Kurt Helin

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts as Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) watches during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, April 6, 2016, in Dallas. The Mavericks won 88-86. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Associated Press

Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Dallas boosts playoff dream with win over Houston

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What you missed from a busy night around the NBA while trying to convince your daughter unicorns are real….

1) Combination of J.J. Barea, defense get Mavericks win over Rockets, and maybe into playoffs. The J.J. Barea revolution will be televised — and it may carry the Mavericks to the playoffs. The diminutive guard forced into the starting lineup with Deron Williams out was your NBA Player of the Week in the Western Conference last week, and he continued that tear this week dropping 27 oh Houston in the win. However, the real key to the victory was Dallas’ defense, which held Houston to 95.6 offensive rating on the night (points per 100 possessions), which is 10 per 100 fewer than they have averaged in the last 10 games. Dallas took away the best options late, which led to Houston having Corey Brewer take key jumpers because he was the guy open, and he as 1-of-9 on the night. Plus, there was the defensive stylings of Dirk Nowitzki. Seriously.

The win leaves Dallas in the seven seed, with Utah one game back in eighth and Houston two back in ninth (just out of the playoffs). The Mavericks are not a lock to get in (they close the season with the Jazz, Clippers, and Spurs), but now fivethiryeight.com has them at a 70 percent chance. The Rockets have fallen to a 45 percent chance of making the playoffs — they need help in the form of Jazz/Mavs losses now. Houston’s advantage is their final four games are Suns, Lakers, Timberwolves, Kings. All winnable.

2) Sam Hinkie steps down as 76ers GM with 13-page letter to team investors; Bryan Colangelo to get his job. Who writes a 13-page resignation letter? Sam Hinkie does. The writing was on the wall for Mr. “trust the process” ever since last December when Jerry Colangelo was brought in above him as team president to speed up said process.

Hinkie had taken the “tanking to get better” idea that has been around the NBA for a while to a new extreme — and he had buy-in from ownership from Day 1. But Hinkie did three things wrong. First, he didn’t defend his plan against critics vociferously enough, essentially making the political mistake of letting his detractors define him. Second, he overestimated how patient ownership would be with this plan — one year is easy, Joshua Harris and company had his back for a couple of years, but by the time it was year three and things were worse on the court it was too much. Even if there was light at the end of the tunnel. This felt like a business plan that looks great on the spreadsheet but didn’t think through the human cost — there were actual people involved and they felt the pain. Third, Hinkie didn’t nail his draft picks, at least not with an elite player. Nerlens Noel was okay, Michael Carter-Williams was never as good as his rookie season suggested, we never saw Joel Embiid or Dario Saric, and Jahlil Okafor is good, not great. Combine that with bringing in untested players searching for gems rather than a few veterans to make things better (and he burned bridges with agents because of that) and it was all too much.

However, the overall plan was not terrible; the Sixer are in a much better position going forward than when Hinkie took over. Bryan Colangelo — who is coming in as the new GM, and yes that is Jerry Colangelo’s son — is going to benefit from the numerous high picks Hinkie compiled, plus some of those players maturing. The Colangelos will get the credit, but Hinkie laid the foundation for that future success.

3) With LeBron James in street clothes, Pacers pick up key win in push for playoffs.
The Indiana Pacers were likely in the playoffs anyway, both because they’ve been playing well enough and because the Chicago Bulls are a mess. But nothing was secure, and the Pacers were heading into their toughest game left on the schedule Wednesday — the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then Tyronn Lue decided to rest LeBron  Wednesday, and with that the Pacers tore apart the Cavs defense shooting 56.3 percent for the game, scoring 70 points in the first half, and going on to win 123-109. Solomon Hill was knocking down threes, and Paul George dropped 29 points.

4) Enes Kanter making Sixth Man of Year push, puts up 30 and 20 on Portland. The Portland Trail Blazers got what they wanted: A 120-115 win against Oklahoma City that made it official, the Blazers are in the playoffs. They are the current five seed, and if they can hold that spot they face the Clippers in the first round.

That’s not what we’re focusing on: Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter had 33 points (on 18 shots) and 20 rebounds, to become the first 30-20 man in Thunder history. Kanter has to be a serious consideration for Sixth Man of the Year, as Dan Feldman and I discussed in the latest PBT Podcast. He’s averaging 12.8 points and 8.1 rebounds a game off the bench, and while his defense is an issue who else are you going to vote for that is a defensive stopper for the award, Jamal Crawford?



5) For the third consecutive year, Lakers set a franchise record for most losses.
This season in Los Angeles was about the Kobe Bryant farewell tour and seasoning young players. It was never about wins and losses. Still, for a proud franchise, this is ugly — for the third consecutive year, the Lakers set a franchise record for most losses in a season after falling to the Clippers 91-81 on Wednesday.

2013-14: 55
2014-15: 61
2015-16: 62 (and counting)

The silver lining? The Lakers are now basically locked into the second-worst record in the NBA, which means they will have a 56 percent chance of keeping their pick in the June draft (if it is in the Top 3 they keep it, four or later and it goes to the Sixers as a remnant of the Steve Nash trade).

Dirk Nowitzki with game-winning strip of James Harden to save Mavericks victory (VIDEO)

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With the game on the line, the Dallas Mavericks turned to Dirk Nowitzki… for his defense?

Nowitzki made the game saving play on that end. The possession before he had missed a tough wing fadeaway, which left Dallas up 86-85 with 30 seconds left. Houston coach J.B. Bickerstaff made a calculated risk, he didn’t call a timeout to set up a play, in part because Dallas would have made a substitution to get a true rim protector on the court and sit Nowitzki.

Houston’s play ended with James Harden driving past Wesley Matthews in isolation out top, and has Harden got into the lane Nowitzki stepped up as the help defender and made a clean strip of James Harden as he went up to shoot. (I saw a Rocket fan calling for a foul on the play, no way — the hand on the ball is part of the ball. That was clean.)

Dallas hung on to win 88-86 after a couple of free throws, giving the Mavericks a two-game lead over Houston with four to play.

Mavericks beat Rockets 88-86 to keep slim lead over Utah, Houston

Dallas Mavericks guard J.J. Barea (5) drives as Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, April 6, 2016, in Dallas. The Mavericks won 88-86. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
Associated Press
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DALLAS (AP) — If the Dallas Mavericks have to creep into the playoffs, they will. It’s part of a style change, as coach Rick Carlisle likes to call it.

And it worked again for the Mavericks in a crucial, tense victory over their Texas rivals from Houston.

J.J. Barea scored 27 points and Dallas kept a slim cushion over Utah and Houston in the race for the last two Western Conference playoff spots with an 88-86 victory over the Rockets on Wednesday night.

“I like to play fast, too, but slowing it down is working us,” said Barea, who had a game-high eight assists. “We’ve got to stay that way.”

The Mavericks’ fifth straight victory – one shy of a season best – put Dallas (40-38) a game ahead of Utah and two up on Houston with four games remaining for all three teams.

Dirk Nowitzki was limited to seven points on eight shots, but had a crucial strip of James Harden on a drive in the final seconds with the Mavericks clinging to a one-point lead.

Harden scored 26 points and Dwight Howard had 14 points and 16 rebounds for the Rockets, who are in danger of missing the postseason a year after reaching the West finals.

“We all know how difficult it is, how important this game was,” Harden said. “It’s not rocket science.”

The Mavericks held their fifth straight opponent under 90 points after 19 of the previous 21 scored at least 100. It’s part defense and part pace, with the Mavericks slowing things considerably since point guard Deron Williams was sidelined by a left abdominal strain.

Barea has been the most important Dallas player since then, scoring at least 20 points in his fourth straight game and averaging 24.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 7.0 assists during the five-game surge.

And he was at the center of the play pulled Dallas even late, dribbling across the lane and hitting a leaning shot as he was fouled by Patrick Beverley. The free throw made it 85-all.

The last field goal for Houston came with 3:20 remaining when Beverley sprinted through the lane and tipped in Howard’s second missed free throw after the 6-foot-11 center was fouled intentionally.

Harden missed a pair of 3-pointers late, but had a chance to give the Rockets the lead when he drove on Wesley Matthews with less than 10 seconds remaining. Nowitzki reached around him to knock the ball loose, Dallas won the ensuing scramble and Devin Harris made two free throws for an 88-85 lead with 5 seconds to go.

“One of the reasons Dirk is having a hard time getting open looks is because we are playing a different style right now,” Carlisle said. “I am proud of our guys for being willing to be team guys and play this way. We lived to fight another day.”

The Rockets went ahead 71-70 going in the fourth when Howard tipped in a lob pass from Jason Terry on an inbounds play with just 0.2 seconds left in the third. And Houston had the biggest lead of the fourth at 80-76 before Dallas’ defense clamped down, outscoring the Rockets 18-15 in the fourth.

Houston scored on just three of its last 16 possessions and had six points in the final 9:15 on 2-of-14 shooting.

Michael Beasley had 15 points off the bench for the Rockets, who didn’t have anybody else in double figures.

“They got very handsy, they did a very good job of keeping us out of the break,” Houston coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “They smothered us in the backcourt.”

Matthews had 16 points for Dallas, including three 3-pointers during a 15-2 run made up entirely of 3s to put Dallas up 10 in the second quarter. Barea had the other two.

UGLY FOURTH

Harden had 12 of Houston’s 15 points in the fourth, and his teammates were 1 of 11 from the field. The teams combined to shoot 28 percent (11 of 39) in the final quarter. Barea had 10 of his points on 4-of-6 shooting.

BLOOD BREAKS

Play was stopped twice in the first quarter because players were bleeding. The first was Beverly, who had a cut above his left eye and was led off the court with a towel covering it. He got three stitches and returned in the second quarter with a bandage over the eye. Mavericks forward David Lee had a cut on his right arm late in the quarter and left the game as well before returning.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Houston fell to 2-17 when scoring under 100 points. … Howard had his 37th double-double. … Despite the loss, the Rockets will likely hold the tiebreaker over the Mavericks because of a better Southwest Division record.

Mavericks: Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, a regular on the front row for Mavs games, was joined this time by tight end Jason Witten and three of his offensive linemen – Pro Bowlers Travis Frederick and Zack Martin along with Doug Free. … Harris scored 10 points.

 

Report: Mavericks interested in Dwight Howard, but not at max he seeks

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 18:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets waits on the court during their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Toyota Center on March 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Dwight Howard is going to opt out of the last year of his contract with the Rockets and become a free agent this summer — and make no mistake, the man wants to get PAID.

As in he wants a max contract, which for him will start north of $30 million a year under the spiked NBA salary cap that will jump by more than $20 million a team this summer (thank you new television deal!).

The Dallas Mavericks will be among the teams interested in Howard, but that price tag is making them balk, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

Sources says the Mavericks’ interest in Dwight Howard as a free agent this summer will be dependent on the price. The Mavs do not intend to be in on the bidding for Howard if it’s in the neighborhood of a max contract, which would have a starting salary of more than $30 million. The Mavs made Howard their primary target and offered a max contract in 2013, when the center signed with the Rockets. However, concerns about the 30-year-old Howard’s durability and desire have caused the Mavs to decide that he isn’t worth a nine-figure investment over four years at this point.

The buzz around the league is that teams are hesitant as much over the years as the money — some teams may be willing to go near max cash but they are going nowhere near four years (at least not without team options). As much as there are concerns about his attitude, the bigger concerns are about how he can physically hold up.

When he plays — and gets touches on offense — Howard can still be one of the top centers in the league. He is averaging 13.8 points and 11.8 rebounds a game this season, shooting better than 60 percent, and he has been the only Rocket playing defense for stretches of the season. But how much he can play and how many games teams will get the full, focused Howard remains a concern.

I’d say the market isn’t going to be what he expects this summer, but nobody knows what the market will be like this summer with a dearth of top talent but a lot of cash in the marketplace (more than two-thirds of the teams should have space for at least one max contract). As someone with another team told me when discussing what Howard might get this summer (and me balking at teams offering him a max) “it only takes one.”

Renaissance man Boris Diaw’s goal someday: Travel to space

during the second half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on January 21, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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There aren’t guys around the NBA like Boris Diaw.

Not just because of his versatile on-court game, or the fact he has a coffee maker in his locker. He’s a guy who turned his basketball career around in San Antonio, he’s also a guy who wants to experience as much of life on earth as he can, something he talks about in a fantastic feature by Jared Zwerling at the NBPA’s revamped official site.

Actually, he wants to experience more than just life on earth.

“I will go to space at some point,” the Spurs’ veteran forward tells the NBPA in his office at his Shavano Park home, located in northwest San Antonio. “I won’t say in the next 10 years, but maybe in 30.”

By then, won’t we all have to live in space?

Diaw is a “worldwide adventure traveler, serious photographer, children’s book author, and screenwriter and director, having recently completed a project last month with Cedric the Entertainer and a Hollywood-experienced crew.” Go read the entire feature, which is filled with great Diaw anecdotes.

This one from Ronnie Turiaf is the best.

“Boris is the guy that’s going to go to the restaurant and order like chicken hearts—whatever odd thing that people may think it is,” he says. “And one day we were eating at this beautiful restaurant on a little cliff, and this guy brings out this crazy huge octopus that’s cooked, and everybody was surprised, like, ‘Man, I’m not going to touch this.’ And then Boris said, ‘You guys are not going to eat it? Alright, cool.’ He grabbed the plate and he ate the whole octopus, and he loves octopus. And I’m, like, ‘Boris, you are insane.’”