NBA Playoff Preview: Dallas vs. Portland

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SEASON RECORDS
Mavericks: 57-25 (No. 3 seed)
Trail Blazers: 48-34 (No. 6 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Tied 2-2, with Portland winning the most recent two games including one just two weeks ago (a game Tyson Chandler missed, so be careful about reading much into it).

KEY INJURIES
Mavericks: Roddy Beaubois sprained his foot in the season finale, and while X-rays were negative he may miss at least some of the first round; Caron Butler has been ruled out after knee surgery.
Trail Blazers: Of the guys left on the roster and expected to play, there are no significant injuries. Brandon Roy’s knees are relatively fine, for example. We could list all the Portland injuries from this season but it would take up the entire Internet.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Mavericks: Off. 107.6 (8th in NBA); 102.3 (7th in NBA)
Trail Blazers: Off. 105.6 (10th in NBA); 104.2 (14th in NBA)

THREE KEY MAVERICKS

Roddy Beaubois: There are things we know about the Dallas offense — Dirk Nowitzki is going to hit long two-pointers with a hand in his face, Jason Kidd is going to knock down threes and makes some nifty passes, and so on. We know what to expect. What Beaubois provides is the unexpected — the burst of speed, the creativity. Well, he does when he’s healthy. Like seemingly everything about the Mavericks this season Beaubois has been inconsistent, and now injuries may keep him out for part of the first round. But Dallas could use him. It needs the energy he brings.

Tyson Chandler: He has rightfully been credited as being key to the Mavericks defensive turnaround this season, there’s nothing like having a big guy who will defend the rim on your team. And he’s better offensively than he gets credit for. But like all things Mavs, the defense has been inconsistent this season, and he needs to anchor its revival. LaMarcus Aldridge cannot be allowed to take over games, Portland penetration has to be cut off, and that falls to Chandler.

Jason Terry: Portland is a very deep team and Terry coming off the bench will need to provide points to the second unit of the Mavs to make sure Portland does not get on runs while some of the starters catch their breath. Also, Jason Kidd has had some tough games against Portland this season, twice going scoreless, and Dallas needs points from the backcourt. If Kidd is off again, Terry will have to step up on offense.

THREE KEY TRAIL BLAZERS

LaMarcus Aldridge: He had big games in Portland’s two regular season wins over Dallas — but both times there was no Tyson Chandler in his way. Now there will be but Portland still needs big nights out of their leading scorer. He has to get boards, particularly offensive ones, as well. Aldridge needs to attack and if he can get Chandler into foul trouble that will be big for the Trail Blazers.

Brandon Roy: He is not going to take over this series, but he can take over a game. Back on March 15 he dropped 21 on Dallas and keyed the win. If he can be solid off the bench then have that one game or two where he looks like the old Brandon Roy and can help them steal a game, Portland’s chances improve. The long layoffs between games in the first round may help him a lot.

Gerald Wallace: He will be matched up on Dirk Nowitzki. There may be no better maker of contested shots in the league than Dirk (‘Melo is right there, too) but Wallace has to make Nowitzki work for his shots and live with the results. Also, Wallace needs to go at Nowitzki and make him work on defense, as well. Wear him down. It’s not about stopping Dirk, it’s about making him less efficient and effective.

OUTLOOK

Maybe the best first round series, period. These two teams are very evenly matched. It’s going to be late game execution and unexpected players stepping up that will be key…

But the big key is the bigs. The Chandler/Aldridge matchup will be the barometer of this series — when Aldridge gets his Portland stands a real chance of winning. When Chandler owns the paint and Portland is taking too many jump shots and not getting rebounds, Dallas will win.

Dallas’ defense has been inconsistent of late — don’t be shocked if they got back to a lot of the matchup zone they used earlier in the season to try and even things out. They cannot have off defensive games in this series, it is evenly matched and they will be challenged to win even when they are on.

The battle of the benches will also be a lot here — Portland rolls out Roy, Rudy Fernandez and Wes Mathews (catch the fever!). That is a group capable of winning a game with hot three-point shooting. Jason Terry, JJ Barea and their bench can do the same thing for Dallas. It’s just another barometer in what will be a very close series.

PREDICTION

Flip a coin. It’s been trendy to pick against Dallas lately, people are forgetting just how good they really are. They can play well at both ends.

I’m not forgetting, but I like what Wallace can do for Portland on Dirk, and I like the bench of Portland to steal a couple games, and that will be enough. Fear Wes Mathews!

Trail Blazers in 6.

Heat’s Dion Waiters: ‘I’m not coming off no bench’

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Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Dion Waiters must be more efficient.

But Waiters’ effective field-goal percentage this season (46.1) is nearly precisely his career mark (46.2). It appears last season’s career high (48.8) in a contract year was the outlier.

What if Waiters just can’t change? Could Miami bring him off the bench?

Waiters, via Tom D’Angelo of The Palm Beach Post:

“I’m a starter in this league, man, that’s who I am. We’re going to nip that in the bud right now. I’m not coming off no bench.”

This is peak Waiters, supremely confident/cocky. He’s not good enough to demand a starting spot, but here he is doing it anyway.

That make’s Spoelstra’s job trickier if he’s considering bringing Waiters off the bench. It might be the optimal basketball move, but NBA coaches must also deal with their players egos.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Waiters should come off the bench. Miami’s starting lineup – Goran Dragic, Waiters, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside – is outscoring opponents by 6.3 points per 100 possessions. (The Heat are -3.4 per 100 overall.) That unit defends, and Waiters eases the playmaking burden on Dragic.

But if I were the Heat, I also wouldn’t take the possibility of not starting Waiters off the table. At an underwhelming 12-13, they don’t have the luxury of never experimenting – even if it might upset Waiters.

Bradley Beal: Wizards lost to Clippers after what referees described as a ‘s— rule’

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The Clippers beat the Wizards on Saturday, but not without a controversial finish.

Washington trailed 113-112 with 1.2 seconds left and inbounded the ball from the sideline to Bradley Beal, who made a shot, but after the buzzer sounded. However, the clock started early.

The sequence:

After review, officials gave the Wizards the ball in the corner with 1.1 seconds left. In a tough position with less time and on its secondary play, Washington didn’t score.

Beal, via Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington:

“Excuse my language because I’m going to say verbatim what they said,” Beal said. “They said it’s kind of a ‘some s*** rule,’ it’s a freak rule. To me, it didn’t really make sense because you take a basket away. You go back and he says we get the same amount of time, but we didn’t get the same amount of time and then we get the ball in the corner. It’s kind of the tough s*** rule. I don’t understand it. I don’t get it. We ran a great play and now that you take that away, we’ve gotta set up with a different play and they get a chance to set up and change some things. Now we’ve gotta do a different play with the ball in the corner.”

Referee Bill Spooner, via the NBA:

Spooner contradicts himself here. Was the time lost 0.1 seconds or 1.1 seconds? He said both at different points. He also clearly means the game clock, not the shot clock.

Here’s the relevant example from the NBA’s casebook:

Player A1 inbounds the ball at 0.8 of the period and the game clock starts early when the timer thought the ball was deflected. Player A2 receives the ball and the game horn sounds as he immediately turns to shoot a successful basket. How is this handled?

The on-court officials will signal for replay and the Replay Center Official will determine how much time ran off the clock prior to it being legally touched. If the successful basket was released prior to 0:00, the basket will be scored and if from the ball being legally touched until it cleared the net is less than 0.8, the game clock shall be reset to that amount of time. If the ball is still in Player A1’s hands at 0:00, the field goal cannot be scored and Team A will retain possession on the sideline nearest the point of interruption and the game clock reset to the amount of lost time.

Why would the game clock be set to the amount of lost time? I can see the game clock being reduced by the amount of lost time, which seemingly happened – in error, according to Spooner – Saturday. But just setting the clock to the amount of lost time unfairly punishes the team that is already disadvantaged by the timekeeping error.

From the rule to the enforcement, this was just sloppy.

Kevin Garnett: I want to help buy out Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, not partner with him

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Kevin Garnett’s rift with the Timberwolves – specifically owner Glen Taylor – is still going strong.

Garnett, via Shlomo Sprung of Awful Announcing:

“I don’t want to be partners with Glen [Taylor], and I wouldn’t want to be partners with Glen in Minnesota,” he said. “I would love to be part of a group that buys him out and kind of removes him and go forward.”

Taylor recently said he’s not interested in selling the franchise. That could be a bargaining tactic, but at face value, Garnett isn’t getting involved anytime soon.

Garnett and Taylor could break the ice with a clearly joyous occasion, a simple number-retirement ceremony. But even that is too much for the two.

5 Up, 5 Down: Jahlil Okafor finally gets to play some basketball

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5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA as it stands on alternating Monday mornings.

It feels like we should be more upset about the fact that we keep getting updates on major stars and their injuries. Stephen Curry has his walking boot off. Kawhi Leonard is close to getting on an NBA floor. Gordon Hayward is on Twitch and is now wearing a teensy little ankle brace instead of a walking boot.

This somehow feels good because it’s progress, even though what it really means is stars aren’t on the floor. Maybe that doesn’t matter, especially if you’ve watched the two teams topping the conferences play.

The Boston Celtics have an MVP candidate (yet again) in Kyrie Irving, and the Houston Rockets seem unbeatable. Anyway, I’m excited for another Warriors-Cavaliers Finals.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

5 Up

Jahlil Okafor is finally a Brooklyn Net

We talked last time about how we needed to see Jahlil Okafor play a little basketball (or at least play on offense) by getting out of Philadelphia. My choice was for him to go to the Brooklyn Nets, which is exactly where he went 10 days later. Some are calling the Nets “interesting” although I think for that to be the case Jeremy Lin and his hair would still need to be bouncing down an NBA floor. I’m just hoping Brooklyn isn’t unwatchable from here on out. Let’s start with that and see where they end up.

The New York Knicks letting this dude warm up with them

Kevin Thompson is a New York Knicks superfan who got to warm up with the team and get introduced during lineups. The whole thing was part of the team’s Garden of Dreams night, which according to the Knicks is part of an experiential foundation that helps kids facing obstacles. Pretty sweet stuff.

10 minutes, six fouls

Michael Beasley once said that he basically felt he was Carmelo Anthony, that their games were similar, because they operate from the same side of the floor. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing, but it was a great Beasley quote. This past weekend provided us with a Beasley moment, when the Knicks forward fouled out in just 10 minutes of play. The final blow was a sequence in the fourth quarter in which Beasley racked up three fouls in just 1:45 of game clock. When he had to leave due to disqualification, the crowd at Madison Square Garden gave him a standing ovation. I love the Knicks.

LeBron James is going to play for the Lakers … and the Rockets?

It’s not even 2018 and we’re already starting to talk about where LeBron James will land. It doesn’t feel likely he’ll stay in Cleveland, unless he buys the team of course. That’s probably not slated for the next year, so perhaps he will team up with Nerlens Noel and go to the Los Angeles Lakers? Or perhaps James is interested in the Houston Rockets, the team currently dismantling every other team in the West? This past summer was so crazy in the NBA, it just had to seep into the regular season. I’m all for it.

This Thunder team is a train wreck in slow motion

Real life is not NBA 2k18. That’s why you can’t just sim to the end of every Chicago Bulls game (can you imagine?) or force any trade you want. It’s also why three ball-dominant scorers playing iso ball don’t work, much to the chagrin of Oklahoma City Thunder fans. If you’re not an OKC diehard, this is probably the only thing you wanted to see outside of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony wrecking the rest of the Western Conference. It was never going to be interesting if this team got the 5 seed. Missing the playoffs is the next most interesting thing that could have happened, and frankly, perhaps the most understandable given the talent out West.

5 Down

Everyone is getting kicked out of games

Kevin Durant — long lauded as a silent assassin in the NBA — has been ejected from multiple games over the past month. He even had to be separated from DeMarcus Cousins after a recent one, which is crazy. Shaun Livingston‘s AARP card couldn’t get him immunity from an ejection. Hell, even a referee got suspended in that one. Tensions are rising in the NBA, and it feels like we all missed some memo from the league about a point of emphasis for this season saying everyone’s going to get rung on one technical foul. Are players flailing or is the league being unreasonable? I’m not sure, but tossing stars has to stop so you would think the league office will be looking into this.

Markelle Fultz is STILL out … for some reason

Markelle Fultz is fine, nothing to see here. I mean quite literally, because despite Fultz’s shoulder being A-OK, he’s still not scheduled to find an NBA floor for another three weeks. This feels like a decision the team would make under Sam Hinkie while winning single-digit games, but Hinkie is long gone and the Sixers are — gasp! — a .500 team sitting just outside the 8 seed. This still feels like some major piece of information is missing and I don’t know that we’ll hear about it save for in Fultz’s inevitable book in 20 years detailing Philly’s 8-peat championship run starting in 2020.

We’re not getting basketball in Seattle any time soon

A new memorandum of understanding was signed in the Emerald City this last week, meaning they are going to keep the ugly roof on top of Key Arena, knock down the walls, and dig a hole to the center of the earth as a means to expand the seating. Seriously, they have to dig down just to fit enough people in the arena. What this doesn’t mean is an NBA team. Los Angeles-based Oak View Group has said they will pursue both an NHL team and an NBA team, although locally in Seattle it’s known this plan puts events and NHL first. This is a bummer for NBA fans in Seattle, and for anyone trying to drive through Lower Queen Anne at any time of the day.

Everything happening with the Clippers

There’s almost too much to list here, but it’s topped by just how bad this team is. They were a .500 team when Patrick Beverley got hurt, and then Blake Griffin naturally followed. Danilo Gallinari has been on and off the court, and it’s been a quick degradation for LA after the flight of Chris Paul to Houston. DeAndre Jordan‘s contract now looms over the salary cap like a raincloud, and where he goes nobody will know. Can you tank and still keep Doc Rivers as your coach in 2017?

Marc Gasol is still a Grizzly

The Grizzlies are another mess, and disappointingly so. They were a perennial Good Team™ and both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol should have been favorites of yours to watch in the playoffs (mostly losing to the Spurs). Now, the team is in turnaround. Owner Robert Pera has been given an ultimatum from his minority owners, David Fizdale is gone, and Gasol is still starting games. It seems like there’s less heat on the team to move Gasol, but that’s how it always works in these situations when it’s not a garbage fire like Paul George last year. I expect to see Gasol moved before the trade deadline precisely because it feels like it would be super strange to see Marc Gasol not in a Grizzlies jersey. Hey, maybe to the Spurs?