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.

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

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Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.

Report: Clippers sort of resent Austin Rivers’ favored status

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The Clippers faced a potential crisis this summer.

They had already agreed to re-sign Austin Rivers to a three-year contract worth more than $35 million, and Jamal Crawford was threatening to leave. Losing the then-36-year-old Crawford would’ve been costly, but it wouldn’t have been devastating. The bigger issue would have been the image: keeping the coach’s son over the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.

Clippers president/coach Doc Rivers calmed the brewing storm by giving Crawford a three-year, $42 million deal.

But apparently the underlying tension hasn’t completely dissipated.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

The in-house resentment toward Austin Rivers being favored as Doc’s son, according to team sources, still very much exists, but it isn’t out of control.

Know what the Clippers truly resent? Losing. They’ve gone 8-9 since the All-Star break, and they’re clearly feeling the slump.

That brings lingering issues, like Austin’s place on the team, to the surface.

And other Clippers are reasonable to show suspicion about the dynamic, a complication Doc should have considered when he traded for Austin.

Austin has explained his never-that-warm relationship with Doc, who was busy coaching while Austin was growing up. These two claim this is far more a coach-player than father-son relationship, and I believe they believe that. I also believe it’s mostly true, though their familial ties probably intrude more than they realize.

That said, Austin has worked himself into a legitimate backup guard after a horrendous start to his NBA career. It’s worth a reminder just how bad he was in New Orleans because that shows how even his modest role now is a sign of tremendous growth. Austin has improved his shot, and his 6-foot-4 frame is an asset in some defensive matchups (probably not as many as Doc believes, judging by Austin’s assignments).

Does Austin deserve 28 minutes per game? Probably not, though he also handles garbage-time minutes so older teammates don’t have to. Does Austin deserve his $11 million+ annual salary? Probably not, though the capped-out Clippers had no recourse beyond minimum contracts to replace him, so he had leverage (ditto Crawford). Does he deserve to so often speak for the team? Probably not, though bigger stars Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan might not mind the occasional break.

Austin’s biggest problem is that, despite his improvement, his gaffes are still so blatant. That makes it more difficult to take him seriously, even when the totality of evidence says we should.

And for all the examples of Doc’s Clippers favoring Doc’s son, Austin was still the player who got left in the game with a concussion. That’s just dangerous, not nepotism.

There isn’t out-of-control resentment for Austin, because there’s isn’t out-of-control favoritism for him.

But there is some favoritism, and the more the Clippers struggle, the more they’ll look for a place to point the finger and occasionally land on Austin.

Report: Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, determined to become NBA head coach, offered Florida women’s job

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Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is the NBA’s first female full-time coach.

She could also become the next Florida women’s basketball coach.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is considering a lucrative offer to leave the NBA and become the University of Florida women’s basketball coach, league sources told The Vertical.

The financial offer would be a considerable raise, especially considering that she’s still a young, behind-the-bench assistant on Gregg Popovich’s staff. Nevertheless, Hammon is grappling with the decision, because she has been determined to stay on course to become the NBA’s first female head coach, league sources said.

Hammon is blazing a trail in the NBA and might eventually become a head coach in the league. She has Gregg Popovich’s endorsement, praise from San Antonio players and success in limited opportunities.

But the path for a woman coach in men’s basketball is extremely narrow. It’s not fair, but Hammon faces hurdles others wouldn’t.

And the glass ceiling becomes exponentially thicker for a woman in women’s basketball who’s trying to jump to men’s basketball. Women’s college basketball is not a pipeline to the NBA, especially not for a woman. If Hammon goes to Florida, the paradigm changes. It would renew questions about her playing experience coming only in women’s basketball and her limited time with the Spurs.

Hammon wouldn’t be blackballed from the NBA, but she’d be setting up more obstacles for herself to clear to become a head coach in the league.

In one respect, I don’t envy her decision. However, she has positioned herself to choose between a promising path and an excellent job. Even if deciding is difficult, she’ll wind up in a good place.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.