Miami Heat v Dallas Mavericks - Game Three

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.

Four Things to Watch in two Game 7s Sunday

during game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  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.
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It’s what the playoffs are all about — win or go home Game 7s. Pressure, drama, unlikely stars Sunday is going to have it all. Here are a few things to watch:

1) Can Miami’s jump shooters have another hot game? Dwyane Wade got the headlines (and he earned them) for his Game 6 performance (everyone except purple shirt guy was impressed), but the real key for the Heat to force a Game 7 was they were hitting their jumpers — or at least enough of them. In their three losses, Miami shot 33.7 percent from 3 feet out to the arc, but in Game 6 the Heat shot 43.5 percent in that range, plus knocked down eight threes. The Hornets have packed the paint all series, when the Heat hit their jumpers they win. It’s that simple.

2) Does Kemba Walker have one more big game in him? Walker was fantastic in Game 6 (37 points), and he’s been very good in the Hornets’ victories. He’s going to penetrate and get some shots inside eight feet, but will he be able to finish? And, more importantly, will he hit his threes when they pack the paint on him? If Walker has a huge game, Charlotte very likely moves on.

3) Is Toronto too far into their own head? No team has more pressure on them to advance out of the first round than Toronto after two previous years of getting bounced in the first round, and they will feel that weight at home in Game 7 against Indiana. Will Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan step up with big games in the biggest moments of their careers, or will they succumb to the moment and the Pacers defense? For all the Xs and Os that do matter in this game, how the Raptors handle the pressure will be key.

4) Can the Pacers again get a few quality minutes when Paul George sits? In the Pacers comfortable Game 6 win, George got a rest in the second quarter and the Pacers were +5 while he sat. That was a huge step up from Game 5, where the Pacers were -18 when he was out for less than 7 minutes. If Indiana — by playing some starters such as Myles Turner — doesn’t have a huge bench drop off when George rests a few minutes their odds of winning go way up. We know Paul George can handle the moment.

Spurs demolish Thunder to take Game 1 of second-round series

SAN ANTONIO,TX - APRIL 30: LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the San Antonio Spurs scores over Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during game one of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 30, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. 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 Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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The second round was supposed to be when things got exciting. Instead, the San Antonio Spurs put on an absolute clinic at home, blowing out the Oklahoma City Thunder, 124-92 to take a 1-0 series lead.

Just about everything went in for San Antonio, particularly for LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, who combined for 63 points. How dominant were they?

Aldridge in particular got anything he wanted against the Thunder. Oklahoma City’s stars were quiet, with Kevin Durant scoring just 16 points and Russell Westbrook 14. San Antonio controlled the game from the start and Oklahoma City never recovered from the opening punch.

It’s hard to imagine Durant and Westbrook are this ineffective again, and hopefully the rest of this series will be a little more competitive. But the Spurs did what the Spurs do, and did nothing to shake the feeling that they’re the favorites to win the west, now that Stephen Curry‘s status is unknown.

Hawks get another playoff shot at King James and Cavaliers

at Philips Arena on April 1, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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.
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ATLANTA (AP) A year ago, Atlanta’s magical season ended with a resounding sweep by Cleveland in the Eastern Conference final.

Now, the Hawks have another shot at LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Feeling confident after an opening-round victory over Boston, the Hawks returned to practice Saturday to begin preparations for the best-of-seven series.

Game 1 is Monday night in Cleveland.

The Hawks were the top-seeded team in the East last season after a record 60-win campaign. It didn’t do them much good against the Cavaliers, who steamrolled Atlanta in four straight games.

Even though they slipped to 48 wins and fourth in the conference, the Hawks actually sound a bit more confident heading into this matchup, largely because of their improved defense and rebounding.

Report: Warriors to replace Luke Walton from outside the organization

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 12: Interim Coach Luke Walton of the Golden State Warriors talks on the sideline during the second quarter against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center on December 12, 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 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 Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
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For the second consecutive year, the Warriors have lost their lead assistant to another team. When the Pelicans hired Alvin Gentry during last year’s playoffs, Steve Kerr promoted Luke Walton to associate head coach and added former journeyman big man Jarron Collins to the bench. Now that Walton is headed to the Lakers as their next head coach, the Warriors will go outside the organization to find a replacement, according to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein. And one name that will likely not be in the mix is David Blatt, who very nearly became an assistant under Kerr in 2014 before being offered the Cavaliers’ head job.

Given Walton’s success this season as interim head coach while Kerr recovered from back surgery, this will undoubtedly be the most attractive assistant job in the league.