NBA Playoff Preview: Dallas Mavericks vs. San Antonio Spurs

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REGULAR SEASON RECORDS

Dallas Mavericks: 49-33 (8 seed)
San Antonio Spurs: 62-20 (1 seed)

KEY INJURIES

None. Which is saying something for the Spurs as they have had injuries (plus the Gregg Popovich preventative rest program) messing with their lineups all season long.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Dallas Mavericks: Offense 109 (3rd in NBA), Defense 105.9 (22nd in NBA)

San Antonio Spurs: 108.1 (7th in NBA), Defense 100.1 (4th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) Can Dallas even slow the San Antonio offense? This is really the issue, and history says the answer is no. San Antonio has won the last nine meetings between these teams, sweeping this season series by an average of 11.3 points a game. San Antonio averaged 115 points per 100 possessions against Dallas this season, almost 7 per 100 better than their season average. The Spurs make the extra pass every time and that has led to Danny Green destroying the Mavericks from three shooting 12-of-20 from beyond the arc in the meetings this season. Look for Green to put up big numbers in this series. Rick Carlisle is a good coach who will throw a lot of different match ups out there hoping something works, but the reality is on the defensive end he’s playing chess with a handful of pawns while Gregg Popovich has a full arsenal of knights, bishops and other pieces to attack with.

2) Tony Parker. He has just abused Jose Calderon this season — 10-of-18 shooting when their were matched up, driving into the lane 13 times in less than 17 minutes and scoring 24 points on those drives (stats via NBA.com’s player tracking SportsVU cameras). The Dallas defense isn’t that good and when a gifted playmaker and scorer like Parker gets into the lane it’s all over. Look for Dallas to try some Devin Harris on him (they did that this season, as well as some Wayne Ellington) but they make that switch the Dallas offense takes a hit. Somehow Dallas has to find a way to contain Parker to have a chance in this series.

3) Dirk Nowitzki. He’s still one of the games great scorers. He’s still going to get his. The Spurs threw Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw at him during the regular season and he shot 50 percent against both. San Antonio can mix it up taking Kawhi Leonard off Monta Ellis for a while and throw him ad Nowitzki, too, but it will only help so much. For Dallas to win a game in this series, let alone dream of an upset, Nowitzki is going to have to be dominant. Ellis will have to be great also, the Mavs will need to find some kind of defensive answer, but it all comes back to Dirk — he has to be his peak self for Dallas to even have a chance.

PREDICTION

Spurs in five. Monta Ellis to his credit has had a resurgent season and meshed very well with Nowitzki, but he is going to have Kawhi Leonard draped on him all series and that will slow his effectiveness. With Leonard and the Diaw/Splitter combination on the Mavs’ stars the Spurs don’t have to double off Dallas’ shooters much, which limits the Dallas offense. Meanwhile Dallas has no good answers to limit the San Antonio offense. I’ll give Dallas one home game because Dirk goes off, but that’s the best they can hope for.

Check out Lakers’ stretch of hitting 15 straight shots to end third quarter (VIDEO)

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The Lakers lost to the Wizards because they are young, inconsistent, and defend like traffic cones at times.

But that young Lakers core also has its moments.

Los Angeles strung together 15 straight made buckets to end the third quarter Tuesday night. Some of it was flukey, like Corey Brewer driving and finishing contested layups like he’s Kyrie Irving, but there were things Lakers fans should want to see such as D'Angelo Russell draining threes, Jordan Clarkson working hard off the ball and his teammates finding him, and Julius Randle just attacking.

After this run the Lakers led by 13 going into the fourth, but lost the game.

It’s official: Joakim Noah cleared to play, 20-game suspension starts tonight

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What this ultimately means is next season the Knicks should have Joakim Noah available just before Thanksgiving.

Noah has been suspended 20 games for testing positive for a banned substance, but because he was out due to knee surgery the suspension did not start until he was “physically able to play.” Noah said on Tuesday that he had been cleared, but that was just by the team doctors. He also had to be cleared by the NBA’s doctors (because if teams could cheat they would).

That happened Wednesday, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

Noah’s first season in New York after signing a four-year, $72 million deal has been a disappointment. To put it kindly. He’s not been completely healthy, and any observer of him the past few years had to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy again. He had lost a step from the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year before the Knicks signed him. The Knicks don’t need him to necessarily be that dominant a force again (although it would be nice), but they need to get more out of him and see if he is a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis for now as the Knicks try to build a roster for next season that can play a little defense. And the triangle.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.