Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Two

NBA Playoffs: For both Mavericks, Lakers next two games are the real test

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It’s really about the next two games.

The Los Angeles Lakers, their dreams of a three-peat — a fourth three-peat for departing coach Phil Jackson — and a spot in the NBA pantheon rests on sweeping the next two games. Which starts with winning one, Game 3, and planting the seed of doubt in the minds of all the Dallas Mavericks and their fans.

For the Mavericks, their drive to shake the perception that they are soft, that they melt in the pressure of the playoffs, that they are not contenders, all can be brushed aside with even a split at home.

The first two games of this series set a tone and set the stage. But Game 3, that will be a war. The Lakers will not go quietly into that good night, they will rage, rage against the dying of their three-peat light. Dallas can expect the best Lakers team they have seen yet.

This weekend’s games will define this series, and one way or another define these team’s seasons.

Dallas has stood toe-to-toe with the Lakers and not been overwhelmed by their length. Andrew Bynum has still been good, but Pau Gasol has struggled against the Mavs, looking fatigued from banging bodies and uncomfortable, unable to get to his spots. Gasol has seemed frustrated and that has led to bad decisions. The Lakers cannot have that — without Gasol as their second-best player the Lakers go from contenders to just good.

That is the first challenge Dallas will be sure to see — Gasol is going to have a good game soon. He is too skilled, too prideful not to. He isn’t wired like Kobe Bryant or a lot of players, he is not overtly competitive, but Phil’s prodding is better for him than just a yeller of a coach. Jackson knows how to motivate him. Gasol is intellectual. He’s also competitive. He will have a good game.

That’s the inside, on the outside Dallas needs to contest the Lakers jump-shooters — Los Angeles will not be 2-for-20 cold again from three like they were in Game 2. The Lakers just flat out missed good looks all game. That will change. Probably. The Lakers bench seems able to go that cold at any time.

Meanwhile, Dallas must keep making their jumpers. To call them a jump-shooting team has been a euphemism for soft, but the truth is Dallas did get a lower percentage of its points in the paint than any other team this past season. It’s the perfect offense against the Lakers — Los Angeles wants to take away the paint first — so long as the shots are falling. Which they have for Dallas so far, but they cannot go cold.

The Lakers remain a supremely confident team — they feel if they can just play up to their potential and eliminate mistakes, they can be right back in this. They were loose after practice and before the flight to Dallas. They think that a few defensive adjustments will help — look for Derek Fisher to stop trying to fight over the top of picks. Look for the Lakers’ bigs to either show out hard or back off when Dallas runs the high pick, rather than stand in the middle and essentially be a second pick on the guard.

But mostly they think they just need to play with better focus. That’s what winning two titles brings you — the confidence bordering on arrogance to think you can do the nearly impossible.

For Dallas, their confidence after two games will be tested. Everyone remembers them being up 2-0 in the 2006 finals against the Miami Heat; they remember years of playoff collapses. This year feels different — Tyson Chandler spearheads a new bad-ass attitude — but they will have to prove it. Again.

They will have to prove it this weekend, this Friday or Sunday. Either they will move one win away from the Western Conference finals, or they will see a huge shadow creeping over them.

Dallas has set the tone, and if it can stand its ground again and get a win or two, the reputation of the past will fade away. As will the Lakers.

But it will not be easy. The Lakers still have their best punch to throw. Game 3 is going to be the game of the series. Well, maybe until Game 4.

51Q: Will we see what the Trail Blazers saw in Evan Turner?

CAMBRIDGE, MA - JULY 27:  NBA player Evan Turner of the Portland Trail Blazers speaks to members of AS Roma during a friendly match against the Boston Bolts at Ohiri Field on July 27, 2016 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.

Last season, Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey received the most Executive of the Year first-place votes.

This offseason, he signed Evan Turner to a four-year, $70 million contract.

How could someone who engineered such a smart 2015 offseason – nailing move after move – give Turner so much money? He earned the benefit of the doubt by rebuilding on the fly without LaMarcus Aldridge, but Olshey spent a lot of his capital (and Paul Allen’s money) on a mid-level, seemingly ill-fitting small forward.

Is this another example of Olshey outfoxing us, or did he finally get tripped up?

I expected brilliance from Portland this summer given Olshey’s successful retool around Damian Lillard last year, when Aldridge bolted. Olshey traded Nicolas Batum for Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson, signed Al-Farouq Aminu (four years, $30 million) and Ed Davis (three years, $20 million) to team-friendly contracts, traded a late first-rounder for Mason Plumlee, practically got Maurice Harkless for free and carved out bigger roles for C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard by letting Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo walk. The Batum trade is the only move that’s not a clear victory, but Batum was headed into unrestricted free agency and might have left Portland empty-handed, and the 21-year-old Vonleh could still develop.

Not only did the younger Trail Blazers come together far more quickly than expected, winning 44 games and a playoff series, they did so under budget. Portland had enough cap space at the trade deadline to extract a first-rounder for eating Anderson Varejao‘s contract – the type of move usually reserved for tankers like the 76ers.

The 2016 offseason brought even more possibilities. Thanks to low cap holds for Crabbe, Leonard and Harkless, the Blazers were flush with cap space.

And they spent a big chunk of it on… Evan Turner.

Turner is an alright player, but I don’t think he’s worth $17.5 million per year in a vacuum – and Portland presents a tough fit.

His strengths – passing for his position, mid-range shot creation – matter less on team where the ball is frequently in Lillard’s or McCollum’s hands. Portland shouldn’t take the ball from Lillard and McCollum to give Turner more touches, either.

When off the ball, Turner’s poor outside shooting is a liability to efficient scoring and floor spacing. He made 24% of his 3-pointers last season and 30% for his career. Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts believes Turner will shoot better in Portland, but that optimism is usually wishful thinking. For his part, Turner sounds more focused on the mid-range, where he’s not efficient enough to take shots from the typical looks generated by Stotts’ space-strong scheme.

Portland could use defensive help, and Turner is fine at that end. But he’s not the stopper his 6-foot-7 frame would suggest. He’s just not quick or bouncy enough to stay with many opponents.

It just doesn’t add up – unless Olshey knows what he’s doing, which he might. After impressing so much in his other dealings, Olshey has put the spotlight on Turner this season – with the rest of us watching to see just how Turner will add $70 million of value to the Trail Blazers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo tells terrible joke at Bucks media day (video)

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 16:  Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts to his foul during a 103-90 Los Angeles Clippers win at Staples Center on December 16, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Thankfully, Giannis Antetokounmpo has a lucrative career and doesn’t need  to make ends meet through stand-up comedy:

Mitch McGary: ‘I messed up in my career in college, and now I’m kind of messing up my career here’

2014 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day
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Mitch McGary declared for the NBA draft rather than serve a year-long suspension for marijuana in college. The Thunder big man was suspended twice – for a total of 15 games – this offseason for violating the NBA’s marijuana policy.

Oklahoma City has 16 players, one more than the regular-season roster limit, and McGary appears to be the odd man out. He has one guaranteed season remaining on his contract, but his overall behavior hurts his chances of getting a second shot with another NBA team.

In this backdrop, McGary tries to make a case for himself.

McGary, via Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

“I would love to stay here and play here with new guys coming in; it would be very tough for me to get minutes here,” McGary said. “I’d love to stay with this organization. This is hands down like the best organization that had treats for you, cares for you, does everything for you, pretty much hand-feeds you. I’ve known that from guys around the league have said this is the organization to be with, so obviously I don’t want to leave.”

“If someone is willing to give me an opportunity to play, I just want to play ball, that’s it. Enough with the shenanigans. Hey, I messed up in my career in college, and now I’m kind of messing up my career here. But I’ve always gotten over that adversity and that’s what makes me a stronger person, and I think I’ve grown from this, even though it’s only been a few weeks since I’ve gotten handed the other suspension.

Said McGary: “Everybody is going to make mistakes. But I just don’t want to let this define me as a player.

McGary has been suspended for at least 720 minutes (15 games). He has played 557 minutes in the NBA.

Brett Brown assures Nerlens Noel he’ll get paid if he plays inside

Boston Celtics Vs. Philadelphia 76ers Exhibition Game
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As Nerlens Noel pointed out, the 76ers have too many young, talented big men – which is the biggest reason Philadelphia probably won’t extend Noel’s contract by the Oct. 31 deadline.

That has to be a little disappointing for Noel, who didn’t ask to be drafted by a franchise more preoccupied with asset accumulation than producing a winning fit and has an injury that lends itself to taking guaranteed money now.

But this isn’t Noel’s last chance to get paid, and his coach doesn’t want him sulking while battling Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid for minutes and space.

Brett Brown, via Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Brown wants him to focus on running rim to rim, scoring around the basket and being a defensive stopper.

“Personally, I don’t care if he ever makes a jump shot for the rest of his life,” the coach said. “I mean that. That’s not how his bread is buttered.”

“Nerlens has got elite gifts,” Brown said. “He’s as athletic and quick off the floor and quick rim to rim as anyone that I’ve coached, as any big man in the league.”

“Do your job and we will help you,” he added. “The league will reward that. The 76ers will reward that. He will be rewarded for playing like that.”

Brown is right. There’s no better way for Noel to earn money than by playing well. That means playing energetic defense, protecting the rim and hounding guards on hedges, and actively seeking easy looks near the basket on the other end.

If the 76ers trade him or Okafor before the season, Noel might even still get an extension. Absent that, he’ll head into restricted free agency.

If he’s coming off a year of playing to his strengths, it will be much more lucrative.