NBA Playoffs: San Antonio will not be deterred, finished of Dallas in six

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Nowitzki_floor.jpgWith the Dallas Mavericks down, the Denver Nuggets on the brink, the Phoenix Suns decidedly mortal, and the Utah Jazz dinged up, the San Antonio Spurs would like to respectfully enter their name for consideration as the non-LA team to beat in the West. They looked every bit of it in their resilient game (and series) against the Mavs, and though the Spurs surrendered a 22-point lead and let Dallas back into the game, San Antonio is clearly a team ready to roll through the playoffs.

Dallas deserves tremendous credit for clawing back into the final game of the series despite shooting blanks in the first quarter, and their trademarked ability to make a game out of what should have been a lopsided contest turned in a bit of an instant classic. It didn’t come down to game-winners or overtime, but the Mavs turned things around in the second half and made this a hell of a basketball game. The series may not have gone to seven games, but it unfolded as advertised: both teams were highly competitive, evenly matched, and played each other spectacularly. San Antonio just executed a bit better, fought a little harder, and protected their home court with a bit more tenacity.

As much as Game 6 featured the usual suspects — Dirk Nowitzki finished with 33 points on 13-of-21 shooting, Manu Ginobili had 26, and Tim Duncan had a solid 17 and 10 — the most prominent storyline featured each team’s up-and-coming guard: the Spurs’ George Hill and the Mavs’ Rodrigue Beaubois.

Hill was pegged as a potential difference-maker in the series, especially with Tony Parker a bit less reliable than usual. Hill started the series off slowly, scoring just seven points on 22.2% shooting in the first two games combined, but quickly became a vital source of scoring for the Spurs in Game 3 and beyond. He finished off his terrific series with 21 points and six rebounds in Game 6.

“Down the stretch we had our chances and you have to tip your hat to George Hill, he was the x-factor in the entire series,” Nowitzki said. “You live with Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan making plays, but George used his freedom and made amazing plays. You have to give him credit, he is going to be a good player in this league.”

Opposite Hill was the Mavs’ dynamic rookie, Rodrigue Beaubois. Rick Carlisle turned to Beaubois in the second quarter when things looked darkest for the Mavs, and in his desperation Carlisle unearthed Dallas’ buried treasure. Beaubois’ ability to penetrate and score around the Spurs’ defenders provided more than a spark, he was nearly a savior. All of a sudden the Mavs were within 13 at halftime despite only scoring eight points in the first quarter, and Rodrigue’s play was a huge part of that.

His strong performance continued through the third quarter, as Beaubois’ quickness clearly caused problems for the Spurs’ perimeter defenders. Rodrigue’s only roadblock — as has been the case throughout this series — was his own coach, as Rick Carlisle inexplicably left Beaubois on the bench for the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter. San Antonio smelled blood in the water as the Mavs failed to score on a few consecutive possessions, and what had been a neck-and-neck game was suddenly a decent lead for the Spurs.

“I was kind of happy because it took away another scorer that was playing well,” George Hill said of Rick Carlisle’s decision to sit Beaubois. “That’s how it goes. People are going to go with people they’re very comfortable with. I think Beaubois did a really great job of giving them a spark,” Hill said. “I think that at the end of the day we made plays that we really needed to close it out.”

Carlisle’s rotations throughout the series could certainly qualify as curious, and some of his decisions have been more successful than others. In Game 3, Carlisle opted to sit Caron Butler for the entire second half and Shawn Marion for most of it, in favor of running a three-guard lineup including Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and J.J. Barea. It worked…for a spell. But when the three guards tired out from extended burn in the second half and the zone defense broke down, the Spurs were able to pull out a victory. In Game 5, Carlisle gave Erick Dampier, who had started in every game in the series to that point, a DNP-CD. Brendan Haywood started and shined in his place, and the Mavs looked ready to compete until the very end.

Then in Game 6, Carlisle abandoned his “roll with what works” mantra to grant a fourth quarter stint to Jason Terry, who has a history of fourth quarter heroics but had struggled in this particular game (JET finished 1-for-7 and just two points). Although the Mavs still managed to keep the game relatively competitive, there’s no question they could have used Beaubois’ ability to drive in order to put added pressure on the Spurs’ defense. Dirk Nowitzki was able to keep Dallas afloat, but even a superstar like Dirk has his limits.

In this case, Dirk could only score 33 points, while every other Maverick not named Beaubois or Caron Butler (who was fantastic in his career-high follow-up, and finished with 25 points on 50% shooting) struggled to score. Nowitzki, Butler, and Beaubois scored 74 of the Mavs’ 87 points, which is unacceptable given the considerable talent on the Mavs’ roster.

This isn’t to deny any credit to the Spurs, who took the game by the throat whenever they were given the opportunity. Ginobili and Hill hit some huge shots to prevent the Mavs from riding their momentum to a win, and Tony Parker (10 points, eight assists, seven rebounds) was no slouch. The Spurs just played like the better team in this series, probably because they were. Seven seed or not, a healthy San Antonio team is a force to be reckoned with, and though Dallas fought hard and provided a worthy foil, this was no upset.     

Rajon Rondo breaks hand, will be out weeks

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It was a big night for the Lakers. LeBron James was the most aggressive he has been as a Laker and took over the game, dropping 44 points on the Trail Blazers. It was also the Lakers’ sixth win in seven games, moving them up in the crowded West.

But it was not all good news: Rajon Rondo has broken his hand.

While the Lakers will not put a timeline on the injury, traditionally it takes a month or more to heal.

The Lakers have been 3.4 points per 100 possessions better this season with Rondo on the court, with that improvement coming on the defensive end. Lonzo Ball has started in front of him and will continue to do so.

Rondo was brought in as a mentor to the young LAkers and that is going to continue.

LeBron James passes Wilt Chamberlain for fifth on all-time scoring list

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LeBron James followed Wilt Chamberlain’s footsteps in establishing himself as a great player then joining the Lakers.

Now, LeBron has passed Chamberlain on the all-time scoring list.

LeBron scored 44 points in the Lakers’ win over the Trail Blazers on Wednesday to move ahead of Chamberlain for fifth in career points. LeBron now trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.

The leaderboard:

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LeBron had his finest game with the Lakers on Wednesday, posting 44 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and three blocks in a 126-117 victory. He tried and failed to get a triple-double late, but he still got the win and an enhanced place in NBA history.

Next up for LeBron: Jordan, the only top-six all-time scorer who never played for the Lakers.

76ers lose Jimmy Butler’s, Timberwolves win Robert Covington’s and Dario Saric’s first games with new teams

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Jimmy Butler had 14 points in his Philadelphia debut, but the 76ers collapsed late and lost at Orlando, 111-106, after Terrence Ross hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 8.7 seconds left that helped the Magic finish off a big comeback Wednesday night.

Orlando scored 21 straight points in the fourth quarter, then held the 76ers without a field goal over the final 3 1/2 minutes.

Nikola Vucevic had 30 points for the Magic, including two free throws with 5.8 seconds remaining.

Joel Embiid finished with a triple-double of 19 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for the 76ers, who lost for the seventh time in nine road games. J.J. Redick led Philadelphia with 22 points but committed two turnovers in the final 31 seconds.

Butler played 33 minutes and shot 6 for 12 from the field. The four-time All-Star was acquired Monday from Minnesota in a five-player trade.

Meanwhile in Minneapolis, the Timberwolves improved to 2-0 since trading Butler with a 107-100 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 25 points and 16 rebounds. Andrew Wiggins scored 23.

The game was Minnesota’s first with forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric. They were acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers along with injured guard Jerryd Bayless in exchange for the disgruntled Butler.

The trade was completed Monday, meaning Covington and Saric did not join their new teammates in time for the Timberwolves’ 120-113 victory over Brooklyn that night.

Covington started Wednesday, scoring 13 points and grabbing seven rebounds. He drained a pair of long, catch-and-shoot 3s in the third quarter as the Timberwolves were trying to hold off a Pelicans comeback.

E'Twaun Moore scored a season-high 31 and Anthony Davis had 29 points and 11 rebounds for the Pelicans, who had won three straight.

TIP-INS

76ers: Embiid made all three of his 3-pointers in the first 4:09 of the game. … Ben Simmons is 23 for 28 (.821) from the foul line at home, and 22 for 44 (.500) on the road.

Magic: F Jonathan Isaac played 16 minutes after missing six games with a sprained right ankle. … By winning for the fifth time in seven games, the Magic broke a four-game losing streak against the 76ers.

Pelicans: C Nikola Mirotic returned after missing two games with a right ankle sprain. He had 16 points and 10 boards. . Head coach Alvin Gentry said PG Elfrid Payton is close to returning from his own right ankle sprain, but he sat out his ninth straight game.

Timberwolves: The win was Minnesota’s fifth straight against New Orleans. . G Derrick Rose (left knee soreness) did not dress after playing 39 minutes in the win over Brooklyn on Monday. Rose is averaging 19.2 points and 4.8 assists per game this season. . Teague played for the second time in three days after missing six games with a bruised left knee.

UP NEXT

76ers: Home against Utah on Friday night.

Magic: Home against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night.

Pelicans: Host the New York Knicks on Friday night.

Timberwolves: Host the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.

PBT Extra: Philadelphia has Jimmy Butler. Now what?

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Not long after the trade sending Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia was announced, there were some Sixers fans were on Twitter planning the championship parade route.

Reality, of course, is never quite so simple. The Orlando Magic made that clear knocking off Philadelphia in Butler’s debut.

What should we expect from these Sixers now? I get into it in this latest PBT Extra. Expect exceptional defense. However, are the big three of Buter/Joel Embiid/Ben Simmons willing to make the sacrifices necessary to their game to win at the highest level? We will see.