Portland Trail Blazers v Dallas Mavericks - Game One

NBA Playoffs: Mavericks and Blazers wrestle for control

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Throw out the term “pivotal” in this series. Get the phrase “must-win” out of your head. They have no place here. The Mavericks can take the game Tuesday and Game 3 and nothing will be assured. There’s too much volatility in this series. The Mavericks have perimeter acuity. The Blazers have much stronger post play. The Mavericks have the best player in the series. The Blazers have a swarm of wings. The Mavericks run the break exceptionally well. The Blazers defend like madness. We saw all that in Game 1, some arguable officiating, and a whole fury of runs.

So as Game 2 strikes up in Dallas, the question becomes which side will tip.  In Game 1, the Mavericks’ got a super shooting performance from Jason Kidd to tip the scales in Dallas’ favor. But the Blazers made long runs with the play of LaMarcus Aldridge, who the Mavericks can’t defend. The Blazers held leads in the first and fourth quarter. But Dirk Nowitzki matched Aldridge, dropping 16 points in the fourth quarter. The Blazers defended him tough on a lot of the shots. But that’s what Dirk Nowitzki does.

Jose Juan Barea played 19.2 minutes and was -9. And his heavy rotation at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter was only one part of the bizarre rotation decisions from coach Rick Carlisle in Game 1. Carlisle played a long stretch with a lineup with Barea, Terry, Peja Stojakovic and Shawn Marion. It resulted in a long, successful run from the Blazers. It also gave Dallas’ starters a long rest they used to bury the Blazers over the final six minutes.

Gerald Wallace was limited in Game 1. Eight points on 13 shots, five rebounds, one assist. That’s not a very Crash-like performance. The Blazers need Wallace in particular because of the Mavericks’ weakness at wing. Shawn Marion outplayed Wallace in the “versatile forward that jumps a lot” department. That’s up there with Jason Kidd outplaying Andre Miller in the “old man that makes you wonder just how he’s still managing to be effective in any reasonable capacity” department for things the Blazers can’t survive in Game 2.

Game 1 was a slow, methodical affair between two veteran playoff teams. Expect more of that until one team gets four wins. And until one team does that, you need to consider this the first-round series most in flux.

Heat players past, present throw support behind David Fizdale heading to Memphis

David Fizdale
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The Memphis Grizzlies have found their man — Miami Heat assistant coach David Fizdale has been offered the head coaching job in Memphis. He’s a smart coach who earned the trust of elite players and was a key part of the staff that helped Miami to a couple of rings.

It’s a good hire. Don’t just take my word for it, check out what a couple Heat players from that era had to say.

Mario Chalmers had a first-hand view — he was traded from Miami to Memphis in the middle of last season. The point guard who went the other way in that deal, Beno Udrih, also helped push the deal along.

Fizdale is going to be a popular hire with the players. That said, if the Grizzlies can’t keep Mike Conley in free agency the team is going to have struggles this season, regardless of who coaches them.

Watch Kevin Love drop 25 points on Toronto

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Before Game 5, Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lue told Kevin Love just to stay aggressive. Channing Frye told him the same thing.

Love took that advice to heart. From the opening tip of Game 5, Love was attacking — backing down the overmatched Luis Scola and knocking down threes. Love had 12 points in the first quarter on his way to a game-high 25, helping spark an easy, 38-point Cavaliers win in Game 5.

Now, can Love do this on the road in Game 6?

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.