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.

Sixers’ Robert Covington to miss at least one game after crashing into stands

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NBA fans love hustle from their players, but sometimes things go awry.

That’s what happened on Saturday night after Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington dove into the stands to try to save a loose ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The play came in the fourth quarter with under two minutes left and the Sixers down by just one point. Covington leapt into the far sideline just near the Cavaliers bench. He appeared to turn his ankle and land awkwardly on his back. The Cleveland floor has a small lip after the first row of seats that may have played a part in the injury.

Cleveland would go on to score on the play, and Covington had to be helped off the floor. The Cavaliers went on to win, 105-98.

Meanwhile, the 76ers will play Sunday in New Orleans against the Pelicans. According to NBC Sports Philadelphia, Covington will miss the game with a lower back contusion.

Via NBCSN Philadelphia:

X-rays and a CT scan came back negative. Covington is with the team in New Orleans and is doubtful for Tuesday’s game in Minnesota.

Covington tumbled out of bounds and over courtside seats while he tried to save a possession during a Sixers comeback attempt. There is an approximate four-to-five inch drop between the court and the area where Covington landed. Many of his teammates were unaware of Covington’s injury at first because it was out of their vision.

“It’s scary to see your teammate like that,” guard JJ Redick said. “They said he fell on his back. I wanted to make sure he’s walking and not in too much pain. But I just wish the best for him and hope he’s OK.”

Back injuries can be a complete hassle to recover from, especially when you’re deep in the middle of the season. Let’s hope the Sixers get Covington back soon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunked all over Rudy Gobert (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks a lot. The Milwaukee Bucks forward is big, strong, and aggressive when it comes to attacking the rim.

But he doesn’t typically dunk this hard or this emphatically over perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidates like Rudy Gobert.

That’s what made this one special.

As time was winding down in Milwaukee’s eventual 117-100 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, Antetokounmpo put the exclamation point at the end of the sentence for the Bucks.

Gobert took the brunt of it. Via Twitter:

Goodness.

Gordon Hayward on playing this season: “It’s definitely in the back of my mind”

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Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward has been going through some grueling physical therapy to aid his recovery from a horrible leg injury he suffered during his first game with the team back in October. Hayward wound up breaking his ankle, likely putting him out for the season.

Meanwhile, whether Hayward plays or not during the 2017-18 campaign is still up for debate. Hayward is making progress in his recovery — he recently was able to take his walking boot off and go for a smaller ankle brace.

For his part, Hayward has said that he is still thinking about the possibility of returning this season to the Celtics, who have earned themselves the top spot in the Eastern Conference in his absence.

Speaking to Adam Himmelsbach over at the Boston Globe, Hayward detailed not only his recovery routine but his thinking when it came to planning his return.

Via The Boston Globe:

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Hayward said. “I’m definitely pushing to get back as fast as I can, while making sure that I still have a lot of good years of basketball in me. And coming back early and hurting something else is not part of that plan. So I’m making sure that if I come back, I’m 1,000 percent confident in myself and my leg. I hope more than anything I can play this season. That would be awesome. But that’s not something I’m stressing about. I’m stressing about what I can do today to help myself get better.”

That’s smart thinking on Hayward’s part. Too often it seems like guys are jonesing to come back, and when they do it’s cause for concern that they’re damaging their long-term playing health.

Hayward is making some real progress — the Globe story details him doing tasks like picking up marbles with his toes and shooting baskets from a chair as part of his PT — but whether he’ll be ready this season is doubtful.

It doesn’t sound like Hayward wants to rush things, but you never know. His agent did say that his return this year is unlikely, but another report has said that his earliest return would be March. Just in time to make a run for an Eastern Conference Finals showdown against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers?

We’ll have to wait and see.

EDIT: Shortly after this story and the Boston Globe one was published on Sunday morning, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the team isn’t planning for Hayward to come back. The plot thickens!

Kobe Bryant’s advice to Lonzo Ball, young Lakers: “push, push, push, get better now”

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Kobe Bryant was never a patient man.

Veteran Lakers of that era tell stories of Kobe entering Lakers practices at age 18 and wanting to take on the older players in games of one-on-one after practice, and trying to dominate them. He wanted to establish his credentials early and never backed off. He pushed himself, his teammates, everyone around him, and that was part of his success.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that in an interview on the Lakers’ cable channel in Los Angeles, Spectrum SportsNet, Kobe’s advice to Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and the rest of the young Lakers was to push themselves. Hard. (Hat tip Bleacher Report.)

“We never thought, ‘OK, we’re gonna win four years from now.’ We really thought, ‘This is our year. We’re gonna get this done. We’re gonna push, push, push, push, push, get better now.’ And in the process of having that kind of impatience, you develop. If you’re just patiently going about it, you’ll never get there. For players, it’s a kind of patient impatience.”

Kobe entered the league in a very different situation, an NBA team that had Shaquille O’Neal at his peak in the post, quality veteran role players around him, a team that was nearly ready to contend. Still, it took them four years — and a lot of pushing and maturing from Kobe — to win a title.

However, Kobe would never look at it that way. He would want to push hard and push through. And that’s what he’s telling the young Lakers now.

The Lakers are taking little steps forward — Brandon Ingram’s confidence and game are turning a corner and he is impressing of late, Lonzo Ball’s decision making is getting better (the game seems to be slowing down for him a little), and Kyle Kuzma has been one of the league’s best rookies this season. But there is a long way to go. Kobe knows that, and is telling them to not let up. Which is what you’d expect him to say and what fans want.

But those fans need to be patient, too. This is a process in Los Angeles, and a long one.