NBA Playoffs: Dallas hits, Kobe misses and Mavs make it a series

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Are these Dallas Mavericks different?

Different than the team that falls short, that so many pundits thought didn’t know how to close, that was too old or too soft. The one that keeps getting smoked in the playoffs.

Or was it just the Lakers having one of their patented lapses? Combined with Kobe missing a good look at a three to win it?

One game does not answer those questions.

But for that one game the Mavs were different enough to be able to capitalize on Lakers lapses, the Mavs were the team that held their composure down 16 (after it seemed they would melt down at the end of the first half) and kept doing what they do. They were the team that executed at the end. They got the Game 1 win 96-94 and lead the Lakers 1-0 in the best-of-seven second round matchup.

Game 2 Wednesday will be a more telling to what this series will look like going forward. Don’t expect another Lakers collapse (and just 15 points in the fourth quarter). But for a night, Dallas was good enough.

One play summed it up pretty well. With 23 seconds left and the Lakers up one, Kobe Bryant tried to drive. But waiting for him was one of the people who makes Dallas different — Tyson Chandler. Kobe tried to make a kick-out pass to Derek Fisher that Jason Terry stole.

“He drove right and Tyson (Chandler) did a good job of cutting him off, Jason Kidd put his hands up and he couldn’t really see, and I was in the right position where he usually gets those threes, those dagger threes, and thank God I was there to make a steal….

“In years prior Kobe probably would have made a dunk or layup (Terry said of Chandler’s play).”

It was the Lakers making the mistakes in the clutch — a foolish foul by Pau Gasol, a turnover when Kobe fell on a poorly executed set, a missed game winner by Kobe off a good look — while Dallas made their free throws and shots.

Phil Jackson was very much in “the Lakers blew it” camp.

“We went in the locker room and we gave it away,” he said post game. “I’m not sure Dallas didn’t outplay us, but I just felt like we gave it away. A couple misplays on the offensive end and the foul at the end (by Gasol) to put them on the line kind of makes it difficult to win those kind of games.”

The Lakers built their lead by getting the ball inside — as Hoopdata tells us the Lakers shot 17-for-26 at rim, 19-for-58 elsewhere else. In the second half once they went up by 16 on a Kobe three the Lakers rushed their offense and kept looking for more daggers. As if you can get those in the third quarter. They stopped throwing the ball inside (they had no points in the paint the final 9 minutes of the third quarter). The offense suffered.

Dallas settled for jumpers much of the game — they as a team are so willing to do that — but with good ball movement and some effort to get shots in transition (aided by all those missed Lakers jumpers) they got good looks. Dallas hit 9-of-20 from three (45 percent) and a combined 14-of-29 (48.3 percent) from 10-to-23 feet.

The Lakers to a man talked of missed rotations — they kept Dallas out of the paint by and large but did not contest those looks.

Dallas took advantage and hit their shots.

Is that because Dallas has evolved into the kind of team that could win this series? Or is it because the Lakers just had an off night and they can play better defense?

We know the Lakers will have these lapses. They are standard for them now. But this is one of the few times Dallas has been able to capitalize. Can they do that three more times?

The only thing we do know for sure — this is a series now. Dallas has won on the road and there will be no easy path out for either side.

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Fans to vote on “Best Dunk,” “Best Assist,” other categories handed out at NBA Awards show

zach lavine
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Fans are going to get their say at the NBA Awards Show, coming June 26 on TNT. Drake will be the host, and we to come up with an under/over on the number of players Drake gives a bro hug to during the ceremony.

That’s the night the NBA will hand out its Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, and every other major postseason award — except for All-NBA Team, which has to come earlier. The media have already cast their votes for these awards.

Where the fans get to come in is the fun awards, categories created just for this event:

• Dunk of the Year
• Best Style
• Block of the Year
• Assist of the Year
• Game Winner of the Year
• Top Performance of the Year

The NBA already narrowed down the list of choices for each category to three, and voting opens tonight. Just go to  www.nba.com/nbaawards and cast your ballot, or on Twitter or Facebook just post the #AwardName and First/Last Name of their winner (for example, #DunkOfTheYear  Larry Nance).

These awards should add some energy — and good highlights — to what has the potential to be a stuffy event. It’s a bunch of NBA players in suits in a ballroom in New York, this is going to feel like a branding event at times. The NBA is hoping the fans can liven it up.

Here are the categories, with the hashtags for voting:

#DunkOfTheYear
• Los Angeles Lakers’ Larry Nance, Jr. vs. Brooklyn

• Minnesota’s Zach LaVine vs. Phoenix

• Oklahoma City’s Victor Oladipo vs. Atlanta

#BestStyle
• Cleveland’s Iman Shumpert
• Chicago’s Dwyane Wade
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook

#BlockOfTheYear
• San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard vs. Houston
• New York’s Kristaps Porzingis vs. Brooklyn
• Miami’s Hassan Whiteside vs. Toronto

#GameWinnerOfTheYear
• Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving vs. Golden State
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook vs. Denver
• Phoenix’s Tyler Ulis vs. Boston

#TopPerformanceOfTheYear
• Phoenix’s Devin Booker 70-point game vs. Boston
• Houston’s James Harden nets 53-16-17 triple double vs. New York
• Golden State’s Klay Thompson scores 60 in three quarters vs. Indiana
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook with most points in a triple-double, 57-13-11, vs. Orlando

#AssistOfTheYear
• Golden State’s Draymond Green to Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant
• Denver’s Nikola Jokic with no-look pass
• LA Clippers’ Chris Paul with wraparound pass

Report: USC’s Elijah Stewart intended to declare for NBA draft, forgot

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Declaring for the NBA draft is like declaring bankruptcy: You can’t just bellow it and expect it to take effect. You actually have to fill out the paperwork.

That’s why USC’s Elijah Stewart wasn’t among the 192 early entrants to the 2017 NBA draft.

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress:

Stewart:

Givony’s report will do little but embarrass Stewart. It’s unlikely Stewart would’ve been drafted, and he likely would have withdrawn to return to USC for his senior season. Perhaps, he would’ve gotten helpful feedback from the NBA before that point, but that’s minimal.

The real problem, though, isn’t Stewart’s inattentiveness, to whatever extent is exists. It’s that the NCAA won’t allow players to maintain eligibility while having an agent.

If Stewart had proper representation, there’d be no questioning whether he intended to declare for the draft. His agent would’ve handled it, one way or the other.

If the NCAA were truly about educating players, it’d allow them to have guidance from experienced professional agents. Agents don’t have to conflict with amateurism (not that amateurism is a worthy goal, anyway).

But teaching players is not the NCAA’s true goal. The NCAA prioritizes keeping its cartel in tact and money flowing to coaches and administrators.

Agents might steer players from that corrupt system entirely or at least help them leverage their immense power to gain better compensation than a wage-fixed scholarship.

This incident should spark discussion about the unseemly lengths the NCAA goes to to protect its money-makers from its revenue-generators. Instead, it’s much easier to make Stewart a punchline.

Kevin Durant gets a hoot out of meme with Draymond Green

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You’ve seen the Draymond GreenKevin Durant meme, right?

Here’s the video with my favorite caption:

In the latest episode of “Still KD,” Durant watches the meme, reads other captions and calls it “hilarious.”

Russell Westbrook: ‘Oklahoma City is a place that I want to be’

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The Thunder want to sign Russell Westbrook to a contract extension that projects to be worth about $207 million over five years.

But does he want to sign it?

Westbrook, via Royce Young of ESPN:

“That’s something, like I said, I haven’t thought about anything, obviously,” Westbrook said. “Everybody knows that I like Oklahoma City and I love being here and I love everybody here. But I haven’t even thought about that. Obviously, Oklahoma City is a place that I want to be.”

Westbrook noted that his wife is expecting their first child in May, and that’s where his focus is right now. Asked whether there’s a timetable on his decision about a potential extension, Westbrook lightheartedly jabbed back.

“No. What did I just say? Like you don’t care about my baby?” he said. “You must not. You didn’t hear that part, huh?”

Though it was painted as Westbrook showing his loyalty to the Thunder in stark contrast to the departed Kevin Durant, Westbrook’s renegotiation-and-extension last summer was also his way of receiving the highest-possible salary.

This is a different case.*

*So, it seems. It’s unclear whether the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will allow Oklahoma City to renegotiate Westbrook’s 2017-18 salary up to the designated-veteran-player rate, but I’m presuming not.

Westbrook will have 10 years of experience when an extension would kick in. A typical advantage of a designated-veteran-player contract is allowing a player with eight or nine years experience, who’s typically limited to a starting salary of 30% of the salary cap, to receive a starting salary of 35% of the salary cap. But Westbrook will be eligible for 35% of the salary by then simply due to his years of service.

In other words, an extension signed this summer would pay Westbrook the exact same amount he could receive as a free agent in 2018.

So, would Westbrook sign that extension? It’d guarantee him a huge salary and protect him in the event of injury or decline. But Westbrook is so good, he’s extremely likely to get the max in 2018-19 no matter what. With only minimal risk, maybe he’d rather maintain flexibility.

Westbrook appeared to embrace leading the team, and he truly seems happy in Oklahoma City in a way I didn’t expect when he signed last summer. His image is so tied to loyalty to the Thunder, it’d be tough to spin an exit.

But Oklahoma City is relatively locked into a roster that will have a hard time winning multiple playoff series. Westbrook wants to win.

I don’t know whether he’ll accept an extension this summer rather than delaying a year, but if he won’t ink a deal this year, that should be a concerning indicator to the Thunder about their chances of re-signing him in 2018.