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.

Hawks hire Travis Schlenk as general manager

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The Hawks picked Warriors assistant general manager Travis Schlenk as their next general manager. All that was left was negotiating terms.

That’s done.

Hawks:

The Atlanta Hawks today announced the hiring of Travis Schlenk as General Manager and Head of Basketball Operations. He will start leading Hawks basketball operations on June 1.

Schlenk worked his way up the latter and helped the Warriors become the envy of every other NBA team. He deserves this opportunity.

But the job won’t be easy.

The Hawks are stuck between two directions. On one side, they have veterans Paul Millsap (a 32-year-old pending unrestricted free agent whom the owner has basically promised a huge contract) and Dwight Howard (who sounds unhappy). On the other side, they have a youth movement featuring Dennis Schroder and Taurean Prince. Tim Hardaway Jr., who bridges the age groups, is about to enter a potentially tricky restricted free agency.

Keeping the core together offers the upside of a playoff-series victory or two annually, modest outcomes for the cost. But a fragile Atlanta fan base might not tolerate a rebuild.

Schlenk works for owner Tony Ressler, and Ressler sounds committed to maintaining the status quo by keeping Millsap. It’s now Schlenk’s job to execute that vision or convince his boss to approve a different direction.

Potential none-and-done first-rounder Hamidou Diallo returning to Kentucky

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The more I’ve looked into the 2017 NBA draft, the less impressed I’ve become. There are a few bright spots in the first round relative to an average draft – No. 2, 5ish-10ish, 17ish-22ish – but I’m not convinced this is the generationally strong draft it has been touted as.

In the absence of prospects who offer secure promise, why not turn to upside? Hamidou Diallo offered plenty and was increasingly viewed as a first-rounder.

Yet, he’ll return to Kentucky for his freshman season.

Diallo:

A highly ranked recruit, Diallo began last school year at a prep school then enrolled at Kentucky for the spring semester. He practiced with the Wildcats, but never played.

Then, he went to the combine and posted excellent measurables: 6-foot-5, 6-foot-11 wingspan, 44.5-inch vertical and strong agility and sprint scores. Just 18, Diallo might have been the second-youngest player drafted this year (behind only Ike Anigbogu).

It wouldn’t have taken long – likely somewhere in the middle of the first round – for a team to bite on all that potential.

Instead, Diallo returns to Kentucky and must now show his ability to actually produce in basketball games. If he does, there’s no limit on how high he goes in the 2018 NBA draft. If he doesn’t, he’ll regret missing the opportunity to get drafted before his game got picked apart.

Report: Bulls expect Dwyane Wade to opt in

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Dwyane Wade said he wants to see the Bulls’ plan for Jimmy Butler and the rest of the roster before deciding on a $23.8 million player option for next season.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

I can tell you is most everyone associated with the Bulls believes Wade will pick up the option and remain in Chicago for a second season. More surprising things have happened in league history, though. So stay tuned.

This could be a tell that Wade will opt in. The Bulls could obviously be positioned to base their prediction on inside information into Wade’s thinking.

This could a tell the Bulls won’t trade Butler. If they know they’ll keep Butler, they can extrapolate what that’d mean for Wade.

Or the Bulls, like so many of us, just assume a 35-year-old Wade won’t turn down so much guaranteed money at this stage of his career.

PBT Extra: Why Derrick Rose more likely to be Spur than Chris Paul next season

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San Antonio heads into this summer looking to answer the question: What do we need to do to challenge the Golden State Warriors? Well, besides keeping Kawhi Leonard healthy.

They need to get more athletic, particularly along the front line, and they need a secondary shot creator and playmaker, that’s all at the top of the list.

One rumor that keeps gaining traction, Chris Paul to the Spurs. In this PBT Extra, I get into why that move is unlikely, and why a one-year contract with Derrick Rose is more probable. Basically, if you want to see a significant roster shift in San Antonio, wait until the summer of 2018.