NBA: Pelicans v Mavericks

The Extra Pass: Mark Cuban happy to have his friend Nowitzki around longer; plus Tuesdays’ recaps

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To them this is more than a business — Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitzki are friends. Technically they are boss and employee, but neither sees it that way.

“I kick his ass whenever I’ve wanted to,” Cuban said last week, joking around about his friend the way you ride yours. “It’s kind of like we grew up in this business together….

“If I’m shooting downstairs before a game he’ll come in and stomp up and say ‘Whose house is it?’ I’m like ‘I paid for this s—, it’s my house.”

Nowitzki confirmed again this week what we already knew — he wants to play a few more years for Dallas before retiring. Cuban joked about the end of Nowitzki’s career, too.

“No, it’s when I want (then he laughs), because owners win games, not players,” Cuban said. How very Jerry Kraus of him.

But when Cuban got serious he said the plan is to let Nowitzki leave how the big German wants and on his terms, in part because his game is not slipping — he is scoring 21.1 points a game, with a PER of 23.2.

“It’s up to him, as long as he wants to he’ll be here,” the Mavericks’ owner said before his Mavericks took on the Clippers in Los Angeles. “Like I said earlier Dirk never played off athleticism; he plays off of heart, he plays off of brains, he plays off of technique. He’s a surgeon, he makes it into a science. He’s a student of the game and in a lot of respects that helps him, you’ll see he knows how to protect his body, which makes him look really awkward at times but he understands context.”

Cuban’s point was a simple one — if your game is all about your athleticism, it fades with age. Nowitzki’s game ages well. How does one even begin to defend a 7’0” guy who shoots a deadly one-legged fade-away?

“He’s just more skilled than everyone,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I think it comes down to that with him, he’s seven feet tall, he’s maybe the best shooter in the league or at least top five still, and at that size that makes him almost impossible to guard.”

“It’s not like we were wowed by his athleticism or wowed with his speed,” Cuban said of drafting Nowitzki. “Dirk is all about German precision. He’s like a surgeon out on the court, he knows how to play, he sees the game in slow motion and he knows what’s going to happen and he knows what he needs to do. And it’s that ability to know what he needs to do but also context that continues to make him special.”

Nowitzki off the court is now a father, but he still has the mantra “I’m a warrior” who will do whatever it takes to win.

“I think Dirk’s pretty much the same guy,” Cuban said of he maturation of his friend. “Where I think early on he might have deferred to somebody else, or he might bite his tongue, you don’t see Dirk biting his tongue anymore….

“Dirk still likes to have fun, he’s always had fun. He’s always had a good spirit about him, he’s self-aware and knows what he does on the court is what he does on the court and what he does off the court is who he is.”

Who he is remains the best European player ever in the NBA. We are going to be fortunate to watch that German precision for a few more seasons after this one.

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Kevin Durant dropped 46 and took over the game late, here are his 11 points in the final 3:30 of the game:

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Nets 101, Magic 90: This was actually close for a half, before the Nets cranked up the defense in the third quarter — the Magic shot 14 percent in the quarter — and by the fourth this was a laugher for Brooklyn. Deron Williams came off the bench again but looked sharper than he did in his debut. The real hero for Brooklyn was Andray Blatche who had 18 points and was a force in the paint. As for Orlando… why isn’t Kyle O’Quinn getting more run. Play the man, he’s a spark plug.

Heat 93, Celtics 86: Miami won. If you want to give them credit you can say that on the second night of a back-to-back they were scrappy enough to get the win. But really, the Celtics were the undermanned scrappy team that fought back and showed heart, Miami looked like their slumping selves and played just well enough to beat one of the league’s worst teams right now. Rajon Rondo looked very rusty and was 0-of-8 (don’t be shocked if he sits Wednesday in the Celtics’ back-to-back with the Wizards). LeBron James had 29 points

Kings 114, Pelicans 97: Sacramento opened the game on a 12-2 run and never looked back — they attacked and got 50 points in the restricted area in this game as New Orleans treated rim protection like it was the Hantavirus. Rudy Gay continues his run of great play since coming to Sacramento scoring 41 points on just 25 shots, and Isaiah Thomas added 20. Pelicans’ fans looking for a bright spot, Jeff Withey played his best game of the season.

Thunder 105, Trail Blazers 97: With 3:15 left in a tight game late, Kevin Durant was whistled for the charge on a bang-bang play, and in frustration at the call he slammed his hand on the scorer’s table — which led to a technical foul on KD. That fueled the best scorer in the game — he had 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting the rest of the way and led the Thunder to the win. Durant was a beast all night and scored 46 (on just 25 shots), his ninth game in a row scoring at least 30 points. LaMarcus Aldridge had 29 points and 16 rebounds, but he shot 1-8 in the fourth quarter. All of that covered by the much maligned Kendrick Perkins, who also hit a key baseline jumper (we’ve slammed him here before, got to give him credit now).

Timberwolves 112, Jazz 97: Minnesota went on a 17-2 run early in the first and never looked back from there. The Timberwolves were the more aggressive team, getting to the line twice as much as the Jazz (24-12), plus the Timberwolves ball movement was improved. Corey Brewer and Kevin Love each had 19 points to lead five Timberwolves with at least 15 points. Gordon Hayward had 27 for the Jazz. One other note, Ricky Rubio has not had a great season but looked pretty sharp Tuesday night.

NBA: Heat got away with two violations before clutch 3-pointer in win over Mavericks (video)

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Dirk Nowitzki entered Miami nostalgic about returning to the place he led the Mavericks to the 2011 NBA title.

He left with a 99-95 loss to the Heat.

But perhaps correct officiating down the stretch would have produced a different result.

Before Tyler Johnson hit a key late 3-pointer, Miami got away with two violations, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

First, Goran Dragic should’ve been called for travelling with 1:47 left:

Dragic (MIA) moves his pivot foot.

Failing that, Hassan Whiteside should’ve been whistled for a three-second violation with 1:45 left:

Whiteside (MIA) is in the paint for longer than three seconds.

Either call would’ve ended the Heat’s possession. Instead, they kept swinging the ball until Johnson hit his 3-pointer.

We’ll never know how the game would’ve played out with a correct call, but at different points, Dallas trailed by just two and three while having to intentionally foul.

Raptors Kyle Lowry was ejected Sunday for blow to Brandon Knight’s head (VIDEO)

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Kyle Lowry has had an All-Star worthy season, but he’s had a rough few games.

His jumper has gone missing the last three games — he is shooting 35.4 percent overall and 25.9 percent from three in those games. Not coincidentally, all three of those are Raptors losses.

Then on Sunday, he struck the Suns’ Brandon Knight in the head as Knight drove the lane. Lowry made an ill-advised swipe at the ball after Knight got past him and smacked Knight on the head. Lowry was given a Flagrant 2 and was ejected, which was the right call.

Lowry took responsibility for the hit and said after the game he texted Knight to apologize, that he wasn’t a dirty player and didn’t intend to do hurt Knight. Classy move. But Lowry still could face a fine from the league for this.

Three things we learned Sunday: Roller coaster Laker season has some deep, deep dips

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 29:  Luke Walton of the Los Angeles Lakers watches play during a 101-89 Dallas Mavericks win at Staples Center on December 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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With a couple of important football games Sunday you may have missed some other things. Like why a highway was covered in red Skittles. Or, the handful of NBA Games that took place. We can help you with the latter, here are the big takeaways from Sunday.

1) On the anniversary of Kobe’s 81-point game, Lakers only score 73.
I keep waiting for the day Luke Walton snaps.

He has been the model of the patient, developmental basketball coach of a young team this season — it’s about progress, about lessons learned, about laying a foundation that helps this young core grow into something more dangerous in future years. He has been what the Lakers needed, a departure from last year and he who shall not be named. However, the lack of effort and growth on defense — the continued inability to defend the pick-and-roll — has to be eating at him inside. This is a young team, it’s going to have ups and downs, but the downs have been deep and pronounced, and at some point I expect Walton to just unload on his young charges.

Although if it didn’t happen after Sunday, it might never happen. On the 11th anniversary of Kobe’s 81-point game, the Lakers as a team scored just 73 points. Los Angeles lost by 49 points, a franchise record for worst loss ever. Walton said after the game the Lakers lacked the kind of veteran or natural leader on this team who would take charge on the court and call out his teammates off it in moments like this. Maybe he needs to be that guy.

Comments about the Lakers often talk about a quality young core for them to build around. There is some truth to that. Brandon Ingram has had some better games of late, although on Sunday he was asked to start for the injured D’Angelo Russell and be a playmaker and that failed. Ingram missed his first shot and it got in his head for the rest of the day, throwing off his game. Ingram needs to be a better shot creator (and get stronger). Jordan Clarkson can score the rock, and both he and Larry Nance Jr. are future NBA rotation players who can contribute to very good teams. Then there is Russell — nobody has been more up and down this season than the second-year point guard. A few weeks back I wrote about how he had finally developed a game-day routine and seemed to be turning a corner with a string of strong games. Since then he’s pretty much stunk. He’s developing, although it’s fair to ask if he’s doing that fast enough?

(Still, the Lakers really missed Russell Sunday — he’s the only guard they have who is a threat to score from three or getting into the lane, he’s a good passer who sees the angles on the court, and when he’s out there the ball moves better. This Lakers team lacks shot creators and when Russell is out the offense can stagnate quickly, reverting to one-on-one plays.)

It’s fair to ask why the inconsistent defensive efforts? Well, consistently bad may be the more accurate description. They make bad decisions constantly, and the veterans they have either are not great defenders — Nick Young, Lou Williams — or can be drawn into bad positions, such as Timofey Mozgov having to defend Dirk Nowitzki Sunday.

It’s also fair to ask if the Lakers really have an alpha in this core? Do they have a top 15 NBA player that can be the cornerstone of a future contender? I don’t see it. Maybe Ingram with some muscle and experience on him can get there — scouts are still very high on his game — but I do not see it elsewhere. Plus, I don’t see the alpha, ultra-competitive personality that doesn’t accept losing gracefully. Again, maybe Russell or someone has that and is just not confident showing it yet, but this team lacks it.

With all that, the Lakers development roller coaster seems to have bigger dips than highs. Which has to frustrate Walton. And at some point, he’s going to lose it.

2) The Suns beat the Raptors, and Eric Bledsoe was the reason.
Phoenix has won a couple of game in a row, and while beating the Knicks does not earn guys high praise, beating the Toronto Raptors will do that. Quietly Eric Bledsoe has had a borderline All-Star season — he’s not going to make the team due to the depth of talent in the West and the fact the Suns suck — and he showed it Sunday with an impressive 40 points to get Phoenix the win.

3) The Warriors punish Magic to end week where they asserted themselves. Last week for the Warriors started with a rematch against Cleveland, and Golden State earned a measure of confidence blowing them out. Then the Warriors beat Russell Westbrook and the Thunder thanks to a “look at what you’re missing” game from Kevin Durant. Then the Warriors knocked off the surging Rockets and James Harden.

That’s a good week, although the Warriors still had to face the Magic on Sunday. That had the makings of a potential let down game but the Warriors pulled away for the win.

Golden State has established itself as the best team in the NBA this regular season. There’s still a lot of season (nearly half) to go, and they will get tested in the playoffs, but they have set the mark to beat. Did they set the bar last year, too? Yes. And they made the Finals (and would have won if Draymond Green could keep his hands to himself), not something to ignore. But this season feels different with Durant in the fold. We’ll see. But for right now, they keep right on rolling at 38-6.

Suns’ Marquese Chriss shows off crazy hops to throw down alley-oop (VIDEO)

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Marquese Chriss has ridiculous athleticism, which is why a lot of teams had their eye on him last draft.

He’s still trying to figure out how to make that talent work for him on the court, but on plays like this third quarter alley-oop your jaw drops.

The Suns got the upset win over the Raptors thanks to a monster game from Eric Bledsoe.