Spurs we expected from the start roll Mavericks in Game 7, 119-96

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A lot of people — myself included — didn’t give Dallas much of a chance in this series before it started. The Spurs not only had the best regular season record in the league they had beaten Dallas nine straight meetings.

However, for six games Dallas was the more aggressive team — they attacked the rim, took smart shots, role players stepped up, and on defense tried to jump passing lanes. It worked. They pushed title-contending San Antonio to a seventh game.

Then the Spurs we expected to see all series showed up and owned Game 7.

After some sloppy performances early on the series San Antonio looked every bit the contender from the opening tip. Tony Parker was carving up the Spurs offense, San Antonio’s defense was forcing the Mavericks into the midrange, and by halftime this game was all but over.

San Antonio won Game 7 119-96.

They now move on to face a more dangerous jump shooting team in the Portland Trail Blazers, starting Tuesday in San Antonio.

After San Antonio’s Game 6 loss Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rightfully complained about his team’s defense, in that game and all series. That was what was really different in Game 7 — the Spurs turned the Mavericks into mid-range jump shooters then contested everything. In the first 18 minutes of this game (the Spurs already up by 23) the Mavericks had taken 16 midrange jumpers, hitting 5 (31.3 percent). They had just 12 shots in the paint and six from three — almost half of their shots we’re from the worst spots on the floor. The Mavs couldn’t get to the rim.

Behind that defense the Spurs offense exploded — the want to play a controlled brand of fast where Tony Parker can attack before the defense gets set. They could do that off misses and turnovers and the result was Tony Parker getting 24 points in the first half, shooting 6-of-6 inside 8 feet. In the first half Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan combined to shoot 18-of-23 for 47 points — the Mavericks had 46 points in the first half.

Parker finished with 32 points, Ginobili 20 and Tim Duncan 15, with Danny Green chipping in 16 and Kawhi Leonard adding 15. Duncan and the key Spurs got to rest almost all of the fourth quarter.

Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 22 points, but needed 21 shots to get there.

Nowitzki, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter and DeJuan Blair are among the free agents for Dallas this year. Nowitzki isn’t going anywhere, he’s already said he would take a pay cut to stay, allowing Dallas to bring in other stars to build for the future. They want to bring Marion back and he wants to stay, but it’s all about the money. It’s going to be an interesting off-season in Big D.

For the Spurs, the playoffs keep rolling along.

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.