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Mavericks now one win from the title after offensive explosion in Game 5

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Dirk Nowitzki knew that the importance of his Mavericks winning their last home game of the season could not be understated. Game 5 of the Finals, with the series all even at two games apiece and the next two back in Miami, was for all intents and purposes a must-win for Dallas.

Nowitzki put it into the simplest of terms after Thursday morning’s shootaround.

“You don’t want to give them two chances to close it out at home, so this is our Game 7,” he said.

The Mavericks played like it. Putting together their finest offensive performance of the Finals, Dallas blistered Miami for a 112-103 win the team knew it so desperately needed.

The numbers for Dallas in this game were absolutely staggering, considering how the first four games of this series had gone offensively against the intelligence and speed of the Miami defense. The Mavs shot over 65 percent from the field in the first half, on their way to an outstanding 56.5 percent for the game. As good as that overall number is, the three-point shooting was even better, and was the area where Dallas was able to do most of its damage.

As a team, the Mavs hit 13 of their 19 attempts from beyond the three-point arc, good for a ridiculous 68.4 percent. This comes after Dallas made a combined 27 threes in the first four games of the series, and averaged just 34 percent shooting from downtown on 79 total attempts.

The scary thing for the Heat is, there wasn’t necessarily any big adjustment on the Mavericks’ part that Miami can try to counter moving forward. As Jason Terry pointed out afterward, Dallas just hit the open looks that they failed to convert earlier in the series.

“We are getting the same looks we knew we would get,” he said.  “After Games 1 and 2, you watch it on film, you see it and then you realize where you’re going to have the opportunities.  I said to myself, I said to my teammates, we’re not going to continue to miss those open shots that we’re getting.”

Nowitzki said effectively the same thing, when asked if the difference in his team’s offense in this one was simply his team’s ability to knock down shots.

“I thought in the first four games we looked at the film, we stepped into some good shots,” he said. “We just, for some reason we weren’t knocking them down like we did in the first three series.  I mean, if we would have struggled shooting the ball like that in the first three series, I don’t know if we would have gotten here.

“Our ability to make shots on the weak side is a big part of what we do.  Tonight we talked about it.  Keep stepping into those shots when they’re there … I thought we hit big, timely shots tonight. ”

None were bigger or more timely than Terry’s dagger three with 33.8 seconds left, a backbreaker of a bucket that put Dallas up seven and sealed the win, placing the Mavericks  just one win away from an NBA title.

If the Mavericks are to get that last victory, Game 6 would appear to be their best opportunity to do so. Home court advantage in the Finals is strong, and Dallas needs to only look back a single season to see the team that played the middle three games of the series at home leave with a 3-2 lead, before proceeding to lose the next two on the road. Just as Nowitzki described Game 5 as being his team’s Game 7, he and others did the same when talking about the importance of Game 6, likely for this very reason.

Yes, Dallas is facing its second consecutive Game 7, figuratively speaking. All the team has to do now is come up with one more game of stellar shooting to ensure that they don’t have to play in a literal one, on the road, with a championship hanging in the balance.

Report: Clippers owner Ballmer will spend “whatever it takes” to keep Blake Griffin, Chris Paul

Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin, center, responds to reporters while Chris Paul, left, and DeAndre Jordan laugh during the team's NBA basketball media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Playa Vista, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)
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Is this the season the Clippers break through? They have been one of the eight best teams — usually one of the top five — for several years now, but that has not been enough to get them past the second round of the playoffs. A combination of injuries and running into superior teams has gotten in their way.

This season they will start as the fourth-best team in the league according to most NBA power rankings (including ProBasketballTalk’s), but they will still be third best in the West. If things play out according to that script, it would mean another second-round exit.

The difference is next summer Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can be — and almost certainly will be — free agents (both have early termination options). If there is another second-round flame-out, can the Clippers keep them?

Owner Steve Ballmer is committed to spend whatever it takes to keep them in Clipper red, white, and blue, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Most importantly, according to Clippers insiders, is his commitment to keeping both Griffin and Paul long term no matter what it costs.

Do both want to stay? That’s impossible to predict nine months out. But it’s hard to imagine either finding as good of a set up as they have in Los Angeles. Both have firmly planted roots in L.A., with deep ties to the business and entertainment worlds.

Take a moment to step back and realize just how much Ballmer has changed the Clippers’ culture in three years from what Donald Sterling would have done. If Sterling still owned the team we’d be asking if he would open his pocketbook to spend to keep his two big stars in the same summer, and even if he was would that be enough or would both players be looking just to get away.

Now it’s harder to make a case that either wants out — and that includes the idea that Griffin will bolt to go home to Oklahoma City and play for the Thunder next to Russell Westbrook. Few players have taken advantage of the Los Angeles lifestyle and opportunities as Griffin, who is an executive producer of one television show making a pilot and has worked on a career as a comic.

As for the inevitable Griffin/CP3 trade rumors, take them with a whole box of kosher salt.

As for the idea that they’d make a blockbuster trade, consider this: The only way the Clippers get a decent return is if Paul and/or Griffin agreed to waive their player option for next season, or guaranteed they’d re-sign long term in the city they were traded. There’s no compelling reason for either of them to do that after the infusion of television rights’ money spikes the salary cap up more than $100 million next summer.

Griffin and Paul will be free agents next summer. Whether they stay in Los Angeles or leave will depend in part on how this season goes and the prospects for them and the Clippers after this season. It’s possible they leave.

But with Ballmer willing to open up his bloated checkbook, it’s much easier to make the case they both stay put.

Matt Barnes says he’s been warned for chewing gum, using bathroom during national anthem

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 19:  NBA players Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick attend the David Yurman in-store shopping event to celebrate the launch of Men's Faceted Metal Collection at David Yurman Boutique on March 19, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images for David Yurman)
Angela Weiss/Getty Images for David Yurman
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The NBA has long taken a hard stance on the national anthem.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was infamously suspended for sitting during the national anthem 1996. The league has a specific rule  – which it doesn’t plan to change – that states, “Players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the National Anthem.”

That makes it more difficult for the NBA and union to compromise on national-anthem protests – especially because precedent has set a strict tone on the rule.

Kings forward Matt Barnes on The Vertical Podcast with JJ Redick:

They don’t want you chewing gum. They told me, take the gum out of your mouth.

I was using the bathroom. They said you can’t miss the anthem. I’m like, “Man, I had to pee.” “Next time you’ll be fined.” I said, “Ohh, OK.”

I doubt NBA commissioner Adam Silver wants to punish players for demonstrating on behalf of important social issues. But he’s also behold to the team owners and corporate sponsors, and he must enforce the league’s rules.

It’s a fine line, one that the NBA’s prior warnings on national-anthem conduction make even more difficult for Silver to walk.

Maybe the solution is raised fists? Kneeling, like Colin Kaepernick, would seem to violate the “stand” requirement. But if players are on their feet and in place, would the league really deem a raised fist an undignified posture?

Joel Embiid to start in Sixers first preseason game

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Here’s a little bit of good news for beleaguered Sixers fans:

Joel Embiid will start the Sixers first preseason game next Tuesday. Embiid was the No. 3 pick and a very highly rated prospect coming out of Kansas, but foot injuries sidelined him the entirety of his first two seasons. Now he’s healthy and going to get a start next Tuesday, according to coach Brett Brown.

This will be a process. It will be two steps up and one step back all season for Embiid, but at least he’s healthy enough to take those steps now.

Now the focus shifts to when Ben Simmons will be able to take his first steps.

Another report Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets nowhere near deal as deadline approaches

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 17:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets is fouled as he shoots by Julius Randle #30 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center on December 17, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Donatas Motiejunas and his agent had given the Rockets a Saturday deadline to make a contract extension offer they liked.

But the sides aren’t even talking in a serious way.

That was reported early on Friday, and now comes another report — this was from Calvin Watkins of ESPN — that the two sides are nowhere close to a deal.

With the deadline to sign a qualifying offer approaching, restricted free-agent power forward Donatas Motiejunas and the Houston Rockets have exchanged contract proposals but remain far apart on an agreement, multiple sources told ESPN.

Motiejunas is seeking a larger financial deal from the Rockets, but the two sides haven’t had serious contract discussions in a month, the sources said.

Motiejuas, a restricted free agent, has a $4.4 million qualifying offer on the table that expires Sunday. He likely will sign it — if so he will have the ability to veto trades during the season then would be a free agent next summer.  Motiejuas could let the deal expire then sign a new one-year deal with the Rockets, but he would make less money.

Last season the Rockets agreed to trade Motiejunas to the Pistons. However, Pistons voided the deal after he failed his physical. Motiejunas hammered Detroit for how it went down. That left Motiejunas a restricted free agent this summer, but he didn’t land any offers from other squads (many thought the Rockets would just match).

That gets us to where we are today, where Motiejunas appears headed to signing the qualifying offer, then testing the market next summer as an unrestricted free agent.