NBA Playoffs: Can anyone slow Nowitzki, Durant?

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One player does not win a basketball game.

But if Dallas or Oklahoma City can figure out a way to slow the other’s star player in this series — starting with Game 2 Thursday night — they will have a huge leg up. Because in Game 1 those two pretty much scored like Wilt in Hershey.

Part of that is on the officials — they called a tight Game 1 (both ways) and if you can’t be physical with these guys they will shred you. And get to the line a lot (and nothing makes for great television like a parade to the free throw line). Oklahoma City may want to make sure Dirk can’t catch the ball 18 feet out on the right baseline and face up — one he has the battle is lost. Doesn’t matter if you get a hand in his face, he can hit 8 out of 10 blindfolded from there. You have to deny him his spots on the floor.

Same with Durant — they defenders he struggles with are the ones that play great ball denial and don’t let him ever get comfortable. If he does, you lose.

Expect both teams to try and be more physical with the other’s star, look for more hard double teams to come earlier.

All of that has trade offs — double Dirk and those deadly Mavs jump shooters are wide open. Double Durant and you’ll have Russell Westbrook and James Harden flashing to the basket. Will the defenders help the helper, will the rotations be tight? If not, both teams can make you pay.

Westbrook is another key for this Game 2 — not in the he should score 30 way (he can, but it comes at a cost) but can he strike the balance we saw in Game 7 against Memphis. He can score, but he needs to balance the team out. As Beckley Mason said so well, he can’t eat that marshmallow.

There are a lot of interesting things to watch this game. At key moments the Thunder struggled when the Mavericks went to a zone, will they attack it better this game? On the other end, can OKC find a good defensive answer for the J.J. Barea/Nowitzki pick-and-roll?

Game 1 felt like an outlier. A one off. Nowitzki and Durant are elite scorers, but to expect that kind of performance in Game 2 is a mistake. Others will step up, teams will have adjustments. Game 2 will give us a better feel for what the rest of this series will look like.

It’s going to take more than one player to win it.

Jazz boost international bona fides with new minor-league coach

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Martin Schiller has been named coach of the Salt Lake City Stars, the Utah Jazz’s NBA G League affiliate.

Schiller previously served as an assistant coach of MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg in Germany and replaces Dean Cooper. He was an assistant coach for the Artland Dragons from 2010-15.

Schiller has also been an assistant coach on the German National Team since 2015, where he worked with Jazz assistant coach Alex Jensen.

Schiller hails from Vienna, Austria, and Stars vice president of basketball operations Bart Taylor lauded him for his international experience and player development background.

The Jazz organization is known to have close relationships with the international basketball community. The Jazz currently have eight international players.

Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 with Celtics

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BOSTON (AP) — Newly acquired guard Kyrie Irving will wear No. 11 in Boston because the Celtics already have retired the numbers he wore in college and with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Irving wore No. 11 at two New Jersey high schools before switching to No. 1 at Duke. He wore No. 2 with the Cavaliers for the first six years of his NBA career.

The Celtics retired No. 1 for founder and original owner Walter Brown. They retired No. 2 for former coach and general manager Red Auerbach.

In all, the Celtics have retired 21 numbers, with Paul Pierce’s No. 34 next in line for the TD Garden rafters.

 

PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ new GM aces first big test with Kyrie Irving trade

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Everyone in the NBA — heck, nearly everyone living in the Western hemisphere — knew Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland. That should kill the Cavaliers’ leverage and make it hard to get enough quality back.

New GM Koby Altman — the guy thrust into the job when David Griffin was shown the door — pulled it off brilliantly.

That’s what I talk about in this new PBT Extra. With Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, the Cavaliers remain the team to beat in the East this season. The Brooklyn Nets pick gives them flexibility going forward, whatever LeBron James decides to do next season.

First time at the plate in the big leagues and Altman crushed it to straight away center field.

Cavaliers-Celtics deal first offseason trade involving players who just met in NBA Finals or conference finals

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The Cavaliers and Celtics played in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. The teams were widely expected to meet there again.

Yet, Cleveland and Boston just completed a blockbuster trade – Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

That seemed odd.

In fact, it’s unprecedented.

That is an incredible fact, one which speaks to LeBron Jamescachet. The Cavs are emphasizing this season, LeBron’s last before a player option, by loading up with veterans Thomas and Crowder. With LeBron still reigning in Cleveland, the Celtics are delaying their peak by acquiring the younger Irving.

Adding to the intrigue: the Cavs and Celtics are still favored to meet in this year’s conference finals. At minimum, they’ll face off in a(n even more) highly anticipated opening-night matchup.