Dirk Nowitzki warned Mark Cuban the Mavericks had big problems before last season

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The Mavericks were so desperate to find a point guard last season, they started Darren Collison, Mike James, Derek Fisher and Dominique Jones in a futile attempt to keep throwing floor generals at the wall until one stuck.

O.J. Mayo started all 82 games at shooting guard, but his play did not impress Rick Carlisle.

There were certainly other factors, but Dallas’ guards were a reason the Mavericks finished 41-41, their worst record in 13 years, and missed the playoffs for the first time in that span.

It’s easy for me to make that assessment now that I’ve seen Dallas’ 2012-13 season, but Dirk Nowitzki could have told you the same thing before it even began.

Mark Cuban on 103.3 ESPN Radio, as transcribed by The Dallas Morning News:

Something that I haven’t said publicly, I remember last year when we went to Europe, and I was kind of excited like I normally am, and we had gotten Darron [Collison], and we had gotten Kaman, and Elton Brand, and O.J., and I thought we kind of were fortunate to get the guys we did, and Dirk came up to me and said, ‘We can’t pass, and we can’t shoot. Our guards aren’t there.’ This is the preseason, and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ and he’s like, ‘Sorry, bro.’ And Dirk is kind of a Debbie-downer. He and J-Kidd were always that way where it was always the worst ever, and then he digs in and he’s a warrior, but that was the first time I’d ever really heard him say anything that negative, and he was right. This year, you talk to Dirk, and he just smiles and shakes his head. And when you get that out of Dirk, that shows that I think he’s fired up, he’s ready.

Cuban clearly believes in Nowitzki. Just read the rest of that interview for even more Dirk praise from the owner. So, if Nowitzki says he likes this year’s backcourt – newly acquired Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis – that might be good enough for Cuban.

Personally, I still have questions. Can Calderon sustain his level of player into his late 30s? Will Ellis just hog the ball? Whom will either of these two defend?

Calderon and Ellis should be an upgrade over Collison/James/Fisher/Jones and Mayo, and if that’s all Nowitzki and Cuban want, they’ll likely be pleased. This is no longer a backcourt that can be dismissed in the preseason.

Now, if only we could get Nowitzki’s early opinion of Dallas’ aging wings.

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.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.