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.

After two years off court, Joel Embiid says he “probably” will have minutes restrictions

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers takes a shot from the bench prior to the game against the Utah Jazz on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Joel Embiid could be the best player on the Philadelphia 76ers in a couple of years — many scouts had him the highest rated of all the first-round draft picks the Sixers have had in recent seasons.

But after two foot surgeries and two seasons sitting on the sidelines, we don’t know how good Embiid can be. We should find out starting in October when Embiid is part of the Sixers training camp. Embiid says he feels 100 percent, but he expects there will be restrictions on him at first, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com during the Sixers Beach Bash community event this weekend.

This is the smart move by the Sixers — they are not competing for a title, the games in November have minimal meaning long term, bring him along slowly and make sure he can make each step along the way. Let’s see what he can do, then worry about how much run he can get in games that matter.

It’s going to be interesting to watch how Embiid, Ben Simmons, Nerlens Noel, and Jahlil Okafor all fit together up front — and which one of them gets traded this season.

Celtics’ Avery Bradley on defense: “Kyrie Irving, none of those guys scare me”

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 09:  Avery Bradley #0 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after scoring against the Memphis Grizzlies  during the first quarter at TD Garden on March 9, 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Avery Bradley was first-team NBA All-Defensive team last season, and his coach Brad Stevens lobbied for him to get the honor. Bradley picks up guys full court, pesters, and plays physical — we can debate if he is as good defensively as his reputation, but guys like Damian Lillard think he’s tough to go up against.

Bradley, for his part, says he has no fear going up against the best. Here is what he said to Tom Westerholm of Masslive.com.

“I love the challenge,” Bradley said on Friday, making an appearance at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “I love going up against the best players. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care about getting embarrassed. I don’t care. Kyrie Irving, none of those guys scare me. I know some players in the NBA probably get butterflies before the game, but not me. I’m licking my lips. I come excited. They need to prepare for me at the end of the day. That’s how I think.”

That’s exactly the attitude you want an elite defender to have.

Bradley injured his hamstring in the first game of the playoffs last April and sat the rest of the Celtics’ one series. Then this summer his name came up in potential Jimmy Butler trade rumors (that deal never actually came close to getting off the ground). Expect Bradley to put that all behind him by the time training camp opens.

Watch highlights of LeBron James’ playoffs, Finals run

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LeBron James was dominant — the clear best player on the planet — when the Cleveland Cavaliers needed him most. That’s the reason Cleveland got its first major sports title in 52 years.

It’s the dead part of the NBA season — training camps don’t even open for a month — so why not enjoy a look back at LeBron’s amazing run to a legacy-defining NBA ring. Like you don’t have 15 minutes for this. What are you going to do, watch more preseason football?

It’s Joel Embiid’s turn to swat a little kid’s shot (VIDEO)

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 03: Joel Embiid #11 of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2014 NBA rookie photo shoot at MSG Training Center on August 3, 2014 in Tarrytown, New York. 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 Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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It’s a summer tradition — tall NBA players swatting away the shots of young kids at camps/clinics.

Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid has yet to step on an NBA court — this fall, finally? — but he is part of the youth tradition now, destroying this young man at the Sixers Beach Bash event Saturday.

This summer Embiid has arm wrestled Justin Bieber and looked good working out in an empty gym, and to add to that list here is Embiid overpowering an average guy at Beach Bash then throwing it down. The man at least provided a little more resistance than a chair.