NBA Playoffs: Mavs win with offensive potency despite the absences of Butler and Beaubois

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As the Dallas Mavericks are doused with the effusive praise that comes with being a conference champion, let’s not forget that their incredible accomplishments have come despite their two X-factors watching in suits from the sideline.

It’s odd to discuss a team headed to the NBA finals in terms of substantial setbacks, but there’s simply no other way to address the season-ending injury to Caron Butler and the gradual irrelevance of Rodrigue Beaubois. Both were supposed to be significant players for Dallas this season, and it’s a testament to the team’s depth and the efficacy of those available that the Mavs stand atop the Western Conference.

Butler is by far the more significant loss, as the Mavs knew exactly what he could offer this particular team during this particular season. Dallas’ early success on both ends of the court was because of Butler’s adjustments to better accommodate the team; gone was the ball-stopper of a year ago, and in his place stood an effective perimeter defender willing to move within the offense and play within himself.

The Mavericks were a tremendously successful and dynamic team with Butler in the fold; imagine them as they are now, but with an effective, involved version of DeShawn Stevenson. Butler connected on 43.1 percent of his 3-point attempts and 45 percent of his attempts overall — notably improved marks from his initial half-season of adjustment in Dallas following the 2010 trade deadline. He seemingly found his place within the offense and the team as a whole, and though Butler posted a PER of just 14.2 (relatively average, but low by the standards of his career), his value in terms of defense and shot creation far exceed that number.

As for Beaubois, this season’s Mavs lost out on an unquantifiable potential impact. He was the team’s second-best per-minute scorer a season ago, and an efficient bucket-getting machine. This year was supposed to be an extension of that same theme, a development and growth of Beaubois as a player and a point guard. Yet as much as Beaubois’ future was discussed in terms of what could be (both from a skill and positional standpoint), all of that rhetoric was a thinly veiled assessment of what would be.

Beaubois was deemed untouchable by Mark Cuban because he was seen as a sure thing, and public assessments of his game were equally optimistic. At worst, Beaubois would be a tremendous scorer capable of driving and shooting his way to 20-point nights on the regular. His length and athleticism give him great defensive potential, and his relative inexperience with the game left plenty of growing room for Beaubois’ budding passing and ball-handling abilities.

Beaubois may still hold those same natural predispositions for NBA effectiveness, but this season — one in which he was held out of 54 games because of complications surrounding an offseason foot injury — has understandably tarnished his perceived potential. Something for Beaubois never really clicked this season; his scoring instincts misled him, and he oscillated between periods of extreme passivity and offensive overextension. The scoring that had been at the core of Beaubois’ game deserted him, and while he still scored 17.1 points per 36 minutes, Beaubois’ efficiency plummeted. At moments, he looked like a dime-a-dozen undersized two guard, capable of scoring in bursts but largely inefficient.

Yet despite the losses of the actual and the potential, the Mavs persevered. Shawn Marion stepped into more minutes and an expanded offensive role, the kind which had been denied him by Dallas’ almost superfluous depth. Peja Stojakovic recovered from the mysterious back injuries that had kept him off the court in Toronto, and became a semi-regular contributor. Yet even more importantly, Jason Terry and J.J. Barea rebounded from their slow starts. Barea didn’t top 40 percent shooting during a month of the regular season until January, and his 3-point shooting hit almost comical lows in the mid-teens. ‘JET’ improved his field-goal shooting by 6 percent between January and February, and hasn’t looked back.

Neither player was limited by the system or even the clutter on the depth chart, but simply had failed to tap into the specific strengths of their games during the season’s opening months. Throw in a fully transcendent performance from Dirk Nowitzki, and you have the current, actualized product.

They didn’t need a big trade for a quasi-star wing or any kind of revamp — just consistency. Just an established effort to work through the season with the players available, with the knowledge that guys like Terry and Barea were better than their performance indicated. Rick Carlisle, Donnie Nelson, and Mark Cuban knew that Marion was still a capable offensive player. They knew that Stojakovic could contribute in spots, and while he couldn’t replace Butler, he could at least hedge the loss of his perimeter shooting. And perhaps most importantly, they knew Nowitzki could still act as a sufficient centerpiece without additional help, and Jason Kidd could be trusted to pull everything together on both ends.

This run to the NBA finals required the perfect mix of ingredients and circumstance, but so do all runs to the finals. It’s only because of the persistence of this roster, coaching staff and front office that this group was able to grow, thrive, and take the Western Conference by storm.

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.