NBA Season Preview: Dallas Mavericks

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Last season: 57-25, good enough for the third seed in the West, but then all the pieces clicked at the right time. The Mavericks rode a great post season from Dirk Nowitzki plus key contributions from Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea and others — they got a depth of contributions no other team could match — all the way to the NBA championship. Finally a ring for Dirk and Jason Kidd. Well deserved.

Head Coach: Rick Carlisle, who finally seemed to recognized for how good he is during the finals last year. Fantastic coach for a veteran team.

Key Departures: Tyson Chandler (that one hurts), Caron Butler, J.J. Barea. The changes — the guys brought in are on shorter contracts — is because Mark Cuban is trying to make sure they have cap space for next summer (to go after Deron Williams or Dwight Howard).

Key Additions: Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, Delonte West

Best case scenario: They rise up and win the NBA title again. If you are the defending champions that has to be the goal, right? Even if the team chasing the title looks a lot different than the team that won it. Dallas is still very good and very deep (something that matters in a condensed season).  You know they will get great play out of Dirk Nowitzki, solid point guard play from Jason Kidd, fantastic bench scoring from Jason Terry and good minutes from Shawn Marion. Plus, teams coming off a title tend to play with a real confidence, as if they are playing with house money and know the can win. These Mavs have that going for them.

For that to happen: To win it all a few things have to happen. First among them is Brendan Haywood is going to have to have the year of his career. He is the new starting center with Tyson Chandler in New York City. Haywood is a solid NBA big man — good rebounder, could score a little, played within himself and was a big body in the paint on the defensive end. The thing is Chandler was elite defensively and Haywood is going to have to bring his game up to that level for the Mavs to get another ring (or whatever Mark Cuban would give out).

Also Lamar Odom is going to have to play with the consistency and energy he did last season, Vince Carter needs to play within himself and like a veteran, and Roddy Beaubois is going to need to have a bounce back year and live up to the promise of his rookie year.

More likely the Mavericks will: Look like the Mavericks of earlier this decade. They will be good but come deep in the playoffs they will seem to be missing that something that gets them over he hump.

You know Nowitzki is going to put up numbers and maybe we’ll appreciate it a little more. With Jason Terry and Lamar Odom coming off the bench this is a very dangerous and versatile team that can attack you any number of ways. And coach Carlisle is good at putting his players in matchups they can exploit.

But when it gets to the second round of the playoffs or the Western Conference finals, the Mavericks are going to miss Chandler’s elite defense. They will be good but will miss the way he changed things on one end of the floor.

Prediction: 46-20. Dallas is in the same position as last year — they are a good team who needs to get hot and have a lot of thins go right for them in the playoffs to win it all. It could happen, lighting could strike twice. But more than likely they revert to form, bow out in the second round or conference finals, then stare longingly at what Tyson Chandler is doing in New York.

‘Tired’ Jimmy Butler sits out All-Star Game at his own request

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LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.

Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest, according to both parties (despite speculation this was really a win for the Los Angeles nightlife). Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”

Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Still thankful, LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan’s record for years between All-Star MVPs

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Los Angeles – When LeBron James became the youngest-ever NBA All-Star MVP in 2006, he said during the trophy presentation: “I’d like to thank the fans for voting me in as a starter.”

Twelve years later, he sounds similar, maybe just a little more thoughtful: “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that, and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in.”

He plays similarly, too.

LeBron again won All-Star MVP, leading his team to a 148-145 victory Sunday. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level,” said LeBron, 33. “I feel great.”

The 12-year gap between LeBron’s first and last All-Star MVP – he also won in 2008 – is the longest in NBA history. It tops the 10 years between Michael Jordan’s first (1988) and last (1998).

Here’s the difference between the first and last All-Star MVP for every multi-time winner:

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Players’ effort in this exhibition game comes and goes, but LeBron appeared invigorated .

When LeBron’s team trailed by 15 in the second quarter, he checked in and quickly led it back into the lead. When his team fell behind by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, he again led a spirited comeback. He hit the go-ahead bucket.

Despite playing a game-high 31 minutes, his intensity lasted all the way through the final buzzer.

His coach, the Raptors’ Dwane Casey, said he asked LeBron whether to foul or defend on the final possession while up three. LeBron said defend.

“If he says that, or any great players say that, you want to go with them because it was their idea, their belief, and he had it,” Casey said. “…He got the guys jacked up and juiced up as far as wanting to get a stop.”

LeBron and Kevin Durant swarmed Stephen Curry, who couldn’t shoot and could barely pass. Curry’s team didn’t even get a shot off:

“As you can hear in my voice, that tells how competitive it was,” LeBron said scratchily.

Again, his message echoed 2006: “We’re competitors, and our competitive nature kicked in and said let’s get some defensive stops.”

A lot will get made about the format change, and it might have mattered.

But maybe LeBron is just uniquely capable of dominating and embracing of this stage all these years later.

Defense? Dramatic finish? Team LeBron wins All-Star Game that’s worth watching

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LOS ANGELES — The NBA gambled its new format — with captains picking teams playground style — would produce an All-Star Game where the players showed some pride, played hard, and the showcase again would become something that resembled basketball (unlike last season).

It worked.

For proof guys were invested this time around, check out how Team LeBron responded to winning with a defensive stop, taking away Team Stephen’s attempt to get a clean look at a game-tying three in the closing seconds.

The THRILL of #NBAAllStar VICTORY!

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“It had a real game feel to it,” LeBron James said.

Team LeBron beat Team Stephen 148-145. LeBron was named MVP with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. He also hit the game-tying and go-ahead shot that got the win.

“I played with (LeBron) a few times,” Kyrie Irving said of the play and pass that set up that LeBron game-winner. “I cut back door, (Russell Westbrook) was driving, I saw the opportunity. I saw, before even Russ even passed to me, LeBron was going to circle to the rim, and he’s one of the best finishers at the rim.”

Most importantly, this was an All-Star Game with some defense — it had 81 fewer points than the layup line game last year, and the fewest points in five years. It also proved to be the closest game in six years.

“We wanted to kind of change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke,” Kevin Durant said. “Today we wanted to make it a real basketball game.”

There was more defense than last year from the start of the game — for example, LeBron blocked an alley-oop pass in the first quarter. Of course, “better than last year” was not a high bar to clear, but there was some effort to not just have a layup line. Most of the time.

Also to start the game, Anthony Davis came out wearing the “0” jersey of injured teammate DeMarcus Cousins (he switched back to his own #23 before the first half was over).

On the night, Team LeBron got 19 points out of Kevin Durant, 16 from Paul George, and 14 from Andre Drummond. Team Stephen was led by 21 from both DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard, and 19 points and eight rebounds from Joel Embiid in his first All-Star Game.

The fantastic ending made up for what was a laughable opening skit/national anthem before tip-off that did something very rare — it unified NBA Twitter. It was awful.

Now all anybody is talking about is the game itself. And that’s what the NBA wanted.

LeBron James hits go-ahead shot in All-Star win (video)

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LOS ANGELES – LeBron James‘ team trailed by 13 midway through the fourth quarter of the All-Star game, but he led a competitive comeback.

This shot put his team up 146-145 over Stephen Curry‘s team, and Team LeBron held on for a 148-145 win:

Great penetration by Russell Westbrook, and he and Kyrie Irving moved the ball well. LeBron made it count.