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Harrison Barnes showed he can score like a No. 1, now says he must be playmaker

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Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban looks like Nostradamus on Harrison Barnes.

“I think he can do a lot more than he’s been asked to do, and that’s what we expect to see,” Cuban said after signing Barnes to a four-year, $94 million max contract last summer. That was a deal signed on the heels of a dismal playoff performance from Barnes where his shot was off, and he overcompensated by trying to do more than his catch-and-shoot role — then struggled mightily with that. He got benched.

The doubters were plentiful back in July. “You saw him in the playoffs and then you gave him $94 million? He’s the face of the franchise after Dirk Nowitzki?”

Barnes has silenced them all — 20.4 points per game, a solid 53.3 true shooting percentage, he has stayed efficient while his usage rate has jumped to a career high 26.4, he’s had to create more in isolation than ever before, and he’s doing it well.

But he knows playmaking is the next step.

“This has been the largest role I think I’ve ever had,” Barnes told NBC Sports during an interview, which you can hear all of on the most recent PBT Podcast. “I think being able to score consistently, that’s the big first step. Now it’s playmaking, knowing when to get other guys involved, knowing when to score, making that decision.”

The playmaking process is more mental — he can go to the gym in the summer and work on his handles, but playmaking is something learned in game.

“Now that I’ve shown I can score consistently, teams are going to send more help, there’s going to be different schemes and situations that I’m going to see,” said Barnes, who has signed on as an endorser of McDavid Hex and Shock Doctor to help him deal with the physicality he deals with now. “So making sure that I can deliver the ball to the open guy, get my teammates shots, just kind of knowing when to pass…

“You just have to learn it in game. I mean I watch a lot of film, trying to learn that way as much as I can, but it just has to be a feel thing. You just have to be playing, you have to be in games, you have to see it, do it multiple times. And that’s where the organization has been great with me, just having the patience, my teammates have been patient, just understanding that I am getting better.”

A lot of things have been a mental shift in Dallas for Barnes, he admitted. In Steve Kerr’s offense he was an off-the-ball threat, a corner three guy who could also kill teams in transition and defend well. Rick Carlisle is asking a lot of different things from Barnes — things some around the league were not convinced he could do. That starts in isolation — 29.4 percent of Barnes’ plays come that way, according to Synergy Sports, and with passes the Mavs score at a very good .957 points per possession pace on those sets. When Barnes shoots in isolation he hits 50.9 percent.

“One of the biggest adjustments I had to make in my mentality, being a go-to guy, was free throws. There’s so much more on you too, one, get your team into the bonus quicker, or two, to get to the free throw line. And the only way to do that is to get to the paint. It’s hard to get to the free throw line shooting threes.

“The game has become so much more physical, so much more aggressive, That’s why I like wearing the McDavid Hex protective arm and leg sleeves – I know I am protected. And I prefer Shock Doctor’s Basketball mouthguard because it fits like a custom mouthguard, so I don’t even know it’s there,” said Barnes of his new business partner. “Just because any type of injury, any type of bumps and bruises, that can have an opportunity to take you out. And one of the biggest things you lose when you get out is your rhythm, and that’s one of the hardest things to get back.”

With that massive contract, Barnes becomes the guy in line to take over as the face of the Mavericks’ franchise once Dirk Nowitzki steps away (which could be at the end of this season). Nowitzki has only been on the court for three games this campaign, but Barnes said one of the reasons he signed in Dallas was to learn from the future Hall of Famer, and the big German has not disappointed as a mentor.

“He’s on every single day. He’s loud, he’s vocal, off the court one of the funniest teammates I’ve ever been around,” Barnes said. “The biggest thing he’s helped me with is just kind of where to get my shots, how to get into a flow, how to be aggressive. A lot of my plays are plays he’s been in for years. He knows the system better than anybody, he knows how to get his shot off better than anybody, so he’s been helping along through this process and he’s been a great mentor.”

The change for Barnes this year has also been cultural — and we don’t mean moving from the Bay Area to Dallas (although that is different, too). Rather, it’s the change from Steve Kerr to Rick Carlisle.

“What they do that’s similar is they are both great basketball minds…” Barnes said. “What I’m experiencing now, it’s a system that’s far more regimented. It’s very black-and-white what’s going to happen, just in terms of how we play and what’s expected. Compared to Coach Kerr, he was just a lot more read and react, we just played off each other, there were not a whole lot of set calls, not a lot of set rules, we just all knew how to play and play off each other.”

The other big basketball adjustment has been losing — Barnes has never been on a team that lost half its games (the lowest winning percentage of any of his teams, including high school, was 57 percent). Dallas is 7-18. Maybe when Nowitzki and Andrew Bogut get healthy the Mavericks will win a few more games, but this is not a team bound for the playoffs.

“It’s tough. You have a lot of pride as a winner, you’ve won a championship and been to the playoffs and all that kind of stuff…” Barnes said. “The biggest thing I’m trying to do is encourage the young guys to keep developing, keep working. For those guys, they haven’t necessarily experienced all those things, you need to not get discouraged, you need to be hard on yourself, you need to be your own worst critic. I’m telling them we just need to continue to grind every single day, get better, and if we continue to do that we’ll start to win some games and see what happens.”

What happens could be interesting a few seasons down the line, as Barnes becomes the centerpiece of a team about to rebuild for a post-Nowitzki era.

Whatever it is, Barnes is ready to put in the work and be there.

Steve Kerr “uncertain” if he will coach in NBA Finals

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The Warriors have gone 12-0 through the playoffs, the first team to sweep the first three rounds of the playoffs since the NBA went to a best-of-7 in all three rounds (a couple Lakers teams did it when the first round was best-of-5).

That doesn’t mean they haven’t missed Steve Kerr as coach, but they haven’t needed him. Yet. Mike Brown has done the job quite well.

Will Kerr be back for the NBA Finals? He told Marc Spears of ESPN he doesn’t know.

Kerr had back surgeries two summers ago, and that caused him to miss the start of the 2015-16 season (Luke Walton ran the show). Kerr coached through pain caused by a slow leak of spinal fluid until nausea and pain became too much at the start of this postseason. Kerr has had a new procedure — one that is apparently promising, one that we hope works to end the leak — but he’s understandably cautious about jumping back in.

That said, the next round, against the Cavaliers (barring the most improbable comeback in NBA history), is when the Warriors will need Kerr’s creative mind and solutions to the challenges Cleveland presents.

He’s also got more than a week to decide since the Finals don’t start until June 1.

Manu Ginobili receives standing ovation upon exiting what may be his final game

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Manu Ginobili is a four-time NBA champion, a two-time All-NBA player,  two-time All-Star, and a Sixth Man of the Year.

He’s also the most popular Spur of his generation — walk around San Antonio, even at the peak of the Spurs runs, and you saw more Ginobili jerseys than Duncan or Parker or Robinson or anyone else. Ginobili is beloved.

When he was taken out near the end of Game 4, maybe his final game as a Spur, the fans erupted into a standing ovation (joined by Stephen Curry, who stepped away from the free throw line to let the moment happen).

Ginobili hinted during the season this would be his last, but has said repeatedly during the playoffs he didn’t know what he would do during the season. He looked like he had game left in the tank during the Western Conference Finals (he had 15 points in Game 4 and was one of the Spurs best players in the series). The question is, at age 40 next season, will he want to go through all the work it takes to get physically ready for the next season.

Warriors take control early, hold off Spurs to sweep series, advance to NBA Finals

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This series was decided early in the second half of Game 1, when Kawhi Leonard’s ankle rolled. He never got back on the court in the next three games, the Spurs were +21 when he was on in that first game and -85 the rest of the way. Without his defense on one end and shot creation on the other the Spurs could not match up.

The Spurs didn’t play like it was over Monday night — while the Warriors would hit threes and go on runs, the Spurs would answer back never let them completely pull away. They got buckets from Kyle Anderson (20 points off the bench) and 15 from Manu Ginobili in what may have been his final NBA game (he got the start, and the crowd erupted when he was taken out near the end).

It wasn’t enough. The Golden State Warriors were the better team — maybe even if Leonard had played — and they were in control of this game the entire way, getting 36 points from Stephen Curry and 29 from Kevin Durant.

The Warriors went on to win 125-110 and sweep the Spurs 4-0. Golden State swept through the West undefeated at 12-0, and they will take on the winner of the East (we all know it will be Cleveland). The Finals don’t begin until June 1.

This is the Warriors third straight trip to the Finals.

“Our chemistry is getting better and better,” Durant said after the game. “We’re going to need it even more in the next series, whoever we play, we’re just looking forward to it. I’m glad we got this done.”

There was a lot of respect between the teams after the series, particularly for Ginobili.

“Somebody I grew up watching, amazing competitor, even more fun playing against him,” Durant said after the game. “I got nothing but love and respect for him, plus he wear my shoes every year so that’s a plus. He was phenomenal this series.”

There also was a feeling among fans that we were robbed of a good series by the injury to Leonard (and the cheap play by Zaza Pachulia that caused it). Without Leonard (and Tony Parker) the Spurs struggled to create shots and generate consistent offense against a stout Warriors defense.

It was evident at the start of Game 4. San Antonio opened game 3-of-16 shooting, but the bigger issue is they went 1-of-8 in the paint against a Warriors team that started small (Patrick McCaw instead of JaVale McGee). Meanwhile, the Spurs were 7-of-7 in the paint to start the game. That is why the Warriors raced out to a quick 12 point lead midway through the first quarter.

The game hung around the 10-point era until an 11-0 Warriors run midway through the second quarter. The Spurs kept fighting, they had 13 more shots than the Warriors in the first half — thanks to 9 Golden State turnovers and 8 San Antonio offensive boards — but the Spurs shot 34.5 percent in the first half, and it wasn’t enough because the Warriors shot 60 percent. The Warriors shot 74 percent (14-of-19) in the second quarter. Because of that it was Warriors 65, Spurs 51 at the half, and Curry and Durant each had 18 for Golden State; Kyle Anderson has 10 points to lead the Spurs.

The second half saw the lead bounce between 10 and 20 most of the time, the Spurs would make a little run and the Warriors would answer with some crisp ball movement and a three. Curry was 5-of-13 from three on the night to lead the way.

Draymond Green added 16 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists for the Warriors.

Now the Warriors get more than a week off to rest and prepare for the Finals.

Kevin Durant blocks Dejounte Murray twice on one shot (VIDEO)

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Kevin Durant was doing it all in the first half — he had 18 points to lead the Warriors (tied with Stephen Curry) and was making plays all over the court.

That includes racing back on this play and blocking Dejounte Murray‘s layup. Twice. On one shot.

The Warriors have led by 20 and been in control through the start of the third quarter. KD was at the heart of that.