and are likely to continue building for a post-Dirk Nowitzki with a high lottery pick in June’s NBA draft. Adding another first-round pick from Boston would benefit a squad that has to increase its quality depth going forward. Having another first-round pick can only enhance their roster.

While you can see the logic from the outside, inside the Dallas’ offices they are not in that place, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

Sources tell ESPN that Mavs have no immediate intention to shop C Andrew Bogut, as their focus, for now, is trying to salvage their season. However, Mavs management recognizes that Bogut has significant value in the trade market as a proven championship-caliber complementary piece in a contract year and could become motivated to move him if and when it becomes clear that the Mavs have no hope of making the playoffs this season. Several league sources said the Mavs should be able to get a first-round pick from a contender for Bogut.

Let’s be honest: Dallas isn’t making the playoffs. They can make their worst-in-the-West record look a little better — six of their next eight games are at home, at some point they will get Dirk Nowitzki back — but they are not climbing over six teams and making up the 11 games they are below .500 just to get in the mix for the potential eight seed.

Which means expect them to be looking for deals as the deadline nears, and Andrew Bogut may well get moved. But we’re going to get past Christmas before that talk starts to gain real traction.

PBT Podcast: Breaking down Eastern Conference standings with Dan Feldman

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 11: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks against the Washington Wizards during the first half at Verizon Center on November 11, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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One-quarter of the way into the NBA season, we know a few things about the Eastern Conference.

As expected, the Cavaliers are the team to beat. Toronto has established itself as a clear second in line, but Boston is third and finally getting healthy. After that there are a lot of questions about who are playoff teams and who is going to slide. Will the Knicks hold on? Will Atlanta bounce back? Will the Bulls regress?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break it all down in this latest PBT podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Report: Rockets match offer sheet, will keep Donatas Motiejunas

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
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Give the Brooklyn Nets front office credit, they tried. GM Sean Marks is being very creative trying to rebuild a team after his predecessor Billy King — on the orders of ownership — burned all future assets in hopes of having a good team to open the new Barclay’s center.

The Nets went after Houston big man Donatas Motiejunas with a creative four-year, $37 million offer sheet. It didn’t work, the Rockets matched, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports and since confirmed by others.

To make room on the roster, the Rockets have waived Bobby Brown.

The match expected. The offer sheet was constructed so that if Motiejunas’ ongoing back issues are severe the Rockets can pay him $5 million for this season and be done — a move that is not likely. If they keep him past Jan. 10 of this season, they owe him another $3.5 million. There is a March deadline to pick up the $9 million for next season. More importantly, the last two years of this contract are not guaranteed, meaning there isn’t a lot of risk for the Rockets and the contract is very tradable. Which could happen next summer (because of how late in the year the deal was signed he cannot be traded this season).

There’s also a chance this signing just works out — on paper, Motiejunas is a good fit in the Mike D’Antoni system. He’s a big man who seasons ago he shot 36.8 percent from three — he can space the floor on James Harden drives, and in transition he could run to the arc or post up smaller defenders inside on a cross match. There’s a lot of potential there, he’s going to get some run.

Draymond Green’s agent, B.J. Armstrong: NBA changes rules to increase revenue, not improve quality of play

NEW ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 16:  NBA legend B.J. Armstrong participates in the Haier Shooting Stars competition, part of 2008 NBA All-Star Weekend at the New Orleans Arena on February 16, 2008 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  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 Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Now that he got Donatas Motiejunas an offer sheet from the Nets, agent B.J. Armstrong can lodge back-in-my-day complaints on behalf of another client.

This time, it’s Draymond Green.

The Warriors forward has come under increased scrutiny for his unnatural acts, a new area of emphasis by the NBA’s competition committee. Green vigorously defended himself, but Armstrong goes even further.

Armstrong, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“The fact that everyone is trying to cover their positions or justifying why they did what they did, the (league’s perspective) was kind of disappointing from this viewpoint: Since I’ve been a part of this league, I can’t recall when they’ve actually made rules that have actually helped to improve the game of basketball,” Armstrong, whose client was given a Flagrant-1 foul when he kicked Houston Rockets star James Harden on Thursday, told USA TODAY Sports by phone.

“Every move has been made with some motive, to make the game look a certain way, to speed the game up, to do all of these things. But what, when the competition committee — whoever those people are — what have they actually done to improve the game of basketball? … Not to put more people in the stands, not to make the game more appealing for people globally. What has been done to improve the game of basketball? That’s it. That’s it. That’s my only question.”

The competition committee is comprised of two owners, four general managers, three head coaches and a players-union representative.

To the bigger point: What improves the game of basketball? That’s such a subjective standard. Creating a pleasing product that appeals to customers seems like a good start. I sense Armstrong – who won three championships with the Bulls in the 1990s – believes it’s making the game look like when he played.

Yup, to Armstrong, those grind-it-out, clog-the-paint games of the 90s were preferable to today’s contest. And that’s a fine opinion. Even I have a fondness for those 90s games.

But most fans disagree, and the NBA is a business trying to attract fans – which makes Armstrong’s complaints absurd.

At least until you remember he’s just an agent sticking up for his client. Then, it all makes sense.