Pacers advance to the Eastern Conference Finals with Game 6 win over Knicks

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The Pacers sent all five members of the starting lineup to the podium for the postgame press conference following their 106-99 Game 6 win over the Knicks, which goes a long way in telling the story of how they were able to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The team defensive effort that Indiana exhibits so well as a unit was critical to the team’s success, and the fact that so many different guys can step up and contribute offensively have made them a tough team to face in these playoffs.

The Knicks did what they could, and Carmelo Anthony gave everything he had. But as a team, New York couldn’t overcome some brutal individual performances and some timely defensive lapses in order to push the series to a seventh game.

Anthony finished with a game-high 39 points on 15-of-29 shooting, but only saw two of his teammates crack double figures in scoring. One of them was J.R. Smith, who never found his stroke after being suspended for Game 4 of New York’s first round series against the Celtics. Smith shot 4-of-15 from the field, and made three critical defensive mistakes late at a time when his team could least afford them.

The high point for the Knicks was a blistering third quarter run they used to get themselves back into the game, after the Pacers had extended their lead to 10 points. Iman Shumpert briefly caught fire, and hit three consecutive three-point shots to cut the Indiana lead to a single point in a span of just 64 seconds. He hit one more before the period was through, and he and Anthony accounted for 31 of the Knicks’ 34 points in the third, the team’s highest scoring quarter of the entire series.

The fourth quarter was close, with the Knicks clinging to a two-point lead with 5:43 remaining. But everything changed from there, following a monster of a blocked shot from Roy Hibbert, who met Carmelo Anthony right at the rim with hand on ball after Anthony had driven baseline and elevated for the slam.

“That was a helluva block,” Anthony said afterward. “It was a big play from Hibbert, and it kind of spearheaded the run that they made.”

The play from Hibbert ignited the Pacers, who went on a 9-0 run from there to gain separation before pulling away to seal it.

Much was made about the availability of George Hill for this game, following the concussion he sustained which forced him to miss the Game 5 that the Knicks were able to win in New York. He was cleared about 90 minutes before tip-off and played 42 minutes, but whether due to the couple of days off or whether there were any lingering effects, he managed to shoot just 2-of-10 from the field.

The catalyst for the Pacers was the fearless play of Lance Stephenson, who set the tone early by being aggressive in going to the rim whenever he had the opportunity. He finished with a team-best 25 points on just 13 shots, to go along with 10 rebounds.

Hibbert was a beast inside defensively, protecting the rim as well as we’ve seen this postseason. He finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocked shots in 42 minutes of action. Paul George had his typically solid all-around game with 23 points, five rebounds and four assists, and David West was a solid contributor with 17 points of his own. As a team, the Pacers shot 50.7 percent from the field for the game, and outscored the Knicks by 32 in the points in the paint category — thanks to the way they attacked and defended the basket, but also because of New York’s propensity to take plenty of shots from the outside.

All five starters for the Pacers deserved to be mentioned, just as they all deserved a trip to the podium after the victory. Indiana truly was the better team in this series, in every sense of that word. Anthony did his best in this one, but ultimately he couldn’t do it all by himself.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

Associated Press
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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.

Report: Re-signing Nerlens Noel Mavericks’ top off-season priority

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This is a Mark Cuban owned team, you don’t think the Mavericks are going to make a serious run at a free agent come July 1? Pelicans’ point guard Jrue Holiday has long been known to be a target, but there will be others.

But keeping their new core together, including restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, is the top priority, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rumors like this are out there in part from Dallas to hope to chill the market for Noel. While he could be a defensive force who provides some scoring around the rim, with Noel’s injury history they may be able to get him at less than max money — because if he’s at the max the Mavericks are flirting with the luxury tax (and Cuban isn’t going to want to pay the tax for a borderline playoff team at best).

What Dallas fears is what Brooklyn did last season to Allen Crabbe in Portland and Tyler Johnson in Miami — some team to come in with a max or near-max offer sheet that drives up the price. Dallas will match, they will keep the young core together, it just gets more expensive.

Next season in Dallas will be a deserved big farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the focus, but behind him Dallas will try to be building for the future. They made the trade deadline move to make sure Noel is a part of that, the only question now is how much it costs them.

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.

Sacramento Kings waive guard Arron Afflalo

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings have waived guard Arron Afflalo one year after signing him as a free agent.

The Kings cut ties with Afflalo on Friday before his entire $12.5 million contract for 2017-18 would become guaranteed. Afflalo will get $1.5 million instead.

Afflalo averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds in 61 games this past season for Sacramento. He has averaged 11.3 points per game in his 10-year career.