Western Conference Round 2 Playoff Preview: Los Angeles vs. Dallas

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SEASON RECORDS
Mavericks: 57-25 (No. 3 seed in Western Conference)
Lakers: 57-25 (No. 2 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Lakers 2-1, and Los Angeles dominated the last two between these teams in March (during the Lakers post All-Star Game hot streak).

PLAYOFF SERIES
Mavericks: defeated the Portland Trailblazers 4-2
Lakers: defeated New Orleans Hornets 4-2

SERIES SCHEDULE (times Eastern)
Game 1 – Mon May 2 at L.A. Lakers 10:30PM (TNT)
Game 2 – Wed May 4 at L.A. Lakers 10:30PM (TNT)
Game 3 – Fri May 6 at Dallas 9:30PM (ESPN)
Game 4 – Sun May 8 at Dallas 3:30PM (ABC)
Game 5 * Tue May 10 at L.A. Lakers TBD (TNT)
Game 6 * Thu May 12 at Dallas TBD (ESPN)
Game 7 * Sun May 15 at L.A. Lakers 3:30PM (ABC)
* if necessary

KEY INJURIES
Lakers: Kobe Bryant has a sprained ankle that is going to continue playing through. After a few days off he should be near 100 percent.
Mavericks: Caron Butler has been close to return after knee surgery and will push to be back for this series, although how much he can play even if he does return is a valid question.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per possession)
Lakers: Offense 107.9 (7th in NBA); Defense 101.3 (6th in NBA)
Mavericks: Offense 107.6 (8th in NBA); Defense 102.3 (7th in NBA)

THREE KEY LAKERS

Andrew Bynum. In the final couple games of the New Orleans series, the Lakers seemed to find their defensive stride again. Andrew Bynum is at the heart of that; his ability to contest shots at the rim and rebound is key. He will have a stiff challenge as he will have Tyson Chandler, one of the best defensive centers in the game on him. But Bynum needs to keep Chandler occupied so he is not the spectacular help defender Chandler can be.

Pau Gasol. He will be matched up on Dirk Nowitzki in a battle of two of the best power forwards in the game. Nobody stops Nowitzki, but if Gasol can make him work on the defensive end and contest those fadeaways he can at least make the big German less efficient it will go a long way to helping the Lakers chances.

Lamar Odom. He will come off the bench and get a lot of time on Dirk Nowitzki, he gives the Lakers another long defender to throw at him and one more comfortable out on the perimeter as a defender than Gasol. Both the Lakers and Mavericks bring scoring off the bench with their sixth men, but the Lakers with Odom bring more size and that can be key for Los Angeles.

THREE KEY MAVERICKS

Tyson Chandler. He is potentially the difference maker in this series — he needs to be able to mark Andrew Bynum and still be a fierce help defender in the paint. He is going to have to own the boards. He was a dominant force in the Portland series (especially Game 5) but he going to have to play like that or better for Dallas to have any chance in this series.

Dirk Nowitzki. Obviously, Dirk is at the heart of the Mavericks offense. But he also will have to guard Pau Gasol on defense. Nowitzki would like to make Gasol work so hard on defense that his offense is less efficient. He’ll also have to rebound and make plays inside to negate the Lakers size up front. He was a force against Portland but he will have to play better this round.

Jason Terry. Last time these two met Terry’s biggest play was to push Steve Blake then start a little ruckus that got Matt Barnes ejected. He’ll have to do more than that now. No, we don’t mean push Kobe, we mean scoring. Terry carried the Mavericks offense for stretches against Portland with his quickness and shot making, and he will have to step up and score a lot against the Lakers to give them an edge in bench play.

OUTLOOK

The last two times these two teams met in the regular season, the Lakers dominated and won handily. In the second game the Lakers even sent a little message, having Pau Gasol in the game late in the fourth quarter well after the game had been decided. The Lakers wanted Dallas to know who was the alpha dog.

The Lakers went through a slump since then, but seemed to get that footing back at the end of the Hornets series. Los Angeles looked like a contender again.

Dallas played physical ball against Portland, but they have struggled to stand up to the Lakers brand of physicality in recent contests. The Lakers are longer, a little more athletic and with that more skilled. Plus, they have traditionally struggled to stop Kobe Bryant from going off (remember te 62 points in three quarters). It’s a tough combo to deal with. Dallas just doesn’t run into that and it throws them off their game. Dallas may be the deeper team, but that is not going to help much now when the stars can play 40 minutes a night.

Dallas could use some big minutes from Roddy Beaubois, who is back from another injury and had an off regular season but who provides the kind of quickness and playmaking the Lakers struggle to contain at the point. If not from Beaubois, Dallas needs to get that from somewhere.

Dallas in beating Portland stood up to a team that wants to be physical and Dallas closed the series out by winning on the road. That is what Dallas has to do to have a chance in the next round, they just have to do it against a much better team than they just faced.

PREDICTION

Dallas can push the Lakers when Tyson Chandler is playing well. But unless they get something from Beaubois or some unexpected offense from somewhere, it’s hard to see how this ends much differently than the teams’ regular season meetings. Given the Lakers penchant for closing series out on the road, we’ll say

Lakers in 6.

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.