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: LeBron James might not play for Team USA in 2016 Olympics because Kobe Bryant won’t

Kobe Bryant (L) and team mate Lebron James of the U.S. sit on the bench during the game against France during their men's Group A basketball match at the London 2012 Olympic Games in the Basketball arena July 29, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar
REUTERS/Mike Segar
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LeBron James admires Kobe Bryant.

How much?

Kobe pulling his name from 2016 Olympic consideration (perhaps an informed preemptive gesture just before the roster finalists were announced) might keep LeBron off Team USA.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Bryant not pursuing a spot on the U.S. Olympic basketball team this summer is a very real reason James might also not join the team, according to NBA sources.

James is that disappointed the Rio Olympics will not serve as the final, ultimate celebration of Bryant’s career—and more so that James won’t have the priceless honor of being Bryant’s co-star teammate when it ends.

I don’t buy this.

Kobe said during the 2012 Olympics those would be his final Olympics. Two weeks later, LeBron said he wanted to play in 2016.

Did playing with Kobe on Team USA become more important to LeBron over the last few years?

I suppose it’s possible. Many got behind sending Kobe to Rio as a sendoff into retirement. Perhaps, LeBron got attached to the idea and became bitter once it fell through.

I just have a hard time believing LeBron would tie his decision so strongly to another player. Remember, he left one of his best friends, Dwyane Wade, in Miami to sign with the Cavaliers. Would Kobe’s presence really dictate LeBron’s outlook?

LeBron has been mum on his plans for Team USA. I’m sure the length of Cleveland’s playoff run and the toll it takes on his body will factor. He might not yet know what he’ll do.

The ball is in his court, which can be challenging. There has been backlash from media and fans against players who turn down Team USA, and LeBron could be trying to avoid that.

I trust Ding was told LeBron felt this way, but nobody – including me, including Ding – can know what’s in LeBron’s head. But this report strikes me as LeBron setting up the ability to attribute his absence to Kobe’s rather than facing the full brunt of reaction that comes to turning down Team USA.

Did the Clippers reenact Paul Pierce being stabbed during pregame introductions? (video)

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The Clippers got hyped for Paul Pierce‘s potential last game in Boston by… reenacting the time Pierce got stabbed there? If not, it sure looks like it.

Mock fighting is the norm for the Clippers’ pregame, but I haven’t seen a single player targeted like this. Whatever gets you pumped, I guess.

Markieff Morris flips off Suns fan (video)

Phoenix Suns' Markieff Morris reacts to a call during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
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Markieff Morris‘ frustrations last night didn’t end with his scuffle with teammate Archie Goodwin. They didn’t end with the Suns’ loss to the Warriors, either.

As Morris was leaving the court, a fan heckled him: “Markieff, you f—ing suck. I can’t wait until you’re traded.” Though Morris probably agrees with the second sentence, he flipped off the fan:

Though it’s difficult to confirm that video was from last night, it jibes with a previous report of the incident.

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7

Morris will likely at least be fined. Considering his previous behavioral problems this season – he threw a towel at Jeff Hornacek – I wouldn’t completely rule out a suspension. But a fine seems most likely.

Dwight Howard commits ridiculously sloppy inbound violation (video)

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An embarrassing lack of focus by the Rockets? I can hardly believe it.

Late in a game against a team Houston is battling for playoff position, Dwight Howard was just careless, stepping on the baseline as he inbounded the ball. It’s a needless goof, and he’ll get plenty of deserved criticism for it.

But don’t overlook Patrick Beverley‘s frustration foul on Damian Lillard before the ensuing inbound. That was nearly as foolish and even more costly.

The sequence sparked a 7-0 run for the Trail Blazers, who seized control of the game en route to a 116-103 win.