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The Extra Pass: Three takeaways and Wednesday’s recaps

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Three takeaways from a busy Wednesday night around the league:

It was Paul George, in the Garden, with the dagger

It’s a crazy thing to watch an entire arena lose all hope, all at once. The Knicks were well on their way to a statement win over the Indiana Pacers. Maybe it could have been a rallying point for the rest of the season, a moment to build up some confidence without Tyson Chandler, however irrational that may have been.

But that didn’t happen. Even before Paul George calmly sank three straight free throws to tie the game in regulation, and even before Carmelo Anthony missed his chance to win the game at the buzzer, you just knew. You knew when that whistle blew, and so did the crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Each jumper George stuck in overtime felt like a punishment for believing anything else to be true. In another world, a close loss to one of the best teams in the league after a questionable whistle could be construed as a moral victory, but in New York? It’s just more proof that the sky is indeed falling.

When the gavel swings too quickly

Monta Ellis has always been a target for criticism, whether it be because of mopeds, “having it all” or just his general lack of self-awareness.

Over the years, Ellis has become a popular pinata for both the stats crowd (look at his efficiency, not his raw totals!) and the people who watched him gamble defensively and take ill-advised shots again and again. There was no better way to make any hardcore NBA fan roll his eyes than to say, “I think Monta Ellis is a good player.”

So let me say it now: I think Monta Ellis is a good player. Is he a complete player? Far from it. But anyone feeling like Ellis has turned a new leaf and been a total revelation for the Dallas Mavericks probably never gave Ellis a fair chance in the first place. Yes, he’s scoring more efficiently this year, but Ellis has always been a pretty good passer and playmaker in the pick-and-roll, which are skills a lot of folks think Ellis never had or neglected to use.

It doesn’t match the narrative, but Ellis’ usage rate is up and his assist rate is down this year compared to last year. But with better players around him, a real point guard, a real coach and a scoring threat in Dirk Nowitzki in the pick-and-pop, Ellis looks drastically improved, even though he hasn’t changed much of what he does at all.

Does Ellis have weaknesses in his game? Absolutely, but one of the nicest things about his role in Dallas is that it’s becoming okay to talk and appreciate him for his strengths (shot creation, transition play, penetration) once again. People generally love imperfect things, so long as they aren’t being taken too seriously. I enjoy Ellis like I enjoy pro wrestling, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. Okay, I’m a little ashamed. Let’s just move on.

Oh no, Oladipo?

Eight turnovers is a lot of turnovers, even against a swarming defense like Miami’s. The fact that Oladipo is averaging four turnovers a games this year might make a lot of folks uneasy, but here’s why that isn’t the worst thing.

Check out this list. Here are the names players in their first, second or third years in the league who averaged more than 20 minutes and four turnovers per game with a usage percentage over 25%:

Dwyane Wade, Isiah Thomas, Ron Harper, Allen Iverson, Gilbert Arenas, Jim Jackson, Victor Oladipo.

Young players willing to take risks at an early stage are usually more likely to become potent scorers and playmakers down the line. Oladipo’s aggression bodes well for his future, even if his stat lines instinctively make you scrunch your face up like you just accidentally ate something with peas. Thanks for nothing, peas.

It’s Oldaipo’s ballhandling that needs improvement more than anything else, and his decision-making shouldn’t be obsessed over. He’s getting to spots on the floor where good things usually happen, even though they aren’t right now. It will come in due time.

– D.J. Foster

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Mavs coach Rick Carlisle channels his inner Gregg Popovich:

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Bobcats 95, Nets 91: Brooklyn came out with Deron Williams back in the first half and their offense was a little improved — but their defense still wasn’t. This was a close game through the first half but the Bobcats went on a 13-0 run early in the third quarter behind Kemba Walker (13 points in the third and 31 on the night) and that proved the separation the Nets could not make up. Nice night for Andray Blatche — 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting. Also, Deron Williams tweaked his ankle in the second quarter and did not return, which is not good for a 3-8 team. The Bobcats actually got off to a faster start last season (6-6 this season, 7-5 last season) but this start feels more sustainable, in part because of their defense)

Wizards 98, Cavaliers 91: The Wizards went on a 25-8 first quarter run, in part thanks to Bradley Beal scoring 9 points in the first — which was how many points all the Cavaliers starters had in the first half. The Wizards looked like they would run away with this and led comfortably into the fourth. Then Kyrie Irving happened — he had 18 points in the fourth quarter and made it a game. It just wasn’t enough. Beal finished with 26 but played some sloppy ball down the stretch; Nene added 20 for the Wizards.

Pacers 103, Knicks 96 (OT): New York opened the game on a 13-0 run and held Indiana to 25 percent shooting in the first quarter. But as the game moved on the Pacers defense wore the Knicks down (New York shot 40.9 percent in the paint, thanks to Roy Hibbert) and Paul George pushed back — he finished with 35 points on 26 shots and he took over at the end, going 7-of-11 in the fourth quarter and overtime. The game went to overtime because with New York up three and 5.2 seconds left Iman Shumpert fouled George on a three point attempt — a borderline call, but he touched his elbow — and George sank the free throws. Carmelo Anthony had 30 points on 28 shots and worked his way to 18 rebounds (9 offensive). But while George was hot late Anthony was 3-of-14 in the second half and overtime.

Heat 120, Magic 92: Miami opened the game on 16-0 run — Miami started out shooting 6-of-6 which included a couple of threes and a LeBron James spinning layup, while Magic went 0-of-6. This game was never close. LeBron had 21 points on 11 shots, Chris Bosh was a +27, James Jomes had 17 points on 8 shots. Orlando go a great game from Arron Afflalo, who had 30 points as Miami kept inexplicably leaving him open so he hit 7-of-9 from three.

Raptors 108, Sixers 98: Toronto had 24 assists on 36 made baskets — for them that is a minor miracle. Toronto can just be a team of guys trying to beat you in isolation but they shared the ball on Wednesday and they looked much better for it, winning comfortably. DeMar DeRozan had 33 points on 19 shots. Michael Carter-Williams was back for Philly but looked rusty (2-of-10 shooting) while Spencer Hawes continues to look good (28 points).

Hawks 93, Pistons 85: Everything that has been wrong with Detroit this season seemed to be on display in this one: Josh Smith tried to do too much in his return to Atlanta and was 5-of-15 shooting, the Hawks shot 70 percent in the restricted area (despite the Pistons’ big front line) and better than 50 percent overall, and Paul Millsap had 19 points despite having the bigger Greg Monroe on him most of the night. Brandon Jennings had 21 points but needed 21 points to get there for Detroit.

Trail Blazers 91, Bucks 82: This one makes eight wins in a row for the Blazers. It wasn’t pretty — the winning team shot 40.7 percent from the field — but Portland will take it on the road. Let’s sum this game up this way: LaMarcus Aldridge led the Trail Blazers with 21 points but needed 22 shots to do that; Luke Ridnour led the Bucks with 13 points but needed 14 shots to do that.

Clippers 102, Timberwolves 98: Chris Paul got Los Angeles this win — he had 4 points in the first 42 minutes, then took over the last half of the fourth quarter scoring 16 points in six minutes, holding off a late run from Minnesota. CP3 finished with 20 points and 11 assists, making it 12 point-assist double-doubles to start the season, breaking Magic Johnson’s record of 11. The other key to this game was it was not Kevin Love’s night — he shot 2-of-14 and while he had a double-double of his own (10 points, 12 boards) he didn’t dominate.

Pelicans 105, Jazz 98: This was a pretty tight game most of the way until a 14-2 New Orleans run in the fourth quarter gave them some breathing room. Anthony Davis had another impressive line — 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, 9 rebounds and 8 blocks. Ryan Anderson had 11 of his 19 in the fourth quarter (tell me again why they are gong to trade him?). Enes Kanter had 19 points on 13 shots, while Gordon Hayward had a VERY rough night shooting 1-of-17.

Spurs 104, Celtics 93: How did you expect this one to turn out? Exactly, pretty much like this. Six Spurs in double figures, none with gaudy numbers (Tony Parker led the way with 19). Just another Spurs win. Nothing to see here, move along.

Kings 113, Suns 106: Sacramento swept a home-and-home with Phoenix, and they did it with just a better all-around effort on the second night of the back-to-back. Isaiah Thomas was in his usual attack mode and led the way with 23 points and 4 assists. It was a fairly close first half (tied after one quarter, 5 point Kings lead at half) but Sacramento started to pull away in the third with an 11-0 run, fueled in part by an efficient night from forwards Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Jason Thompson, who combined had 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting. But in the fourth Goran Dragic (18 points in the quarter, 31 for the game) and P.J. Tucker (12 in the quarter) made it entertaining — the Suns put up 44 in the final frame. But the Kings put up 39 behind 11 from Thomas and held on for the win.

Mavericks 123, Rockets 120: Houston seemed in control — up 18 midway through the third quarter, 14 at the start of the fourth, with Dwight Howard having his best game as a Rocket (he started 11-of-11 from the field and already had first 27 of his eventual 33 points). Then the fourth quarter happened. Dallas shot 73.7 percent in the fourth, with Dirk Nowitzki putting up 14 points in the frame, Monta Ellis 8 and Jose Calderon 7. Meanwhile the Rockets shot just 26 percent. James Harden and Howard were a combined 2-of-10 in the frame. Dallas did everything right, seemed to hit every shot, won the quarter 36-19 and the game. That’s a comeback Dallas can build a little momentum on.

Grizzlies 88, Warriors 81 (OT): Memphis won this with their defense. They held a Golden State team that on the season shoots 44.9 percent from three to 27.8 percent, a team that averages 19.7 free throw attempts a game to 8, a team that averages 104.3 points per 100 possessions to 86.6. The Warriors had 37 points in the second half and overtime. And this was in Golden State. The Warriors were in control of the first half but Memphis had a 17-2 run early in the third to make it a game but could not pull away. Then they got five big points from Mike Conley in OT (he had 19 on the night) and pulled away. Zach Randolph had 21 points, Marc Gasol 21 points and 12 boards. Klay Thompson had 21 points but Golden State missed Stephen Curry’s shooting and shot creation in this one.

Playoff preview: Four key questions about San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant, center, scores against the San Antonio Spurs during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay
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Between 2011 and 2014, the Spurs and Thunder combined for six Western Conferences Finals appearances with at least one reaching it each year. Last season featured Warriors vs. Rockets. This year, one – but only one – of San Antonio and Oklahoma City will return.

1. Are these Kevin Durant‘s final games with the Thunder?

Let’s get this out of the way. Durant, as you well know, will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. At this point, the best thing Oklahoma City can do to keep him is win. He knows the city. He knows the franchise. He knows the roster (which would likely return in similar form if he re-signs). Whether the Thunder send him into free agency with a good taste in his mouth is the biggest variable.

Will Durant leave just because Oklahoma City loses to the Spurs? Of course not. Will Durant stay just because Oklahoma City beats the Spurs? Of course not.

But this is a big opportunity for the Thunder to accentuate their positives – and the Spurs, another team in the Durant hunt, to do the same.

2. Who wins the Kevin Durant vs. Kawhi Leonard matchup?

More directly on the court… Durant is involved in what might be the best individual matchup of the 2016 playoffs

Durant and Leonard should both finish top five in MVP voting. If they do, it’d be the first time two players top five in MVP voting who play the same position met in the playoffs since 2012, when LeBron James and Durant faced off in the Finals.

The matchup should be fun on both ends of the court, but it’ll be particularly intriguing when Oklahoma City has the ball. Durant is one of the NBA’s best offensive players, Leonard the best defender. I can’t wait to watch them go at it.

3. How do the Spurs handle Oklahoma City’s athleticism?

In his last 20 games against San Antonio, Serge Ibaka is 15-5. Ibaka embodies the athletic advantage the Thunder hold over the Spurs. At his best, Ibaka attacks with hops and speed the Spurs’ bigs can’t match. Ibaka looked old throughout much of the regular season, but he appeared rejuvenated in the first round against the Mavericks. If he was just saving his energy for the playoffs, following the Dwight Howard model in previous years, Ibaka could play a major role.

Ditto Russell Westbrook, who will challenge Tony Parker to keep up. San Antonio could cross match with Danny Green, but that presents complications in transition.

The Spurs are collectively more skilled, but the Thunder have done a better job than most at neutralizing that advantage.

4. Has Billy Donovan found a rotation that narrows the gap?

Billy Donovan passed his first playoff test against Rick Carlisle. Now the challenge grows even greater against Gregg Popovich.

One thing Donovan did right: Putting Nick Collison, not Kyle Singler, in the playoff rotation. Collison’s minutes could be key against a Spurs team that often plays two slower bigs. I guesses Singler rather than Collison would play regularly, which lowered Oklahoma City’s adjusted net rating by a few points per 100 possessions when projecting using only players in the playoff rotation.

I’ll again use nba wowy! to rank playoff teams by regular-season net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the team’s postseason rotation, once the first round ends. But for now, here are San Antonio’s and Oklahoma City’s ratings, from the regular season adjusted to only lineups that include five players projected to be in the playoff rotation:

2. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 110.5 to 110.0
  • Defensive rating: 99.4 to 96.1
  • Net rating: +11.1 to +13.9

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 113.6 to 117.3
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 104.6
  • Net rating: +7.6 to +12.7

Both teams — already strong by this measure — benefited from beating up on their first-round competition, and the Thunder got a bump for using Collison over Singler. Oklahoma City still trails the Spurs, but the gap is much closer than overall regular-season results would suggest.

Prediction: Spurs in 7

Report: Deron Williams opting out of Mavericks contract

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 03:  Deron Williams #8 of the Dallas Mavericks dribbles the ball agains Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors at American Airlines Center on November 3, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Deron Williams sacrificed $16 million to leave the Nets in a buyout last summer. He recouped $5,378,974 with the Mavericks this season.

Now – instead of exercising his $5,621,026 player option – he’s looking to get more.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Deron Williams intends to opt out of the second season of his contract with the Mavericks, sources told ESPN.com.

Williams could return to the Mavericks. They’re one of the few teams that need a starting point guard, and two others that do – the Nets and Knicks – are probably off the table given Williams’ antipathy for a large market. Expect Dallas to at least try for an upgrade like Mike Conley first.

But even if Williams signs as a backup, he can still probably command more than $6 million next season. With the salary cap skyrocketing to about $92 million and so many teams flush with cap space, the salary picture is changing.

This also increases the Mavericks’ potential cap space.

They project to fall about $24 million under the cap, counting cap holds for Williams, Chandler Parsons (who has a player option that could go either way) and Dwight Powell. In other words, Dallas could spend that $24 million then exceed the cap to re-sign Williams, Parsons and/or Powell.

Renouncing Williams ($6,454,769 cap hold), Parsons ($19,969,950 cap hold only if he opts out) and/or Powell ($1,180,431) could clear additional cap room. Parsons opting in would restrict the Mavericks’ ability to clear space .

Williams would have been a bargain if he opted in. Instead, Dallas gains flexibility.

Report: Kings willing to trade DeMarcus Cousins because his moodiness bothers teammates

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins walks up court during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Saturday, March 5, 2016, in San Antonio. San Antonio won 104-94. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)
AP Photo/Darren Abate
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The Kings, after years of shutting down DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors, will reportedly seriously explore the market.

What changed for Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac?

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

the sense within the organization is Divac is tempted by the prospect of pairing his center with his personally selected coach but that he has become increasingly frustrated by his center’s ongoing issues and, for the first time, is willing to test the market for the two-time All-Star.

The disconnect between Karl and Divac, and Karl and Cousins, is rivaled closely by the discord within the fragmented locker room. Apart from Rondo, Cousins has few friends among his teammates. Several players privately have complained to management about his mood swings and disrespect for those around him, including his coaches and in particular Karl.

I still doubt Sacramento trades Cousins. There’s a vast gulf between soliciting Cousins offers and actually pulling the trigger on one. He remains one of the NBA’s most valuable players – already a star, 25 and locked up for two more seasons at a reasonable $35 million combined. It’d take a haul to land him, and I doubt any team offers a package that sways Divac – though a few could have him thinking.

But Cousins’ moodiness is a problem. It gets him harmful technical fouls, takes him out of games mentally and – as we learn here – upsets his teammates.

It seems the Kings are attempting to scare him straight – reports like this leaking, including one that their next coach will have management’s backing if he wants to discipline Cousins.  They have to try something. Rajon Rondo‘s leadership, while endearing to Cousins, apparently didn’t change the center significantly enough.

I wouldn’t rule out Sacramento trading Cousins. If you put a player on the market, you might just hear an offer you like. But selling low on Cousins a – franchise-level player – would be a mistake. It’s too hard to get a player with his talent just to dump him when he’s still young.

A far better outcome would be Cousins heeding these implicit messages, maturing and cutting out the nonsense that too often overshadows his immense talent.

Tony Allen warns Mike Conley: ‘If I see you in New York or one of them places, you got a flagrant foul coming’

Memphis Grizzlies forward Tony Allen (9) and guard Mike Conley (11) react during the second half of Game 2 in a second-round NBA playoff basketball series against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, May 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Marc Gasol has a simple plan for convincing Mike Conley to re-sign with the Grizzlies: Be nice.

Tony Allen is going another way.

Peter Fleischer of Fox 13 Memphis:

Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace says Conley will re-sign with Memphis. Others disagree. For his part, Conley has been vague – though he left the door open for signing with the Knicks, need a point guard and could have max cap space .

Conley will have options, and he should explore them. This will be his first free agency after the Grizzlies drafted him and signed him to a contract extension. Staying with the only NBA team he has know should be appealing – but other options could be, too.

People in Memphis clearly care about him returning.

Each in their own way.