Games of the night: Dallas has injuries, what was Denver’s excuse?

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Before the season, if you peaked ahead on the schedule, this looked like an interesting Thursday night of basketball. Turns out, not so much.

Thunder 99, Mavericks 95: Dallas has the much-discussed injuries to Dirk Nowitzki and Caron Butler. The effort is still there and while this is a deep team, there are limits to what they can do now. They can be beat.  Knowing that led to a flat Thunder team who played just one half of defense (the second half).

Turns out one half was enough. We could try to break this game down in detail, but I’m not sure there is a lot here we didn’t already know.

For Dallas, the old injury cliché rang true: It’s not the replacement player, it’s the replacement’s replacement. Shawn Marion and Jason Terry were forced to start with Nowitzki and Butler out. That meant guys who can create their own shot off the bench were gone. You end up with Brendan Haywood trying running hooks.

Maybe the best point guard in the game was Eric Maynor. (Russell Westbrook was 5-16 shooting, Jason Kidd 0-7.) Maynor played limited minutes (12) but when he was in he seemed to make things happen, and he finished with five points and four assists.

The other guy I love to watch because of his effort at both ends is Dallas’ DeShawn Stevenson. He just brings it and is earning more minutes.

Kings 122, Nuggets 102: The Kings came in to this 25th in the league in offensive efficiency, averaging 101.9 points per 100 possessions, and shooting 43.4 percent. Against the Nuggets they had 127.1 points per 100 possessions and shot 56.4 percent. Denver didn’t care about defense at all and the Kings have some talent on that roster if you really ignore them like that. Denver’s effort was embarrassing.

Credit Sacramento for stepping it up on the big stage. Denver fought back in the third quarter and closed a once 14-point lead down to a tie game, but the Kings kept fighting. And the Nuggets kept on playing individual ball and not defending.

The Kings attacked the rim hard, as evidenced by getting to the line 30 times on the night.

I like DeMarcus Cousins’ fire. The guy was jawing with Carmelo Anthony and would not back down. Call it hubris or whatever you wish, I like players who don’t back down like that. I don’t want rookies who just defer. Everything is going to come around for him one day and he will be a beast.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

Associated Press
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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.

Report: Re-signing Nerlens Noel Mavericks’ top off-season priority

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This is a Mark Cuban owned team, you don’t think the Mavericks are going to make a serious run at a free agent come July 1? Pelicans’ point guard Jrue Holiday has long been known to be a target, but there will be others.

But keeping their new core together, including restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, is the top priority, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rumors like this are out there in part from Dallas to hope to chill the market for Noel. While he could be a defensive force who provides some scoring around the rim, with Noel’s injury history they may be able to get him at less than max money — because if he’s at the max the Mavericks are flirting with the luxury tax (and Cuban isn’t going to want to pay the tax for a borderline playoff team at best).

What Dallas fears is what Brooklyn did last season to Allen Crabbe in Portland and Tyler Johnson in Miami — some team to come in with a max or near-max offer sheet that drives up the price. Dallas will match, they will keep the young core together, it just gets more expensive.

Next season in Dallas will be a deserved big farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the focus, but behind him Dallas will try to be building for the future. They made the trade deadline move to make sure Noel is a part of that, the only question now is how much it costs them.

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.

Sacramento Kings waive guard Arron Afflalo

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings have waived guard Arron Afflalo one year after signing him as a free agent.

The Kings cut ties with Afflalo on Friday before his entire $12.5 million contract for 2017-18 would become guaranteed. Afflalo will get $1.5 million instead.

Afflalo averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds in 61 games this past season for Sacramento. He has averaged 11.3 points per game in his 10-year career.