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Jason Kidd leads Mavericks late in win over the Suns

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The Suns tried their best to outlast the Mavericks on Sunday, swapping out 40 percent of their starting lineup to try to put the right pieces in place in an effort to begin an improbable run to the postseason. Phoenix played well early, but Dallas made the right adjustments defensively, and got huge fourth quarters from Jason Kidd and Jason Terry to pull away late, 91-83.

Kidd, in particular, sealed this one for Dallas. He was perfect in the final period, going 3 of 3 from the field and 2 of 2 from the free throw line in eight critical minutes, delivering perhaps the knockout blow to a Suns team that has been on the ropes for much of the latter part of the season.

We’ll get to Kidd’s heroics in a moment. But the game was far from a foregone conclusion in Dallas’ favor, and in fact, it was one the Suns controlled for most of the evening.

Phoenix shook up its starting lineup on Sunday, replacing the ineffective Robin Lopez and Vince Carter with super-producers from the bench, Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley. Gortat was playing with his nose heavily taped, after fracturing it during Friday’s loss to the Hornets, but it certainly didn’t affect his play. Gortat finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots, which effectively cancelled out Tyson Chandler’s 16 points and 18 rebounds for Dallas. Dudley finished with 20 points, five rebounds, five assists, and three steals.

Suns head coach Alvin Gentry clearly pushed the right buttons in making these lineup changes. But the team  couldn’t overcome its worst three-point shooting performance since 2004, going just 1 for 16 from downtown after averaging 12.5 makes from distance over its last four games. (Ironically, the one three-pointer that the Suns did make? It came from Vince Carter.) Dallas, meanwhile, connected on 10 of its 26 attempts from beyond the arc, none bigger than the two that Kidd hit late in the fourth with the game in the balance.

With the game tied at 83 and just over a minute and a half remaining, Kidd personally ended it with an 8-0 scoring run to put this one in the win column for Dallas. He hit a three as the shot clock expired after getting it late in the possession from J.J. Barea, then drained another one on his team’s very next possession with 44 seconds left that effectively sealed it. Both were extremely tough shots.

“That first three he hit beat the clock by a tenth of a second,” Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said. “His level of concentration to step into that shot and hit all net, it’s phenomenal. And then the other one, Dirk just got in a bad way, he circled around, gave him an outlet, and there’s no tougher shot in basketball than a three-point shot if you’re right-handed and moving to your left, kind of circling around. Those were two phenomenal shots.”

Kidd had a slightly different perspective.

“I had no choice when J.J. gave me the ball with one second left on the shot clock,” Kidd joked. “So that helped, because I didn’t have to think about it.”

Phoenix led by as many as 12 in the early going, as Steve Nash and Gortat repeatedly shredded the Mavericks on the pick and roll. Rodrigue Beaubois started for Dallas, and he looked absolutely lost defensively, as Nash found Gortat again and again wide open at the rim. The first quarter ended with seven assists for Nash, 12 points for Gortat, and a frustrated Dallas squad that managed to shoot just 20 percent from the field in the period.

As the game went on, though, Dallas’ defense adjusted, and locked down to hold the Suns to just 34 second-half points. They sent two guys at Nash consistently to force the ball out of his hands, and the Suns had trouble taking advantage of their mismatches in isolation situations offensively.

Still, things were tight to start the fourth, with the Suns clinging to a two-point lead. That’s when Terry stepped in, and made up for his 2 of 10 shooting in the first three quarters with 10 straight Mavericks points early in the fourth. Terry got it started for Dallas offensively in the period, and Kidd was there to finish it.

While the Suns talked of their playoff hopes being all but lost, the Mavericks were energized by their second road win in as many nights. Both games featured slow starts, however, which is something Kidd spoke to afterward.

“Well, I don’t want to blame it on age,” Kidd said with a smile, and with a few gray hairs noticeably poking through a couple of days worth of stubble on his face. “We sometimes are spoiled in the sense of having a deep team, and we get off to a slow start. But we feel that if we just keep coming, the tide will turn.”

Report: Celtics re-sign Tyler Zeller for two years, $16 million

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 19:  Kyle Korver #26 of the Atlanta Hawks grabs a rebound against Tyler Zeller #44 of the Boston Celtics in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on April 19, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Tyler Zeller is one of the few restricted free agents left on the market who could make an actual impact next season, and on Saturday morning, he’s come off the board. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reports that the fourth-year big man has agreed to a deal to stay with the Celtics. It’s for two years and $16 million, with the second season being a team option.

Zeller isn’t a starter, but he’s a nice rotation big man, especially at that price. He can play minutes off the bench for Boston, and his contract is also very movable with the second season being unguaranteed. He played just 11.8 minutes per game last season, but averaged 18.5 points and 9 rebounds per 36 minutes.

Watch Charles Barkley struggle to pronounce “Jonas Valanciunas” last season

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The Toronto Raptors were good last season, second best team in the East. That means the guys on Inside the NBA on TNT had to talk about them.

Which means Charles Barkley had to say “Jonas Valanciunas” a lot. Which is high comedy. While a lot of people struggle to say his name the guy is a solid NBA center who, with a little practice, you can say (and spell) his name pretty easily.

This comes from a YouTube user, via Reddit, with a hat tip to Eye on Basketball.

Watch highlights of USA’s 111-74 rout of Argentina in exhibition game

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Argentina isn’t considered a medal contender heading into the Rio Olympics. Their golden generation — led by Manu Ginobili — has picked up a lot of speed on the downhill side of their careers at this point.

They didn’t provide much of a challenge for Team USA in an exhibition game Friday night in Las Vegas, one won by the USA 111-74. Kevin Durant impressed playing with his new teammates in dropping 23 points, Paul George had 18, and the Americans had their way in the game.

Which is what we’re going to see a lot of in Rio — the USA’s talent level is just steps above any other team in the tournament.

Kevin Durant: Nobody has said something negative to my face about joining Warriors

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 07:  Kevin Durant speaks to the media during the press conference where he was introduced as a member of the Golden State Warriors after they signed him as a free agent on July 7, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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When Kevin Durant chose the Warriors, he received criticism from all angles.

Fans burned his jersey. Charles Barkley decried the decision. Markieff Morris said, “That ain’t right.” Durant’s former Thunder teammates leaked their displeasure with the process.

Durant was so reluctant to face the backlash, he stayed in his bed luxurious rental house for two days.

It, uh, worked.

Michael Lee of Yahoo Sports:

Though he has heard some criticism from Barkley and fellow Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, various talking heads and people in social media who believe he has cheated the system and cut corners to a ring, Durant said the reaction to his choice hasn’t been too bad: “All that stuff happens on the Internet. I haven’t had one person come to me and say anything negative. … It’s easy for the critics on the outside to tell you what to do, to tell you how to play. I’m the one that’s going through it, so I can’t really worry about the outside noise. The work don’t stop. Everything stays the same.”

This is a good reminder how insulated NBA players, especially stars, can be.

And it adds to why Durant signing with Golden State makes sense. While we’re debating his legacy and discussing the backlash (and the backlash to the backlash and the backlash to the backlash to the backlash and the…), he’ll be playing high-level basketball with his friends in a desirable city for a max salary.

Sure, it’s not all rosy. Durant altered his relationship with his friend Russell Westbrook, and Durant will have to return to Oklahoma City for a game. There, he’ll face plenty of booing fans.

But, all in all, Durant should have little trouble tuning out the critics.

They’re too far away for him to hear them much.