NBA Playoffs: The Mavs fight to stay alive and look damn good in doing so

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caron butler.pngIn the first four playoff games between the Mavs and the Spurs, each game was decided by just a few possessions. Dallas edged San Antonio in Game 1, the Mavs were within two points during the fourth quarter of Game 2, and the Spurs’ took Games 3 and 4 by a combined seven points.

Then in Game 5, Dallas through the series blueprint out the window, and rode the wave of their own desperation to a decisive 103-81 victory. Facing a 1-3 deficit, the Mavs had no other choice. They’ll still need to secure a win on Thursday to give themselves a shot at the series, but at least Dallas lives to fight another day.

The heroes of Game 5 were undoubtedly Caron Butler (35 points, 11 rebounds, three steals) and Brendan Haywood (eight points, eight rebounds, four blocks), who ironically enough were both the subjects of recent mini-controversies over Rick Carlisle’s distribution of playing time.

Butler didn’t see a second of floor time in the second half of Game 3, and his inefficient scoring style has been considered by many to be a reason why the Mavs have struggled to top the Spurs. Haywood received his first start of the series on Tuesday night, and responded to his unearthing by grabbing six offensive rebounds and getting to the free throw line 12 times. These were keynote performances by two of the Mavs’ mid-season acquisitions, and should Butler and Haywood maintain the theoretical foundation for their success — Butler’s improved shot selection and Haywood’s increased intensity on the boards and defensive focus — there’s no reason why Dallas won’t pose a legitimate threat to San Antonio.

Dallas exploded out of the gate in similar fashion to their opening statement in Game 4, only this time around they protected their double-digit lead with offensive balance and superior defense. With Butler (and the rest of the Mavs, for that matter) looking to attack the basket more than ever, the Spurs’ defense faced a rather difficult test. Even San Antonio’s impressive team defense couldn’t hold against a Dallas team attacking from all angles, and the game was already decided by the midpoint of the third quarter.

The heavy lifters on both sides received plenty of rest, as Gregg Popovich had officially thrown in the Ian Mahinmi towel by the end of the third. Tony Parker led the Big Three in minutes with 26 (and in points with 18; Ginobili and Duncan scored 18 combined), and though Dallas’ starters lasted a bit longer, Butler was the only Maverick to log more than 32 minutes.

The Mavs looked confident and impressive with their backs against the wall. Dallas looked to push the ball at every opportunity, and their effectiveness in transition helped to establish an offensive rhythm that carried over into their half-court sets. Game 6 will bring its own challenges, though, as Butler isn’t likely to drop 30+ points again (much less in such an efficient manner; Caron shot 50% from the field and didn’t turn the ball over once), and the atmosphere in San Antonio won’t offer the same fuel for the the Mavs’ fast break.

This team seems prepared, though. Butler’s ascent was accompanied by a team-wide offensive improvement, due to both the more favorable pace and improved player movement. The reason the Dallas offense became bogged down Games 2, 3, and 4 was due to too many Mavericks camping out along the perimeter while Dirk went to work. As impressive as Nowitzki is, that strategy is doomed to fail, and fail it did. With more transition opportunities and better movement once the Mavs settle down, the Mavs could perform far better offensively in Game 6 than they did during their last trip to San Antonio.

Dallas was the best road team in the Western Conference during the regular season, and they’ll need every bit of that visiting team mojo when they face the Spurs in San Antonio on Thursday. 

76ers rumored to be looking for new top man in basketball operations

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Two years ago, the Philadelphia 76ers kept Brett Brown as coach and searched for a new top man in basketball operations, someone who could work collaboratively with others. They settled on Elton Brand as GM, just a couple years after the end of his playing career.

That collaboration, that order of hiring — coach and then GM — did not work.

Philadelphia is now looking for a new coach after firing Brown. Still, while a coaching search goes on, the franchise is considering bringing in a new head of basketball operations, reports Keith Pompey of The Inquirer.

League sources have said the Sixers are inquiring about the possibility of hiring a president of basketball operations. One source said that Portland Trail Blazers president of basketball operations/ general manager Neil Olshey might have some interest in the Sixers, but that’s only if he has total power, as the president and general manager.

Former Atlanta Hawks president of basketball operation/GM Danny Ferry’s name keeps popping up as a possible candidate. But the Sixers keep shooting that down.

A source also believes the Sixers will attempt to inquire about Houston GM Morey and Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard. The source, however, believes it’s unlikely that they would be interested.

As with everything 76ers the past couple of years, things seem a bit confused. The front office could use a shakeup, but the expectation had been Brand would have the power and there would be more voices to consult with him. Maybe a strong No. 2 who could bring a new voice and organizational skills to the table.

The names mentioned in this report — Olshey, Ferry, Morey, Prichard — are established top men who will demand complete authority. And, they will want to hire their own coach.

It’s unclear what direction the 76ers are going with their front office — and, by extension, coaching search — but there is not a lot of time to make a call. The 2020 NBA Draft is in two months and the 76ers will want their front office set well before that.

Lakers saw what happened to Jazz, Clippers, say they will not let up vs. Nuggets

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — With one comeback after another in the playoffs, the Denver Nuggets showed themselves to be a team that falls down but doesn’t stay down.

The Los Angeles Lakers noticed.

They watched the Nuggets repeatedly rally from big deficits against Utah and then the Los Angeles Clippers – and, obviously, are aware that the Jazz and the Clippers are no longer in the NBA bubble because of Denver’s comeback abilities.

So the Lakers knew that when it was their turn to face Denver, there would be no letting up no matter what the scoreboard said.

Game 2 is Sunday night. The Lakers know the job is far from over.

“No lead is safe with this team, in the game or in the series,” Lakers star Anthony Davis said. “They have proven that they are a second-half team, where they come out and just destroy teams in the second half and prove that even if they are down a series, they are a team that’s going to be resilient and keep fighting no matter what the score is, what the situation is.

“When we have a lead, we have to lock in even more.”

The Lakers did that in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, turning an 11-point halftime lead into a 27-point bulge in the second half before easing to a 126-114 victory.

“That’s a historic type of resilient team,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve got to understand that, both with the series lead 1-0 right now and wherever it goes, but also within games.”

Denver reached the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2009 by becoming the first team in NBA history to erase two 3-1 deficits in one postseason. The Nuggets trailed by 15 points in Game 5 against Utah in their first game facing elimination, then were down 16, 19, and 12 in the final three games against the Clippers.

The Nuggets are the first team with three 15-point comebacks while facing elimination in one postseason since play-by-play began being recorded digitally in 1997.

“This is an opponent we all greatly respect,” Vogel said. “Save for the comebacks, we respect what they are capable of doing on both ends of the floor.”

It won’t matter how resilient the Nuggets are if they don’t make things tougher for the Lakers defensively.

Davis shredded them so easily on his way to 37 points that the Lakers didn’t even need much scoring from LeBron James, who took only 11 shots and had 15 points and 12 assists. Los Angeles got plenty of opportunities in transition and in the paint, which were areas of emphasis for Denver.

“We were giving up layups after we scored baskets ourselves. So that indicates to me that our sense of urgency to get back was not anywhere remotely close to where it needed to be tonight,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the game.

When the Nuggets do get back, they need to do a better job of defending without fouling. They sent the Lakers to the line 24 times in the second quarter – Denver shot only 28 for the entire game – and both Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray had to go to the bench with three fouls in the period.

“We’ve just got to be better,” Murray said. “We’ve just got to be on point. We’ve got to talk more, talk earlier, point, whatever we’ve got to do.”

This is the first time in this postseason the Lakers will take the lead into Game 2, having dropped their opening games against both Portland and Houston. They didn’t lose again in either series.

Going into Sunday, the Lakers will have the second-best record in the postseason at 9-2, trailing only Miami. It’s a big turnaround for the Lakers, who struggled at times during the seeding games in the bubble – but, as James’ teams tend to do in the postseason, are hitting their best stride when the games matter most.

Denver is also used to playing from behind – much further behind. So even though things looked bad Friday, the Nuggets have been in much worse spots in the bubble and found their way out of them.

“We have proven it time and time again that we can learn from our losses and figure out what we need to do better going into the next game and give ourselves a much better chance to win,” Malone said.

Gordon Hayward does not plan to leave bubble for birth of son

Gordon Hayward birth of son
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When Boston first went to the NBA restart bubble in Orlando, Gordon Hayward was upfront: He was leaving the bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

Hayward ended up leaving the bubble for another reason — he severely sprained his ankle and was out for more than a month. During his rehab, Hayward left the bubble and spent time at home, returning a couple of weeks ago. Saturday he played his first game back for Boston, helping it to a win against the Heat.

Hayward’s wife, Robyn, has yet to have their son, but now Hayward does not plan to leave the bubble for the event, something first reported by Rachel Nichols of ESPN during Saturday’s game.

Hayward confirmed this after the game. So did Robyn in a social media post, adding the reports she was in labor already were not true.

I don’t envy the Hayward family having to make this choice. As a parent, I can’t imagine having missed the births of any of my children, but, like everything else in 2020, this is far from a typical decision at a typical time. The Haywards are making the best of it they can. They deserve support no matter what they choose.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

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“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one, “I missed that on purpose.” 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. — he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).