NBA Playoffs: Mavs and Spurs deliver as promised, but Dallas draws first blood

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Butler_Dunk.jpgDallas and San Antonio both played well but not perfectly. That said, the most important word in that sentence is both, as every terrific performance was countered and every sloppy play met with another by the opposition. It was a game of brilliant, beautiful, and flawed (but balanced in its flaws) basketball, and we shouldn’t want it any other way.

The Mavs and Spurs played a tight game throughout, until the Mavs’ late-game execution allowed them to pull away to a safe, decisive margin. Dallas overcame some decent shooting from San Antonio thanks to taking slightly better care of the ball, parading to the free throw line (in part due to favorable officiating), and limiting the Spurs’ effectiveness in the pick-and-roll in the second half.

Front and center was Dirk Nowitzki, whose shooting was otherworldly. Nowitzki finished with 36 points on just 14 shots, but the most impressive part of Dirk’s evening was his 85.7% shooting from the field. Nowitzki simply refused to miss, as he supplemented his usual array of turnarounds and fadeaways with a few lucky bank shots and a series of makes after contact. There are nights where Dirk is dialed in, and then there are nights like this. If anyone ever questions just how special an offensive talent that Nowitzki is, I would simply pull up this game on the non-existent video monitor, cue a highlight reel of improbable shot after improbable shot, and rest my case.

Dirk was hardly alone, though, as Gregg Popovich made perfectly clear. ” There aren’t many nights where Dirk is not special. He was special tonight, but he had a lot of help,” Pop said. “A lot of other guys played really well; Butler killed us and both big guys were really good on the boads defensively. Jason [Kidd] was a gnat. He was a focused, driven individual, as usual. They had a lot of people well. They played sharper than we did.”

Pop is right: Butler’s 22 points, Kidd’s 11 assists, and Dampier’s 12 rebounds were all essential components of the Dallas’ victory. In a game so close, the importance of every contribution is magnified, and the Mavericks not wearing #41 were still incredibly valuable elements of a winning cause.

Naturally though, the Spurs wouldn’t have been competitive if not for superior performances from Tim Duncan (27 points, eight rebounds, six turnovers) and Manu Ginobili (26 points, six assists, four rebounds, five turnovers), the two stars whose success is absolutely fundamental to what San Antonio looks to accomplish. Their turnovers — some forced and some unforced — were a huge detriment to the tandem’s efficiency. That combined with the Mavs’ tightened defense on the screen-and-roll and Erick Dampier and Brendan Haywood’s defense on Duncan in the post was just enough to surrender the momentum that Dallas needed to secure a victory.

Game one felt like a lifetime. Dirk was brilliant, Duncan persevered, Kidd’s was masterful in the half-court, Tony Parker (18 points, four assists) was moderately effective coming off the bench, Jason Terry had a mostly empty night (five points, three assists), George Hill departed early (just 18 minutes), Rick Carlisle altered his rotation (no minutes for Eduardo Najera, just 18 minutes for Brendan Haywood), and Gregg Popovich engaged in what can only be called shenanigans (three straight possessions of Hack-a-Damp in the third quarter). These two teams are just getting started, and if game one was any indication of what the rest of the series will be like, we’re in for a treat.  

Jodie Meeks set to dodge nearly $600K in suspension penalty with trade from Wizards to Bucks

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Jodie Meeks was set to forfeit $596,686 this season due to his performance-enhancing-drug suspension.

Instead, he could receive his his entire $3,454,500 salary.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Wizards are in line to save $6,146,794 in luxury tax with this move. Subtract the amount paid to the Bucks, which surely includes at least Meeks’ full salary. But that’s still at least $ 2,692,294 in savings, which is why Washington also sent a draft pick.

Milwaukee was in the right place at the right time – with the Greg Monroe trade exception (from the Eric Bledsoe deal) just large enough to absorb Meeks – to extract an extra draft pick.

But the big winner is Meeks, who can’t serve a suspension while not on a roster and therefore can’t have his pay docked. If he signs again in the NBA, he’d still have to sit 19 games, but his lost salary would almost certainly be based on a minimum salary, not the higher amount he’s due this year.

Report: Pacers, Myles Turner agree to four-year, $80 million extension

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Update: There’s the not unexpected wrinkle:

 

The Pacers’ identification and development of young players stagnated in the Paul George era and might have contributed to his exit. Indiana’s kept first-round picks in the seven years between drafting and trading George: Miles Plumlee, Solomon Hill, Myles Turner, T.J. Leaf.

Turner is the lone hope to emerge as a secondary star, and though now it’d be next Victor Oladipo rather than George, the Pacers will pay Turner as such.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

That’s a sizable deal, not just in terms of dollars but also opportunity cost. This will unnecessarily cut into Indiana’s cap space next summer.

Turner will begin the offseason counting against the cap at his 2019-20 salary, which based on the reported terms, will be between $17,857,143 and $22,727,273. If the Pacers didn’t extend him and let him become a restricted free agent, they could have held him at $10,230,852, used their other cap space first then exceeded the cap to re-sign him with Bird Rights.

So, why lock him up now? Indiana clearly believes his production will outpace his salary. This prevents another team from signing him to an even larger offer sheet next summer.

The 22-year-old Turner can live up to this deal. He’s a good 3-point shooter and shot-blocker. He must play with more force inside and either improve his foot speed or defensive recognition, ideally both. But he has plenty of tools for a modern center.

That said, if the extension is fully guaranteed, this is too much of a gamble on Turner for me. For sacrificing so much cap flexibility next summer, the Pacers should have gotten more of a discount. Of course, if this deal is heavy on incentives and short on guarantees, that could swing the analysis.

Report: Clippers trading Wesley Johnson to Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca

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The Chris PaulBlake GriffinDeAndre Jordan era already ended in L.A.

Now, the Clippers are losing the very last player from their 2016-17 team (just two years ago!) – Wesley Johnson, who’s being shipped to the Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Johnson ($6,134,520) has a slightly higher salary than Ajinca ($5,285,394) with both players in the final year of their contracts. As long the Clippers have to waive a player, they’d rather drop the cheaper one.

The Clippers actually had to shed two players before the regular-season roster deadline. They’re also releasing Jawun Evans, the No. 39 pick last year. The point guard just didn’t acclimate to the NBA quickly enough to beat out Sindarius Thornwell and Tyrone Wallace. Though waiving Evans was probably the right move now, I wouldn’t write him off entirely.

Ajinca, on the other hand, has no place in a shrinking NBA. The 7-foot-2 30-year-old can’t stay healthy and hasn’t been productive when on the court.

Johnson fell out of favor with Clippers coach Doc Rivers, but the Pelicans desperate for a small forward. Though Johnson wouldn’t be an exciting addition for most teams, he’s worth the low cost – the $849,126 difference between his and Ajinca’s salaries – to New Orleans, where he might actually be a significant addition.

PBT Podcast: MVP, Rookie of Year, other awards plus NBA playoffs, Finals predictions

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Will James Harden repeat as MVP or will someone else — LeBron James, Anthony Davis — grab the award away from him?

Luca Doncic and Deandre Ayton seem to be the favorites for Rookie of the Year, but could Trae Young or Jaren Jackson Jr. push their way into the conversation?

Who will win Coach of the Year? Is Jamal Murray a guy to watch for Most Improved Player?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports discuss all the major awards plus get into playoff predictions in this latest PBT Podcast. Can Charlotte sneak into the final playoff slot in the East or is Detroit going to take that? Are the Spurs going to miss the playoffs in the West for the first time in 22 years? And are the Warriors a lock to win it all? (Hint: They are not.)

We want your questions for the podcast, and your comments, email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com. 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.