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

5 Comments

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.

What exactly was on the table for Bulls in Jimmy Butler trade?

Leave a comment

It’s been the cry since the Bulls’ front office traded Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine (coming off an ACL surgery), Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick (Lauri Markkanen):

Why didn’t the Bulls get more?

I’m in the camp they didn’t get enough, starting with the question why did they give Minnesota the No. 16 pick in the deal? Even if the Bulls keep that pick, it doesn’t feel like they got enough for an All-NBA player, a top-flight wing defender who can also get buckets with the ball in his hands. The Bulls could have been patient and waited out a better offer, one of this quality would always have been on the table.

However, the deals for Butler may not have been as rich as fans assume. Here is part of what ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote breaking down the trade.

It’s not as if Chicago didn’t canvas the league, either. The Bulls talked to Phoenix about a package centered around Eric Bledsoe and the No. 4 pick, but nothing came close, according to league sources. (Those talks may have been linked at one point to Cleveland’s pursuit of Butler, which apparently fizzled Thursday as Dan Gilbert, the Cavs’ owner, tried to hire a new president of basketball operations on the freaking day of the draft.)

They poked around with Denver, but the Nuggets drew a line at Jamal Murray, sources say. Those teams had to weigh the possibility of Butler bolting in 2019, which cooled the market a bit, sources say.

Boston has danced around Butler for almost a year now, and would not include the No. 3 pick in any package for him as the draft approached, sources say. Other reports suggest they refused to offer next year’s Nets pick, or the Lakers-Kings pick they snagged from Philly in the Markelle Fultz deal.

Boston’s Danny Ainge wanted a deal, a bit of a discount, and the Bulls were not going to give it. Those pick requests are reasonable for a Top 15 player, but Ainge knows he can be patient and the Celtics will still win more than 50 games next season and be a contender in a couple of years. Ainge knows he has a real shot at Gordon Hayward as a free agent this summer. He knows it’s not Butler or bust, so he didn’t go all in. He can afford to be patient right now, but eventually he will have to make a move.

The lack of a better market for Butler speaks to a couple of things. Phoenix, Denver, and other teams are correct to worry about overpaying for a player that could leave in a couple of years. Maybe they can win him over with their culture, maybe a team like Denver becomes very dangerous with Butler in the mix with Nikola Jokic, but is that enough. This is also where the looming shadow of Golden State, the Mount Everest looming over all things in the West, comes into play — how much do teams want to pay to try to contend right now?

Still, the Bulls could have done better. At least know a direction is set, the Bulls are rebuilding. Can Gar/Pax pull that off is another question entirely.

Klay Thompson goes up for 360 dunk in exhibition… and he’s not a dunker (VIDEO)

2 Comments

Klay Thompson has an amazing skill set — one of the best pure shooters in the league, he can put the ball on the floor and create, and he’s a very good perimeter defender.

He’s not a dunker. Oh, he can dunk, but he’s not the guy you’re inviting to the Dunk Contest.

Case in point, this video out of China where Thompson was part of an exhibition and tried to show off his dunking skills.

Thompson’s shoe sponsor is China-based Anta, which explains why he’s there playing some exhibition ball. In case you missed it, Thompson had a Finals shoe released.

Those are about as good as the 360 dunk.

Sixers will talk contract extension for Joel Embiid this summer, want to lock him up

4 Comments

Could Joel Embiid be Philadelphia’s Stephen Curry?

No, I don’t mean taking 30-foot bombs that demoralize opponents (although, no doubt Embiid is game for trying it). I mean in having a contract extension off his rookie deal for less than the max, a value contract that allows the Sixers the cap room to secure a title contender around him.

After three seasons in the NBA, Joel Embiid is eligible for a contract extension this summer (one that would be negotiated now but not kick in until the 2018-19 season). Teams lock up their stars at this point, and Embiid is that — he was dominant in the 31 games he played. But it’s 31 games in three seasons, how much do the Sixers want to pay here?

Sixers owner Joshua Harris said extending Embiid is a priority for the team this summer, speaking at a press conference, via the Courier Times.

“Look, I’d just say we want Joel to be on the team for a long time,” Harris said. “We want us all to grow old together. That’s the way I would put it.”

A max contract for Embiid would be five years at about $130 million, an average annual salary of $26 million. Because of his injury history, would he be willing to sign five years at $100 million, maybe with an opt-out after four? That extra cap space may not sound like a lot, it’s not a Curry-level savings, but it would help the Sixers’ team building.

If the two sides can’t reach a deal by Oct. 31 (the deadline), Embiid will play out this season then be a restricted free agent next season. If he stays healthy, he will get a max deal from another team that the Sixers would just match (the Sixers and Embiid could also reach a deal).

The Sixers are not about to let Embiid go, they have their young core they believe they can contend with in a few years. Plus he is a fan favorite. The only question left is cost.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

Associated Press
3 Comments

Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.