Dallas Mavericks v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Four

NBA Playoffs: Nowitzki closes out Durant, Thunder in Game 4

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Shortly after Kevin Durant entered the NBA, he was given the label of the NBA’s Next Great Closer. Everything about him suggests that he should be able to close teams out. He has a quiet confidence about him, is never afraid to shoot the ball, and never seems to break a sweat as he coldly pours in basket after basket.

More importantly, his game looks the part. Like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, the current closer archetypes, Durant is a great athlete with a beautiful jump shot and a natural grace about his game — it’s so easy to picture Durant firing a jump shot over a helpless defender as time expires, which is the image we always associate with “closers” in basketball.

Nowitzki, meanwhile, has never really been seriously considered as a closer. He’s soft. He’s European. He’s a big man. He missed a crucial free throw in Game 3 of the 2006 Finals. He’s never won a ring. Et cetera.

The truth, however, is that Dirk has been perhaps the deadliest closer in the NBA for years, while Durant has had his ups and downs in late-game situations.

This season, the Mavericks were the league’s best team in clutch situations, and Dirk was obviously the biggest reason for that. Nowitzki averaged 42 points per 48 minutes on 62.5% True Shooting in “clutch” situations, and the Mavericks outscored teams by an average of 38 points per 48 minutes when Nowitzki was on the floor in close games.

It should be noted that the Thunder were very good in close games this season as well, as was Durant. Durant averaged 44 points per 48 minutes on 55% True Shooting in “clutch” situations this season, and the Thunder outscored their opponents by 19.6 points per 48 minutes when Durant was on the floor in close games.

However, while Nowitzki has been great in close games for years, the Thunder’s late-game success has been a relatively recent development. Last season, the Thunder were actually outscored in “clutch” situations, and Durant shot only 35.6% in those situations.

This season, with Russell Westbrook and James Harden having emerged as impact players for the Thunder, Oklahoma City was able to get some ball movement late and allow Durant what he does best late in games — make a jumper or drive to the rim off of a pass.

According to Synergy Sports, Durant averages an impressive 1.14 points per possession when he gets the ball in catch-and-shoot situations and .98 points per possession when he gets the ball coming off a screen, but he struggles when he’s forced to be a primary playmaker. Durant averaged .91 points per possession (37% shooting) in isolation, .87 PPP as the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls, and .84 PPP on post-ups.

Throughout the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Thunder’s improved offensive movement and additional playmakers allowed Durant to be successful in the clutch. But on Monday night, Durant was forced to try and do everything himself, and the results weren’t pretty. In the last five minutes of the game, Durant only got three shots up, missed all of them, and committed one turnover and no assists. In overtime, Durant went 0-3 from the field again, and had another turnover without an assist.

Considering the lead the Thunder had with so little time remaining in the game, Durant probably should have been able to get away with a poor clutch performance. Unfortunately for him, Dirk Nowitzki was in the building and in the mood to show why he should be considered one of the best closers in basketball, if not the best.

Nowitzki scored 12 points in the final five minutes of the game, doing his damage with two mid-range jump shot, a shot from the paint, a three-pointer, and three made free throws, two of which tied the game with six seconds remaining. Nowitzki only scored two points in overtime, but he did assist on the Jason Kidd three with 40 seconds to go that ultimately put the Mavericks up for good.

Nowitzki may not be seen as having the “clutch gene” because of his late-game struggles in the finals a half a decade ago and his perceived “softness” (which is more rooted in xenophobia than it is in actual analysis of Nowtizki’s game), but he’s much better suited to succeed in late-game situations than Durant is.

Nowitzki shoots a ridiculous 53.2% in isolation situations, and 54.4% in post-up situations, which usually occur in the mid-to-high post area rather than the low post. Nowitzki’s mid-range jump shot, which he has become an absolute master at setting up, is the best go-to move in the NBA, bar none. Even if the defense knows it’s coming, they have little hope of stopping it, and Dirk has developed a few nifty counter-moves that allow him to score if the defense attempts to overplay the jumper too much. And if you try to play him physical and end up committing a foul, that’s two nearly-automatic points.

No matter how hard teams try to run their offense late in games, things generally devolve into one-on-one play with the paint walled off, and nobody is better in those situations than Dirk Nowitzki, especially not Kevin Durant. The Thunder learned that the hard way in Game 4.

The aesthetics of Durant’s game may mean he’ll still be considered by some to be a be a better “closer” than Nowitzki. However, if the Thunder fail to win the next three games in a row and end up going home early, Durant’s sterling clutch reputation would be a meager consolation prize. Durant is a decade younger than Nowitzki, and has time to improve on his late-game play, but on Monday Nowitzki put aside any doubt that he’s currently on another level than Durant is when it comes to late-game situations.

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson each hit seven threes, Warriors pull away from Magic

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each hit seven 3-pointers and the Golden State Warriors won their seventh straight game, beating the Orlando Magic 118-98 on Sunday.

Tied at the half, the Warriors woke up from West Coast time in the second half to pull away. This was the first Eastern time zone noon tip for them since 1995, when they lost by 34 points in Orlando.

Curry went 7 for 13 on 3s and scored 27 points while Thompson as 7 for 9 from behind the arc and had 21 points. The Warriors shot 19 of 42 overall from 3-point range while the Magic went 7 for 28.

After trailing by 11 in the first half and committing a dozen turnovers, the Warriors went into the break even at 50. Curry hit four 3s and had 14 points in the third quarter as the Warriors outscored the Magic 42-24.

Kevin Durant added 15 points for the Warriors, Zaza Pachulia had 14 and JaVale McGee added 13.

Elfrid Payton led Orlando with 23 points. Nikola Vucevic, Jeff Green, C.J. Watson and Bismack Biyombo each had 12.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Lost at Orlando 132-98 on March 26, 1995, in their previous noon tip in the East. … Coach Steve Kerr decided to rest backup point guard Shaun Livingston.

Magic: D.J. Augustin sprained his right ankle during the second quarter and did not return to the game. … The Magic signed D-League affiliate Erie BayHawks forward Anthony Brown to a 10-day contract Sunday. Brown is averaging 21.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and one steal in 16 games with the BayHawks.

 

Report: Bulls shopping Rajon Rondo, Nikola Mirotic as trade deadline apporaches

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 02: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Chicago Bulls watches from the bench as the Bulls take on the Charlotte Hornets at the United Center on January 2, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Hornets 118-111. The NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this 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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Chicago’s front office chose to make quick-fix, treading water moves this summer. They wisely traded Derrick Rose and kept Jimmy Butler as a franchise cornerstone, but when the possibility of getting Dwyane Wade became a reality they decided to push to win more now, adding Rajon Rondo to the mix. The fit seemed awkward from the start and the result is exactly what everyone outside Chicago predicted — a roughly .500 team (22-23) that is terrible at shooting the three.

The Bulls are barely in the playoff mix and are now looking to make changes, shopping Rondo and Nikola Mirotic in hopes of finding players that are better fits, reports Joe Crowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

According to multiple sources, the Bulls have been actively shopping Rajon Rondo and Nikola Mirotic in hopes of shaking up the roster, as well as making a second-half run in the wide-open Eastern Conference. However, according to one of the sources, neither player is moving the needle as far as what general manager Gar Forman deems a worthy return.

“Obviously, you knew that would be the case with Rondo,’’ the source said. “But they don’t like what they’re hearing back on [Mirotic] either. Then again, that’s a [front office] that tends to overvalue its assets.”

This isn’t really news to anyone following the Bulls, they have been looking for deals — particularly for Rondo — for a little while.

The bigger question is: What do the Bulls think they could get back for Rondo? It’s not going to be anything of value. The summer free agent market for him was not strong and, while he was arguably the best point guard still on the market when they went looking, the $14 million they gave him this season was more about money they had to spend than pure market value. Since then, Rondo has had clashes with the coaching staff and been sent to the bench which plays into his reputation (whether that is fair or not is another question), making it even harder to find a taker for him.

Mirotic has taken a step back this season and is inconsistent with what his supposed to be his strength, outside shooting — he is hitting just 31.1 percent from three this season. While a change of scenery could be good for his touch from the outside, he is also a major defensive liability, which limits his value.

All of which is to say, the Bulls are not going to get a lot in return here. The Bulls may realize that Cristiano Felicio is the future at that spot for them, but it doesn’t mean others are biting on Mirotic.

Also, just a reminder that the Bulls are shooting down all trade interest about Butler.

 

Baron Davis figured out why Russell Westbrook isn’t starting All-Star Game: Russian hackers

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When the starters for next month’s All-Star Game in New Orleans were announced this week, there was a mini-uproar on Twitter because Russell Westbrook — the guy averaging a triple-double this season — wasn’t picked. It’s hard for me to get worked up over two-time MVP Stephen Curry getting the nod, but if you want someone to blame it was the fans’ call — they voted Curry first overall, James Harden second, Westbrook third. The players and media had Westbrook first, Harden second, but the tie is broken by the fan vote.

Enter Baron Davis with the timely joke.

We just need to tie in a Zaza Pachulia joke and it will be perfect.

Report: Bucks brought Jabari Parker off bench for discussing with media team’s meeting

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker, center, looks for an open teammate as he is surrounded by Miami Heat players during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Miami. The Heat defeated the Bucks 109-97. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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The Milwaukee Bucks had lost four in a row and had slid out of a playoff slot in the East. It’s not one end of the court — in their last five games, the Bucks had the second-worst defense and fourth-worst offense in the NBA. After that fourth loss, the team held a players’ only meeting, one where Jabari Parker reportedly ripped his teammates for a lack of togetherness.

In the postgame media sessions that followed, Parker told the press he confirmed there was a meeting and said he had been “thrashed” by his teammates for what he said.

It was that speaking to the media that got him benched for a game — as decided by his teammates — reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker did not start in Saturday’s road loss to the Miami Heat for violating a team rule that prohibits disclosing locker room discourse to the media, league sources told ESPN…

Parker’s teammates deliberated and decided the appropriate punishment for the violation was to bring him off the bench against the Heat, league sources told ESPN. It was the first time this season that he did not start.

The meeting and the benching didn’t help, the Bucks fell to the lowly Heat 109-97. (Team/players meetings are overrated in how often they help teams turn things around.)

The good news for the Bucks is that in a tight East they remain just a game out of the playoffs and three games out of the five seed. It’s going to be a tough week to turn that around with the Rockets, resurgent Sixers, Raptors, and Celtics on the schedule.