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

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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.

Eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard: “I have a lot left in the tank”

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — At 31 and entering his 14th NBA season, eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard says his best basketball is ahead of him.

Wearing a teal suit with black trim, a smiling Howard insisted Monday he can return to being a dominant center with the Charlotte Hornets, where he will be reunited with coach Steve Clifford and play for one of his childhood heroes, team owner Michael Jordan.

“A lot of people have written me off, which is great because it’s going to make me work even harder,” Howard said during his introductory news conference. “I’m just looking forward to this opportunity because I have a lot left in the tank.”

This will be Howard’s third team in three seasons.

The Atlanta Hawks, his hometown team, traded him to Charlotte one year into a three-year, $74 million contract. Howard said he has no hard feelings, adding that “sometimes things just don’t work out.”

But he’s confident Charlotte is the right fit.

“I think I’m a lot healthier than I have been in the past five years and I think this is going to be my best time,” Howard said. “I’m a lot wiser now, stronger mentally and physically, and I’m in the right place with a great coach, a great GM and the GOAT (greatest of all time). So I think this is the perfect opportunity.”

Much of Howard’s optimism stems from being reunited with Clifford.

They worked together for seven seasons in Orlando and Los Angeles, and the 6-foot-11 three-time Defensive Player of the Year loves Clifford’s defense-first mentality. He’s also confident Clifford will put him in the right situations to succeed on offense.

“He understands me,” Howard said. “… He was always there for me and not once did he turn his back on me or talk bad about me. He was very positive and he was somebody that I have always trusted in.”

The feeling is mutual.

Clifford said he’s never coached a player smarter than Howard when it comes to understanding defensive coverages. While Howard has incredible athletic ability, Clifford said, he’s never been given the credit he deserves for playing a “thinking man’s game.”

“Smart always wins in the NBA,” Clifford said.

Howard is expected to start in Charlotte alongside All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, guard Nic Batum and forwards Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams. Cody Zeller, last year’s starting center, is expected to come off the bench for the Hornets but still see significant minutes.

Howard said he’s learned a lot over the past 13 seasons.

“Over the years a lot of things have been said and I’ve not said anything back,” Howard said. “Somehow things that weren’t true kept getting stirred up, and that gave a lot of people wrong opinions about who I was as a person. I should be the one speaking up for myself instead of allowing other people to do that.”

In Charlotte, Howard becomes the second big-name athlete to be known as “Superman,” joining former NFL MVP quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Both are from the Atlanta area and have met a couple of times but aren’t close friends. Howard said he’s eager to connect with Newton and get to know him better.

“We have the same attitude; we love to win, but we want to have fun,” Howard said.

 

As expected, Timberwolves waive Jordan Hill

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Last summer, the Minnesota Timberwolves took a $4 million flier on veteran big man Jordan Hill, hoping he could give them some backup minutes behind Karl-Anthony Towns. Didn’t work out that way, he appeared in just 47 minutes across seven games. Cole Aldrich was better (though not great), and so in the draft the Timberwolves took Justin Patton hoping he can give them some minutes next season.

Which means Hill’s time in Minnesota has come to an end.

Hill will be 30 years old next season, but I’m not sure that there’s another NBA contract in his future. If so he may have to earn it through a training camp invite.

Report: Nets, Sixers to try and land J.J. Redick as free agent

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Chris Paul and Blake Griffin get all the headlines as the big Clippers’ big free agents, but there is another Clipper going to get paid this summer:

J.J. Redick.

One of the best snipers in the NBA, he shot 42.9 percent from three last year. However, he’s become much more than just a shooter. No player works harder off the ball to get open than Redick, he’s got enough game to put the ball on the floor and create if he gets closed out on, and he’s a solid team defender. He has remade his body and his game since his days at Duke, and now he’s going to get paid.

Maybe by Brooklyn or Philadephia, reports Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.

Multiple league sources I’ve spoken to expect the Sixers and Nets to make a hard push at Redick. Were he to go to either of those teams, Redick could receive an opportunity unlike anything he’s had before. He is one of the greatest 3-point shooters in league history, and is coming off a season in which he averaged a career-high six 3-point attempts per game. That’s a lot of triples, but it’s not enough. Even Sixers swingman Robert Covington averaged more last season, at 6.1 per game, and he shot only 33.3 percent. A gunslinger of Redick’s caliber should be averaging about 8.5 treys, in the same range as Klay Thompson or Eric Gordon. Had Redick taken 8.5 3s last season and posted the same 42.9 percent clip, he would’ve averaged 18.2 points per game. Redick could receive those chances with the Sixers or Nets, all while living within close proximity to his home in Brooklyn.

Redick will have options, the question is what does he want? Does he want to be close to home in Brooklyn? Does he want to both help on the court and mentor off it the up-and-coming Sixers? Would he take a little less money, and a couple fewer shots, to chase a ring? Does he want to stay a Clipper?

Redick has earned the right to have options, his skill set could help any team. He may be flying under fans’ radar, but not front office executives. They see Redick’s value. Which is why he will have options come July 1.

Report: Nuggets plan to make free agent run at Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap

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Denver likes its young core. As it should. Nikola Jokic looks like a franchise cornerstone piece at center. Young guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray are clearly part of the future. Emmanuel Mudiay and Juan Hernangomez may be as well.

What Denver needs most is an upgrade at the four — someone who can defend, rebound, and space the floor. It’s a top off-season priority (and why they came up as a third team in the Kevin Love/Paul George trade talks, but that appears dead now).

Instead, expect the Nuggets to be aggressive on the free agent market. Via Marc Stein and Chris Haynes at ESPN.

Denver, according to sources, hopes to crash the list of suitors for Los Angeles Clippers unrestricted free agent Blake Griffin and Atlanta Hawks unrestricted free agent Paul Millsap.‎

Denver’s interest in Millsap is no secret and they will likely come in with a big offer, and it’s known he’s likely to leave Atlanta this summer. He’d be the perfect fit with his ability to defend other fours (he almost made the NBA All-Defensive Team), he is strong on the glass, and he shot 31.3 percent from three last season (you have to respect him out there). Griffin is more athletic and a better passer than Millsap, but he’s not the same level of defender, and he comes with more injury concerns. He also could stay with the Clippers.

Denver has positioned itself to be a player, a team going after one more big star to position itself not just in the playoffs in the West but as a team fast on the rise. Whether the Nuggets can out-recruit teams for elite players, remains to be seen. Millsap, Griffin and players of that level have options and a lot of teams chasing them.

However, Denver is one confident organization right now.