NBA finals: Dirk must do some work, get some help

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Dallas has played surprisingly good defense in these NBA finals through three games. Miami shot 48.1 percent as a team in the regular season, 42.9 percent in the finals. Miami’s offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) has fallen from 109.3 during the season to 102.8 in the playoffs, which has worked out to Miami scoring 10.5 points fewer per game. (Stats via NBA Stats Cube.)

And yet it is the Miami defense that has been the real story, because a Mavericks offense that was clicking through the playoffs at 114.1 points per 100 possessions has been dragged down to 100.7 in the finals on 42 percent shooting.

Things got even tougher for the Mavs offense in Game 3, and if they don’t find a way to adjust for Game 4 on Tuesday night this series will be all over but the parade.

Dallas has made a couple of adjustments — J.J. Barea will start for Dallas instead of DeShawn Stevenson. Also, Brian Cardinal will move in front of Peja Stojakovic in the rotation.

We’ll see how that works. In every seven-game series I think there comes a time when one coach realizes he can’t win the chess match with the pieces he has on the board, so he makes a desperation gambit. They almost always fail. This feels like it could be Dallas’ gambit. Because the Heat have exploited Barea on defense all series, and Cardinal is Cardinal.

Dirk Nowitzki is still having a fantastic finals — averaging 28.3 points and 10 rebounds. He has cemented his place as one of the greatest scorers in the league. But Miami has made him work hard for every point, every touch, particularly in Game 3 when they upped pressure on ball denial. The Heat have become better about when to double-team him and how to throw him off-balance with it at different times.

Dallas still runs the offense through Nowitzki, but to do so has started to disrupt the flow of their offense. In earlier series when teams focused on Nowitzki, Dallas used amazing ball movement to free up shooters on the weak side. And those shooters — Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Stojakovic primarily — knocked down shots. But the athleticism and ferocity of the Heat defense has them close out more quickly on those shooters, which has led to Terry rushing and shooting 38.2 percent overall and 33 percent from three. Stojakovic is just 1-for-5 total.

Dallas has to make things a little easier for Nowitzki through movement off the ball and has to create better looks coming from the weak side — then knock down shots — or Game 4 could look a lot like Game 3. They also must play better when Nowitzki sits — they are minus-31 in this series in the 19 minutes, 32 seconds Nowitzki has sat. Dallas’ bench was supposed to be a plus, but it has hurt them this series.

Dallas also needs to limit turnovers and keep the Heat out of transition. It has to work too hard to score to give up easy fast break buckets to the Heat.

Defensively, the Mavericks need to find a way to slow Dwyane Wade — he is killing them, particularly in the post (but really anywhere he gets the ball, as his 57 percent shooting shows). Jason Kidd has done his best, but he is overmatched. The problem is, help out more on Wade and they have to deal with more LeBron James.

There are no easy answers for the Mavericks. Barea has been bothered by the length and athleticism of the Heat, but he has to hit his open looks. Terry has run his mouth, but he has to back that up now.

Throughout these playoffs, when really challenged the Mavericks have stepped up, made plays and found a way to win. Game 4 must be another of those situations for them. Fall behind to the Heat 3-1 in the series and they can start making golf reservations.

But maybe the biggest challenge for Dallas is Miami can play lot better, too. You get the feeling the Heat are just starting to play as a unit and find their upper gears. Dallas cannot match that if the Heat really execute and perform like they want.

James Harden throws alley-oop to Chris Paul, pair puts on show at Houston charity event

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What chemistry problem?

There are legitimate questions about how Chris Paul and James Harden will share the backcourt and ball with the Rockets, but none of those were on display on Sunday. That’s when CP3 joined his new teammate in Harden’s charity game (raising money for Harden’s charity, which helps children from single-family homes get a higher education), a kind of pro-am with some names thrown in to draw a crowd.

Harden and CP3 put on a show for the fans.

This is a charity event, not every team is going to defend like this or the Phoenix Suns. It’s going to be harder when the games matter.

But the Rockets are going to be entertaining to watch this season. No doubt.

Tampering is common in the NBA, but proving it is very difficult

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Want proof there is tampering in the NBA: Free agency starts on July 1 at midnight Eastern every year, and every year a number of new contracts for players with new teams are announced at 12:01 a.m. There is no way that a complicated NBA contract — even one where the two sides are both interested and will agree quickly on the price — is negotiated faster than it takes to get an In-N-Out Burger (or Five Guys burger, if you prefer the inferior).

Those deals are announced that fast because everything’s already been agreed to through back channels. Same with meetings when a major (or even mediocre) free agent starts talking to teams on July 1. Yet, the NBA rarely investigates, and even more rarely punishes a team for tampering. Why? Because it’s very difficult to prove.

The Lakers are being investigated for tampering with Paul George while he was under contract to the Indiana Pacers, an investigation reportedly started at the request of Pacers’ owner Herb Simon. Teams are not allowed to recruit or entice players under contract. The Lakers have denied any wrongdoing. Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and, with a wink, joked about what he’d tell George if they met this summer, and that ticked Simon off. The Pacers had to trade George, and because everyone around the league knows he more likely than not is a Laker next summer (long before Magic went on TV), his trade value was diminished. The Pacers got back Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him the day before free agency opened (although there may have been better offers on the table, and the choice and timing were odd). The Pacers think if there is an agreement in place between the Lakers and George that would have driven down the trade market (because he was a one-year rental, that market was already depressed).

Good luck proving tampering. Unless Magic did something stupid like text George directly, it will be almost impossible to prove.

NBA agents and front offices know how to avoid tampering using “back channels” — not unlike how governments who are public enemies still communicate. Someone, a couple of people removed from the agent/GM, can talk with someone a couple of people removed from the other side and set something up that gets brought back and agreed to. Or, an agent can have one of his other players do some of the work for him — players recruit each other all the time on social media (and off it), and the league doesn’t see that as tampering, unless specifically ordered by a GM/owner. James Harden recruited Chris PaulDraymond Green and other Warriors recruited Kevin Durant, and the league shrugged, but GM Bob Myers could not have done that (or directed the players to do that… again, good luck proving it if you think he did).

There are a few reasons it will be hard to prove the Lakers did anything. First, the Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka is a former agent and knows how to work the system — he’s not getting caught. Look what another agent told Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer.

“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.”

To prove tampering, Magic needs to have left a “paper trail,” which more accurately is a digital trail of texts or emails. But even that can get tricky. If Magic was texting with George’s agent Aaron Mintz that alone proves nothing, he also represents Julius Randle on the Lakers and D'Angelo Russell, who the Lakers traded a week before the George trade. It will take an email or text specifically talking about George for the Lakers to get in trouble, and Magic is smarter than that. Well, we think he is.

The bottom line is tampering is common and almost impossible to prove. Unless Magic screwed up, it will be unprovable here. Maybe the Pacers made their point, maybe Simon feels better, but it’s hard to see how this is going to be tampering.

Joakim Noah talks of “bounce back” year for himself, Knicks

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In a season of disappointments in New York, none was bigger than Joakim Noah.

There was plenty of scoffing around the league in the summer of 2016 when Phil Jackson signed the oft-injured, already declining Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract that was seen as one of the worst of a summer (and it was an ugly summer for contracts). He only played in 46 games, averaging 5.5 points on 49 percent shooting, plus 8.8 rebounds a game in those (and basically being averaged on offense and a step slow defensively). He missed time with a rotator cuff surgery and got a 20-game suspension for testing positive for Androgen (he has 13 of those games left and can’t play until Nov. 13).

Noah realizes how poorly last season went he told the “Truth Barrel’’ podcast, doesn’t think Jackson deserves all the blame, and said his goal is to make it up this season (hat tip The New York Post for the transcription).

“It’s tough, man, because I got a lot of love and respect for Phil,’’ Noah said. “He gave me an opportunity to play back home. Somebody I read all his books as a kid. I was just a big fan and still am. I have a lot of respect for him. It didn’t work out. That sucks. It’s something I have to live with. He believed in me, and I kind of let him down. That’s frustrating. He got a lot of blame that it was his fault. But we didn’t lose all those games because of Phil Jackson…

“I went through a lot of adversity,’’ Noah said. “You go through injuries. I lost my confidence this year. It’s about bouncing back and showing who I am through these tough times. It can really show what you’re made of.”

This is the only attitude Noah should have — look forward, get healthy, and look to right his wrongs next season.

Once he finishes his suspension, Noah likely will come off the bench behind Willy Hernangomez. (The Knicks should spend more time with Kristaps Porzingis at the five, but that’s another discussion.) Noah is going to get his chances, but nothing he has shown the past few seasons should have Knicks’ fans expecting a return to form. Noah has been an average to below-average player for a couple of seasons, he’s not moving the same way, and he’s not getting younger.

Noah can still have a positive impact on this team, he has a role to play, but it has to start with him getting back on the court.

Add Milos Teodosic to long list of stars missing EuroBasket

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The last Olympics in Rio saw a long list of NBA players sitting it out, either due to injuries, concerns about Zika virus, a serious dislike of açaí berries or just choosing to do something else with their time.

Now it looks like EuroBasket is suffering the same fate.

The latest name to come up is Milos Teodosic, who signed this summer with the Clippers, could never get healthy, and is out for Serbia. He joins a long list — Sportando put together a list of NBA players and stars who are out.

More than just one someone is missing, guys such as Ivica Zubac, Mario Hezonja, Paul Zipster, and others are out as well.

Spain, led by Pau Gasol, remain the heavy favorites to win EuroBasket 2017, with Serbia, France, and Lithuania potential contenders. There may be a lot of players missing, but there is still a lot of talent, and when guys are playing for national pride there is plenty of emotion and fire as well.