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.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

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It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.

LeBron James on NBA play-in tournament: “No, no, no. That’s wack.”

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It’s a long way off, but there has been some discussion in the league office — and some momentum built up in some corners — for a play-in tournament for the NBA playoffs. While multiple variations of how this would work are in play, it involves some combination of teams seeded seven to 10 in a few single-elimination (or home-and-home) games to see who gets into the 16-team playoffs. The goal is to keep more teams — and more fan bases — engaged in the playoff chase longer.

LeBron James is not a fan. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“No, no, no,” James said Wednesday. “That’s wack. That’s wack. Why? You got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny. That’s corny. That’s wack. To play for what? What are they playing for?”

So, how do you really feel?

“[Make the playoffs by winning the tournament], even if my record is better than yours? Nah, that’s wack,” James said.

As fans, we love drama and unpredictability — it’s what we love about March Madness, the upsets that ruin our bracket — and a play-in tournament would bring some to the often predictable NBA table.

However, LeBron has a point. Using the Western Conference and the current standings as an example, how excited are fans and the front offices of the Jazz and Nuggets going to be about an extra game or two for the right to get smacked down by Houston in the first round? Or for the Timberwolves to maybe be out after a game where they lose to the Clippers in a play-in, rather than getting to take on Golden State? Will this really sell well?

The only way this gets backing of most players and the union is if it could help shorten the season — if television and other revenue from these games allowed the 82 game season to drop to 72 (or whatever) and keep the money the same, then players would listen. However, that much money seems unlikely.

Maybe a mid-season NBA Tournament held in one city could generate the needed revenue to shorten the season. Maybe. But that seems more likely than a play-in.

Kyle Korver to miss Wednesday vs. Toronto after death of his brother

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I can’t imagine what this is like.

Cavaliers’ sharpshooter Kyle Korver will not be with the Cavaliers for an interesting showdown with Toronto on Wednesday night due to the death of his younger brother, Kirk. Korver has been given a leave of absence from the team.

Kirk Korver, 27, played four years of college ball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

There are four Korver brothers, all of whom played college basketball or at a higher level. Kirk was the youngest of them, he reportedly fell seriously ill about a week ago.

Our thoughts are with the entire Korver family.

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