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.

Report: No additional fine, punishment for Draymond Green after kicking flagrant

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Draymond Green picked up a flagrant foul after flailing his legs – this time catching James Harden in the face — and once again it’s become the topic of the day in the NBA.

If you didn’t see it (video above), Kevin Durant missed a three and Green made a good hustle play to get the offensive board and go back up, where he was fouled by James Harden. The foul threw Green off-balance and, as he does, he flailed his legs up, and his right leg caught Harden in the face. The replay center reviewed the play and called the original common foul on Harden, but a Flagrant 1 on Green for the kick. It mattered because it was overtime of a close game and that both evened out the free throws and gave Houston the ball again.

However, the league didn’t see this as the kind of intentional, malicious foul that gets extra attention, according to Chris Haynes of ESPN.

That outcome seems about right to me. This was not the Steven Adams situation. Green went up, was fouled by Harden which did disrupt his balance, and he threw his leg up. Whether he did that intentionally, just instinctively looking to draw a foul, or if it was simply a move to keep his balance is irrelevant — he got his foot up high enough to hit James Harden in the face, that’s a flagrant foul. It wasn’t severe enough to warrant a suspension or fine in my opinion, but players are responsible for their bodies on the court and if you kick a guy in the face that comes with consequences. Like a high boot in soccer, there is no room for debate here.

Is Green being watched for this more than other players? Duh. Of course he is, this is seven incidents I can think of without bothering to go to Google. Yes, other players do it too, but Green has the reputation. And the league is cracking down on it. Hence the flagrant.

PBT Extra: Cavaliers hit mini-malaise, schedule maker isn’t helping things

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The Cleveland Cavaliers have gotten smacked around two games in a row — first in Milwaukee and then by the Los Angeles Clippers on nationwide television — and they haven’t shown a lot of fight in either. Before that they had to come from behind and barely beat the Sixers. That’s an aberration, a championship hangover, we know the Cavaliers have fight — they came back from down 3-1 in the Finals. But they are in a mini-slump.

The schedule maker isn’t making things easier — they have a back-to-back against the Bulls the night after that big Clippers game. Then the Cavs get a couple of days off and travel to Toronto.

The Clippers had to play Friday in New Orleans. Houston won a dramatic game against Golden State Thursday in double OT, then has to play Denver the next night.

It all comes together in this latest PBT Extra.

LeBron James makes good on bet with Wade, dons Cubs’ uniform for game in Chicago

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Richard Jefferson and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers react in the eighth inning in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It was a brilliant World Series bet between Chicago native Dwyane Wade and Akron/Cleveland guy LeBron James: Loser had to show up to a game in the other team’s city wearing the uniform of the World Series champs.

As if we need to remind you, Chicago showed Cleveland what it’s like to be on the other end of a blown 3-1 championship series lead, coming back to with the World Series.

Friday night as the Cavaliers went to take on the Bulls, LeBron made good on his bet.

LeBron is wearing Ryne Sandberg’s 23 — classy.

This is one of my favorite sports bets ever.

Derrick Rose: “I want to play the rest of my life” in New York

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 28:  Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks dribbles up court against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 2016 in 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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When a player says he doesn’t want to stay in a city — *cough* Rudy Gay *cough* — it’s news. Aside from that, a player saying he want to spend the rest of his career with the team he is currently on is right out of the Crash Davis/Bull Durham book of clichés.

Derrick Rose has read that book. He’s said those words before. However, it sounds like he was sincere in telling Peter Walsh at SLAM he likes what he sees with the Knicks and wants to stay in the city that doesn’t sleep.

“We’re building the culture,” Rose said. “We’re building the foundation now. I’m under a one-year contract so of course I want to play the rest of my life here. But it takes time, it takes patience to figure out how every one is going to fit, if it is going to fit and going from there.”

Here’s the question Phil Jackson (or whoever is in charge next summer should he opt out) needs to ask with every player/personnel move made going forward:

How does this person fit with Kristaps Porzingis?

That man is the future in Madison Square Garden. Frankly, he’s the present, too — he’s better than Carmelo Anthony right now. The Knicks need to make moves going forward that highlight Porzingis’ strengths (like playing him at the five).

Rose should fit fairly well with that right now as a pick-and-roll point guard to pair with Porzingis’ ability to pop out to the arc or roll to the rim. That said, when Rose and Porzingis have been paired on the court this season, the Knicks have been outscored by 3.9 per 100 possessions, mostly because the team defense has been a disaster. That doesn’t mean it can’t work, so long as you’re not going to run a lot of triangle, Rose understands he needs to feed Porzingis a lot, and there are other shooters on the floor. Rose can be a solid point guard for the Knicks going forward. At least as long as he can stay healthy.

Whether he comes back to New York will really come down to money — the Knicks should make a fair offer for a solid starting point guard in the NBA, then if another team comes in over the top live with it.

But for Rose, he’s in a New York state of mind.