NBA Playoffs: Mavs drop the Lakers in four, sweep away a dynasty

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Somehow, it only took the Dallas Mavericks four games to prove wrong just about every prediction and every presupposition that existed going into their series against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers appeared bound for the Finals to pen a fitting final chapter of Phil Jackson’s coaching career. The Mavericks were supposedly the lesser team, haunted by ghosts of playoff runs past. Andrew Bynum was supposed to rule the paint, and Kobe Bryant the perimeter. There was talk of legacies and pedigrees, and the reigning champs were working toward a seemingly inevitable sprint into June.

The Lakers were the best team in this series on paper, but the Mavs created a disconnect between preconception and reality. There were close games and blowouts, but virtually nothing went according to plan. Bynum was largely contained, despite his precedent of excellence against Tyson Chandler in the post. Bryant had some big scoring nights, but occasionally hindered the flow of the Laker offense and barely attempted anything other than jump shots. The Mavericks were anything but the lesser team, and despite what any player or team’s reputation in this series would have suggested, the Lakers’ run ends here.

The defending champs were swept out of the playoffs in the second round in thoroughly embarrassing fashion, capped by a 122-86 demolition job by the Mavs. It was painful and embarrassing for the Lakers, but grant credit to the aggressors; while the Lakers disgraced themselves with their abysmal effort and lack of composure in Game 4, it was the Mavs’ execution that exposed the Lakers in every game of this series. L.A. was forced to respond repeatedly to Dallas’ ball movement and timely defensive rotations, and clearly wasn’t up to the challenge — a point made clear with each ridiculously open three that the Mavs took in Game 4, and the offensive possessions that grinded to a halt against Dallas’ defensive pressure.

The Dallas bench was incredible, as Jason Terry, Peja Stojakovic, and J.J. Barea powered the reserves to 86 combined points — the same as L.A.’s overall total. That’s an absurd boost from a group of non-starters, but not exactly inconceivable given the context of this game. The Lakers simply had no interest in chasing either Terry and Stojakovic around staggered screens — nor in stopping Barea on his drives to the rim, with the sole exception being Andrew Bynum’s cheap shot/flagrant 2 foul in the fourth quarter — and the Mavs offense swelled as a result. Terry tied an NBA playoff record with nine made three pointers (in just 10 attempts!) and Stojakovic made all six of his three-point attempts, most of which came without a defender in an eight-foot radius.

L.A. may have a fantastically talented core and the greatest coach in NBA history, but for 48 minutes — or four games, really — none if mattered a bit. The Mavs played as close to a perfect game as one could imagine, and scored 132.6 points per 100 possessions to the Lakers’ 93.5. That 39.1 efficiency margin isn’t a gulf or an ocean, but some expanse that doesn’t exist in our universe in physical terms. There are barely even words to describe how demonstrably better the Mavs were than the Lakers in Game 4, despite the fact that L.A.’s playoff lives were on the line, as was the last hurrah of a living legend.

No Laker is shielded from blame, and no Maverick should be without praise; this was a comprehensive team-wide dominance of the highest order, and the embarrassment in L.A.’s locker room should only be matched by the incredible pride of the home team.

Steven Adams says Thunder late-game struggles on him, not Westbrook/George/Anthony

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In the first half of games this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the best defense in the NBA, allowing just 91.7 points per 100 possessions. In those first 24 minutes, the Thunder are outscoring teams by 12.7 points per 100 possessions, second best in the NBA (Houston is first).

However, in the fourth quarter, the Thunder defense is 18.1 points per 100 possessions worse. Their offense stagnates late in games with a lot of “you take a turn and then it’s my turn” isolation between Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony.

The Thunder have nine losses this season, and OKC lost double-digit leads in six of those. Monday night it was a 19-point lead against New Orleans where the Pelicans — without DeMarcus Cousins — came back to win 114-107.

There’s a lot of blame and finger-pointing going on in Oklahoma City, but Steven Adams said less of that should be at the three stars and more of it should be at him. Via Royce Young at ESPN:

“Mainly me, to be honest (should be blamed). Because the play itself you have to execute it properly and it has to be legit down to the t. I screwed up my feet on a couple of them in terms of spacing. … Everyone plays a part in the plight so you can say yeah the shot doesn’t go in which sucks. But to get them that shot I didn’t help them.”

Adams can take on a little of the blame, but this is a team thing right now — everyone has earned some blame. Billy Donovan as coach, role players like Andre Roberson or Patrick Patterson who have not lived up to expectations this season, and yes Westbrook/George/Anthony have earned some blame, too. It’s a little bit of everything.

There’s also time for the Thunder to figure it out, but they are on the clock as this is a one-year experiment in Oklahoma City (no way they pay the whopping tax coming next season to keep all three stars and Adams, no matter what ownership says publicly).

C.J. McCollum: I told Evan Fournier during altercation ‘ you’re sweet and soft like those crepes you eat’

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C.J. McCollum blew kisses at Evan Fournier when they got into a confrontation during the Trail Blazers’ win over the Magic last week:

But apparently the incident was even better than that!

McCollum on The Flagrant Two podcast, as transcribed by Colin Ward-Henninger of CBSSports.com:

“I just felt like he disrespected me by putting his hands on me,” McCollum said. “Obviously, I’m not trying to get any fines or anything of that nature and I told him he was sweet. He’s French, and I said that, ‘you’re sweet and soft like those crepes you eat.’ “

Did McCollum actually say that in the moment, or did he come up with the line after the fact? I want the former to be true, so I choose to believe it.

Report: Nuggets Paul Millsap out three months due to wrist surgery

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There were big sighs of relief in Denver when Paul Millsaps’ X-rays on his injured wrist came back negative. There were fears of a fracture suffered against the Lakers last weekend, but word from the team is it was just a sprain. He sat out the game against the Kings, but the timeline for his return was not expected to be long.

Except it has turned out to be a little more than a simple sprain. From Sham Charania of Yahoo and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Millsap — who signed a three-year, $90 million contract with Denver over the summer, after spending seven seasons with the Jazz and Hawks — is averaging 15.3 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. More importantly, he has been key to Denver’s defense going from one of the NBA’s worst to the middle of the pack this season. He’s started the season getting a handful fewer shots a game then he did in Atlanta last season, and Millsap was slightly less efficient, but like the team as a whole he seemed to be finding a groove and looked better during the recent streak when Denver won 4-of-5. He and the Nuggets were figuring out how to play together.

The Nuggets have been 4.5 points per 100 possessions better when Millsap has been on the court this season, and that will not be easy to replace.

While Kenneth Faried got the start with Millsap out last game, it was Trey Lyles who stepped up — and who Denver needs to step up with Millsap out. Others will have to step up with some defense while he is out.

LaVar Ball on Luke Walton: “They’re soft. They don’t know how to coach my son.”

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Luke Walton is trying to create a professional environment around his young Lakers’ core. One where they expect the players to put in extra work without being told they have to, one where the coaches guide the development, but it’s ultimately the player in charge of his own course. Basically, Walton is treating his young players like adults and is asking them to respond to it like professional adults. It’s what he’s seen Steve Kerr do in Golden State and it works. It’s how Gregg Popovich has created a dynasty in San Antonio.

LaVar Ball sees the world very differently. He’s old school, from the “do as I say” mold.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that after the Lakers’ ugly loss last Friday to the Suns, the Lakers media spoke to LaVar Ball about his son’s play and Ball took a shot at the Lakers’ coach. Here are the quotes, via Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report.

“They’re soft. They don’t know how to coach my son. I know how to coach him,” LaVar Ball said. “I tell him to go get the victory. Stop messing around.”

Does he have a problem with coach Luke Walton?

“No, I have a problem with losing,” Ball responded.

I have multiple thoughts here, which means bullet points.

• I am breaking my own rule with this post, which is “don’t cover LaVar Ball, he’s just meaningless click bait.” I debated the point, but I think there is a legitimate basketball reason to cover this post (keep reading).

• Things Luke Walton cares more about than what LaVar Ball thinks of his coaching style: How much extra guacamole costs at Chipotle; if Netflix has “Golden Girls” to stream; what shoes Lakers’ sideline reporter Mike Trudell is wearing during postgame interviews; which Van Halen album “Dance the Night Away” is on; which show won the 1974 Tony for Best Musical.

Lonzo Ball‘s struggles with his shot this season — 31.3 percent overall, and he is struggling from three and around the rim — are well documented. It’s clear he is in his own head about it at this point. What can keep him there longer is conflicting advice from his father and his coach. So far, Lonzo seems to be siding with the coaching staff, for example, he credited assistant coach Brian Shaw for telling him to rebound more aggressively, then push the ball himself. LaVar will want to take credit for that, too. Lonzo needs to listen to his coaches, take his father’s advice for what it’s worth, and find his path.

• LaVar is lucky that the level-headed, mature-for-his-age, hard-working Lonzo was his oldest son. Just from what I see on the outside, not sure either of the other two Ball children could have handled this scrutiny nearly as well.

• Luke Walton is working to create something sustainable with the Lakers, they are not going to let anything (or anyone) bump them off that path.