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he thought the risk of the injury recurring to Chandler’s already troublesome big toe was too great, so the trade was rescinded.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.

Status woe: Cavaliers not planning changes lineup amid slump

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue isn’t changing his starting lineup or rotations despite Cleveland’s current troubling state.

A day after the Cavs gave up 148 points – tying a franchise record that stood since 1972 – in an embarrassing loss to Oklahoma City, Lue said he’s not making any major moves to snap his team from its mid-season doldrums (and as they head into a tough stretch of the schedule).

The Cavs have lost 10 of 14 and have been blown out three times in the past week.

Lue decided not to show his players video on Sunday as the team practiced in advance of Tuesday’s game in San Antonio. Lue explained his reasoning for not making any changes as the Cavs are the same team that won 13 straight and 18 of 19 earlier this season.

Cavs forward Kyle Korver said the only way to fix things is “to look yourself in the mirror and say how can I help the team? It’s really simple but it really is true.”

 

Three Things to Know: Tony Parker out as starter, Dejounte Murray in for Spurs

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Tony Parker loses starting job to Dejounte Murray, Spurs lose anyway to Pacers. Since getting back into the lineup after off-season quad surgery, future Hall of Famer Tony Parker has started all 21 games he has played in. He has started all but 13 games in a 17-year NBA career and hasn’t come off the bench for a game since 2010.

Until Sunday. Dejounte Murray got the call and that is how it’s going to be for a while in San Antonio. Parker told Tom Osborn of the Express-News he’s good with it because Popovich wants it.

“Pop told me,” Parker said. “He told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘No problem.’ Just like Manu (Ginobili), just like Pau (Gasol), you know that day is going to come. If Pop sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best…I will support Pop’s decision, and I will try to help DJ as best as I can and try to be the best I can in that second unit with Manu and Patty (Mills).”

Especially with Manu Ginobili and Rudy Gay both out injured, the second unit could use some more shot creation, which Parker can provide. More importantly, Parker has said he isn’t right yet this season after surgery, and he had lost a step the last couple of seasons when he was healthy. Still, we will see how long this change sticks, every time the Spurs go away from Parker, they return. Before this game, the four regular Spurs starters this season — Kyle Anderson, Danny Green, Paul Gasol, and LaMarcus Aldridge — plus Parker were outscoring teams by 29 points per 100 possessions. With Murray those four are -3.1 per 100 (Stats via Cleaning the Glass, which removes garbage time). (I need to add here that due to injuries, none of these lineups has played even 200 minutes together yet this season).

There is a statistical reason for the move, however — the Spurs have won this season despite having no Kawhi Leonard to speak of because of their second best defense in the NBA, and with Murray on the court this season San Antonio has been 11 points per 100 possessions better than when he sits.

Sunday, Popovich and the Spurs got the up-and-down, roller coaster game we have come to expect from Murray — he does a lot of good things, and he makes some plays like a young player. The defense was stingy, as expected, but the offense generated just 88.4 points per 100 possessions, and the Spurs lost to the Pacers 94-86. The starting five were -4 in their 15+ minutes.

Victor Oladipo had 19 points and led a balanced Pacers attack in the win.

2) Kyrie Irving returns, drops 40, but Celtics lose to lowly Magic anyway, their third straight defeat. If the Celtics were going to have a stinker of a game, Sunday was the time to do it because everyone in New England was focused on the Patriots and nobody was going to notice what they did.

After missing one game, Kyrie Irving returned with a vengeance Sunday scoring 40 points on 23 shots and hitting 5-of-7 from three. None of that mattered after the game, where the Celtics struggled at home and lost to the Orlando Magic, the formerly last-place team in the East, 103-95 (Orlando moved ahead of Atlanta with the win).

The struggle in those three games has been on the offensive end (the defense, best in the NBA for the season, has still been good). The Celtics are approaching the trade deadline looking for more shooting if they can find the right deal (what team isn’t?), and for a few games it has looked like they needed it because Jaylen Brown can’t make this between-the-legs move on every possession.

@fchwpo goes through his legs to get to the bucket!

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Boston is still two-games up in the East on Toronto, but they head now out of a four-game road trip in the West. We’ll see if the offense finds itself against the Lakers (who have played better the past couple of weeks and are no easy win).

3) Lakers’ fan drains $100K halfcourt shot. This was the shot of the day — and was worth $100,000 to a bounty hunter and Lakers’ fan.

Mayhem in LA as he uses the window for $100K!

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Lakers fan hits halfcourt shot to win $100,000 (VIDEO)

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The Los Angeles Lakers are having a pretty good January.

The team has a losing record overall but is 6-5 in 2018, despite the noise from the Ball family and the need for public confidence for Luke Walton as coach.

Still, I’m not sure they’re having as good a time as the guy who won $100,000 by banking in a halfcourt shot on Sunday.

Via Twitter:

The fan’s name is apparently Suni Strong, and he’s from Palmdale. He played high school basketball, works at Space-X, and was on a canceled A&E show about bounty hunting.

Seriously.

Via OC Register:

“When I first walked in I said have my check ready,” he said. “I knew I was going to make it. I had to.”

Asked if he called “bank,” Strong replied, “Why would I do that? I called money.”

That’s some serious scratch.

Spencer Dinwiddie hits game-winner for Nets over former team (VIDEO)

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Spencer Dinwiddie was once a member of the Detroit Pistons. They traded him to the Chicago Bulls back in 2016 for Cameron Bairstow, and the Bulls promptly waived him less than a month later. That same day, Bairstow was waived by the Pistons.

On Sunday, Dinwiddie got his revenge on Detroit by ending their matinee matchup with a step-through jumper that two Pistons failed to defend.

The play came with 4.7 seconds left and the Brooklyn Nets trailing, 100-99. Dinwiddie ran across the far side of the floor to receive the ball from the sideline, then to the near elbow before putting on a series of moves to get his shot off.

The play gave Detroit just 0.09 seconds left, and they couldn’t get an attempt off.

Brooklyn beat the Pistons, 101-100.

Meanwhile, Dinwiddie continues to have the best season of his career. He’s averaging 13.2 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per-game, all career-highs. He’s also boosted his VORP to 1.1, another personal best.