The Extra Pass: Five quick ways to improve the league; plus Monday’s Recaps

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Five ideas that could help make the NBA even greater:

Offensive Goaltending: Let’s get rid of it. The “in the cylinder” call is routinely one of the toughest for refs to get right on the floor, and we know how the subsequent huddle and review process can suck the life out of a game. If it bounces off the rim, it’s fair game.

The D-League, FIBA and Olympic competition all play that way, and no one says, “oh man, I’m tried of seeing all these putback dunks!” or thinks it has ruined the sanctity of the game. Let’s allow the world’s best athletes to play the game in a different dimension and remove all the pattycake played by rebounders in the air.

Hack-A-Tactic: Probably the best solution to ending the intentional fouling that forces us to watch very large men miss free throws over and over again came from Tom Ziller at SBNation:

“(…) the league could end the practice in one fell swoop by giving teams in the bonus the option of free throws or an inbounds play on non-shooting fouls. In other words, make the bonus optional.”

Brilliant. If Dwight Howard gets intentionally fouled without the ball while in the bonus and there’s more than two minutes left, Kevin McHale can simply opt to take the ball out. The offending player is still charged with a foul, the shot clock resets, and the game moves on.

Coaches decline penalties in football. Why not give them the same option in basketball? Keep the game moving and kill off this strategy in the simplest of ways.

Divisions: Let’s get rid of them, too. The best eight teams in each conference should go to the playoffs every year, no questions asked. If we removed divisions today, it wouldn’t change rivalries or anything else — it just makes playoff seeding simpler and easier to understand. Change that simplifies a needlessly complicated thing? That should be embraced. Here’s hoping the Atlantic Division teams keep this up to spur the switch.

Tanking: There have been many great solutions suggested over the years, particularly by the guys at TrueHoop with their HoopIdea series. Here’s mine: create a minimum win requirement.

No team can fall below the line of 50 combined wins in back-to-back seasons. If a team wins 30 games one year, they must win at least 20 in the next season.

The punishment for teams that fail to win a combined 50 games in any back-to-back seasons? They automatically get assigned the worst odds in the lottery of that year’s draft. If multiple teams fail to meet the 50-win two-year minimum, the team with the worse two-year record will receive the lowest odds.

At the least, this would provide some incentive for general managers not to completely tank over multiple years and for coaches to try and play their best players towards the end of the season. It would make fans of bad teams stop rooting so much for incompetence, at least over multiple seasons. The lottery system would stay intact as is with just a little tweak.

This would make tanking punitive over multiple years, much in the way the luxury tax punishes repeat offenders. This wouldn’t stop tanking like some suggestions, but it would at least put some limitations on it and give teams the incentive to at least be reasonably respectable over a two-year period.

Make the D-League a true minor league: 30 teams, 30 D-League affiliates. It would require a big investment by the league and by owners, but creating a real minor league system that feeds directly to the big club would create an interest in the D-League that hasn’t previously been there.

Exclusive affiliates could make events like the D-League draft and trades actually mean something, and following the happenings of your team’s D-League club would be worth doing. One of the best parts of being a baseball fan is knowing your team’s prospects and getting to say “I remember him when…” once he reaches the majors. That level of familiarity should happen more in basketball.

-D.J. Foster

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Clippers 94, 76ers 83: This was a professional win by the Clippers — they are the better, more talented team and they just used that to make it an easy night for themselves. Of course Chris Paul is playing so well this season that he can make a 25-point, 13-assist night look professional and routine. The Clippers defended well (Blake Griffin on Spencer Hawes in particular, but the Sixers as a team shot just 35.9 percent) however as part of that the Sixers just missed some good looks. It’s not like the Clippers were perfect, they were just better and never let up.

Nuggets 75, Wizards 74: Much lower scoring game than anyone expected —but we did get drama. The Nuggets hung around in a gritty fashion then just made plays with the game on the line. Washington will regret this because had their chances at the end. First Wall had one driving layup blocked by Kenneth Faried. It was then Faried that provided Denver with the margin of victory with :32 seconds left in the game when he threw down a powerful dunk after his man slid over to stop a Nate Robinson drive and Robinson slipped a pass to Faried. Still the Wizards had chances. For example with 22 seconds left the Nuggets had bad inbounds pass stolen by Glen Rice Jr., who in turn passed to a slashing Wall who just missed a driving layup. Next possession Trevor Ariza had a good look at a three and missed it. Still after Faried missed some key free throws Washington had one last chance, they got the ball to Wall out top who made a nice move to create space at the elbow… then just fumbled the ball away as he went up for the shot. Wall finished with 20 points and 8 assists but will just have regrets over how this one ended.

Bobcats 115, Warriors 111: Charlotte is no pushover this season — they can be beaten but you’re going to have to work for it. These Bobcats will not roll over and Golden State learned that the hard way when they once again came out flat (it has been a trend for a couple weeks now). Charlotte led by 12 at the half but Golden State’s offense woke up behind Stephen Curry, who had 32 of his 43 points after halftime. Golden State fought back to tie the game 88-88 in the fourth quarter, then promptly turned the ball over on three straight possessions and never got the lead back. Credit Kemba Walker for that — he scored the Bobcats final 15 points (he finished with 31) and Charlotte held on for a quality win.

Grizzlies 94, Magic 85: Memphis took control of this game thanks to a 14-0 run by their bench in the second quarter and they never surrendered the lead again. Orlando struggled against the Grizzlies defense shooting just 40 percent, but they did make a little run in the fourth quarter and made it interesting enough Dave Joeger had to put his starters back in to preserve the win. Zach Randolph had 19 points but the real key was the Grizzlies shot 10-of-17 from three in this game.

Trail Blazers 105, Jazz 94: This game was close for a quarter and a half until a 15-6 Portland run late in the second quarter gave them a little lead and they never looked back. Much like the Clippers this was a professional win where Portland didn’t have to bring it’s best and didn’t, but it brought enough to win this. LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points, Damian Lillard 18. Alec Burks led Utah with 20 points on 11 shots off the bench.

Kings 112, Mavericks 97: The Kings were shorthanded — Rudy Gay will make his debut in purple Wednesday against Utah — but the Sacramento front court was on fire. DeMarcus Cousins had 32 points and 19 rebounds, Derrick Williams had a career high 31 points while Dallas seemed to coast. Sacramento took the lead with a 13-0 run in the second quarter then pulled away in the third not to look back. Isaiah Thomas looked good as the starter with 24 points and 12 assists. Monta Ellis (21 points) and Dirk Nowitzki (18) played well but the rest of the Mavs shot 33.9 percent. That didn’t get it done.

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

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Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did.

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.

After Ricky Rubio’s triple-double, Russell Westbrook promises to “shut that s*** off”

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Ricky Rubio outplayed Russell Westbrook Saturday night in Utah and now the Jazz are up 2-1 in that series.

Rubio did his damage from the midrange — he was 5-of-5 between the key and the arc — on his way to 26 points, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. All series the Thunder have dared Rubio to shoot and to beat them, Saturday he did. It was a stark contrast to Westbrook’s 14 points on 17 shots Saturday with eight turnovers.

When asked about Rubio’s big night postgame, Westbrook was looking ahead to Game 4 and using a little NSFW language (hat tip to Ben Golliver of SI, who loves him some playoff podium video).

There you have it, a personal guarantee.

Rubio struggled some in Game 1, taking 18 shots and mostly the ones the Thunder wanted him to. However, after that he has been better at getting to his spots and taking the shots in rhythm, and it’s worked — he’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this series. OKC has been focused on making life difficult for rookie Donovan Mitchell (with limited success) and it’s freed up Rubio to make plays.

More than just slowing the Spanish point guard, Westbrook and the Thunder need to figure out how to get their offense back on track against a Jazz defense that was best in the NBA once Gobert got healthy last season. Oklahoma City lost Game 2 when their big three — Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony — went 0-of-15 in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, OKC averaged 100 points per 100 possessions (well below their season average of 110.2) and Westbrook shot 29.4 percent. Do that again in Game 4 and it will not matter what Rubio shoots, what matters is the Thunder could be looking at a 3-1 deficit. The Thunder need to even this series before it heads back to Oklahoma City.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.

Anthony Davis’ 47 points, Pelicans sweep Trail Blazers out of playoffs

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Anthony Davis scored 33 of his franchise playoff-record 47 points in the second half, and the New Orleans Pelicans completed a first-round playoff sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers with a 131-123 victory on Saturday.

Jrue Holiday capped his 41-point performance with an 18-foot pull-up jumper that gave the Pelicans a six-point lead with 40 seconds left.

Rajon Rondo added 16 assists, and Davis also had 11 rebounds and three blocks for New Orleans, which is moving on to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time since the NBA returned to the city 16 seasons ago.

C.J. McCollum scored 38 for the Trail Blazers, who responded to a blowout loss in Game 3 by keeping Game 4 close until the final minute. Al-Farouq Aminu scored 27, Damian Lillard added 18 points and Jusuf Nurkic had 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

Lillard’s difficult driving layup had just tied the game at 60 when the Pelicans briefly pulled away, going on an 11-2 run capped by Davis’ 3.

Soon after, Nikola Mirotic added step-back 3. Davis, who scored 19 in the third quarter, then added a layup while falling down after a hard foul by Aminu, after which Davis flexed both biceps while still sitting on the court.

Holiday’s transition 3 made it 87-72, prompting Portland to call timeout while Holiday walked slowly toward mid-court, nodding and smiling wide as he soaked in the crowd’s adulation.

New Orleans led by 13 to start the fourth quarter, but Portland refused to wilt, opening the period on a 15-4 run that included Nurkic’s hook shot, 20-foot jumper and dunk. McCollum’s transition layup made it 104-102 with nearly nine minutes to play.

Portland got as close as a single point on Aminu’s layup with 5:08 to go, but Davis responded with 12 points over the final 4:56, starting with a layup as he was fouled and a 3-pointer. Holiday scored six points during the final 2:52, starting with his 3-pointer. The pair combined for all but one of New Orleans’ points during that pivotal stretch.

Leading up to Game 4, Lillard spoke of the need for the Blazers to ramp up their intensity and physicality. From the tip, it looked as though they’d done so.

In stark contrast to Game 3, when New Orleans led by 18 in the first quarter, this game was tight and testy.

Anthony and Ed Davis received double technical fouls after bumping one another following one of Anthony Davis’ dunks – and that was just the beginning.

McCollum was called for a flagrant foul when he stormed into the lane behind E'Twaun Moore and grabbed the Pelicans guard by the shoulders to thwart a driving layup attempt. Moore then shoved McCollum and was assessed a technical foul.

And in the final seconds of the half, double technicals were assessed to Rondo and Portland center Zach Collins after Rondo lowered his forehead into Collins’ chest and Collins shoved back.

When halftime arrived, New Orleans led 58-56.