Dallas finally runs out of comebacks in Game 3 of the Finals

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The Mavericks have made a living off of big comebacks to get to this point in the postseason, but at some point, constantly fighting back from behind gets to be too much.

That point may have been reached in Game 3 of the Finals on Sunday, when Dallas, for the second consecutive game, erased all of a 14-point Miami lead in the second half, but couldn’t finish the job as the Heat held on for an 88-86 victory that put the Mavericks at a two games to one disadvantage in the series.

Instead of trailing big late and making a startling comeback as they did in Game 2, the Mavs were seemingly behind all night long, and had to make multiple runs to close the gaps.

“I really believe the fact that we were digging out of holes all night was something that, you know, it was difficult to overcome,” Rick Carlisle said afterward, in a press conference that was streamed live on NBA.com.

On this night, it proved to be impossible.

Dallas saw a seven-point deficit at the end of the first quarter increase to 12 early in the second. They cut it to five a few minutes later, and then Miami ran it up to 14, before Dallas shaved it down once again to five by halftime.

The Heat opened the second half on an 8-0 run to push it back to 13, before Dallas was finally able to take the lead with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The Mavericks’ lead — the team’s first of the game since there was 3:28 to play in the first quarter — lasted exactly one possession, and was followed by back-to-back three-pointers from LeBron James and Mario Chalmers which quickly gave Miami yet another cushion.

The Heat’s lead reached as many as seven again in the final period before Dallas made its final run, and found itself down two with possession and 4.4 seconds remaining. Dirk Nowitzki got the ball as time was winding down, but went up for a tough fadeaway from 16 feet out that was heavily contested, and he threw it away trying to pass it off as time expired.

There’s no question that Dallas had its chances late, and in a game decided by just two points, there are a lot of things you can point to as reasons you came up short. But constantly having to battle back from behind all game long is physically and emotionally draining, and may have had a real effect on the missed open looks down the stretch.

“We can’t always fall down behind,” Nowitzki said. “I think we’re always reacting.  We did in the first quarter, we fell down big.  Third quarter we came out slow, fell down big.  Obviously it takes a lot of energy for us to fight back.

“We all understand that basketball is a game of runs.  We have to stop the runs a little quicker.  We can’t go down 15 all the time and battle back.  You can get like a five, six‑point swing here and there.  We can’t always get in a deep hole like that.”

As always, there are plenty of tangible reasons that the Mavericks lost Game 3. Dwyane Wade was spectacular for the second straight game, and he got plenty of help from James and Chris Bosh, as well as some critical minutes from Mario Chalmers off the bench. Meanwhile, Dallas struggled to get anywhere near efficient production from anyone not named Nowitzki. The only other two Mavericks in double figures, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry, combined for 25 points, but needed 25 shots to get there.

Dallas has shown they can compete with Miami in this series. We can sit here and pick apart the Mavs’ woeful team offense beyond Dirk, and lament the fact that Wade and James got into the paint for easy opportunities seemingly at will, especially in the first half. But the bottom line is, it was a one-possession game in the final seconds, and the Mavs had the ball in the hands of their best player with a chance to tie or win the game at the buzzer.

I think if you told either team beforehand that’s how things would play out for them, they’d like their chances. The Mavericks have to like theirs as the series continues, but only if they can find a way to turn things around, and put the Heat on the wrong end of those early-game deficits.

Here’s LeBron James trying on Lonzo Ball’s weirdo jump shooting form (VIDEO)

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Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James is shooting 37.3 percent from 3-point range this season. That’s up a little more than six percent from last season, and three percent better than his career average. He doesn’t need much help there this season, but you know that LeBron is always looking for ways to improve.

Including, apparently, trying on UCLA star Lonzo Ball’s shooting form.

During warmups on Thursday before the Cavaliers took on the Chicago Bulls, LeBron messed around with Ball’s awkward shooting form. If you haven’t seen it, it’s an odd draw from right-to-left, with the right-handed Ball almost shooting from the left side of this face.

Ball was a 41.3 percent shooter from deep during his one season at UCLA and will be a top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, perhaps much to the chagrin of whichever team has to deal with his dad, LaVar.

Scottie Pippen throws blame for Knicks woes at feet of his former coach Phil Jackson

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Apparently, it’s not “be kind to your former boss month.”

Bulls legend and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was on ESPN’s “The Jump” — the Rachel Nichols hosted NBA show on each afternoon — and the topic turned to how much the Knicks stink. And why. Of course, there’s plenty of blame to go around for just about everyone on that front, but Pippen threw his former coach under the bus (transcription via the New York Daily News).

“To be honest with you, I’m going to have to go at my old coach Phil Jackson,” Pippen said on ESPN’s “The Jump.” “I think he just hasn’t put the right pieces on the floor. I give a lot of credit to Carmelo who is being very professional in getting through these 82 game season. And now he’s being benched to some degree, they’re taking a lot of his minutes away. But this team just hasn’t had it. They haven’t had it since Phil Jackson landed there. There hasn’t been any upside.”

After saying “fans would love to see Carmelo in New York and Phil out,” Pippen was asked by host Rachel Nichols if he believes Jackson “should be out.”

“Yes,” Pippen replied emphatically.

Most of Jackson’s former players have his back, most recently Shaquille O’Neal who laid blame at the feet of the Knicks’ players. The ones that Jackson assembled into a mismatched team.

Phil Jackson’s record may be 77-162 since taking over the Knicks, but reports are he isn’t going anywhere. While owner James Dolan can flip like a pancake on a griddle, the sense is that Jackson will keep collecting his $12 million annual salary and will keep trying to build a triangle-offense team. That means Carmelo Anthony likely gets moved this summer.

Jackson has seemingly fallen into the trap the Knicks have been unable to climb out of for years — since James Dolan took over as owner seemingly — of not just picking a system, sticking to it, being patient and avoiding quick fixes. Triangle, Rhombus, pick-and-roll heavy, whatever offense the Knicks use should be built around getting Kristaps Porzingis touches and playing to his strengths. Get younger players who fit that system to go around him and let it grow together. Be patient. Instead, it’s Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Jackson deserves blame. A significant amount. So do the players. So does Jeff Hornacek as coach. But make sure Dolan gets a big slice too, this team has struggled since he was given control, and he is the one constant.

Frustrated Kyrie Irving on another ring: “And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

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Since the All-Star break, the Cleveland Cavaliers have not looked like a championship team. They have been in a malaise going 8-10 with the second-worst defense in the NBA during that stretch. The Cavs like a team that is just waiting for the games to have meaning again in the playoffs. It makes one tempted to say this will come back to bite them in the postseason, but which team in the East is going to beat them?

The Cavaliers players are frustrated with their play of late, too.  Kyrie Irving vented about it after practice, as reported by Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Obviously it was just a frustrating game and there have been a few frustrating games for all of us,” Irving said. “Just getting back to what we do, having fun with one another and being truthful with one another — we’ll be good…

And then Irving said: “You can’t rely on just thinking that one championship is enough. It’s natural for human beings to just get comfortable. To rely on just having won a championship. But if you a (competitor) you want two, you want three, you want four. And if you dedicate yourself more like you say you do, then you want more. And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

Injuries have had key players, most recently Kevin Love and J.R. Smith out of the rotation of late, and working them back in has not gone smoothly. Still, this is the same core from the team that won the title last season, it shouldn’t be that difficult to get back into a groove.

Cleveland is acting like a team that thinks it can flip the switch.

Maybe they can, but there are some powerful teams out West who seemed to have flipped theirs long ago.

 

Rumor: Bulls ready to move on from Jimmy Butler this summer

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Predicting what the Chicago Bulls front office will do this summer is a game of roulette — the ball can land anywhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Is Dwyane Wade coming back? Is Nikola Mirotic part of the future? Fred Hoiberg? What kind of team are the Bulls trying to build, anyway?

Then there is the biggest one: Is Jimmy Butler still part of the long-term plan? Or is he going to be moved to facilitate a rebuilding process?

Last summer when the Bulls had the chance to trade him, they kept Butler to build around him… then made some interesting choices in trying to do that. They didn’t get enough shooting, players didn’t fit well, and others didn’t develop, and the Bulls are struggling to even make the postseason.

So what do the Bulls do this summer? One exec told Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that the Bulls were going to move Butler.

Paul George and Jimmy Butler were involved in trade rumors at the deadline, and all indications are that those conversations will resume this offseason. One front-office source told me recently that Butler is “as good as gone,” while George sounds like a player who wants out.”

Paul George wanting to contend (or if not, be in Los Angeles) is not news, but whether the Pacers decide to be serious about trading him this summer depends on a number of factors that we’re not going to get into here. This article is about Butler.

Do the Bulls want to trade Butler? Some in the front office do, some don’t. There were reports the Bulls wanted an All-Star level player for him so the team did not take a step back, but nobody was giving that up. Everyone in Chicago from ownership through management is not on the same page, which helps explain some of the stop-gap team building moves by the team. Chicago needs to decide if it wants to go for the full rebuild, which is what happens if they trade Butler. The playoffs are out of the questions for a few years if they do, but that’s not a bad thing if they draft well and commit to the plan. However, there is a sense that ownership thinks “this is Chicago, we don’t rebuild.”

All of which is to say, if the Bulls trade Butler it’s not a huge surprise. If they keep him, it’s not a huge surprise. But other teams — hello Boston — may be prepping for him to come back on the trade market around the draft.