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Grizzlies clinch seventh straight playoff berth

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Conley scored 28 points, Zach Randolph added 22 points and 12 rebounds, and the Memphis Grizzlies clinched a playoff spot with a 99-90 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night.

Memphis’ win, coupled with Denver’s 122-114 loss at Charlotte earlier Friday night, earned the Grizzlies their seventh straight postseason berth.

But Memphis had to weather a 3-point shooting rally in the closing minutes. Dallas made six of its first nine 3-point attempts in the final frame, a jumper by Wesley Matthews cutting Memphis’ advantage to 94-90 with just over a minute left.

But Dallas could get no closer, dropping its fourth straight.

Troy Daniels finished with 21 points for Memphis, shooting 7 of 12 from outside the arc.

Six Mavericks finished in double figures, led by 13 points each from Dirk Nowitzki, Matthews and J.J. Barea. Matthews also had seven assists, and Nowitzki grabbed 12 rebounds.

Dallas trailed by 15 with about 8 minutes left when Barea and Matthews converted consecutive 3-pointers. Another 3 from Yogi Ferrell – his only points of the game – brought the Mavericks’ deficit to single-digits.

Nowitzki, Barea and Matthews would add a trio of 3-pointers over a 1-minute span late to pull Dallas close, but not close enough.

The Mavericks dealt with poor shooting to open both of the first two quarters, missing five of six shots to start the game and six straight to open the second quarter.

The second set of misfires contributed to a 16-2 run and an eventual 21-point Memphis lead. Dallas was at 22 percent shooting in the half, including hitting 2 of 16 shots outside the arc.

That led to Memphis carrying a 55-34 lead into the break, Conley collecting 14 points, while Daniels and Randolph scored 12 each.

No Mavericks were in double figures at that point.

After halftime, it was Memphis struggling to hit shots, setting off a 16-4 rally by Dallas to bring the deficit to single digits – 59-50. But the Grizzlies countered with eight straight points to take the lead back to 17.

That allowed Memphis to hold a 74-62 lead entering the fourth.

TIP-INS

Mavericks: The NBA announced Friday that G Devin Harris was fined $25,000 for his actions after ejection from Wednesday’s game at New Orleans. … The Mavericks recorded 15 assists, breaking a string of nine straight games of at least 20 assists.

Grizzlies: With its seventh straight playoff berth, Memphis has the third-longest streak of postseason appearances behind Atlanta and San Antonio. … The win assured Memphis (42-34) of its seventh consecutive winning season. … The Grizzlies’ sixth 3-pointer of the game, converted in the second quarter, gave Memphis 700 on the season – a mark not previously reached in franchise history.

GASOL RETURN UNKNOWN

Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said the timetable for the return of center Marc Gasol, who missed his fourth game with a sore left foot, remains unclear. “He did work out (Friday), which was good,” Fizdale said. “He moved on it. There’s still some soreness there.”

TAKING A LOOK

With the Mavericks virtually eliminated from the last Western Conference playoff spot, coach Rick Carlisle seems to be turning to younger players down the stretch. “This is an important time for us to look at these guys,” Carlisle said. “I’d rather look at them playing against guys like (Mike) Conley or (Zach) Randolph instead of undrafted free agents in the summertime.”

ROOKIE POINTS

One Mavericks rookie – Jarrod Uthoff from Iowa – scored two points in the loss Wednesday to New Orleans, his first points in the NBA. “That’s a pretty big deal for a guy who has the NBA dream like all of us did growing up,” Carlisle said. Uthoff didn’t play Friday night.

UP NEXT

MAVERICKS: Dallas is in the midst of a five-game road trip and plays at Milwaukee on Sunday.

GRIZZLIES: Memphis heads out on its final road trip of the season, playing the Lakers in Los Angeles on Sunday.

PBT Podcast: Celtics win over Warriors, all things Boston with A. Sherrod Blakely

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The Boston Celtics are for real.

In case you had any doubts, they ran their streak to 14 wins in a row by coming from 17 down – twice — to beat the Golden State Warriors. The Celtics have the best defense in the NBA, and it threw the Warriors off their game, something few teams have been able to do over the past few years.

Kurt Helin welcomes in A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston to talk about what this win means to the Celtics, why their defense is so good, how Kyrie Irving is fitting in, how young stars such as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are rising up, and what is the deal with Marcus Smart. Also, there is a lot of Brad Stevens love.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Grizzlies’ Mike Conley out at least two weeks with sore heel, Achilles

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Injuries are already starting to shape the playoff chase in the West — Rudy Gobert is out for at least a month in Utah, and the Clippers have lost six in a row as they battle injuries to three starters.

Now add the Memphis Grizzlies to the mix.

Mike Conley, the point guard who, along with Marc Gasol, is crucial to Memphis’ success, will be out at least two weeks to rest a sore left heel and Achilles, the team announced Friday. He could be out longer, Conley has had issues with this Achilles before, the team will want to be cautious, and by far the best treatment is rest.

Conley averages 17.1 points per game, is a great floor general running the offense, and is a quality defender at the point.

Memphis is 7-7 on the season and tied with Oklahoma City for the final playoff slot in the West, but the Grizzlies have dropped six of their last eight. What’s more, they are entering a gauntlet part of the schedule without Conley: Their next game is against Houston, then Portland, and in the next 10 they have the Nuggets, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, and Spurs (twice). The danger is they fall far enough back from the playoff chase they struggle to catch up again.

Expect to see a lot more Tyreke Evans, who has been strong as a sixth man but now will have much more asked of him. Also, more playmaking duties will fall to Gasol, working out of the elbow, and both Chandler Parsons and Mario Chalmers will get the ball in their hands. The question is what do they do with it.

Stephen Curry, was Warriors/Celtics a Finals preview? “Very, very likely, right?”

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The Golden State Warriors remain the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA title.

Thursday night, the Boston Celtics earned some validation that they belong in the conversation. Using a stymieing defense that threw off the vaunted Warriors offense, Boston came from 17 down in the third quarter to beat the Warriors.

With the Cavaliers stumbling out of the gate, does this make the Warriors/Celtics game a Finals preview? Stephen Curry (who was 3-of-14 shooting with four turnovers on the night) said yes, as you can see in the NBC Sports Bay Area video above.

“Very, very likely, right?” Curry said. “They’re playing the best right now in the East. Obviously, they need to beat Cleveland, who’s done it three years in a row. We’ll see, but I heard the weather’s great here in June.”

The weather in Boston is great for a short window in the spring, then the humidity kicks in. But that’s not the point.

I came into this season thinking the Celtics were a year away still, and when Gordon Hayward went down it strengthened that belief. But this team is a contender now — they are far better defensively than expected, and young players Jaylen Brown (22 points against the Warriors) and Jayson Tatum have stepped up more than expected. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have developed a fast chemistry. And Brad Stephens is proving he is in the very upper echelon of NBA coaches.

It’s not even Thanksgiving, talk of the NBA Finals is premature. Curry is right, the Celtics still have to go through LeBron James and his Cavaliers to reach the Finals, which will not be easy.

Still, June basketball in Boston seems like a real possibility again.

Report: Momentum building toward ending one-and-done rule

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“My sense is it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working certainly from the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from. They’re not happy with the current system. And I know our teams aren’t happy either in part because they don’t necessarily think that the players are coming into the league are getting the kind of training that they would expect to see among top draft picks in the league.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that during the NBA Finals last year about the one-and-done rule for players trying to enter the NBA — they can’t be drafted by NBA teams for one season after their high school class graduates, so the best players go to college for one season (and most go to classes for less than that). As Silver said, nobody really likes the system, but it was the compromise struck between the owners (who would like to raise the draft age to 20 or higher) and the players’ union (who want the draft age at 18, as soon as guys come out of high school).

However, momentum is building to change the rule, something we have written about before and now is gaining more traction, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

With momentum gathering to reshape the one-and-done draft entry rule, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts met with the new Commission on College Basketball in Washington on Thursday, league sources told ESPN….

Nevertheless, there’s a growing belief within the league that Silver’s desire to end the one-and-done — the ability of college basketball players to enter the NBA draft after playing one year in college — could be pushing the sport closer to high school players having the opportunity to directly enter the league again. For that change to happen, though, the union would probably need to cede the one-and-done rule and agree to a mandate that players entering college must stay two years before declaring for the draft.

While the NBA and players’ union will talk to the NCAA about their plans, ultimately the college body has no say in what the NBA draft and eligibility rules are.

The best players of their generations came straight to the NBA out of high school — Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and others —  however, what bothered owners were the misses in the draft. There were busts, and owners/GMs want to reduce as much risk as they can in the draft (even though there are busts on guys who they saw plenty of in college, hello Michael Olowokandi).

NBA teams are now better suited to develop players than they were a couple of decades ago — every team has an assistant coach focused on just that. The best teams in the NBA right now — Golden State, Boston, San Antonio — are the best at developing players. That’s not a coincidence, and it has teams copying (or attempting to) what the successful ones do. Combine that with the growth of the G-League and teams growing their understanding how to use it, and they are better positioned to draft a player out of high school and develop him over time than they ever have been.

 

There are still a lot of questions and hurdles. If a player declares for the draft and has an agent, but isn’t drafted (or even isn’t drafted in the first round, so no guaranteed contract) will he have the option to come to college for two (or three) years anyway? Will the NCAA allow that? And Silver has talked before about the changes in the draft needing to reflect changes in how we develop players down to the AAU level, which is its own complex set of problems.

It’s not moving quickly, but these are steps in the right direction. One-and-done doesn’t work well for anyone. The college baseball style rule (go straight to the pros or spend three years in college in that sport’s case) isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the system in place. There seems to be momentum toward change. Finally.