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.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.