Thursday NBA playoff previews: Which Indiana team shows up?

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Three Game 3s, each one the series is tied 1-1. You’ve seen the math — the team that win Game 3 goes on to win the series the vast majority of the time. Here are some previews.

Indiana Pacers at Atlanta Hawks (Series tied 1-1): The Pacers got their mojo back in the second half of Game 2 in time to even the series, but things are far from fixed on the offensive end of the floor. The league’s top defense came together and played like it in shutting Atlanta down in the second half, but Indiana got unusually stout offensive contributions from Luis Scola and George Hill, who combined for 35 points on 14-of-22 shooting.

The Pacers will need David West and Lance Stephenson to resume their customary offensive roles on the road in Game 3, and it would be nice if Roy Hibbert could do more than the six points and four rebounds on 1-of-7 shooting that he did in his team’s last win. Role players tend to struggle on the road, especially in the postseason. If the Pacers don’t get the numbers they’re accustomed to from their key players, they could find themselves once again trailing in the series.

—Brett Pollakoff

Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies (Series tied 1-1): Memphis imposed their will on Game 2 — the pace was slower, Tony Allen was making Kevin Durnat’s life difficult, Marc Gasol was working out of the high post and when the weakside help came he carved them up with passes, Russell Westbrook took a few “what are you thinking?” shots. Those are issues for Oklahoma City going into Game 3, but here is the bigger one — they couldn’t get stops. The Memphis Grizzlies had an offensive rating of 117.4 points per 100 possessions in Game 2. All game long OKC would make a run, hit a dramatic shot, and Memphis would go down and just execute, make an extra pass and get the bucket.

Westbrook is getting outplayed by Mike Conley and Scott Brooks switched Thabo Sefalosha on him to get some stops last game (which worked better). Whoever is on Conley Thursday night needs to keep him out of the paint. Memphis will continue to do what they do, they will grind. As always in this series tempo is key, OKC needs to let its thoroughbreds run. Still, the Thunder are too talented not to score whatever the tempo, but they need stops, too.

—Kurt Helin

Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors (Series tied 1-1): When you think about what Golden State needs to do differently from Game 2’s 40 point loss, the easy joke is “everything.” And that’s pretty accurate, but there are a few concrete steps. First, they have got to double team Blake Griffin. Throw a variety of looks at him, but doubles need to be part of it. Take the ball out of his hands. Griffin has 51 points in 49 minutes of play this series, they can’t just leave David Lee on him. You can’t stop him, but slow his rolls to the rim and force him to shoot jumpers.

Golden State has to take care of the ball, they had 26 turnovers in Game 2 and that fuels the Clipper break and highlight show. The Warriors also need to get the good Klay Thompson from Game 1 back — Doc Rivers has made it a point that Stephen Curry is not going to beat them, so someone else has to. Along those same lines, back home the Warriors need the ball movement of Game 1 to return.

—Kurt Helin

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.