Portland Trail Blazers v Dallas Mavericks - Game Two

NBA Playoffs: Dirk Nowitzki is better than you as Mavs take 2-0 lead


Some playoff series are emotionally exhausting because of the extreme highs and lows. Then there’s Mavericks-Blazers, which is like a sixteen hour day of manual labor. You’re going to want to pass out about six times, you’re going to get injured, and you’re going to be pumped when you make progress.

The Blazers are bloodied. The Mavericks are pumped.

Dallas is up 2-0 after a 101-89 win.

Another game of runs. A 12-5 opener from the Blazers, an 11-4 streak from the Mavs. A 7-0 run by the Blazers, a 14-5 rush by Dallas, and a 9-2 close from the Mavericks to put it away. Every time one team gets a hold, the other team responds, until the 4th quarter rolls around.

Then it’s Dirk Nowitzki time.

Nowitzki has 32 points in two fourth quarters of this series. And after another terrible shooting night for three frames, Nowitzki took over in the final quadrant this game. The elbow turnaround fadeaway? Check. The baseline spin and lift? Yup. And a very special “recover the lost drive under the basket, go straight up and drop it in over LaMarcus Aldridge” splash. That’ll be all, Blazers. Back to Rip City and the drawing board.

The Blazers did get a fair amount of things go right for them in this game, especially early. Crash Wallace got off the snide, scoring 18 points and adding 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Wallace got out in transition a lot early to capitalize on Mavericks’ turnovers. Then things dried up in the second half. Why? The Mavs stopped turning the ball over. And I don’t mean that  in terms of “oh, they Mavericks were sloppy early and then got a little better.” No.

The Mavericks went 27 minutes, stretching from the 2nd quarter through the end of the game, without a turnover. That’s ridiculous. That’s impressive. And that’s something that will absolutely choke you out if you’re a team trying to push the tempo. The Blazers tried to get out and run, but instead when the Mavericks stopped turning the ball over were worked back into a grind again. It sounds weird for such a good defensive team in Portland to need transition opportunities, especially considering the long-time identity of the Mavericks for the past ten years as a high octane, fast pace offense. But that’s the reality, as the Mavericks’ newfound defensive intensity and accuracy in limited sets make their game more conducive to slowing it down in the half-court set.

Jason Kidd went off, again, scoring 18 points on 7-11 shooting, including 3-6 from the arc. If Kidd keeps shooting like that, what are the Blazers going to do? Andre Miller has had trouble with him. Wesley Matthews had trouble with him. The Blazers need a guard to check Jason Kidd, which they probably didn’t figure coming in. Surprise!

But the Blazers had success in some areas. LaMarcus Aldridge remains a capable counter to Nowitzki offensively. Andre Miller and Wesley Matthews shot well. But the bench really failed. Brandon Roy was held scoreless in eight minutes, which is just kind of sad and let’s all not look at it because I don’t want to cry for the poor guy. If you want one weird outlier? Peja Stojakovic scored 21 points and shot 5-10 from the arc. If Peja is giving them anything, that’s an issue for Portland, especially when Rudy Fernandez is only scoring 1 point.

So the struggle heads to Portland in front of the usually raucous crowd. Dallas will need to overcome the emotional boost if they want to close this thing out in short order. But given how much the Mavericks have had go right in the first two games and how close the series has been through two games? Don’t count on it.

It’s a long working day. Sun’s just getting started.

NBA: Warriors wins credited to Steve Kerr, Luke Walton can win awards

Luke Walton
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Later on Tuesday it will be announced that Warriors interim coach Luke Walton is the NBA Coach of the Month for November. (That’s not official yet, but seriously who else is going to get it?)

Yet Luke Walton’s record will remain 0-0 as a head coach. Those record 19 wins to start the season belong to Steve Kerr.

The league clarified its position to the media on Tuesday with a release:

…the head coach of record is credited with team wins and losses.  Steve Kerr remains the head coach of record for the Golden State Warriors and is credited with those results.  Additionally, any team head coach, interim head coach or acting head coach is eligible to be recognized with league coaching awards.  Therefore, Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton is eligible for NBA Coach of the Month.

The logic is that the systems installed in Golden State were put in place by Kerr, and while Walton has managed games he is not the overall architect of their success. Which is true. With all due to respect to what Walton has done Kerr laid the foundation for this team, Walton has managed it this season. He hasn’t crashed the car.

There still is no official timeframe for Kerr’s return from his back issues. He is around the team at the practice facility all the time, but is not coaching games or traveling with the team consistently.

This performance will be a significant step toward Walton getting job where his wins and losses will count on his permanent record soon enough.

Clippers’ Chris Paul exits game with “rib muscle strain” may miss time

Chris Paul, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, C.J. McCollum
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It happened in the third quarter, although it’s not clear exactly how. All anyone saw was Chris Paul calling a timeout to remove himself from the game (an eventual Clippers’ victory over the Trail Blazers) and grabbing his left side.

After the game, the Clippers said that Paul had suffered a “rib muscle strain.” CP3 will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, and then a timetable for his return will be set. It looks like he could miss a little time. Since the term “rib muscle strain” is intentionally vague we’re left to speculate a little: This could be an oblique muscle strain and if so they can be tricky, and it takes a couple of weeks (or more) to get back.

The Clippers might be wise to give Paul a little time away from the game; he has battled through a fractured finger and a strained groin this season. A little time off could help all of this. Paul played in all 82 regular season games for the Clippers last season, the first time he had done that in his career.

Paul is averaging 17.5 points and 8.4 assists per game, and the Clippers elite offense is 13.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor rather than sitting. Look at it this way, the Clippers’ most used lineup (Paul, J.J. Redick, Lance Stephenson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) outscores opponents by 19 points per 100 possessions, but sub Austin Rivers in for Paul and they get outscored by 13.8 per 100 and their defense falls apart. (For the record, I know that they are trying different players at the three and that Luc Mbah a Moute got the chance Monday, but I was using the lineups with the most played minutes to lessen the sample size error.)

The Clippers are not the same without Chris Paul, if he is out for any stretch of time, it’s a setback for a team that had seemed to start finding it groove.

Will Kobe Bryant’s pending retirement change how Lakers use him?

Kobe Bryant, D'Angelo Russell, Byron Scott
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This is Kobe Bryant‘s final season in the NBA; he made that clear with his announcement on Sunday. If for the Lakers organization that means they want Kobe to go out playing his way — still trying to create and make tough shots — then go right ahead. As evidenced by the reactions at Staples Center Sunday night, the fans love it.

But what should have been the Lakers’ primary goal for this season — developing young players D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance — has seemed at cross purposes with that. At least in the mind of coach Byron Scott.

So there it was in crunch time against the Pacers’ Sunday and Kobe and Nick Young were on the court while Russell watched from the bench. It gives the perception the Lakers don’t embrace the future.

Will how they use Kobe Bryant — and by extension the younger players — change now that Kobe has made it official this is his final season?

“I don’t know that I’ll change that much, as far as I want him to play,” Scott said. “I still want him to go out on a very positive note. And there’s a part of me that feels he is going to have those glimmers, having some of those games I know he’s capable of having.”

Scott’s job as coach, at least in his mind, seems to have been to make the last couple seasons of Kobe’s career comfortable. He said that Kobe has earned the right to take his tough, contested shots but has benched the players he’s tried to develop for their mistakes (and not clearly communicated to those players why they are sitting, if you ask the youngsters).

Beyond the coach, this is an organizational decision and priority.

“We have to huddle up and decide if there is going to be anything different in terms of minutes,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. “It’s not something that’s going to be decided today. But since he has made it clear this will be the last season for him, it will be more enjoyable and I think people can appreciate and will appreciate what he’s accomplished, not only in our building — with loads of love — but even more so on the road.”

Kobe isn’t going to change.

“I gave up hoping he would change his approach 15, 18 years ago,” Kupchak joked. “He is what he is. And I’m thankful for it.”

I understand the need to let the fans see Kobe be Kobe, to let him go out on his terms (although playing him 30+ minutes a night and saying the goal is to have him standing at the end of the season is an odd mix, Scott). The Lakers are selling Kobe while they try to develop their young players.

The question of how well they are developing them remains.

One thing I would like to see is more Kobe with the second unit, and by extension less with Russell and Randle. Kobe’s going to take his shots, but if he is taking those away from Nick Young or Lou Williams, so what? Let those guys fight over the ball a little (that would be entertaining). But then rest him and let Russell and Randle and the other youth learn to work together for long stretches without any of those ball dominating players on the court. That includes letting the kids close some games, even if it’s not pretty.

This was always going to be a rough Lakers’ season, although it is uglier than the team and its fans imagined. But that’s okay if the young players are getting their minutes, being coached up, and developing. The Lakers can’t let the Kobe farewell tour get in the way of that.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert with the crazy high alley-oop finish (VIDEO)

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I love that the Jazz were going to be themselves against the Warriors — two of our three best players are big men in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, and we are going to use them whether you go small or not. Those two have the athleticism to make that work in a way few teams can’t. The result was a close game, one ultimately won by the Warriors because Stephen Curry can do Stephen Curry things, but you had to love the way the Jazz played.

And you had to love this finish by Gobert in the fourth quarter.

This alley-oop is pretty well defended, but there’s not much a defender can do when you can lob the ball above the box on the backboard, and Gobert can just go get it and finish.