Dirk Nowitzki, Nicolas Batum, Gerald Wallace

NBA Playoffs Blazers-Mavericks: This one’s going to be rough

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The Pacers nearly knocked off the Bulls, but that one feels certain.

The Sixers hung with the Triad. But again, you get the feeling Philly’s overwhelmed.

The Hawks took one from the Magic, but you kind of knew that one was going to be back and forth.

Blazers-Mavericks? That’s the one that showed it’s going to be the most brutal, even after the Mavericks’ 89-81 win.

It was a back and forth affair, with the Mavericks leading, then going ice cold in the third through the fourth, not scoring for ten minutes. Ten! Then they recovered and pulled ahead as Dirk Nowitzki went hero mode in a good way.

You’re going to read about Nowitzki’s 18 in the fourth, and Jason Kidd’s crack shooting (?!) leading to 24 points. And those were certainly memorable moments. But if you want to look at what spun this game, it was a matter of matchups. And those same matchups are what’s going to make this a long, painful series.

And in part, you have to turn a confused eye towards Rick Carlisle. With 3:15 left in the third, the Mavericks were starting to unravel. Starters had played most of the third quarter, and so he decided to give them a rest. But instead of rotating them out in a process, Carlisle ran a PG-SG-SF-PF that featured the following players: Jose Juan Barea, Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, and Shawn Marion with either Tyson Chandler or Brendan Haywood. Look at that lineup again. That’s a wackadoodle lineup.

During the eight minute stretch where Carlisle ran that lineup, the Mavericks were a -9. Once Barea exited and Carlisle went back to Kidd-Terry-Matrix-Dirk-Chandler, the ship righted itself and the Mavericks finished off 11-2 and 5-0 runs to put the game away. Had he held on to that bizarre lineup which I can find no evidence has existed this entire season for the Mavericks any longer, the game could have been lost. That’s not exactly the time to get frisky with your lineups. Carlisle flirted with the devil in the pale moonlight and lived to tell the tale.

(Lineup data courtesy of PopcornMachine.net.)

We saw some things we’d expect out of this game. Gerald Wallace showed that he’s likely going to be a factor in this series provided his shot starts to drop. He shot just 4-13 but was huge in the third quarter, making hustle plays and creating opportunities. LaMarcus Aldridge is going to have the lob apparently whenever he wants. Miller, Camby, Fernandez, everyone was tossing them up to Mr. Nifty who had 27 points. If possible, the Mavericks actually missed Caron Butler more than you’d think, with Nicolas Batum also having a big impact on the game.

There were some quirks. Jason Kidd nailing 6-10… no, wait, Jason Kidd taking 10 threes in a game is crazy enough, let alone him hitting six of them, including a dagger pull-up off the dribble. It was bizarre. This was minutes after Kidd missed a wide-open finger roll in the lane that reminded you the man is 38 years old.

But really when it gets down to it, Dirk Nowitzki played quiet basketball for three quarters, then got aggressive and got to the line 13 times in the final frame. The Blazers have matchup advantages all over in this series. The Mavericks have the best player. You have to wonder if players like Ian Mahinmi and Corey Brewer who got zero minutes in this game will be used as the series goes along.

This is going to be a tough series, it’s going to be a physical series, it’s going to be an emotional series. And after the first game, we don’t really have a clear idea of who has the advantage overall. Buckle up, kiddos.

Report: J.B. Bickerstaff withdraws himself from consideration for Rockets’ coaching job

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 24: Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff of the Houston Rockets encourages his team in the seconf half against the Golden State Warriors at Toyota Center on April 24, 2016 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dowloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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The Houston Rockets are still searching for a head coach — with Jeff Van Gundy believed to be their top target — but it won’t be J.B. Bickerstaff, who has served as the team’s interim coach since they fired Kevin McHale in November. According to The Vertical‘s Adrian Wojnarowski, Bickerstaff has informed Rockets management that he’s no longer in consideration for the job:

After a meeting with ownership and the front office on Tuesday, Houston Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has informed team officials that he’s no longer a candidate for the head-coaching job, league sources told The Vertical.

Other NBA teams have started reaching out to Bickerstaff about lead assistant coaching positions, and that’s where he’s transitioned his focus, league sources said.

After the Rockets’ disappointing season and disastrous playoff performance — where they lost in five not-very-competitive games to a Stephen Curry-less Warriors —it makes sense that Bickerstaff would rather get a fresh start as an assistant somewhere else, where he could build up his credentials and be a more highly sought-after head coaching candidate in the future. He isn’t a big name, so he likely wouldn’t be able to command as much money as the Rockets’ head coach as a more established figure would be. Given the Rockets’ uncertain future with Dwight Howard almost certain to opt out and not a lot of long-term pieces around James Harden, it’s not the most stable job in the world.

Celtics’ president Ainge embracing expectation-filled summer

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 13:  Member of the Boston Celtics 1986 championship team Danny Ainge is honored at halftime of the game between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat at TD Garden on April 13, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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BOSTON (AP) — During his tenure as Celtics president, Danny Ainge has developed a reputation as deal maker that pounces on opportunities.

He will forever be tethered to the coup he pulled off in the summer of 2007 to assemble the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen just three years into the tenure of then-coach Doc Rivers.

No one is expecting Ainge to recreate that moment this summer, but with a myriad of draft picks and salary cap space at his disposal, he isn’t shying away from the expectation that this offseason could be one of the most important in recent memory.

“We look forward to every offseason. This offseason is bigger,” Ainge said. “My expectations are high this offseason and yet I also know that it takes good fortune.”

Helping those fortunes along will be Boston’s eight draft picks this summer, including three in the first round. The eight picks are Boston’s most since 1987 when the draft had seven rounds.

It not only will provide the Celtics with bargaining chips for potential trades, but the ability to “draft and stash” young players If they want, Ainge said.

A lot will depend on what happens May 17 at the draft lottery. Boston owns the unprotected first-round pick of the Nets, which it picked up in the deal that sent Garnett and Pierce to Brooklyn in 2013.

The Nets finished with the third-worst record in the NBA, so they will hand the Celtics about a 16 percent chance of securing the No. 1 pick with it.

“We need the ping pong balls to bounce our way to give us the best opportunity, whether we use that pick or whether we trade that pick,” Ainge said. “And in free agency we have opportunities. That’s all we have. We have no guarantees of great things happening. We just have a lot of hope.”

Depending on where they land, Ainge could package some of their later picks to move up or trade for future picks.

It’s all in play, and it’s why he is anticipating a much busier lead up to draft night June – both in the number of players they bring in to evaluate and the conversations they have with teams around the league.

What happens in June will then directly affect what trades and free agents the team pursues.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had cap space. So this is a unique opportunity,” Ainge said. “We have to be patient, too. There’s a lot of money around the league. A lot of teams have cap space with the new TV contracts kicking in.”

Ainge said even with the rash of injuries late in the season and into the playoffs, his team is mostly healthy.

The bruised bone in Jae Crowder‘s right foot isn’t serious, nor is the sore left shooting wrist of All-Star Isaiah Thomas.

Avery Bradley wasn’t able to return after his right hamstring injury on the opening night of the playoffs, but Ainge said it was a grade-1 strain and that team simply was being careful not to aggravate it.

The only player that could have surgery is Kelly Olynyk, who played with pain throughout the postseason after aggravating an injury to his right shoulder. Olynyk is expected to make a decision in about a week on how he will proceed.

It’s been a lot to process, but Ainge said he plans to stay as level-headed as possible.

“It doesn’t really do any good to put a noose around our neck and say that there’s all this urgency,” he said. “We have plenty of urgency. Brad wants to win, Isaiah wants to win, Avery wants to win. We all want to win. … But we also have to be patient in doing good deals and not doing bad deals.”

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower

LeBron dodges “Space Jam 2” questions, says focus now only on playoffs

FILE - In this Wed., July 15, 2015 file photo, NBA player LeBron James, of the Cleveland Cavaliers, accepts the award for best championship performance at the ESPY Awards at the Microsoft Theater, in Los Angeles. The NBA star and his company, SpringHill Entertainment, have signed a content creation deal with Warner Bros. that includes potential projects in film, television and other digital properties. Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara announced the partnership Wednesday, July 22, 2015. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)
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It Hollywood, much like politics and sports, a non-denial is usually a “Yes, but I don’t want to talk about it.”

When LeBron James was asked about reports he’s attached to “Space Jam 2” as a star, he gave Fox Sports Ohio the non-denial answer (hat tip Eye on Basketball):

“I have a great team that handles my affairs off the floor. Since I signed with Warner Bros. we’ve been looking to do some things and figure out some things that best fit both sides. But my team’s handling that and I’m not going to take my focus off what my job is right now, which is handling the postseason right now.”

That’s not a no.

Since he now has his own production company, you can bet LeBron is moving forward with this because he would get a healthy slice of the pie.

I’m sure this is just like a Pixar animated film, where they hire top writers to come up with an emotionally relatable animated script, then worry about the marketing angles secondarily. This is about the art… I can’t even keep writing this line of sarcasm. I expect this to have all the plot subtlety of an Adam Sandler film. It’s a marketing vehicle with a movie attached. I fear it will be another “Thunderstruck.”

But there’s money to be made, so it will happen.

Report: NBA restricts teams ads on jerseys; no alcohol, tobacco, politics, more

adidas-NBA All-Star West Jersey Front H
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The Los Angeles Lakers are not going to have a silhouette of a Patron bottle on their jerseys.

Despite the potential tie in with GM Vlade Divac, the Sacramento Kings are not going to be sponsored by Marlboro.

While NBA teams have been cleared to sell a small patch ad on jerseys for next season — to go on the left shoulder, where the KIA logo was on the All-Star uniforms this season (if you even noticed it) — there are limitations, reports Darren Rovell of ESPN.

In most cases this was not going to be an issue, but the league did not want to risk a local casino or whatever jumping in with a big bid.

Teams are expected to get several million dollars for the ad deals (larger markets will get more, smaller markets less). This is part of a three-year trial program approved by the owners, although once the money starts coming in it’s hard to imagine to owners deciding to scrap the idea.