Spurs one game from clinching home court throughout the playoffs after win over Mavericks

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The Spurs inched closer to securing home court advantage throughout the postseason with a 109-100 win over the Mavericks on Thursday, and Dallas saw its playoff hopes become even more tenuous with the loss.

San Antonio leads the league in three-point shooting percentage, and put on a 16-of-34 display from beyond the arc that helped carry the team to its 61st victory of the season. Dallas hung around for the first half, and came back with a nice second quarter after falling behind by double digits early. Dirk Nowitzki scored 12 of his 19 points in the period, and a furious close to the half saw Dallas take a two-point lead into intermission.

The Spurs cranked up their defense in the third, getting into the passing lanes to create turnovers and then scoring in transition. Patty Mills went on a shooting spree that saw him hit three of four threes in the period, and he and Tim Duncan each had 11 in a third quarter where the San Antonio lead reached 11 by the time it was finished.

The loss was a tough one for the Mavericks, because they’re in a dog fight for one of the final two playoff spots in the West. Dallas now sits in the eighth spot, tied with Phoenix but a game back in the loss column, while being even with ninth-place Memphis in losses but holding two more victories.

The Mavericks control their own destiny, though, considering their final two games of the season are against Phoenix on Saturday, and then at Memphis the following Wednesday.

As for the Spurs, the reason for their league-best record lies in their versatility. Manu Ginobili was below average by his standards in this one, finishing with 10 points and seven assists while committing five turnovers, and Tony Parker didn’t play at all due to injury. But Kawhi Leonard came through with 16 points and 16 rebounds, and Mills led all scorers with 26 points, albeit on 25 shots.

San Antonio remains extremely difficult to deal with in the regular season, while the Mavericks show flashes of that at times, especially on the offensive end. But Dallas saw its 22nd ranked defense betray them in this one, on a night where the Spurs, as usual, found a way to execute flawlessly at times on both ends of the floor.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.