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.

Report: Unless they trade for Jimmy Butler or Paul George, Celtics likely to keep main assets

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 26: Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls and Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers chase down a loose ball at the United Center on December 26, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Celtics have been linked in trade talks to the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler and Pacers’ Paul George, but that requires the other team to deal with Boston. Indications are neither Chicago nor Indiana is particularly amenable.

So, time for the Celtics to pick another star to target?

Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

With less than 24 hours until the NBA’s 3 p.m. trade deadline today, the Celtics were said to be still holding out hope that internal discussions within the Bulls and Pacers would lead to one or both making their best player available.

But short of that, the view from around the league is that the Celts are becoming more and more enamored with the idea of keeping their main assets and using the first-round draft pick they have coming from Brooklyn in June via a swap of positions. (They also have the Nets’ 2018 first-rounder unencumbered.)

Sources continued to say that, while there remains a chance things could change as the deadline draws nearer, Chicago and Indiana are more likely to retain Jimmy Butler and Paul George, respectively. Those All-Star talents have been the Celtics’ two main targets

This could just be the Celtics playing hardball — either through leaks to the media or through conversations with other teams that have trickled out. But Bulpett is well-connected, especially in Boston. This is more likely than most reports of this nature to be accurate, but it’s always difficult to break through the smokescreens this time of year.

The Nets’ upcoming first-rounder is extremely valuable, as they’ll likely finish with the NBA’s worst record. The Celtics could do far worse than keeping that pick.

But Boston’s top players — Isaiah Thomas (28) and Al Horford (30) — are already at ages where they can’t necessarily wait for a 2017 pick, even someone as talented at as Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball, to develop. It makes sense to cash in chips now.

Still, the Celtics’ deep pool of assets mean the window isn’t closing yet. There should be no desperation to make a win now trade.

If Boston keeps its main assets — mainly the Nets picks — past the trade deadline, we’ll just revisit all this again in the summer.

Cavaliers sign forward Derrick Williams to second 10-day contract

Cleveland Cavaliers' Derrick Williams, right, drives to the basket against Indiana Pacers' Rodney Stuckey in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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The Cleveland Cavaliers have signed forward Derrick Williams to a second 10-day contract.

The NBA champions have been impressed with Williams, a former No. 2 overall pick, and it’s likely they will sign him for the remainder of the season when his current contract expires. The Cavs announced Wednesday they signed Williams again. He has averaged 9.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in 22 minutes for the Cavs, who have been bringing him off their bench with their second unit.

Before signing as a free agent with Cleveland on Feb. 9, Williams played for Miami this season before being released.

The Cavs returned from the All-Star break Wednesday and will practice before hosting the New York Knicks on Thursday, just a few hours after the trade deadline.

Hornets’ Miles Plumlee out at least two weeks with leg injury

Charlotte Hornets' Miles Plumlee (18) dunks against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
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The Hornets are essentially two different teams with and without Cody Zeller.

They’re 22-17 when he plays and 2-15 when he doesn’t. They play at a 62-win pace with him on the floor and a 29-win pace when he sits.

So, with Zeller banged up, Charlotte traded for Miles Plumee. But Plumlee hasn’t provided much, just 3.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 13.4 minutes per game in five contests.

And now he’ll add even less.

Hornets release:

The Charlotte Hornets announced today that center Miles Plumlee underwent a Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI), which revealed a second-degree calf strain in his right leg. Plumlee will be out for Charlotte’s game tomorrow at Detroit and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

The Hornets incurred significant long-term costs ($37.5 million over the next three years) to use Plumlee as a short-term bandage. Without him providing even that, this situation looks bleak.

Depending on Zeller’s health, this could turn Charlotte — 2.5 games and three teams out of playoff position — into sellers before the trade deadline. At minimum, it makes the Hornets less likely to buy.

Report: Bulls pushing to trade for 76ers’ Jahlil Okafor

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 14: Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks to pass against Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on December 14, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Bulls reportedly reached out to the 76ers about Jahlil Okafor a few weeks ago.

After unfulfilled intrigue and maybe a trade that fell through, Okafor remains in Philadelphia. And Chicago apparently still wants him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

As constituted, the Bulls already have a few interior bigs: Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson and Cristiano Felicio. But one or more could go in an Okafor trade or another deal.

Okafor would make the Chicago younger, confusing its direction with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade already in place.

Perhaps, the Bulls are pushing for a trade only because they’re offering so little. Okafor’s low-post game offers intrigue. At the right price, he’d be worth adding, no matter the fit and direction presented.

Maybe the 76ers don’t go for a lowball offer, but that’d be worth trying considering their center logjam with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor. Otherwise, Chicago ought to tread carefully when pursuing Okafor.