Dirk Nowitzki, Grant Hill

Phoenix 96, Dallas 94: Suns come back from double-digit defict to take down Mavericks

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A few weeks ago, any talk involving the Phoenix Suns and the word “playoffs” would have seemed completely ridiculous — and maybe, to a certain extent, it still is. But the Suns have shown they possess the necessary grit and fight that is evident in postseason teams, battling back from double-digit deficits in their last four home victories, most recently in a crucial 96-94 win over the Mavericks on Thursday.

It was maybe the Suns’ best victory of the season.

After leading for three quarters the night before in Oklahoma City against a Thunder team which possesses the league’s best record, Phoenix fell apart in the fourth, and lost a game the players felt they had played well enough to win. Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said before Thursday’s game against Dallas that he wanted to be careful not to get into moral victory territory in discussing the positives against OKC.

The victory was real on this night, and was one that was earned over the defending champs.

“As a team we sort of collectively came out and willed a victory,” Grant Hill said afterward. “We probably should have won the game last night (against the Thunder), we played well and just didn’t do good job there in the fourth quarter of maintaining the lead.

“I think it showed a lot tonight that we didn’t quit, we didn’t fold, and we managed to figure out a way to get the win.”

Phoenix trailed early, thanks to Vince Carter torching his former team for 13 first-half points, which led all scorers at the break and helped get the Mavs out to a nine-point lead at intermission. Hill, who always guards the other team’s best player and held Dirk Nowitzki to just six points through two quarters, was assigned to Carter to start the second half.

Hill’s defense slowed Carter considerably in the second half, but more importantly, the Suns to a man played as hard as they have all season during a stretch that ran from late in the third quarter through more than halfway into the fourth, where Phoenix put together a monstrous 30-8 run that turned an 11-point deficit into a lead of the same margin with just over five minutes to play.

There were defensive stops that lead to transition baskets, open pull-up jumpers, or wide-open threes. There was Jared Dudley’s 12-point third quarter. There was Shannon Brown’s monster putback slam dunk that blew the roof off of the US Airways Center,  and pushed the Suns lead to double digits four and a half minutes into the fourth.

There was Hakim Warrick’s inspired play off the bench, bringing energy, athleticism, and easy points at the free throw line to a second unit that has struggled to keep things stable all season long. Warrick has only gotten his chances in spurts, and hasn’t played the 17 minutes he did against Dallas in a game since the end of January, while receiving 13 DNP-CDs since.

But it wasn’t by any means a cruise to the finish line for Phoenix. Dallas is a deep and experienced team, and was able to close the gap to just two, while gaining possession with 14 seconds left after fouling Hill, who missed two free throws. After getting the ball to Nowitzki initially, the Suns had a foul to give and used it. When the Mavs inbounded the ball next, Rodrigue Beaubois was the one who got the clutch shot opportunities, first missing a floater at the rim that went in and out, then missing an 18-foot jumper with just a couple of seconds remaining that left the victory in the hands of the Suns.

Rick Carlisle was questioned as to why Beaubois was even in the game, when normally Jason Terry would be the one on the floor ready to produce should the ball not find its way into the hands of Nowitzki.

“Coach’s decision,” Carlisle said, repeating it twice more when pressed for details.

“You’re not always going to get your star players a shot at the end because they attract so much attention,” Carlisle said. “And that’s one of the reasons Roddy got so open.”

Most teams will happily take their chances with Beaubois at the end of games, given the number of capable alternatives on the Mavs’ roster. But the game wasn’t won or lost on the final possession. The Suns won it with their desire, and maybe, with their sense of urgency. Steve Nash said afterward that the team placed a significant amount of emphasis on winning this game, specifically due to the fact that Phoenix is running out of opportunities to make up the ground that it needs to in the conference standings.

“We couldn’t lose both these and stay in the playoff picture,” Nash said, referring to the game on Wednesday in Oklahoma City that was already lost. “It’s an early crunch time for us. We’ve got to keep crawling back to that eight, nine, ten spot and try to give ourselves a chance to sneak in there.”

Phoenix has won six of its last eight, with four of those wins coming against teams that the Suns are chasing in the standings. The next three are at home as well, and are also against playoff hopefuls or contenders.

The Suns aren’t ready to talk playoffs just yet. But they are playing with a desperation that seems to be working, and are going out there each night like their season is on the line. With this critical stretch of home games ahead against teams they need to outrun in the race to the postseason, it probably is.

LeBron, can someone average a triple-double? “Westbrook can do it”

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 12:  LeBron James #27 (L) and Russell Westbrook #31 of the 2015 USA Basketball Men's National Team attend a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on August 12, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Through 22 games, Russell Westbrook is averaging 31 points, 11.3 assists, and 10.9 rebounds a night — the first guy to average a triple-double this deep into a season since Oscar Robertson did it for a full campaign in 1963. Westbrook has had a triple-double in six straight games.

The only question is: Can Westbrook keep this up? Can he average a triple-double for a season?

He’s got a backer in LeBron James. Here is what LeBron said at shootaround on Wednesday, as the Cavaliers were in New York to take on the Knicks, you can see his comments via ESPN.

“Westbrook can do it. He’s capable of doing it. He’s showing it. He’s like the Energizer Bunny, man. He just doesn’t get tired. He doesn’t get tired, and when you have that passion for the game, too, as well, it’s very doable. The game has definitely changed a little bit. It’s more, it’s almost feeling like back in, like, the 80s, you know, when teams were putting up 145 and 135 and more possessions and more shot attempts — obviously, they weren’t shooting as many 3s, but it was a lot of possessions. So with that being said, with his athleticism, him being able to get those rebounds, he handles the ball for the majority of the game for OKC so he’s gonna get the assists and I think he’s averaging nine free throws a game. He’s going to make seven or eight of those a game and obviously he’s going to get one bucket — he’s going to get 10 points. That’s the easy thing for him. So it’s very doable.”

I don’t think the question is can he do it? LeBron is right, he can. I think the question is will his body hold up? He’s a strong, well-conditioned athlete, but that is a lot of toll physically.

The Thunder need him to do this: Westbrook has 11 triple-doubles this season, the Thunder are 9-2 in those games. They are 5-6 when he fails.

Report: Donatas Motiejunas not reporting to Rockets over $6 million

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
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Donatas Motiejunas — with his agent B.J. Armstrong — has backed himself into a bit of a corner.

The restricted free agent signed a four-year, $37 million offer sheet with the Nets, but it had a lot of favorable terms (the final two years are not fully guaranteed, for example) so as one would expect the Rockets matched it. However, under NBA rules the Rockets only had to match the base of the contract — $31 million worth — not the incentives. Which is what the Rockets did.

On Tuesday, Motiejunas did not report for his physical with Houston, and the $6 million is the reason, reports Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

Restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas won’t report to the Houston Rockets because of a difference of nearly $6 million from the offer sheet he signed with the Brooklyn Nets, sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

Last week, Motiejunas signed a four-year, $37 million offer sheet with the Nets. The Rockets on Monday opted to match that offer. However, based on the CBA, the Rockets only had to match the principle terms of the offer sheet, which came to $31 million. The $6 million difference was to be paid to Motiejunas via incentive clauses if he played for the Nets.

Motiejunas may not like it, but the Rockets have almost all the power here. As of Thursday, the Rockets can pull the offer (even if they don’t, it will expire eventually on March 1), and at that point Motiejunas is a restricted free agent again. Right where he was before. The Nets can’t re-sign him to an offer now for another year. Other teams with the cap space aren’t interested (for example, Philadelphia has the room, but the last thing they need is another big man in the rotation). The Rockets would like him to play — as a big who can shoot the three he should fit well in the Mike D’Antoni system — but they are not going fail him on the physical and let him go for nothing (they can’t trade him until after the season, even if Motiejunas relents and signs the deal with the Rockets)

Motiejunas’ only play? Sit out. But at age 26, why is he wasting part of his short career window to make money playing basketball?

LeBron James: No statement by not staying at Trump-branded hotel

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the banner raising and ring ceremony before the game against the New York Knicks at Quicken Loans Arena on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — LeBron James said he wasn’t trying to make a statement by not staying at a Donald Trump-branded hotel with the Cleveland Cavaliers, calling it a personal preference.

“It would be the same if I went to a restaurant and decided to eat chicken and not steak,” James said.

James and some other players didn’t stay with the team at the Trump SoHo in lower Manhattan before the Cavs’ game against the New York Knicks on Wednesday night. James said it was the first time in his career he hasn’t stayed with his team, though he said he rode the bus to the morning shootaround as usual with the squad.

James endorsed Hillary Clinton and campaigned with her in Ohio. Several of his teammates, including Richard Jefferson, Iman Shumpert and others have expressed their disappointment about Trump’s win.

“At the end of the day I hope he’s one of the best presidents ever, for all of our sake,” James said. “For my family, for all us.”

A team spokesman didn’t say how many players opted not to stay in the team hotel and wasn’t sure how James met up with the bus.

Coach Tyronn Lue, who stayed with the team, was asked if it was odd to have the players split up on the road.

“It’s not normal, but considering the circumstances that’s what we have,” Lue said. “But that’s not my main objective. My main thing is to try to get this team to stay on track and play the right way and try to get back on track by playing Cleveland Cavalier basketball.”

James wouldn’t talk about Knicks President Phil Jackson, who angered the All-Star forward last month by referring to his friends and business partners in an ESPN interview as a “posse.”

Boston’s Marcus Smart gets flopping warning from NBA

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 17:  Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the second quarter of the preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden on October 17, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of the league’s more notorious floppers.

He was at it again Monday night against the Houston Rockets — and the league called him on it and gave him a warning.

It happened on the game’s final play — you were probably focused elsewhere, wondering how Al Horford could miss the game-winning layup. But watch Smart as he gets in position for the rebound on that shot.

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The referees didn’t buy it then.

This warning is barely a slap on the wrist. If — in his case, when — Smart gets caught a second time this season he will get a $5,000 fine from the league. Smart is making $3.6 million this season.