Dallas was much more than sick Dirk Tuesday night

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Dirk Nowitzki was an inspiration, a guy with a triple-digit fever hitting what was essentially the game-winning bucket, the dagger shot on a scoop layup with 14 seconds left.

But he’s not why the Mavericks won. Or not primarily.

They won because of zone defense and Tyson Chandler and the pick-and-roll and a number of little things the Mavericks did right. Or at least right enough in what was an ugly yet compellingly entertaining game. Dallas did not get its usual night from Nowitzki, it had to compensate in other areas.

Here are a few things that did work:

Fourth quarter defense: The Mavericks have been a pretty good defensive team in the playoffs that has kept Miami to shooting 42 percent in the first three games, keeping the Heat to 10.5 fewer points per game than they scored in the regular season. But with the game on the line Dallas did a better job — Miami scored 14 fourth quarter points on just 33 percent shooting and Dallas also forced six turnovers. While the Mavs have struggled to contain Dwyane Wade they continued to be aggressive and take the ball out of LeBron James’ hands (he helped with that). The result is LeBron has 9 fourth quarter points all series. Dallas was able to play that fourth quarter defense in part because of …

Zone defense: Dallas tried this a few times in Game 1 and got torched, so they went away from it for a while. But in the key parts of Game 4 they returned to their matchup zone and it got Miami hesitating. In particular LeBron, who was not aggressive all night, saw a zone did not turn the corner on the pick-and-roll and attack, he rather held back looking to pass. His passivity and the aggressiveness of the Dallas defense meant turnovers and poor shots from Miami.

Tyson Chandler: He was arguably the best Mavs player Tuesday night. He had four offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, nine total and finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds. He is the biggest man on the court and while Dwyane Wade made a sensational block on one play it was Chandler attacking inside that stemmed the tide of Miami’s runs. He was, if not the best Mavericks player, the most aggressive.

Running pick-and-roll with Marion and Chandler: This was a brilliant adjustment by Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. Usually Dirk Nowitzki sets the picks late and Jason Terry comes off them. But the Mavs started using Dirk off the ball (maybe in part to conserve his energy) and having Chandler and Marion as the roll men. It worked to the tune of 16 points on 10 attempts (compared to 2 points the 9 times Dirk set the pick). Chandler has been a force to fear rolling to the hoop since Chris Paul was feeding him the rock and he had some strong moves to the basket in this one. Marion finished with 16 points and got all his made baskets inside of 10 feet. There was room to operate because with Dirk outside the Heat had to respect the shooter.

Fourth quarter execution: For the second time this series, Dallas was the better team in the final six minutes. They did it at both ends — every shot Miami took late was contested, where Dallas was getting good looks by running their offense. They weren’t hitting those shots because it was that kind of ugly game, but Dallas was getting better looks.

Ugly is fine by Dallas. Another comeback is as well. What matters is this is a best-of-three series now. And if Dallas keeps doing these little things they have a real chance at the franchise’s first title.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.