Jason Kidd leads Mavericks late in win over the Suns

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The Suns tried their best to outlast the Mavericks on Sunday, swapping out 40 percent of their starting lineup to try to put the right pieces in place in an effort to begin an improbable run to the postseason. Phoenix played well early, but Dallas made the right adjustments defensively, and got huge fourth quarters from Jason Kidd and Jason Terry to pull away late, 91-83.

Kidd, in particular, sealed this one for Dallas. He was perfect in the final period, going 3 of 3 from the field and 2 of 2 from the free throw line in eight critical minutes, delivering perhaps the knockout blow to a Suns team that has been on the ropes for much of the latter part of the season.

We’ll get to Kidd’s heroics in a moment. But the game was far from a foregone conclusion in Dallas’ favor, and in fact, it was one the Suns controlled for most of the evening.

Phoenix shook up its starting lineup on Sunday, replacing the ineffective Robin Lopez and Vince Carter with super-producers from the bench, Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley. Gortat was playing with his nose heavily taped, after fracturing it during Friday’s loss to the Hornets, but it certainly didn’t affect his play. Gortat finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots, which effectively cancelled out Tyson Chandler’s 16 points and 18 rebounds for Dallas. Dudley finished with 20 points, five rebounds, five assists, and three steals.

Suns head coach Alvin Gentry clearly pushed the right buttons in making these lineup changes. But the team  couldn’t overcome its worst three-point shooting performance since 2004, going just 1 for 16 from downtown after averaging 12.5 makes from distance over its last four games. (Ironically, the one three-pointer that the Suns did make? It came from Vince Carter.) Dallas, meanwhile, connected on 10 of its 26 attempts from beyond the arc, none bigger than the two that Kidd hit late in the fourth with the game in the balance.

With the game tied at 83 and just over a minute and a half remaining, Kidd personally ended it with an 8-0 scoring run to put this one in the win column for Dallas. He hit a three as the shot clock expired after getting it late in the possession from J.J. Barea, then drained another one on his team’s very next possession with 44 seconds left that effectively sealed it. Both were extremely tough shots.

“That first three he hit beat the clock by a tenth of a second,” Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle said. “His level of concentration to step into that shot and hit all net, it’s phenomenal. And then the other one, Dirk just got in a bad way, he circled around, gave him an outlet, and there’s no tougher shot in basketball than a three-point shot if you’re right-handed and moving to your left, kind of circling around. Those were two phenomenal shots.”

Kidd had a slightly different perspective.

“I had no choice when J.J. gave me the ball with one second left on the shot clock,” Kidd joked. “So that helped, because I didn’t have to think about it.”

Phoenix led by as many as 12 in the early going, as Steve Nash and Gortat repeatedly shredded the Mavericks on the pick and roll. Rodrigue Beaubois started for Dallas, and he looked absolutely lost defensively, as Nash found Gortat again and again wide open at the rim. The first quarter ended with seven assists for Nash, 12 points for Gortat, and a frustrated Dallas squad that managed to shoot just 20 percent from the field in the period.

As the game went on, though, Dallas’ defense adjusted, and locked down to hold the Suns to just 34 second-half points. They sent two guys at Nash consistently to force the ball out of his hands, and the Suns had trouble taking advantage of their mismatches in isolation situations offensively.

Still, things were tight to start the fourth, with the Suns clinging to a two-point lead. That’s when Terry stepped in, and made up for his 2 of 10 shooting in the first three quarters with 10 straight Mavericks points early in the fourth. Terry got it started for Dallas offensively in the period, and Kidd was there to finish it.

While the Suns talked of their playoff hopes being all but lost, the Mavericks were energized by their second road win in as many nights. Both games featured slow starts, however, which is something Kidd spoke to afterward.

“Well, I don’t want to blame it on age,” Kidd said with a smile, and with a few gray hairs noticeably poking through a couple of days worth of stubble on his face. “We sometimes are spoiled in the sense of having a deep team, and we get off to a slow start. But we feel that if we just keep coming, the tide will turn.”

Despite injury scare, LeBron James will be ready to go in Game 7

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It was the kind of injury that has felled many players — think of Rudy Gobert this season. Twice. A player falls into the side of another player’s leg, putting a strain on the ligaments.

That’s what happened in the fourth quarter of Game 6 in Cleveland Friday night, Larry Nance Jr. falls back and LeBron James‘ knee bent in a way it should not.

“After the game, I didn’t know who got me,” LeBron said. “But after the game, Larry asked me if I was I OK, so I’m guessing he was the culprit of it. I just felt someone fall into my leg and my leg kind of went in. I felt some pain throughout my entire right side of my ankle into my leg. I was just hoping for the best, obviously, because I’ve seen so many different injuries, and watching basketball with that type of injury, someone fall into one’s leg standing straight up. Luckily, I was able to finish the game.”

James scored 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting with a couple of dagger threes to secure the win after that scare, but he didn’t seem to have the same lift after that and was seen favoring his leg walking out of the building.

Of course, LeBron will be good to go for Game 7 in Boston Sunday. If Friday night was any indication, he’s not going to be slowed by it at all.

“As soon as I leave here, I’ll start to prepare (for Game 7),” LeBron said from the podium postgame. “I’m going to get in the car and head back to Akron. As soon as I get home, I’ll start my treatment. I’ll do the same all day tomorrow from before we leave to go to Boston, and then once we get into Boston I’ll do that as well. Try to get as much sleep as I can with tonight and with tomorrow and even on Sunday before the game. That’s the best recovery that you can possibly get, is when you’re sleeping. It’ll be around-the-clock treatment, and we’ll see what happens.”

What’s going to happen is a dramatic Game 7 in the Garden, and we know that for Cleveland to have any chance LeBron has to be superhuman. Again.

Warriors facing elimination but undaunted entering Game 6

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HOUSTON (AP) — If the Golden State Warriors are worried as they head into Game 6 of the Western Conference finals on the brink of elimination, they aren’t showing it.

“We have a chance to tie the series at home. That’s a pretty good position to be in,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ve got to win two basketball games and we’ve done that an awful lot, so we’re very confident.”

The defending champions trail Houston 3-2 in the best-of-seven series after consecutive wins by the Rockets, capped by Thursday night’s 98-94 victory. Now the series shifts to Oracle Arena, a place where the Warriors have lost just one time in their last 17 playoff games.

Stephen Curry said the Warriors are encouraged despite falling behind in the series because they believe both games could have gone their way and that a few simple corrections will get them back on track.

“We have an opportunity to re-establish ourselves at home, get a big win, keep ourselves alive, and then roll the dice into Game 7,” Curry said. “Not all is lost.”

Houston’s big win in Game 5 was tempered by a hamstring injury to star Chris Paul which will keep him out of Saturday’s game. It’s a major blow for a team which is looking to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in more than two decades.

The Rockets believe they can absorb this loss and don’t seem daunted by the setback, noting that they found ways to win in the regular season in many games where Paul sat out with injuries.

“I don’t have a doubt,” D’Antoni said. “They see the challenge … whether CP’s there or not, it’s a heck of a challenge, and they’re up to it. They’re looking forward to it.”

James Harden, who has struggled offensively in the last two games and went 0 for 11 on 3s in Game 5, rolled his eyes when asked if Paul’s injury puts more pressure on him.

“Pressure for what? It’s Game 6 of the Western Conference finals,” he said. “There is pressure on everybody.”

While that may be true, the onus is on Harden to step up and deliver an MVP-caliber performance if the Rockets hope to close out this series. Harden has had plenty of playoff disappointments in the last few years and embraces the chance to get Houston back into the finals.

“It’s an opportunity that a lot of people never had and probably won’t ever have,” he said. “It’s our job to go out there and have fun with it and do the same thing we’ve been doing. We want to take advantage of it.”

While the Rockets will be down a starter, the Warriors could get one back if Andre Iguodala can return on Saturday. The Warriors have missed the defensive presence of Iguodala who has missed the last two games with a bruised left knee.

Iguodala is listed on the injury report as questionable for Game 6 and Kerr said he didn’t have an update on his condition on Friday. But he did address what it would mean to Golden State if he’s healthy enough to go on Saturday.

“He’s a great player,” Kerr said. “He’s one of our keys, and we’ve missed him the last two games. But we can’t count on it. Injuries happen, and you’ve just got to play with whoever’s out there. So we’re hoping he’s back, and we’ll see what happens.”

Iguodala’s absence has been magnified in this series that has morphed into a defensive slugfest instead of the high-scoring shootout that most expected when it began. The Rockets take great pride in the fact that they’ve limited Golden State to less than 100 points in the last two games and think continuing to play great defense is the only way they’ll advance.

“It’s something we talked about building up all year,” Houston’s P.J. Tucker said. “To see our defense now be as good as it is, we still think it could be a lot better. We watched film, and honestly … we didn’t play great defense last night. Everybody will talk about how good a defense we played, but we really don’t feel like that. So just keep working and trying to get better.”

Kerr said the experience of his team, which is trying to reach the finals for the fourth straight year, will be valuable as the Warriors try and climb out of this hole and force Game 7. He referenced the conference finals in 2016 when they fell behind Oklahoma City 3-1 before winning the next three to take the series.

“We’ve been here before,” Kerr said. “We’ve faced elimination on the road before – this team has – a few years ago. We faced series deficits before. We’ve won all of those series. Our guys have the ultimate confidence that we can get it done this time, too.”

PBT Extra: Pressure falls on James Harden, Rockets’ bench with Chris Paul out

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Chris Paul is out for Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals with a strained hamstring, and that almost certainly will sideline him for Game 7 as well.

That changes the feel of this series.

The Rockets still just have to win one of the next two games to advance to the NBA Finals, and one of those is at home. However, without CP3 a couple of things need to happen. James Harden needs to find his shooting stroke. Gerald Green and the Rockets’ bench needs to step up. And Houston has to keep defending the way they have the last two games.

It’s not going to be easy (especially on the road in Game 6), but the Rockets still have a real opportunity to advance to the NBA Finals.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.