It starts with the big questions — if the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder can’t answer those questions, the little ones will not matter.
That leads us to the big things to watch in Game 1 between the Thunder and Mavericks Tuesday night — can Dallas slow Kevin Durant, and can Oklahoma City slow Dirk Nowitzki.
The Thunder need to answer their question fast — Dallas is coming off a nine-day layoff following their sweep of the Lakers and they are bound to be rusty. They beat the Lakers with superior execution and that my take a while to come back. If the Thunder want to win one of the first two on the road, Game 1 sill be the best chance.
Serge Ibaka is going to get the first shot at Dirk, but he may be ill suited to stopping Nowitzki. We told you want to look for in more detail, but if we had to reduce it to two words, it would be Nick Collison.
On the other side, Shawn Marion is going to get Kevin Durant duty. The book on Durant has been to be physical with him and run him off his spots on the floor, to play heavy ball-denial and to limit his touches. We’ll see if Marion is up to that task.
One other matchup to watch closely is DeShawn Stevenson on Russell Westbrook. Game 7 against Memphis was Westbrook’s best game of the playoffs and if he displays that kind of balance again Dallas could struggle to stop him.
With those two guys to stop, expect to see Dallas use a fair amount of zone defense this series. The Mavs run maybe the best matchup zone in the league and that may be the best way to keep Tyson Chandler on the glass and in the paint to help on defense.
The two other keys for Dallas — don’t foul and don’t turn the ball over. Not fouling was something the Mavs did well, the Thunder got to the line 29 times a game during the regular season but that happened just 24 times against the Mavericks. That has to continue, the Thunder need free throws. They also want to get out and run, Oklahoma City is far more athletic. Dallas cannot fuel that with turnovers.
Lots of things to watch. But it all starts with the two best players on the court.
Jose Calderon, Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings all officially waived; contenders line up for their services
They have to clear waivers (Wednesday) before they can sign with a new team. However, all three seem to be headed to teams with dreams of going deep into the playoffs.
The Golden State Warriors want a little depth at the point for the postseason, and they are going with the steady but aged veteran Calderon. He will have limited run behind Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston, but he will have a role in the playoffs and as a steadying force.
The Washington Wizards are going another, more talented but more combustible direction, and appear the frontrunners to sign Brandon Jennings (Chris Haynes of ESPN had that link. . The Wizards have not loved the play of Trey Burke this season and have leaned on Tomas Satoransky to run some point, expect Jennings to get some healthy run if and when he arrives in Washington.
Bogut is expected to sign with the Cavaliers, although the Spurs could have a shot at him and other teams are asking to get in the mix (not his former team the Warriors, however).
NBA: Bulls beat Suns after two key missed calls late in fourth quarter
The collective ‘we’ were happy the Bulls reached overtime against the Suns on Friday, because we saw Dwyane Wade‘s fantastic dagger dunk.
The Bulls were happy they reached overtime, because they won the game in the extra period.
But with correct officiating down the stretch, Phoenix probably would have won in regulation.
The Bulls got away with two key violations late in the fourth quarter, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.
First, Jimmy Butler got away with traveling with 1:58 left, per the league:
Butler (CHI) move his pivot foot.
Instead of a Chicago turnover, Butler kicked the ball to Nikola Mirotic, who hit a 3-pointer.
Then, Denzel Valentine got away with a defensive three-second violation with a minute left, per the league:
Valentine (CHI) is in the paint without actively guarding an opponent for longer than three seconds.
A correct call would’ve given any Sun on the court — either Eric Bledsoe (who’s making 85% of his free throws this season and 80% for his career) or Devin Booker (82%, 83%) — a single free throw and Phoenix a fresh shot clock.
Instead, the Suns — facing a tougher road penetrating the paint — turned the ball over.
On their own, those missed calls were each big swings. Together, they were huge in Chicago’s win.
NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have waived veteran forward Luis Scola.
Scola averaged 5.1 points and 3.9 rebounds in 36 games this season, falling out of the rotation as the league-worst Nets focused more on their younger players, even though the Celtics hold swap rights on Brooklyn’s first-round pick.
General manager Sean Marks said Monday the Nets felt that Scola “deserved the opportunity to contribute to a playoff contender.” Because he was waived by the March 1 deadline, Scola would be eligible to sign with another team and appear on its playoff roster.
Scola has averaged 12 points while playing for five teams in his 10 NBA seasons, and won an Olympic gold medal with Argentina in 2004.
Raptors’ Kyle Lowry undergoing surgery, aims to return for playoffs
Lowry is the Raptors best player, and answering his call, they upgraded around him by trading for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. Now Lowry isn’t around to lead the charge.
Maybe I’m reading too much into the wording, but merely aiming to return for the playoffs is hardly convincing. Does that mean there’s a chance he could miss the postseason?
That’d be a disaster for Toronto, which has put eggs in the basket for this season, Lowry’s last before unrestricted free agency.
Even if Lowry misses “only” several weeks and returns fully healthy for the playoffs, this harms the Raptors majorly. They’re fourth in the East, but barely behind the third-place Wizards and a chance to avoid the Cavaliers until the conference finals.
This is welcome news to Washington and the Celtics, who might be underdogs in the second round to Toronto’s souped-up roster. Now, it seems increasingly likely Cleveland would face the Raptors in the second round — if they get that far.
Cory Joseph is a fine backup, and Delon Wright offers intrigue as a third point guard. Pressing both up a level just invites problems.
Toronto’s trades positioned the Raptors to rise down the stretch. Now, they’ll just try to hold their ground.