Mavericks beat Clippers, move close to playoffs… and a shave

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One more win and the Dallas Mavericks will reach .500 — and they can shave their beards. You remember, the ones they were going to grow until they got their record even, a process that has taken so long the team starting to look like a young ZZ Top? It’s almost time for razors soon, they earned it.

More importantly, Dallas is now one game back of the Lakers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West (the Mavs and Utah are exactly tied for that spot). Dallas’ streak of a dozen years in a row in the playoffs is not dead yet.

All that comes after a gritty 109-102 overtime win against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night. While the Lakers and Jazz stumble to the finish line, the Mavericks have won three in a row, 9-of-12 and suddenly it may be time to fear the beards out West.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 8 of his 33 points in the overtime to push Dallas to the win. It came on a night the best European player the NBA has ever seen passed Patrick Ewing to move into 17th on the NBA all-time scoring list. Dirk was Dirk again, knocking down one-legged fade-aways and generally being indefensible.

Chris Paul was Chris Paul, too — and then some. He was amazing, scoring the Clippers last 10 points in regulation despite Dallas starting to double him 30 feet from the basket. He was making plays all night on his way to 33 points (on 12-of-15 shooting).

And it wasn’t enough, because in the clutch the Clippers didn’t get enough defense, enough threes (the Clippers missed their 13), and CP3 didn’t get enough help.

This game was pretty close most of the way, one team would make a run them the other, but neither side could really pull away. And all that set up a dramatic last few minutes of regulation.

Inside three minutes left the Clippers were up three after Paul hit a pull-up 18 footer over Mike James. Then after Blake Griffin drew a charge the Mavericks tried to take the ball out of Chris Paul’s hand by doubling hin 30 feet from the basket, so he found the open man — but Matt Barnes and Caron Butler missed threes. Next trip down Butler missed another three. Barnes would later airball a three. The Clippers had their chances and didn’t grab them.

So O.J. Mayo did, getting the and-1 bucket to tie the game at 93-93 with 1:15 left in regulation. Dallas took the lead on some Vince Carter free throws but Paul tied it again with a floater in the lane. And now we are inside 40 seconds.

With time getting close Paul gave the Clippers the lead when he drove around Shawn Marion (6’7”) and shot over Elton Brand (6’8″) putting the Clippers up by two. Mayo answered, looking trapped on the baseline but he held his dribble, found and opening and put up a nice lefty layup from behind the backboard.

Then came the last play, where with 0.6 Matt Barnes threw a three-quarter court strike to Griffin who hit an impossible faller — except the refs blew Griffin for pushing off Nowitzki to create room for the shot. Borderline call. At best. Dirk helped draw the whistle by selling it with a little flop.

Then came overtime and a lot of Nowitzki.

Dallas is in the middle of their tough stretch, beating a quality team like the Clippers is a huge step toward the playoffs.

For the Clippers, this is the kind of game that has you asking about changes they need to make this summer — role players, coach and system — to take the next step and do more than just win a round in the playoffs. We’re all asking that because right now we’re not even sure they can match last season’s results and get out of the first round in the postseason. Not when they play like this. And if they are out before the conference finals, expect changes to follow.

Why is Robin Lopez holding this dog during his exit interview? (VIDEO)

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What did Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez have to say during his exit interviews? I can’t really tell, it’s all a bunch of white noise. All I see is him holding his giant, shaggy dog named Muppet while speaking to reporters.

I can’t get over it, really. Why hasn’t someone thought of this before?

Lopez is the perfect candidate to do this if you think about it, given his propensity to be a little off-kilter.

Via Twitter:

Lopez was mostly talking about taking away positives from a weird Bulls season in which they struggled all year until miraculously making the 8-seed before challenging top-ranked Boston in round 1.

Clippers, Jazz prepare for Game 7 in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES  (AP) – Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul was adamant the sun would not set on Paul Pierce‘s NBA run in Salt Lake City on Friday night.

“I looked over at ‘Truth’ during one of (those) timeouts and I said ‘You’re not ending your career in Utah,’ ” said Paul, referring to Pierce’s popular nickname. “We told him that. We just said we want to keep this thing going for him. Paul was big tonight. Like the 3 he hit over there on the wing, and stuff like that. Just his energy and his voice in those different timeouts I think was huge for us.”

With a crucial 98-93 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 6, the Clippers will attempt to extend the career of the 39-year-old Pierce, who is retiring at season’s end, and capture the series Sunday in Game 7 at Staples Center.

The winner advances to the second round to meet the Golden State Warriors in a best-of-seven affair beginning Tuesday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.

Paul, whose two late free throws sealed the win against the Jazz, led the charge by scoring 29 points, dishing eight assists and allowing the Clippers to avoid elimination in the opening round for the second straight season. The Portland Trail Blazers bounced them last season in six games, aided by injuries to Paul and Blake Griffin.

And as Paul loathes to hear, the point guard has never guided a team past the second round.

“This is what we talked about before (Game 6),” said Paul, who has become the Clippers’ main force offensively with Griffin out of the playoffs again, this time with an injury to his big toe. “Doc (Rivers) said to go out there and give yourself a chance. We knew we couldn’t win both games (Friday), and we wanted to give ourselves a chance.”

Utah will have another opportunity to end Pierce’s career on Sunday despite missing a chance on its home court. After the Jazz won Game 5 on Tuesday at Staples, All-Star forward Gordon Hayward made it clear he didn’t want to return for a Game 7.

Hayward, though, is humming a different tune now.

“We’ve come a long way from where we were three years ago,” Hayward told the Salt Lake Tribune. “If you had told me at the beginning of the year you’d be in a Game 7 against the Clippers in L.A., I’d have been like, ‘Bring it on.’ ”

The Jazz will be forced to bring their best with center Rudy Gobert hobbling again. Gobert, who sustained a hyperextended left knee in Game 1 that kept him out of the lineup for two games, sprained his ankle in the second half of Game 6 and was forced to the bench because of it during critical stretches.

Gobert said the ankle wouldn’t hinder him Sunday.

“I sprained it on somebody’s foot,” said Gobert, who finished with 15 points, nine boards and three blocks, according to the Tribune. “I tried to run through it, but that didn’t work out. I’ve had a lot of sprained ankles before. I will be good.”

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.