Kurt Helin

Check out NBA’s new “Every Second Counts” playoff ad campaign (VIDEO)

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The NBA playoffs are here this weekend.

Amazingly, not one matchup is officially set yet — things are tightly bunched in both conferences — but over the next 48 hours that will shake itself out and the NBA’s second season will tip off.

Above you can see the “Every Second Counts” — featuring new music by Timbaland — that will be part of the NBA’s playoffs and The Finals ad campaign. It spins off of the “This Is Why We Play” campaign from during the regular season. You’re going to see a ton of this (and it’s variations) over the next month, but we thought we’d give you a first quick look.

Three Takeaways from NBA Monday: Dallas in, Rockets poised to grab last spot

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What you missed from around the NBA Monday while getting sucked into Family Guy episodes…

1) Dallas beats Utah and Mavericks are in the playoffs; Rockets move into the final playoff spot.
Before the season myself (and many others) thought this would be the year the Mavericks dropped off. Dirk Nowitzki had gotten too old, the roster didn’t appear fit together well, and Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews were too injured. Turns out Parsons was injured for chunks of the season, but as for the rest of it Rick Carlisle worked his magic — Nowitzki had a bounce-back season, guys found roles where they could thrive, and with Dallas’ 101-92 win over Utah on Monday they are in the playoffs for the 15th time in 16 seasons. Depending on the final day of the regular season, Dallas will face either San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the first round.

Utah’s loss in that game may doom their playoff chances — they are now tied with Houston (which beat Minnesota behind 34 points from James Harden) and the Rockets have the tie breaker. If Houston can beat the lowly Kings in their season finale — and the Kings are resting DeMarcus Cousins among others — then Houston is in, and the Jazz are out. Which means we are likely headed toward a Houston vs. Golden State first round meeting.

2) Cleveland reminds Atlanta who is the best team in the East. Over the past six weeks, statistically the Atlanta Hawks have looked like the second-best team in the East, playing fantastic defense and getting enough scoring based off Jeff Teague‘s play at the point. Monday night the Cavaliers showed the Hawks how big the gap is in the East, coasting to a 109-94 win. That win clinched the top seed in the East for the Cavaliers — the road to the Finals now goes through Cleveland. The Cavaliers put the game out of reach with a 19-5 run in the third quarter, and they never looked back. It was the Cavaliers’ stars who stepped up — Kyrie Irving had 35 points and LeBron James 34.

3) Russell Westbrook gets another triple-double — in the first half — and ties Magic Johnson for most in 50 years. It took Russell Westbrook all of 18 minutes of game time to get his 18th triple-double of the season — that’s the second fastest triple-double in NBA history. And the last guy to get 18 triple-doubles in a season is the best point guard ever to play the game — Magic Johnson. Westbrook has had an incredible season and would win my vote for “other than Curry MVP.”

Injury-riddled Grizzlies grinding their way into postseason

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies are about to make NBA history in a season where they took their mantra of grit and grind to the extreme.

No team in league history has ever reached the postseason having used more than 23 players, and Memphis will be the first having already used a record 28 in an injury-riddled season. The Grizzlies head into Tuesday night’s game at the Clippers and Wednesday’s regular season finale at the Warriors with only their seeding in question.

In a season dominated by Golden State’s chase of the league’s single-season wins record, Warriors coach Steve Kerr calls what the Grizzlies have accomplished simply remarkable.

“I think it’s one of the most impressive stories in the NBA this year,” Kerr said.

A total of 12 different Grizzlies have missed a combined 291 games to injuries or illness this season, according to STATS, second only New Orleans.

“We’ve gotten hit over the head with everything you can get hit with,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said.

The unrelenting injuries have forced Memphis to cobble together a constantly changing roster through trades and moves including eight different players signed to 10-day contracts. Four of those started, while Jordan Farmar, Xavier Munford and now Bryce Cotton wound up signed for what remains of the season under the NBA’s hardship rules.

The biggest loss obviously was center Marc Gasol, who signed his big deal last July. Gasol broke his right foot Feb. 8 and had season-ending surgery Feb. 20.

Point guard Mike Conley, who still leads the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio, hasn’t played since March 6 with tendinitis in his left Achilles tendon. Conley wore a boot with Gasol in a matching boot and still on crutches cheering on their teammates in a 100-99 loss to Golden State in Memphis’ home finale Saturday night.

Mario Chalmers, brought in via a trade to back up Conley, ruptured his right Achilles tendon March 9 in a loss at Boston. He doesn’t count against the games lost to injury since then because Memphis had to waive him to add another player.

“That one took our heart for a little while,” Joerger said. “For two reasons. I think one he was our point guard and two, every athlete’s scariest injury is an Achilles. You know it when you see it, and the guy knows it when he feels it.”

Yet the Grizzlies (42-38) are assured of a winning record for a sixth straight season – behind only San Antonio (19) and Oklahoma City (7) for the longest streaks in the league. That coincides with a franchise-record six straight playoff appearances.

Memphis sat in the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference much of the season. Now the Grizzlies have lost two straight and eight of their last 10, dropping to the sixth seed going into Monday night’s games.

“Emotionally, there have been times where we are just kind of out of gas,” Joerger said. `You can’t be high for every single game. We took a couple hits in some games where you wish they had been closer or we had given ourselves a chance to win.”

With players coming and going, learning names has been a challenge at times, let alone Joerger and his assistants having time to teach more than a handful of plays to the newcomers. So many players have come through, several have never had a permanent locker, instead using auxiliary spots used during the preseason when the roster is expanded.

Joerger credits veterans Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Matt Barnes and Vince Carter for helping Memphis through the rotating cast both by playing better individually and embracing their new teammates.

First Barnes, then Randolph turned in the first triple-double of their careers in March. Allen knocked down all 12 shots in a win at the Lakers on March 27 for a career-best performance. Carter has averaged at least 10 points over the past 23 games.

Randolph said this season has been tough, yet the Grizzlies know nobody in the NBA feels sorry for them.

“We got to start the playoffs,” Randolph said. “We ain’t got our team, and we made the playoffs. Everybody count us out and look where we are now.”

AP freelance writer Clay Bailey contributed to this report.

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Mavericks clinch playoff spot with 101-92 win over Jazz

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks clinched a Western Conference playoff spot for the third consecutive season and the 15th time in the last 16 years.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 22 and the Mavericks earned the No. 7 spot Monday with a 101-92 win over the Utah Jazz, leaving one remaining postseason slot.

The postseason is nothing new for the organization, but the team seemed to be in dire straits when it dropped 10 of 12 during a stretch in March and lost Chandler Parsons for the season after surgery on his right knee on March 25.

Dallas made a playoff push by winning seven of its last eight games.

“Well, it’s been a lot of work,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s been an amazing two weeks. Our guys looked like they were down and out, and we all dug in. Everyone dug in, especially the players, and we found a way to get into the playoffs.

“Tonight was game seven. That’s the way we approached it.”

Utah (40-41) lost control of its own destiny and needs to beat the Lakers on Wednesday and for the Rockets (40-41) to lose to the Kings. Houston holds the tiebreaker against the Jazz if they finish with the same record.

Dallas (42-39) rode its two biggest stars to victory as Nowitzki hit four 3-pointers and added 11 rebounds. Deron Williams scored 23 of his own against his former team.

“Coming in here, we knew it was going to be like a playoff atmosphere,” said William, who was booed throughout. “In a sense, (it) was a playoff game because there was so much at stake.

“(The boos) got me going out there a little bit. Not only the booing, but the stuff that was being said when I was sitting on the bench, at dead balls, stuff like that.”

Gordon Hayward finished with 26, but was 1 for 9 from 3-point range. The Jazz struggled to shoot the ball and were 2 for 18 from behind the arc in the second half.

“We just didn’t play that good,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I don’t think we made a perimeter shot until about five minutes left in the game. It just puts a lot of pressure on you.

“We talked about the last 20 games or so to try to be in a playoff race and find ourselves in this position. Unfortunately, Dallas was a better team tonight. We looked like a team that’s the youngest team in the league. And that’s what we are. This is a good experience for us. It hurts right now.”

The Mavs took a 50-46 lead into halftime after leading by as much as eight in the first half. The Jazz struggled to keep up with Nowitzki in the first quarter, in which he scored 10, and Williams in the second, when he scored 16.

“We just weren’t staying within the offense,” Jazz forward Derrick Favors said. “We missed a lot of shots that we normally make. (Rodney Hood) normally makes most of the shots he takes. It was just a tough offensive night for us.

“Wasn’t any nervousness. Just (missed) a lot of shots that we normally make.”

TIP-INS

Mavericks: Nowitzki hit four 3-pointers and now has 1,700 in his career to become the 15th player in NBA history with at least 1,700 career triples. … Nowitzki needs two made free throws to become the seventh player in NBA history – and the first 7-footer – with 7,000 career made free throws.

Jazz: Starting center Rudy Gobert hit the floor with when he rolled his right ankle fighting for a rebound. He immediately went to the locker room and did not return. He was on crutches and in a walking boot after the game. … Trey Lyles started his second consecutive game with Derrick Favors dealing with right knee soreness. Favors played but clearly wasn’t fully healthy.

SAAVY VETERANS

The Mavericks are the second most experienced team in the NBA and the Jazz are the least. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said before the game that helps his team. “Experience is valuable,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have been in a lot of playoff games and a lot of big regular season games. There were some things you can remind them of. But as the second-most experienced team in the league, I don’t think there’s a lot I need to say to them.”

 

How popular are Warriors? ESPN to show quest for 73, Kobe farewell bounced to ESPN2

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The Golden State Warriors are the hottest property in the NBA, one of the hottest in all of sports.

Their win Sunday in San Antonio — getting them a record-tying 72nd win — drew an average of 2.6 million viewers, the most ever in the history of NBA TV for any show. (I assumed The Starters had a larger audience than that, but maybe Skeets isn’t the sex symbol draw I imagined.)

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that ESPN has decided to put the Warriors quest for 73 wins Wednesday night against Memphis on the main mothership network. They are bumping Kobe Bryant‘s final game to ESPN2, the network has announced.

Kobe’s fans have always been blindly passionate and, as you would expect, this provoked some outrage on Twitter. (What doesn’t provoke outrage on Twitter?) This tweet seemed to sum up the sentiment.

Kobe essentially shrugged. Here are his comments, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

“What the hell do I care?” Bryant said before resorting to sarcasm. “It hurt my feelings.”

What motivated ESPN’s move? Ratings. Nothing else.

ESPN is in the business of making money for the Walt Disney Corporation (just like NBC Sports does for Comcast). Their goal is to put things on your television that people want to watch. Right now, Stephen Curry and the Warriors are the hottest NBA property; they are a bigger draw than the 16-win Lakers regardless of Kobe’s status. Plus, there’s real drama with the Warriors because they could lose (the Grizzlies are banged up but did push them hard last game behind 24 points from Matt Barnes). With Kobe, it’s a ceremony, and while it’s an emotional one we know how the story ends.

Bottom line: There will be more eyeballs on Curry than Kobe Wednesday. ESPN made a business decision.

And Kobe fans, ESPN2 is just a button push away on your remote. You can find it.