NBA Playoffs: Dallas is just better than the Lakers

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The Dallas Mavericks are better than the Los Angeles Lakers.

It is a weird thing to type, but it’s true. They may not have been for 40 minutes, 30 seconds on Friday night — the Lakers were up eight points with 7:30 left in the game — but the Mavericks offense dominated the rest of the way. Dallas won 98-92, on a huge, late comeback.

Dallas will move on. These two teams will play at least one more game or three because the rules demand it — but this series is over. Not because no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit before in the NBA playoffs, but because right now Dallas is better than Los Angeles.

Kobe Bryant was rightfully frustrated afterward, talking about the Lakers’ mistakes; there were plenty. But Dallas is forcing them. This is about Dallas doing the things a contender does and the Lakers being unable to this year.

Dallas has the single best player in this series in Dirk Nowitzki (he had 32 points in this one on just 19 shots). Each game someone else has stepped up and made the key plays to be the other scorer Dallas needs (Peja Stojakovic with 11 in the fourth quarter Friday). Dallas is executing better in the fourth quarter. Dallas is getting better coaching (or at least the Dallas players are executing what the coach wants).

When the Lakers led by eight in the fourth quarter, Dallas started to rain threes down — the Mavs shot 60 percent in the fourth quarter. It was not the two-time defending champs, it was Dallas that closed.

The Lakers played a much better defensive game in the second and third quarters, the best they played in this series. Their spacing, their aggressiveness on closeouts were better. At least it got better after a first-quarter shootout, with the Mavs knocking down open 3-pointers and the Lakers working hard on getting the ball inside.

Andrew Bynum was a beast inside; it may have been his best game as a pro. He finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, but he was by far the most energetic and motivated Laker on the floor. His steal out at the 3-point line and finishing dunk was a signature play… or would have been if the Lakers had won.

But the Lakers never pulled away. Dallas has been too good all series to let the game slip away. This is where Jason Terry’s 23 points came in, he was the scoring spark the Mavs needed.

Then in the fourth quarter the Mavs started to rain threes on the Lakers. The Lakers stopped helping the helper — one Lakers defender would get beat, another Laker would slide in the paint to help stop penetration but nobody would rotate over to help out the helper. The result was Stojakovic getting wide-open threes. Even Nowitzki got wide-open threes. Kobe was as guilty as anybody. This was the “trust issue” Bynum talked about, and if you define trust by your defensive rotations, then the Lakers still have trust issues.

The use of Stojakovic was brilliant by Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle — the Lakers had gone with three bigs (Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Bynum) but by putting Peja in, it forced Odom to come away from the paint and cover. It spaced the Lakers out and created room for others — which the Mavericks used well.

Dallas executed. The Lakers stopped executing.

As they often do at the end of games, the Lakers threw the triangle out the window and went to isolation or pick-and-roll plays. The result was Bynum not touching the ball once down the stretch. Not once. It was Kobe shooting over double-teams while Odom stood open 12 feet away. It was terrible inbound passes from Fisher. It was a bad foul by Fisher 28 feet from the basket.

Meanwhile, Dallas just kept doing their thing and hitting shots (11-of-28 from three, 39.7 percent).

This is not the end of the Lakers dynasty. The core of this team — Gasol, Bynum, Kobe, Odom, even Ron Artest — are all young enough to make another run. The team needs work, but the core is there to make another run.

But not this year. This year they are done.

The Mavericks are the better team.

Kevin Durant trolls Westbrook, haters with cupcake hat — now topped with a ring

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Back when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were breaking into the NBA together and learning how to win together, one of their veteran mentors was tough guy Kendrick Perkins. When Perkins thought someone was acting soft, he called that player a “cupcake.”

When news broke on the Fourth of July last summer that Durant was leaving OKC for Golden State, the NBA world freaked out. Except for Westbrook. He just posted one Instagram photo that day — a tiered tray of red, white, and blue cupcakes. It was meant as a subtle jab at Durant, but when word got out (via Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated) what it meant, Thunder fans embraced it and had cupcake signs and clothing made for Durant’s return to Oklahoma City.

Durant had the last laugh — he’s got a new hat with a cupcake on it, topped by a ring.

Well played Durant. Well played.

Another report Rockets “aggressively” trying to clear cap space to chase Chris Paul

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Daryl Morey is big game hunting. Again.

The Rockets, with James Harden running Mike D’Antoni’s offense, made a leap up to the NBA’s second tier last season — then landed with a playoff thud. The team should be better the second season in the same system, but to get past the Warriors, the Rockets need more talent.

Hence the Rockets are going to chase Chris Paul. That’s not new news to anyone paying attention, but Chris Haynes laid it out in more detail in on SportsCenter.

The Rockets need talent and Chris Paul is unquestionably that. He and James Harden could figure out how to play together.

The problem is money. Chris Paul is going to demand max or near-max money, so close to $30 million. The Rockets enter the summer with about $10 million. The Rockets need to clear cap space and are ready to deal so long as they don’t take contracts back. Lou Williams will make $7 million next season, so even moving him and Patrick Beverley is not enough to land a Chris Paul or Paul Millsap. Moving Ryan Anderson ($19.6 million) or Eric Gordon ($12.9 million) helps much more.

That Morey is being aggressive isn’t the news, the question is can he find a willing partner to lower some money off his cap and give him a sense of what is to come. CP3 is going to meet with a lot of teams, but the Clippers do have advantages and are the favorites to retain him.

Jimmy Butler trade sets the stage for looming free agency

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(AP) — As draft night approached, some of the heavy hitters in the NBA – Cleveland, San Antonio, Houston, Boston, the Clippers among them – were jockeying, making calls and looking for deals to try to position themselves to make a run at the Golden State juggernaut.

The Warriors’ greatness has forced the rest of the league to do deep self-examination and be aggressive in upgrading their rosters if they’re even going to have a chance to compete. The Celtics and Cavaliers were looking hard at Pacers star Paul George and Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, the Rockets and Spurs were looking at clearing cap space to make a run at some big-name free agents next week and the Knicks were, well, the Knicks.

Draft night always lays the groundwork for what will happen when the circus (officially known as free agency) begins on July 1. And with all of those contenders looking to make a splash, the biggest move was made by … the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Wolves reunited Tom Thibodeau with Butler, giving up two promising young players in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick to land one of the best two-way players in the game. The move should jumpstart Minnesota’s pursuit of its first playoff spot since 2004 and, the Wolves hope, pave the way for success in free agency.

“I think it will (help) a lot,” Thibodeau said. “With players, they look around the league, they see the makeup of the team, they see how they play, play together. That’s the main thing. Both offensively and defensively.”

The Timberwolves have long had difficulty attracting free agents to a relatively small market that spends four months of the year covered in ice and snow. Landing a top-15 player like Butler to team with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins sends a sign of how aggressive the teams could be.

The Bulls plunged head-first into a rebuild with the decision, and now it’s up to the Pacers to decide if they want to do the same.

Much to the dismay of Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard, George let it be known last week that he did not plan to re-sign in Indiana when he becomes a free agent next summer. Most of the league assumes that he wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, who appear to be in a tug-of-war with the rival Celtics for George’s attention.

“I’m confident we’ll get something,” Pritchard told reporters in Indianapolis on Friday.

One of the big markets affected on Thursday night was at point guard, the deepest position in the league. Philadelphia, the Lakers, Sacramento, New York and Dallas all drafted point guards in the top 10, which could diminish the options for veterans like Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Jeff Teague and Patty Mills.

The elite point guards available – Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry – should have no trouble finding significant contracts. With Tony Parker suffering a serious injury in the playoffs, the Spurs were reportedly trying to clear space to make a run at Paul, who is widely considered the best point guard in the league. Paul has spent the last six seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, but has yet to advance to the Western Conference finals.

The Clippers are trying to make a decision about retooling around the core of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but really it’s a decision that depends largely on Paul’s thinking. He has long struggled to win big in the postseason, and heading to San Antonio to join with Kawhi Leonard or Houston to team up with James Harden could prove to be more attractive.

Lowry figures to remain in Toronto with a Raptors franchise that he has helped put back on the map, but after that there will be few teams in the market for a high-priced starting point guard. Denver, Utah, New York and Indiana could wade into those waters. But if they look at themselves as still being a couple of year away, they might be hesitant to spend big bucks on a veteran.

Other big names available include Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap and Andre Iguodala. And while some of the very biggest names like Kevin Durant and Steph Curry figure to stay put, it only ramps up the sense of urgency for teams that have big holes to fill.

The clock is ticking and Thursday night provided the first steps toward making big improvements to the roster.

The Timberwolves rocked the boat with Butler, but the waters were calm after that, which should only mean one thing: It’s about to get real choppy when the clock strikes midnight on July 1.

 

Report: Dallas picks up option on Yogi Ferrell for next season. As expected.

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When teams sign a guy out of the D-League, or late second-round picks/undrafted guys as you see this summer, they are often announced as “a three-year deal.” The reality, this is a non-guaranteed contract (or at most a guaranteed contract for a short period of time) with team options for future years.

Why teams do that is guys like Yogi Ferrell.

Dallas snapped him up out of the D-League last season when they needed a point guard, and Ferrell proved to be a solid rotation-level player to bring off the bench. With that Dallas now has the option to bring him back at a good price next season, and they will do just that, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

Sources say the Mavs have informed PG Yogi Ferrell that they are picking up his team option for next season, an easy decision after he proved himself capable of being a rotation player after his promotion from the D-League.

Ferrell will make $1.3 million next season, a steal for a rotation player. Dallas needs that, because the cost of keeping Nerlens Noel could push the Mavericks close to the luxury tax.

If Ferrell keeps playing like he did last season, and his big payday is coming in a couple of years.