NBA Playoffs: Suddenly those Spurs are back, and the Mavericks don't know what to do about it

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Duncan_layup.jpgUh-oh. Those Spurs are back. The ones that have all those pretty little banners hanging up in the AT&T Center. The seemingly mistake free ones. For one night at least, those guys were back.

Tim Duncan was his cyborg-efficient self. Manu Ginobili continues to play like a man on fire. They defend but do not foul. They rebound well. They have some guy named Richard Jefferson who can drive the lane or knock down the wing jumper if you leave him open (and Dallas kept leaving him open). Their offense was simply efficient.

The Spurs were up 9-0 before anyone knew what happened. When Dallas did realize something was up, Dirk Nowitzki was on the bench with two fouls (a problem he spent much of the night battling). The Spurs could not seem to miss and pulled away to a 102-88 with that evens the series, which now heads back to San Antonio.

Nowitzki was a key part of the story (as he always is). In game one he made it look effortless and was 12 of 14 shooting, he was as hot as he can be. In game two he balanced things out by shooting worse than normal, 9 of 24. That is 24 shots to get 24 points. When your star does that — whether it be Dirk or Duncan or Kobe or Wade or… — the only way you get the win is a lot of help.

He didn’t get a lot. Caron Butler was the only other starter in double digits, but he needed 17 shots to get his 17 points. Not efficient. Jason Terry had a good game (and led the Mavs with 27 points) and hit 9 of his 19. But Jason Kidd was 1 of 7, Shawn Marion 2 of 7. None of it pretty, some of it due to good Spurs halfcourt defense.

A lot of it due to the Spurs only having 8 turnovers, limiting the easy transition buckets for the Mavericks and slowing the pace of this game way down.

Meanwhile, the Spurs were very efficient shooters — Duncan was 11 of 19, Jefferson 7 of 12, Ginobili 8 of 13, the entire team 8 of 15 from three. They were hitting the shots.

And they never let that early lead go, they kept growing it, all the way to 20 at one points. Then a 12-0 Mavs run in the fourth made it interesting for a moment, but these were those Spurs, the ones of old. They have seen a thousand of these runs, they do not get scared or flustered. They just kept hitting shots, kept doing what they do and doing it efficiently. They kept defending.

The Mavericks needed in game two — will need in San Antonio — some spark, some fire. May we recommend Rodrigue Beaubois, who sat out for a second straight game at the discretion of coach Rick Carlisle. That guy is a walking, talking ball of energy on the court. Dallas could have used that.

Coming into this series, the one thing the Mavericks showed was a professional, confident, steady locker room demeanor. They walked and talked like a team ready to make the big step forward. Now they are being tested in that belief. We know how the Spurs are going to react, they have those pretty little banners, they are the veterans of a thousand campaigns. But the Mavericks, are they only confident after beating the Clippers at the end of a long regular season? Or was that confidence real, this game being the outlier?

Tune in Friday and find out.

LeBron James: ‘I almost cracked’ with Lakers’ slow start

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LeBron James has played in eight straight NBA Finals.

How’s he handling reduced expectations with the Lakers, who started 2-5 before rising to 7-6?

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

‪“I haven’t changed anything outwardly, but you know me. You know how I am. I almost cracked [last week]. I had to sit back and remind myself, ‘[Expletive], you knew what you were getting yourself into,’” James told Yahoo Sports while laughing after Saturday’s win in Sacramento. “This process has been good for me. I just have to continue being patient.”‬

LeBron warned everyone to stay clear when he loses his patience, but he has never sounded close to losing it this season. He signed a four-year deal with the Lakers, said he doesn’t feel urgency to win quickly before his prime ends and seems content to wait for a co-star.

If anything, it seemed LeBron might be too relaxed, enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle and focusing on showbusiness.

So, this is a welcome sign of his competitiveness.

Also kudos to LeBron for harnessing it unlike others in the organization. These Lakers need time to determine how these oddly shaped pieces fit together – unless a star becomes available. Then, all bets are off.

Dwyane Wade: Making Carmelo Anthony ‘fall guy’ doesn’t address the ‘real problem’

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LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul – the banana-boat buddies – comprise the NBA’s most famous friendship group.

With Anthony nearing his end with the Rockets, that puts Houston teammate Paul in an awkward place. But Wade and LeBron are speaking up. So are the Trail Blazers’ Evan Turner and Damian Lillard.

Wade:

LeBron:

Evan Turner:

Damian Lillard:

It’s unclear whether Wade is scolding the Rockets or fans/media. That comment is far more loaded if he’s referring directly to the organization. I wonder what he sees at the “real problem” in Houston.

A struggling team waiving a minimum-salary player is rarely viewed as making that player the scapegoat. But Anthony has an outsized reputation due to his long, star-level career. With that in mind, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tried to defend Anthony.

But Anthony is a part of Houston’s problems. He’s awful defensively and shooting poorly. There is mounting evidence he’s washed up. Downgrading his role, whether or not that includes waiving him, is a step in the right direction for the Rockets.

It won’t solve everything, and Anthony – after all that he has done in the NBA – should be treated with respect. But there’s no way around his substandard current level of play.

Report: Jimmy Butler planned to hold out from Timberwolves unless traded, informing team during Friday’s game

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According to one narrative, the Timberwolves decided after Friday’s loss to the Kings to trade Jimmy Butler.

But he might have forced their hand, resulting in his trade to the 76ers.

Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Butler decided he would play on Friday night, but he viewed it as the fork in the road. If the Timberwolves didn’t find a deal to fulfill his long-simmering trade request after that, he would begin to sit indefinitely, league sources told The Athletic.

The Kings defeated Minnesota 121-110 to push the Timberwolves to 4-9 and a winless road trip; Butler had 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 41 minutes. He had played almost 124 minutes in the last three games, all losses, and at halftime of the final one, the Wolves were informed that this was it for Butler, sources said.

Butler reportedly held out for a game a couple weeks ago, though he and Minnesota both denied it. It’s quite believable he would’ve held out again if not traded. Still, informing the team during a game he’s playing would have been quite bold.

I’m not sure who actually blinked first. This could be an I-quit, no-you’re-fired (or vice versa) scenario. Both Butler and Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau are stubborn.

But the most important thing is Butler is gone and both sides can move on – whatever ugliness preceded the trade.

Jimmy Butler on being a Sixer: ‘I’m ready to get started, we got a little ways to go’

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Jimmy Butler is officially a member of the 76ers.

His plane landed in Philly Monday and a camera crew from NBC Sports Philadelphia was there to get his first words on being a member of the Sixers. (You can see the video above.)

“I’m ready to get started, we got a little ways to go, we got some things to figure out. But all-in-all, I look forward to it,” Butler said out the window of the car that picked him up.

What should Sixers fans expect?

“Hard playing. A guy that wants to win. We got some things we want to get done here, we want to win a championship. I think the core group of guys we have, we’ll figure out a way to get it done.”

After that he rolled up the window and drove off… and we assume cranked up the country music.