Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat

Dallas is in the zone. Literally.

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The Miami Heat have just one loss in their last 16 games.

Courtesy the new and improved Dallas Mavericks. A team that has actually swept the Heat this season and racked up wins against the Thunder, Magic, Jazz (twice) and the Spurs. And that is all in basically the last month alone.

(Yes, the Mavericks lost Tuesday night to the lowly Toronto Raptors, but that was the second night of a back-to-back and having to play without Dirk Nowitzki. Yes, they probably still should have won, but even good teams get to write off a few isolated bad games a season.)

Maverick backers are starting to believe that this season is different. That the team’s early play proves the point.

Right now, Dallas is in the zone. Because they are in the zone. Literally.

Dallas’ offense this season is pretty much just as productive, just as efficient as last season. The defense is the difference. Dallas is giving up 3.2 points per 100 possessions fewer this season compared to last (according to Hoopdata), moving them from a middle-of-the-pack NBA defense to seventh right now.

The Mavericks have made two big defensive changes this season. One is bringing in Tyson Chandler who, when healthy, is one of the better rim protectors and defensive centers in the game. And he has stayed healthy (that sound you hear is Mavs fans knocking on wood).

The other is they have adopted playing a matchup-zone defense more than maybe any other team in the NBA.

Zone defenses have been considered an NBA gimmick — you could run it for a few minutes to throw a team off balance, but once they adjusted it was too easy to rip apart. However, teams have started to stick with it longer (see the Suns in the Western Conference finals against the Lakers last year).

What Dallas does (and other teams are starting to do also) is different. For basketball junkies, if that zone the Mavericks run looks familiar, it’s because it’s had a lot of success before — with John Chaney at Temple. You remember him and his askew tie from many an NCAA tournament. Mavs assistant coach Dwane Casey brought the defense with him, and he learned it from current Clippers assistant Dean Demopoulos who was a long-time assistant of Chaney.

Chaney’s zone called for constant ball pressure and help defense in ready positions on other men. It’s not a classic zone but sort of a melting pot of several zones designed to pressure teams. It takes some skill and practice because men are handed off to other defenders and the positioning can feel awkward.

Dallas runs an almost hyper-aggressive form of what Cheney used to at Temple — you can do that with the longer, better athletes of the NBA — and they’ve added traps and more.

During the regular season, there can be no doubt it is working. Combine the zone defense with an MVP-caliber player (Nowitzki) on offense and deep talent across the board and you get a lot of wins. You get 24-6.

Before the season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban boasted that the depth of the Mavericks made them a threat to the Lakers. That needs to be proven because in the playoffs, when bench rotations shorten, having a lot of depth matters less than quality players. We know the Lakers and the Spurs have quality, Dallas needs to prove it goes beyond Dirk. It also remains to be seen how the Mavs defense will hold up in a seven-game series where more weaknesses can be exposed and matchups exploited as teams delve deeper into game preparation.

Which is to say, the Mavericks still need to prove they are really contenders for a title. But right now they are very, very good.

They are in the zone.

Gasol’s 38 points lead Grizzlies past Pelicans 113-104

Marc Gasol
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) Marc Gasol scored a career-high 38 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, and the Memphis Grizzlies beat the New Orleans Pelicans 113-104 on Tuesday night.

New Orleans lost despite the return of starting guard Tyreke Evans and top reserve Norris Cole. Evans was the Pelicans’ best offensive player with 20 points and 10 assists, but that wasn’t enough to overcome a Memphis squad that scored 52 points in the paint and missed only one of 26 free throws.

Gasol was 11 of 22 from the field and made all 16 of his foul shots. Zach Randolph added 14 points, while Courtney Lee and Matt Barnes scored 13 each.

Anthony Davis had 17 points, 14 rebounds and career high-tying nine blocked shots for the Pelicans. But he struggled with his shooting, going 4 of 15 from the field and 8 of 13 on free throws.

Ryan Anderson scored 16 for New Orleans, which has lost three straight, while Jrue Holiday had 12 points. Cole finished with 11 points but missed nine of 12 shots and was 2 of 7 from 3-point range.

Mario Chalmers and Mike Conley each scored 11 for Memphis, which outshot New Orleans 47.8 percent (43 of 90) to 43.2 percent (35 of 81). The Grizzlies trailed most of the first half and did not lead by more than six until the fourth quarter, when they were the more composed team.

Energized initially by the return of two key players, the Pelicans led by as many as 14 on Cole’s 3 to start the second. Memphis then began to chip away, hitting 14 of its first 18 shots in the quarter. The Grizzlies needed about 7 minutes to completely erase their deficit, taking a 54-53 lead on Vince Carter‘s tip-in.

After shooting 70 percent (14 of 20) in the first, the Pelicans went 8 of 22 in the second period.

Meanwhile, the Grizzlies’ lead grew to 60-55 on Gasol’s 16-foot fadeaway, giving him 22 points in the half. New Orleans then surged back into the lead with an 8-0 run that included Anderson’s dunk and 3-pointer, and the Pelicans led 65-64 at halftime.


Grizzlies: Memphis outrebounded New Orleans 49-37. … Gasol also reached a career high for free throws made, and his rebound total was a season high. … Memphis won for only the third time this season (against seven losses) when Jeff Green scores fewer than 10 points. He had just six.

Pelicans: Coach Alvin Gentry started Alexis Ajinca at center over regular starter Omer Asik. Gentry said he wanted to see how spacing on the offensive end might change with Ajinca, who has better shooting range than Asik. But Ajinca got in early foul trouble and played fewer than 13 minutes.


Grizzlies: Host San Antonio on Thursday night.

Pelicans: At Houston on Wednesday night.

Wesley Matthews receives standing ovation in return to Portland (VIDEO)

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Last month, LaMarcus Aldridge returned to Portland for the first time as a member of the Spurs, and the reception was decidedly mixed. That wasn’t the case on Tuesday night, when the Mavericks made their first trip to the Moda Center since Wesley Matthews signed a four-year, $70 million deal in Dallas in July. Matthews was beloved in Portland, and there’s a chance he and Aldridge would both still in town if Matthews hadn’t torn his Achilles in March, effectively ending their chances of contending.

76ers top Lakers for 1st win of season, snap 28-game skid

Robert Covington

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Kobe Bryant won over the fans – he just couldn’t beat the previously winless Philadelphia 76ers.

With the spotlight on Bryant during the final game of his career in his hometown, the Sixers stole the show and defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 103-91 on Tuesday night for their first victory of the season.

The Sixers had lost their first 18 games, and 28 overall dating to last season – the longest losing streak in the history of major professional sports in the United States. But they remained tied for the worst start in NBA history with the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets, who also opened 0-18.

It was the first win for the Sixers since March 25 at Denver.

Hours earlier, Bryant felt the love in Philadelphia as soon as he entered the arena.

He took selfies with fans who might never see him play again, and his presence injected a playoff atmosphere into a city that has lost much of its interest in NBA basketball.

With a packed crowd standing and roaring in appreciation, Bryant was introduced to an ovation worthy of a hometown hero, not the “Hometown Zero” he was once labeled in Philadelphia’s tabloids.

Bryant, who will end his 20-year career this season, opened the first leg of his farewell tour in his hometown and was feted with the kind of reverence and gratitude normally reserved for a Sixers great.

He buried a step-back 3-pointer off the opening tip.

He hit another 3 on the next possession.

Bryant made it 3 for 3 and had the Philly crowd chanting “M-V-P!” as he turned back the clock to his championship form. He scored 20 points on 7-of-26 shooting and made four 3s.

By the fourth quarter, the Philly fans had turned their attention toward the home team, chanting “Beat LA!” when beleaguered rookie Jahlil Okafor made a layup for a 94-80 lead.

Okafor, the No. 3 overall pick out of Duke, has been attached to a string of off-court incidents that included reckless driving and a fight in Boston. He has apologized for his recent decisions. Sixers coach Brett Brown said Okafor will likely soon be accompanied by team security on public outings.

Bryant said he would simply tell the 19-year-old rookie to stay focused on basketball.

The Sixers stayed focused and finally finished the job after taking an 80-75 lead into the fourth.

The 76ers had led after three quarters three other times this season: Nov. 21 at Miami (led 74-67, lost 96-91), Nov. 25 at Boston (led 62-57, lost 84-80) and Nov. 29 at Memphis (led 67-64, lost 92-84), according to STATS.

Robert Covington scored 23 points and Jerami Grant had 14 for the Sixers.

The win belonged to Philadelphia. The night belonged to Bryant.

His homecoming game came with a rare emotional tug for the player fans loved to boo through the years. He waved to the crowd and bowed his head in appreciation as a “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!’ chant filled Wells Fargo Center during pregame introductions.

He was greeted at midcourt by his Lower Merion high school coach Gregg Downer and 76ers great Julius Erving. Bryant hugged both in front of a crowd filled with purple-and-gold No. 24 jerseys.

He smiled after every shot and bantered with fans, some who made “Thank you, Kobe” signs.

In a reference to the sorry state of the entire Philly sports scene, one fan held a sign that read, “Why Can’t Chip Kelly Retire Instead.”

Bryant even smirked in the third when a brief scuffle broke out among Lakers center Roy Hibbert, who appeared to push a referee, and Philadelphia’s Isaiah Canaan and JaKarr Sampson. All three were hit with technical fouls.

Bryant thumped his chest, waved to the fans, blew a kiss and was serenaded with “Kobe!” chants as he walked off Philadelphia’s court for the final time.


Lakers: Los Angeles is 2-15 and has the worst record in the Western Conference. … The Lakers opened an eight-game road trip.

Sixers: Moses Malone, the late 76ers star selected one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, was honored at halftime. Malone, who died in September at 60, was the NBA Finals MVP in 1983 when he led the Sixers to the title. His No. 2 was on the back of Philadelphia’s warmup jerseys with “Chairman of the Boards” on the front. The Sixers will retire his number next season. … F Nerlens Noel returned to the lineup after a two-game absence with sore knees. He scored 14 points.


Lakers: At the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

Sixers: At the New York Knicks on Wednesday night.

John Wall drops J.R. Smith with crossover, makes layup (VIDEO)

John Wall
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John Wall is one of the hardest players to guard in the NBA. J.R. Smith found that out the hard way on Tuesday night when Wall sent him flying with a behind-the-back dribble before making an easy layup.

The Wizards beat the Cavs, who are now 13-5 on the season.