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.

LeBron James: ‘The closeout game is always the hardest, and Boston is going to make it even harder’

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BOSTON (AP) — It took 10 games and halfway through the third round of the NBA playoffs before the Cleveland Cavaliers finally encountered their first true dose of resistance this postseason.

After cruising to a 2-0 Eastern Conference finals lead over Boston, the Cavs were humbled at home in a Game 3 loss, and needed a 42-point night from Kyrie Irving to battle back from a 16-point hole and win Game 4.

The chatter about an NBA Finals’ matchup of two teams with unblemished playoff records is gone, but the challenge from the Celtics has sharpened the focus of the defending champs. Cleveland is expecting another unflinching effort in Game 5 from a Celtics team that isn’t backing down despite facing a 3-1 deficit in the series.

“The closeout game is always the hardest, and Boston is going to make it even harder,” said LeBron James, who rebounded from a playoff-low 11 points in Game 3 to score 34 in Game 4.

James had been saying that he felt like the Cavs needed to go through some adversity after a blistering 10-0 start to the postseason.

The way they responded Tuesday night – particularly on the defensive end – is a good sign for their prospects of wrapping up their third straight Eastern Conference crown on Thursday.

Boston shot 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from the 3-point line in the first half of Game 4 on their way to building as much as a 16-point lead.

While Irving’s scoring ignited the Cavs’ comeback, it was made possible thanks to Cleveland’s defensive effort over the final 24 minutes. Cleveland limited the Celtics to 41 percent from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc.

“We have to go in with a bunker mentality that we had in Game 1 and Game 2, to go out and do what we do, but we have to defend,” James said. “We have to execute offensively. We have to have low turnovers, and we have to try to make them miss because some of those guys play a lot better at home. That’s just how the game be played.”

If the Celtics were playing with house money heading into the series, they are flush with it again as they return to the Garden.

They’ve given themselves a chance to erase the sting of their 44-point loss in Game 2. The Celtics are also guarding against ending their season by having to watch the Cavs celebrate a conference title on their home floor.

Boston lost All-Star Isaiah Thomas for the remainder of the postseason to a hip injury in Game 2, forcing coach Brad Stevens to shuffle his lineup and rotations in Games 3 and 4.

In addition, Jae Crowder suffered a strained left thigh in the third quarter of Game 4 as well, but returned to play the entire fourth quarter.

It’s an indication that despite still being in a dire 3-1 hole, the resolve inside Boston’s locker room remains strong.

“We owe our fans a better performance, and we know that, and we’re going to play hard,” Celtics guard Avery Bradley said. “You’re going to see a team playing hard, very hard, the entire game.”

It’s also why Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said that his team must keep all thoughts of being on the cusp of a return to the NBA Finals at bay for now.

“You can’t (think about it). As much as you want to, it’s not over,” he said.

If nothing else, Lue said their recent taste of adversity should help them remain humble heading into Game 5.

“I think it is making us better. And it’s making us tougher. It’s making us work,” the Cavs coach said. “Because they got a tough group over there. (Terry) Rozier is tough, Avery is tough, (Marcus) Smart’s tough. Crowder. So, they got a lot of tough guys that are going to compete so they’re making us compete, which is good for us.”

 

PBT Podcast: Celtics draft or trade? Carmelo future? All from your Twitter questions.

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What will Boston do with the No. 1 pick, keep it or trade it?

What does the future hold for Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks?

Is there a correct way to eat pizza? Actually, the answer to that one is yes, and it is not with a knife and fork, Donald Trump.

PBT’s Kurt Helin and Dane Carbaugh discuss all that that and more from your Twitter questions.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Lakers hire Kardashian trainer Gunnar Peterson

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LOS ANGELES (AP) A celebrity trainer known for getting the Kardashian clan into shape is going to work for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Gunnar Peterson is the Lakers’ new director of strength and endurance training, the team announced Wednesday.

Peterson has been a favorite trainer among entertainers and athletes for many years while running a well-regarded private gym in Beverly Hills. His client list has included Sylvester Stallone, Halle Berry, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara and Pete Sampras, along with most of the Kardashian family.

Peterson will develop a strength and conditioning program for the Lakers, general manager Rob Pelinka says.

The 16-time NBA champion franchise has replaced several key members of its internal staff since Magic Johnson and Pelinka assumed control of basketball operations earlier this year.

Report: Bucks interested in Cavaliers GM David Griffin

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The Magic hired Jeff Weltman, and the Hawks are reportedly close to hiring Travis Schlenk.

In other words, Cavaliers general manager David Griffin – who’s still without a contract for next season – lost his leverage with other teams.

But to the rescue are the Bucks, who will not necessarily promote assistant general manager Justin Zanik to replace Orland-bound general manager John Hammond.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Multiple sources told cleveland.com that the Bucks, who lost general manager John Hammond to the Orlando Magic this week, have interest in Griffin, 47.

Griffin and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert have spoken about continuing their partnership in recent days, sources said, though no agreement was reached.

I still think Griffin stays in Cleveland. He helped assemble a championship contender, and he has LeBron Jamesendorsement. Plus, the Cavaliers can afford him.

But whomever gets the Milwaukee job will inherit a roster stocked with promising young talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker, Malcolm Brogdon and Thon Maker. The Bucks wouldn’t be a bad fallback option for Griffin – if he can’t use them to get a deal with the Cavs.