Oklahoma City Thunder's Durant hands the ball to Dallas Mavericks head coach Carlisle in the closing seconds of the second half of their NBA basketball game in Dallas

Western Conference Finals Preview: Mavericks vs. Thunder

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SEASON RECORDS
Mavericks: 57-25 (No. 3 seed in Western Conference)
Thunder: 55-27 (No. 4 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Dallas won the regular season series 2-1, but the most recent of the games was Jan. 6 — back before the Kendrick Perkins trade, and when Caron Butler was healthy. Nowitzki didn’t play in the Thunder win. So take these results with a grain or 12 of salt.

PLAYOFF SERIES
Mavericks: defeated the Portland 4-2, Los Angeles Lakers, 4-0
Oklahoma City: defeated Denver 4-1, Memphis 4-3

SERIES SCHEDULE (times Eastern)

Game 1 — Tue. May 17, at Dallas 9:00 PM
Game 2 – Thu. May 19 at Dallas 9:00PM
Game 3 – Sat. May 21 at Oklahoma City 9:00PM
Game 4 – Mon. May 23, at Oklahoma City 9:00PM
Game 5 * Wed. May 25 at Dallas 9:00PM
Game 6 * Fri. May 27 at Oklahoma City 9:00PM
Game 7 * Sun. May 29 at Dallas 9:00PM

All games on ESPN.

KEY INJURIES
Mavericks: Caron Butler likely will not play this series, even though they could really use him off the bench to check James Harden. He has been out with knee surgery since the middle of the season. Rodrigue Beaubois is technically healthy but don’t expect to see him.
Thunder: none

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per possession)
Mavericks: Offense 107.6 (8th in NBA); Defense 102.3 (7th in NBA)
Thunder: Offense 108.6 (4th in NBA); Defense 104 (13th in NBA)

THREE KEY MAVERICKS

Dirk Nowitzki. Arguably, the single best player in the playoffs so far — 26.5 points per game on 49.7 percent shooting and 60 percent from three. Now he’s going to see another team with long, and this time more athletic defenders to send at him. Serge Ibaka will get the starts, but don’t be shocked to see the more physical Nick Collison to get time as well. Dirk has to continue to put up huge numbers for Dallas to win this.

Tyson Chandler. Back at the trading deadline in 2009, the New Orleans Hornets had agreed to trade Chandler to the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Thunder doctor said he thought the risk of the injury recurring to Chandler’s already troublesome big toe was too great, so the trade was rescinded. Turned out, the toe is just fine and he is tearing it up for Dallas. The Mavericks big men were able to limit the Lakers big men’s points in the paint, but Oklahoma City gets theirs a different way — slashing to the rim with Westbrook and Durant. Chandler has to protect the rim and make them shoot more jumpers because it can’t become a Thunder layup drill.

Jason Terry. He represents the entire Mavs bench here — J.J. Barea, Peja Stojakovic, Brendan Haywood, Corey Brewer. All through the season they have made huge contributions, and last series was no different (who can forget Barea carving up the Lakers defense. The Mavs are going to need some big games from their bench if they are going to move on.

THREE KEY THUNDER

Russell Westbrook. He took a lot of shots and took a lot of flack for taking a lot of shots last series. Even though it wasn’t all his fault (Durant was not working hard off the ball to get open at times, so Westbrook just took it on). In this series he should dominate Jason Kidd, who is not nearly quick enough to stay with him. He has to get into the lane but he has to pass if and when Tyson Chandler slides over to cut off his path. He has to make the smart play (like he did in Game 7 against Memphis) but it will often start with him disrupting the defense because he has the mismatch.

Kevin Durant. Of course he is key to whatever the Thunder do on offense regardless of the opponent, but in this series he needs to be more consistent than he was against the Grizzlies. He has one advantage in that the Mavericks have no real good matchup for him, during the regular season meetings Caron Butler got most of the time. Now, expect Shawn Marion, but it’s doubtful he can play the kind of ball-denial and physical defense that slows Durant.

James Harden. He really represents the Thunder bench — the Thunder need to win the battles of the bench in this series to win. They need to keep Jason Terry in check and Harden needs to put up big points. This bench matchup includes what ay be my favorite matchup of this series — Eric Maynor vs. J.J. Barea off the bench. But Harden remains the key, he has got to put up big numbers, big enough to offset what Terry and the Mavs put up.

OUTLOOK

Last series against the Lakers, the Mavericks executed about as well as they possibly could. They found the Lakers soft spots and exploited them every chance they got. Oklahoma City’s execution was far less consistent, from game to game, quarter to quarter, possession to possession. But it seemed to improve.

That is where you have to start looking for an edge here — if the Thunder do not execute better, they are in trouble. For Dallas, they need to stay at that level of efficiency and not take a step back when faced with a more athletic squad.

That starts for Dallas with not turning the ball over and controlling the tempo. Oklahoma City has the better athletes and Dallas will not be able to stop Westbrook and Durant in transition. Other than not to let them get going.

For the Thunder, they need to find a way to defend Durant successfully in this series. So what Thunder player spent the most time hounding Dirk Nowitzki in the regular season? Jeff Green, it turns out. He and the rest of the Celtics are now golfing (he went East in the Kendrick Perkins trade). Look for Serge Ibaka to get the first crack, but Dirk’s bevy of fakes could have the shot-blocking Ibaka in the air a lot. And fouling a lot. One other guy to watch for is Nick Collison, who had a fantastic Game 7 for the Thunder and is long and strong enough to keep Dirk out of the positions he wants to be in on the floor.

Like was said above, not going to take too much away from the three regular season meetings these teams had, but there is one thing to watch — can Dallas keep Oklahoma City off the free throw line? In the regular season the Thunder lived at the line, getting an average of 28.8 free throws per game. But in the three games against Dallas, that fell to 24. If Dallas can continue to defend without fouling that will be a big plus.

One other thing Dallas did during the regular season was defend the paint — Oklahoma City was 9-34 on shots in the key. Dallas has to continue to do that, Westbrook in particular needs to shift that balance and get into the lane and finish.

Dallas is going to negate some of what Kendrick Perkins and Collison can do inside because they are a jump shooting team (35 percent of their points these playoffs have come in paint, the lowest of any team in the playoffs). The Thunder have to contest everything because once the Mavericks shooters get going they cannot be stopped.

PREDICTION

Honestly, this may be the hardest prediction of the playoffs. I can see it going either way. My guess is, however, that this will become a jump shooting contest as both teams are good at protecting the paint. And in that instance favors Dallas. But it will be close.

Mavericks in 7.

Raptors starting Norman Powell over Patrick Patterson against Heat

Toronto Raptors' Norman Powell (24) runs back up court after the Raptors scored against the Indiana Pacers during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA first-round playoff basketball series, Tuesday, April 26, 2016 in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Raptors coach Dwane Casey got a taste of changing his starting lineup.

Now he can’t stop.

Matt Devlin of Raptors.com:

https://twitter.com/Matt__Devlin/status/727638727871348736

Norman Powell replaces Patrick Patterson (who replaced regular-season starter Luis Scola in the first round). This makes the Raptors smaller and increases their ability to switch among their three starting wings – Powell, DeMarre Carroll and DeMar DeRozan.

Luol Deng gave the Hornets plenty of trouble as a stretch four in the last round. Toronto countered that advantage before falling victim to it.

The key will be the Raptors holding their own in the paint, rebounding and defending, and maintaining a reserve advantage that boosted them all season.

Stephen Curry wins Magic Johnson Award

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 29:  TNT report Craig Sager interviews Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors after their game against the Washington Wizards at ORACLE Arena on March 29, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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NEW YORK (AP) — Stephen Curry has won the Magic Johnson Award, given by the Professional Basketball Writers Association to an NBA player who combines excellence on the court with cooperation with the public and media.

Curry led the NBA with 30.1 points per game and a record 402 3-pointers in leading the Golden State Warriors to a 73-9 record, best in league history.

The reigning MVP beat out teammate Draymond Green, Portland’s Damian Lillard, New York’s Carmelo Anthony and Atlanta’s Paul Millsap on Tuesday in voting by the PBWA, made up of approximately 175 writers and editors who cover the league on a regular basis.

The award was created in 2001 and named for Hall of Famer Earvin “Magic” Johnson, whom the PWBA regards as “the ideal model for the award.”

Report: Chris Bosh petitioning union to get Heat to allow him to play

Miami Heat players Josh Richardson, left, Chris Bosh, center, and Tyler Johnson, right, look up as they watch a video replay during the final seconds of the second half in Game 5 of an NBA basketball playoffs first-round series against the Charlotte Hornets, Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Miami. The Hornets defeated the Heat 90-88. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
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Chris Bosh, who was sidelined due to blood clots for the second straight season, clearly wants to play.

The Heat maintain the same stance: There’s no timetable for his return.

Dan Le Batard of ESPN, as transcribed by Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post:

This is complicated and it’s not great,” Le Batard said. “They are not in agreement here. The two sides—This runs the risk of getting problematic here at a bad time, because Chris Bosh wants on the court… It’s obvious that Chris Bosh wants on the court and that he’s pressuring the organization…and that his wife is pressuring the organization. They were wearing the #BringBoshBack shirts (Sunday). There is a tension happening.

“I don’t know exactly what to believe here, OK, but I do trust the organization and I trust the people in the organization who tell me things because I’ve never been lied to by them about much of anything. They’re telling me that they’re protecting him from him, but he doesn’t feel any symptoms. This doesn’t feel like the last time. All the doctors the Heat are talking to are saying, and they’re the foremost authorities on this stuff, ‘Hey, a second recurrence of a blood clot situation could be catastrophic, where you’ve got a death on the court.’”

Le Batard added that the Bosh family is trying to get the NBPA involved to allow him to play again.

Kevin Draper of Deadspin:

https://twitter.com/kevinmdraper/status/727611100305350656

I don’t think this will get Bosh anywhere. Teams have tremendous control about playing time, and the Heat have deemed Bosh unfit to play. The union can’t do anything for a benchwarmer who believes he deserves more minutes. This is substantively similar. Bosh is still getting paid, and unless sitting will prevent him from reaching contract incentives, the union would have a tough – probably impossible – case.

If Bosh is still on blood thinners, I can’t imagine doctors clearing him to play. The risk is far too great.

It’s valiant Bosh so badly wants to play (at least if you don’t believe discretion is the better part of valor). The Heat could use him as they enter their second round series against the Raptors.

But Miami appears to be doing what’s best for Bosh, even if it hurts the team on the court. There’s valor in that, too.

NBA: Spurs got away with two key fouls in crunch time BEFORE final play (videos)

San Antonio Spurs' Danny Green, left, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Manu Ginobili (20) watch Tim Duncan (21) strip the ball from -Oklahoma City Thunder's Steven Adams (12) during the first half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, May 2, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay
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The final play of Thunder-Spurs Game 2 was pure mayhem – five missed calls in the final 13.5 seconds.

But what if that high-stakes ending were avoided completely?

If officials had gotten previous crunch-time calls correct, it might have been.

The last play mattered only because San Antonio was charging back from a five-point deficit with a minute and a half left. The Spurs trailed by only one when Dion Waiters inbounded the ball.

San Antonio probably shouldn’t have been that close.

The Last Two Minute Report featured three missed calls before the final play, each favoring the Spurs and two crucial.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored with 1:27 left, but only after getting away with offensively fouling Russell Westbrook. NBA:

Since Westbrook (OKC) is stationary, Aldridge (SAS) can establish himself in his path without giving him room to avoid the screen. However, Aldridge does not maintain his legal position when he pushes Westbrook off balance.

That doesn’t look like a clear offensive foul from the angle TNT showed, but the league reviews these plays from multiple angles. There’s enough obscured to believe an alternate view would show an illegal screen.

A correct call would’ve ended San Antonio’s possession and given the Thunder the ball up five instead of three.

On the ensuing possession, the Spurs forced a miss, but Tim Duncan got away with a loose-ball foul of Steven Adams to get the rebound. NBA:

Duncan (SAS) clamps the arm of Adams (OKC) and affects his ability to retrieve the rebound

A correct call would’ve given Oklahoma City the ball with 1:11 left – another opportunity to run clock and add to its lead.

Duncan also committed a three-second violation with 55 seconds left, but the Spurs missed and Oklahoma City rebounded on that possession, anyway.

Especially considering that Manu Ginobili crossing the sideline should’ve been a violation before Waiters pushed him, the Spurs and their fans can’t reasonably claim officiating cost them this game