Dirk Nowitzki

NBA Playoffs: Dirk dominates, but this series is just getting started

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Coming into this game the biggest matchup issue, the biggest strategy question that both teams faced was “Who can stop Dirk Nowitzki or Kevin Durant?”

Turns out nobody.

Durant had 40 points on just 18 shots — and he was the second best player in the game. And his team lost.

Nowitzki finished a redonkulous 48 points on 15 shots, going 24-of-24 from the free throw line and Dallas is ahead in this series 1-0 after a 121-112 win.

Thing is, this was not a flashy, dunking, And1 mix tape 48 points. It was workman like. Blue collar. Lunch pail. He did it by attacking and getting to the line, and draining shots with a hand in his face. He was 9-of-13 from the midrange. The same things he did against the Lakers and Trail Blazers. You get the feeling he could do it again. And again.

But it wasn’t just Dirk. J.J. Barea took over in the fourth (as he did last series) and finished with 21 points on 12 shots, abusing Nate Robinson. Jason Terry dropped 4-of-8 three pointers and had 24.

For stretches of this game it felt like Dallas couldn’t miss, couldn’t make a mistake. They finished 130 points per 100 possessions pace, an insane number.

And they still only won by 9. And it was a five-point game inside of the last five minutes.

And for that reason both teams should feel hopeful after this game.

Dallas got the win, they see nobody has an answer for Dirk, they still sent the Thunder to the free throw line 43 times — a cardinal sin against OKC. (The refs called this game very tight, not much like a conference finals at all.) Dallas let Serge Ibaka rack up 17 points. They could have contested shooters better. In short, their defense wasn’t very good, the Mavs feel like they have a better game in them.

The Thunder saw Nowitzki have a night for the ages (and get to the line 24 times), they saw Barea go off while their star guard Russell Westbrook shoot 3-for-15 — all that and they were not out of it at the end. This game could not have gone much worse and they had a shot to steal the win.

Because of all that this game felt like an outlier, a one off, a fluke. Dallas got the win but you can’t expect Game 2 (or three or beyond) to look or feel the same. Dirk can score, but can he replicate this pace? Can Durant? Can Westbrook get it going (four games against Dallas this season and Westbrook struggled in every one, so maybe not)?

Oklahoma City can defend Dallas better. Dirk someday will miss a shot. And that may be all the Thunder need.

All of which is to say, with all the weapons Dallas brings to the table, this series is far from over. It’s just getting started.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Associated Press
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.

Report: Warriors sign JaVale McGee go make-good training camp contract

JaVale McGee
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JaVale McGee is getting another shot in the NBA.

He played just 34 games off the bench for Dallas last season. He played 23 games the season before that due to injury.

But the Golden State Warriors are thin up front — Zaza Pachulia will get the bulk of the minutes at the five (when the Warriors use a traditional center), and there is the often-injured Anderson Varejao behind him. The Warriors could use another big. So they are giving McGee a look, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This is a low-risk move by the Warriors, and it’s worth the gamble. Vintage McGee, for all his Shaqtin’ a Fool flaws, is far more athletic and a better rim protector than any of the guys the Warriors now have at the five. If it doesn’t work out — and the odds are it will not — they cut him, if it does they pay him a minimum deal.

I hope he makes it, just because the league is more fun when McGee is in it.

Russell Westbrook laughs off question about Kevin Durant

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant #35 discuss play during the first half against the Los Angeles ClipperLos Angeles Kingsat Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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At some point, Russell Westbrook will sit down with members of the media and discuss Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder, how he felt about the move, and how it impacted him both personally and professionally.

But not right now. He remains silent.

This Vine making its way around, where Westbrook laughs — probably at the question, although read into that whatever you want — when asked about Durant sums up where we are.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

In the full Facebook clip, Westbrook walks away, too. It’s his right. He can talk about it on his schedule.

Rudy Gay, Vlade Divac clear the air

Rudy Gay
AP Photo
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Rudy Gay expressed displeasure with how the Kings were handling trade rumors. Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac retorted that Gay had his phone number.

Apparently, Gay found it.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Following those comments, Gay told ABC10 on Thursday afternoon that he had since spoken with Divac.

“I have talked to Vlade,” Gay said from his Nike Skills Academy at Hardwood Palace in Rocklin. “I can’t say since Monday stuff has changed, but I just feel like we have a little bit of time to start changing things.”

Gay, who will be entering his 11th NBA season, has insisted he hasn’t demanded a trade and should he remain a member of the Kings by the time training camp opens in October, he says he’ll report and be ready to go.

“At this point in my career I just want to be happy,” said Gay. “I talked to Vlade and we’re trying to make that happen.”

Even if he hasn’t demanded a trade, it sure sounds like Gay would welcome one. I doubt the Kings would mind moving on, either.

But it takes another team to trade for Gay, and so far, one hasn’t emerged.

In the meantime, tensions appear to be eased. Open communication usually helps.