NBA Playoffs: Mavericks defense looks good thanks to Thunder offense

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“Tonight we played championship-level defense for the first time in the series,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after the game in an interview broadcast on NBA TV.

Maybe. But the Oklahoma City Thunder really helped them out with that — it’s a lot easier to cover a guy who is standing still. And the Thunder did a lot of standing around. On several trips down in a row in the second quarter Peja Stojakovic was on Kevin Durant, but the Thunder never exploited it as Durant stood still and called for the ball.

Russell Westbrook has and continues to take a lot of heat for the Thunder offense. Certainly he has had issues with 15 turnovers this series himself, a few of which led to some ugly frustration in Game 2. Then in Game 3, he scored 30 but was dominating the offense, shooting a lot and seemed to spend a lot of time just pounding the ball, dribbling at the top of the key.

But while Westbrook was dribbling, what movement do you see off the ball, what actions are being set up? Very little. Durant doesn’t work well off picks, doesn’t fight to get open. The Thunder’s offense has been stagnant, forcing Westbrook (or James Harden) to create everything off the dribble, maybe off a screen late in the clock.

Dallas has taken advantage of this, pressuring Westbrook and Harden when they have to create. They have Tyson Chandler in the paint, waiting to block shots. They are overplaying off-the-ball screens and the Thunder are not countering by big men slipping the screens or guys sliding out to the arc.

It all came together in Game 3 and the end result was Oklahoma City shooting 36.5 percent from the field and 1-of-17 from beyond the arc. The result was the Thunder scoring a rather anemic 96.7 points per 100 possessions. That is the reason the Mavericks are up 2-1 after a Game 3 win 93-87.

Dallas is a good defensive team, seventh in the NBA during the regular season giving up just 102.3 points per 100 possessions. But the Thunder put up 130.1 and 113.6 points per 100 possessions per game the first two. Oklahoma City attacked, hit their shots and got to the rim. But it was still a lot of success out of isolation and picks, not ball movement.

What happened Saturday was not all on Oklahoma City — Shawn Marion did a good job on Kevin Durant, who had 24 points but needed 23 shots to get that and only got to the line three times.Chandler has done a great job protecting the paint, taking away the easy buckets.

“We did not do a good job offensively, but I thought they did a great job, really took us out of our sets, they were trapping on the basketball,” Scott Brooks said after the game in an interview broadcast on NBA TV. “Just got us playing on our heels.”

Dallas did play its best defense of the series, but the Thunder fall out of their sets far too easily. The result is isolation basketball that is easier to defend. Isolation basketball that will not win them this series.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.

Report: Pacers waive Rodney Stuckey, will likely add player before playoffs

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Rodney Stuckey was having a down year for the Pacers when he was healthy, averaging 7.2 points and 2.2 assists per game, with a well below average 48.3 true shooting percentage. Stuckey also was not healthy often, playing in just 39 games.

The Pacers are banged up — Glenn Robinson III and Al Jefferson are hurt — and need a healthy body on the roster for the playoffs, plus they weren’t going to pick up Stuckey’s $7 million option for next season anyway, so they chose to wave him Wednesday, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports.

The question now is who the Pacers bring in to fill that spot. With Jefferson down, do they lean on someone they know in Tyler Hansbrough? Is there someone out of the D-League or free agent pool that intrigues them?

The Pacers need to do something to start winning some games and making Paul George happy.

Paul George on Pacers after loss: “No sense of urgency, no winning pride”

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Indiana still has a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs (according to fivethirtyeight.com), they are two games clear of the nine seed with seven games to play.

But they fell to that seventh seed with a loss to Minnesota on Tuesday night, an evening that Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Miami all won. Chicago is the nine seed right now, lurking with its soft schedule, and looking for another team to slip up, and in a key game Indiana did.

The Pacers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday night despite being at home and having a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Indy had no answer for Karl-Anthony Towns, who dropped 37. Paul George had 37 points as well, and afterwards pissed and frustrated would be good words to describe his mood. Here’s his quote, via Nate Taylor at the Indy Star.

“We should have a professional approach, man, and defend our home court, especially to a team that’s not even in the playoffs,” George said of losing to the Timberwolves (29-44). “That’s what it comes down to. As a team, we’ve got to have a grit and we’ve got to own up, man up….

“There’s no urgency, no sense of urgency, no winning pride,” he said. “This locker room is just not pissed off enough.”

If you don’t have urgency playing for your playoff lives with seven games left in the season, when will you have it?

Yes, this was a frustrated George venting after a loss. However, it also points again to the challenges Larry Bird and the Pacer front office have this summer — George wants to win, wants to play for a contender. Or if not that, maybe in his hometown. If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team (he likely just misses out, forward is a stacked position in the league right now) and the Pacers can’t offer him a “designated player” max, Indiana needs to put a contender around him, or consider trading him so they don’t lose him for nothing in a year. Both of those options present challenges come July.

In the short term, the Pacers need to make the playoffs. Even if they do, play like this against the Cavaliers (their current first-round matchup) or any of the other top-four teams in the East and Indy’s stay in the postseason will be short and uneventful.