Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki

Mavericks remake themselves (again) around Dirk Nowitzki, and this time it might work

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Vince Carter made the clutch shot. Monta Ellis led them down the stretch. Samuel Dalembert was the steady hand.

Who are these Dallas Mavericks?

Dallas nearly completely turned over its roster since its 2011 championship – only Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion remain – but the Mavericks have finally found the veterans capable of delivering their first playoff series win since then.

With Carter’s game-winning 3-pointer clinching a 109-108 Game 3 win, Dallas took a 2-1 series lead over the No. 1 seeded San Antonio Spurs. Unlike the NBA’s other potential 1-8 upset, this series isn’t just about whether the top seed blows it. At 49-33, the Mavericks are the one of the best No. 8 seeds ever.*

*Behind only the 2009-10 Oklahoma City Thunder and 2007-08 Denver Nuggets, both of whom went 50-32

Dallas wasn’t re-built conventionally. The Mavericks haven’t hit on a first-round pick since 2004 (Devin Harris). Instead, they’ve mined the scrap heap for veteran reclamation projects to accentuate Nowitzki’s unique skills – an uneven process that has resulted in more misses than hits. Rudy Fernandez, Lamar Odom, Delonte West, Darren Collison, Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo, Eddy Curry, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Troy Murphy, Derek Fisher, Mike James and Dahntay Jones have all come and gone.

But the veterans who remain are getting it done.

Carter, who led nine teams in scoring, has re-invented himself as a sixth man. He’s no longer tasked with dominating the ball, spotting up more often for 3s. His defense became surprisingly effective in Dallas, remaining decent as he’s aged. And he’s still capable of performing new tricks:

Ellis signed with the Mavericks as an uncontrollable and inefficient shooter, but Rick Carlisle has tamed Ellis’ wildness by better-positioning the shooting guard in the Mavericks’ offense. In the fourth quarter yesterday, Ellis shot 5-for-5 to score 12 points and lead the Mavericks back from a five-point deficit with two minutes remaining.

Dalembert, whose maddening punctuality has remained an issue in Dallas, got it together in the Mavericks’ biggest game of the season. With 13 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, Dalembert provided effective defense in a game where both offenses dominated. Dallas allowed 106.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the court yesterday and 125.2 with him off it.

And then there’s Jose Calderon, the other addition to the Mavericks’ starting lineup. He threw the inbound pass to Carter and is doing what he always does – making pinpoint passes, shooting efficiently in limited volume and playing matador defense. He’s not a reclamation project. Dallas just recognized his skills when offering him a four-year, $29 million contract last summer. The Mavericks have also recognized his shortcomings, using Marion to guard Tony Parker and allowing Calderon to hide off the ball.

Will all that give Dallas the first-round upset? It would help if Nowitzki, who scored 18 points yesterday after posting 11 and 16 in Games 1 and 2, did a little more, but even that might not be enough.

As good as the Mavericks are – they would have been the No. 3 seed in the East – the game gap between them and the Spurs (62-20) in winning percentage is about as close to the average 1-8 gap as the smallest one.*

*Tie, Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (50-32) in 2010 and Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs.Denver Nuggets (50-32) in 2008

Gregg Popovich is still searching for ways to match up with Dallas, using 22 lineups in Game 3. San Antonio certainly isn’t done.

But after a couple years of relatively wayward years, getting swept by the Thunder in 2012 and missing the playoffs in 2013, neither are the Mavericks.

Three players most likely to be moved on Trade Deadline Day

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There will be trades today. Unexpected ones.

Probably not the big names fans are hoping to see. The offers for Carmelo Anthony have been so poor that as much as Phil Jackson wants to move ‘Melo he can’t take those offers. Indiana isn’t eager to trade Paul George, same with Chicago and Jimmy Butler, and it’s going to take a very unlikely Godfather offer to get those deals done (such as Boston parting with one of their Brooklyn picks). Andre Drummond likely remains a Piston.

Sorry to be Debbie Downer on the big trades.

But here are three guys likely to be moved.

1) Jahlil Okafor, Philadephia 76ers. He’s been in more rumors than Khloe Kardashian the past few months. The latest rumors have the Chicago Bulls making a push to land him, but demanding the Sixers take Nikola Mirotic back in the deal. The Bulls don’t need Mirotic — a stretch four shooing 29 percent from three this season — with the emergence of Cristiano Felicio. where Okafor would give Chicago more scoring inside. However, why exactly do the Sixers want Mirotic when they have Dario Saric? The Bulls are going to have to throw more in that deal.

Other teams have expressed interest in Okafor, including Indiana. The Sixers need to move people around up front, the only question is because there is a glut of centers on the market — Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Greg Monroe, to name a few — the price is low. Bryan Colangelo may decide to wait until this summer, but he’s prefer to just get this done.

2) P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns. He’s a physical, tough defender who can get you buckets on the other end, a lot of teams could use him. The Clippers had interest and offered a couple of second round picks, but the Suns wanted a first-rounder. The Knicks also had interest at one point, but they don’t have a first-rounder they can move until basically the second coming. Still, Tucker is on the market and I expect some veteran team will come in and try to scoop him up.

3) Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings. After owner Vivek Ranadive finally changed his mind, the Kings moved quickly to trade DeMarcus Cousins and put the team on a path. A rebuilding path. One that doesn’t have a lot of roster spots for older players. That includes Darren Collison. He’s a solid point guard averaging 13.7 points per game this season, shooting 42 percent from three, and he knows how to run an offense. There’s a lot of teams that could use him, and the Kings can listen to multiple offers than take the best one. But there’s no reason to keep him around the rest of the season.

 

Report: Unless they trade for Jimmy Butler or Paul George, Celtics likely to keep main assets

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The Celtics have been linked in trade talks to the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler and Pacers’ Paul George, but that requires the other team to deal with Boston. Indications are neither Chicago nor Indiana is particularly amenable.

So, time for the Celtics to pick another star to target?

Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

With less than 24 hours until the NBA’s 3 p.m. trade deadline today, the Celtics were said to be still holding out hope that internal discussions within the Bulls and Pacers would lead to one or both making their best player available.

But short of that, the view from around the league is that the Celts are becoming more and more enamored with the idea of keeping their main assets and using the first-round draft pick they have coming from Brooklyn in June via a swap of positions. (They also have the Nets’ 2018 first-rounder unencumbered.)

Sources continued to say that, while there remains a chance things could change as the deadline draws nearer, Chicago and Indiana are more likely to retain Jimmy Butler and Paul George, respectively. Those All-Star talents have been the Celtics’ two main targets

This could just be the Celtics playing hardball — either through leaks to the media or through conversations with other teams that have trickled out. But Bulpett is well-connected, especially in Boston. This is more likely than most reports of this nature to be accurate, but it’s always difficult to break through the smokescreens this time of year.

The Nets’ upcoming first-rounder is extremely valuable, as they’ll likely finish with the NBA’s worst record. The Celtics could do far worse than keeping that pick.

But Boston’s top players — Isaiah Thomas (28) and Al Horford (30) — are already at ages where they can’t necessarily wait for a 2017 pick, even someone as talented as Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball, to develop. It makes sense to cash in chips now.

Still, the Celtics’ deep pool of assets mean the window isn’t closing yet. There should be no desperation to make a win now trade.

If Boston keeps its main assets — mainly the Nets picks — past the trade deadline, we’ll just revisit all this again in the summer.

Cavaliers sign forward Derrick Williams to second 10-day contract

Cleveland Cavaliers' Derrick Williams, right, drives to the basket against Indiana Pacers' Rodney Stuckey in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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The Cleveland Cavaliers have signed forward Derrick Williams to a second 10-day contract.

The NBA champions have been impressed with Williams, a former No. 2 overall pick, and it’s likely they will sign him for the remainder of the season when his current contract expires. The Cavs announced Wednesday they signed Williams again. He has averaged 9.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in 22 minutes for the Cavs, who have been bringing him off their bench with their second unit.

Before signing as a free agent with Cleveland on Feb. 9, Williams played for Miami this season before being released.

The Cavs returned from the All-Star break Wednesday and will practice before hosting the New York Knicks on Thursday, just a few hours after the trade deadline.

Hornets’ Miles Plumlee out at least two weeks with leg injury

Charlotte Hornets' Miles Plumlee (18) dunks against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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The Hornets are essentially two different teams with and without Cody Zeller.

They’re 22-17 when he plays and 2-15 when he doesn’t. They play at a 62-win pace with him on the floor and a 29-win pace when he sits.

So, with Zeller banged up, Charlotte traded for Miles Plumee. But Plumlee hasn’t provided much, just 3.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 13.4 minutes per game in five contests.

And now he’ll add even less.

Hornets release:

The Charlotte Hornets announced today that center Miles Plumlee underwent a Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI), which revealed a second-degree calf strain in his right leg. Plumlee will be out for Charlotte’s game tomorrow at Detroit and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

The Hornets incurred significant long-term costs ($37.5 million over the next three years) to use Plumlee as a short-term bandage. Without him providing even that, this situation looks bleak.

Depending on Zeller’s health, this could turn Charlotte — 2.5 games and three teams out of playoff position — into sellers before the trade deadline. At minimum, it makes the Hornets less likely to buy.