NBA Playoffs: Utah looks to close out the series at home

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Up 3-2 in their series against the Denver Nuggets and coming back home to Salt Lake, the Utah Jazz have a great chance to close out their first-round series tonight. It’s not the time for them to rest on their laurels, however, as they don’t want to have to go back to Denver for a game seven. Here’s what the Jazz need to do to advance to the second round and avoid a game seven, and what Denver needs to do to stave off elimination:

Utah:

-Offensive Balance. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer both had great games for the Jazz in game five. That wasn’t enough. The Nuggets are going to put points on the board; if the Jazz want to win, they need to have more balance offensively and have everybody on the floor be a threat to score.
-Control the paint on both sides of the floor. Denver was having trouble getting frontcourt production before Nene went down, and they’ve struggled to prevent penetration all series. Even without Kirilienko and Okur, the Jazz have an advantage inside. They need to press it. 
-Win the first quarter. The Nuggets have panicked when forced to play from behind, especially on the road. If Utah makes an early run and opens up a lead, they could cruise to a game six victory. 
-Get to the line. The Jazz shot 35 free throws in both game three and game four. In their game five loss, they only shot 25 free throws. The Jazz are the more physical team — they need to exploit that by taking the ball right at Denver’s interior defenders. 
Denver:

Offensive execution. When they move the ball and work pick-and-rolls or low isolations, they’ve looked great. Their interior passing at the beginning of game five was a revelation. This team has a lot of talented scorers, but they won’t be able to put up enough points to win without playing team basketball on offense.
-Get J.R. Smith going. He’s had two good games in this series. The Nuggets won both of them. That’s not a coincidence. Getting something out of Lawson will be important as well.
-Stay calm. The Nuggets have looked bad when they’ve fallen behind in this series. If the Jazz get a lead, they need to stay patient and not try to get all their points back at once. 
-Crowd the paint. Deron Williams is going to get his regardless of what the Nuggets do against him. Outside of Deron, the Jazz would much rather rely on Paul Milsap and Carlos Boozer than C.J. Miles and Wesley Matthews. The Nuggets obviously don’t have a ton of size. Still, they can make an effort to front Boozer and Milsap, bring doubles, and make them work for their points in the paint. 
-Play with confidence. The Nuggets were in a 3-1 hole, but now they have a chance to make Utah come to their house for a game seven. If they play 48 minutes of good ball, they can do it. But they have to believe that they can. 

Report: Austin Rivers signing with Grizzlies

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The Wizards, Suns and Grizzlies are trapped in a transaction triangle.

After a three-way trade between the teams fell through due to Brooks confusion, Washington and Phoenix completed a simplified version of the deal. The Suns sent Trevor Ariza to the Wizards for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers, whom Phoenix is waiving.

Rivers’ landing spot? Memphis of course.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Don’t expect Rivers to be a major difference maker in Memphis. He’s a solid defender who had been a decent 3-point shooter the last couple seasons but not at all so far this year. When not spotting up, he’s often overly ambitious – but occasionally impressive – as a driver.

Rivers will add depth at shooting guard, where the Grizzlies have Garrett Temple, Dillon Brooks, Wayne Selden, MarShon Brooks and Shelvin Mack.

Memphis must waive one player now. It could be MarShon Brooks. We know how the Grizzlies (and Suns) view him.

This signing leads to a conspiracy theory I don’t believe, but find interesting: The Grizzlies agreed to the trade with Dillon Brooks… learned the full parameters of the deal… realized they’d rather just sign Rivers outright than deal Dillon Brooks, Selden and a second-rounder for Kelly Oubre… claimed they meant MarShon Brooks all along… let the Wizards ship Rivers to the Suns, who’d waive him… signed Rivers.

When undermining the original three-team deal, the Grizzlies would have had to know Washington and Phoenix would complete their own trade with Rivers getting waived. Perhaps, Memphis surmised that while the teams negotiated, but the timing – and complexity – makes that unlikely. But still fun to consider.

Nets once thought they were trading for No. 2 overall pick, would have gotten Bulls’ second first-rounder

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A Wizards-Suns-Grizzlies trade just fell apart because the teams confused which Brooks was involved. Phoenix thought it was getting Dillon Brooks. Memphis thought it was sending MarShon Brooks.

But this isn’t the first time wires got crossed in trade discussions.

Former Nets executive Bobby Marks of ESPN:

The closest it’s ever happened – and this is a funny story – is that in 2006, we thought we getting the second overall pick in the draft from Chicago. And we were going to pick LaMarcus Aldridge. And it wound up being that Chicago was offering us their second first-round pick in the draft, which was pick 16. It turned into Rodney Carney. So, that’s the closest that we’ve ever come to backing out or a deal was agreed upon and going from there.

The Bulls might as well have sent the No. 2 to pick to the Nets. On draft night, Chicago dealt No. 2 pick LaMarcus Aldridge to the Trail Blazers for No. 4 pick Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa. The Bulls got more value from No. 16 pick Rodney Carney, trading up with the 76ers for No. 13 pick Thabo Sefolosha, who was a helpful role player in Chicago then flipped for a pick that became Taj Gibson. In that 2006 draft, the Nets picked Marcus Williams No. 22 and Josh Boone No. 23.

The big difference between this non-deal and the Brooks mishap: It didn’t reach the point active players were informed and details were leaked to the media. That’s harder to walk back and maybe part of the reason the Suns and Wizards still swapped Trevor Ariza for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers after the Grizzlies pulled out.

Report: Trevor Ariza ‘checked out mentally’ with Suns

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Why did Trevor Ariza leave the Rockets, who came as close as anyone to beating the Kevin Durant-boosted Warriors in the playoffs, for the lowly Suns?

Money.

Ariza signed a one-year, $15 million contract with Phoenix last summer. That salary likely far surpasses what Ariza could have gotten elsewhere – especially Houston, where the Rockets are wary of the luxury tax.

Predictably, a veteran signing with bad team for a quick paycheck turned out poorly. The Suns traded Ariza to the Wizards essentially as soon as he became eligible to be dealt.

Duane Rankin of azcentral:

According to league sources, this was a “mutual” decision between Ariza and the Suns.

Ariza checked out mentally early in the season, according to sources. After practices would ended, he’d leave before everyone else, when that’s usually an opportunity to bond.

He’d break from the team huddle before his teammates and wasn’t engaged.

Signing Ariza to that contract was always part of a bad plan. He didn’t put the Suns over the top, and that money could have gone to a player with a future in Phoenix.

Sure, it would have been nice for Ariza to lead and mentor more. He could have served as a better example for the young Suns.

But it’s not easy to go from the peak of competition to a quickly lost season. Ariza’s misery was predictable and understandable.

It spread to the court, too. He’s having arguably the worst season of his career.

Washington hopes Ariza will play better there. He’s better cast as a glue guy on a good team.

However, it’s unclear whether Ariza will actually be rejuvenated by the Wizards, who’ve been stuck in their own turmoil. There’s also risk Ariza, 33, has declined due to age in ways that won’t simply reverse in a better environment.

At least he ends his depressing Phoenix chapter. This will be the lasting scene of his time there. Gina Mizell of The Athletic:

Devin Booker calls out Enes Kanter’s defense after Suns beat Knicks

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In a Knicks’ win over the Suns last January, Enes Kanter irritated Devin Booker into pushing him. The Phoenix guard got ejected then had to deal with Kanter’s online trash-talking afterward.

So, this retweet – following the Suns’ win over New York last night – was nearly a year in the making.

Booker:

There are two possible responses here. I’m not sure which is correct.

1. Booker shouldn’t criticize anyone else’s defense before looking in the mirror.

2. Kanter’s defense is so bad, even Booker is mocking it.