Karl says Nuggets would rather face Mavericks than Thunder in first round

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Coaches and players almost never stray from the “I don’t care who we face in the playoffs, it’s about us doing our thing” mantra. Which is a load of fertilizer, by the way — they all know the playoffs are about matchups and they want to get the more favorable ones. They just won’t talk about it publically.

But George Karl of the Nuggets did, as transcribed on ESPN Dallas.

“If we had to pick and choose on it, we would probably say 55 percent Dallas, 45 percent Oklahoma City, only because Oklahoma City is athletic like we are and they have two great players,” Denver coach George Karl told ESPN 103.3’s Galloway and Company, referring to Thunder forward Kevin Durant and point guard Russell.

“They have two All-Stars who are really in their prime and have never won on the playoff stage. I just think right now our speed might have more effect against Dallas than it will against Oklahoma City.”

The Thunder and Nuggets play for the second time in four games Friday, with Oklahoma City getting a 101-94 win Tuesday. Denver had nobody who could slow Kevin Durant and then the Thunder went on a 16-0 fourth quarter run that the Nuggets could not match. The game gave you the feeling OKC could replicate that win four times in a series.

So you can see why Karl would prefer Dallas. Also, Karl is speaking to a general perception around the league — teams fear Oklahoma City’s potential and high end more than they do Dallas. The Mavs are a veteran team and you know what you are going to get with them. The Thunder are more athletic, they run the floor like gazelles, they have Durant and Russell Westbrook, either of which can just take over a game.

OKC may not live up to that potential this season. But with Kendrick Perkins (and Nazr Mohammed) the Thunder addressed one weakness. They seem to be getting better.

The Nuggets scare teams, too, but the way the Thunder dispatched the Nuggets the other night made it seem like that is a series OKC would win. So Karl wisely wants to take his chances elsewhere.

Report: Grizzlies in ‘extensive discussions’ with Joakim Noah

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Marc Gasol has been awesome this season. The 33-year-old is holding off questions about his decline that reached fever pitch last season. He’s deferring just a little more offensively to become much more efficient and save energy to play superb defense.

The Grizzlies have played like a 61-win team with him on the court this season.

But they’ve also played like a 17-win team when he sits.

A potential solution to Memphis backup-center problem? Joakim Noah.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ivan Rabb haven’t cut it at center behind Gasol. (Jackson has been better at power forward.) JaMychal Green could work, but he’s just getting healthy, and he’s also more of a power forward.

So, Noah could be another option. He definitely has the size for the position. Performing better than the Grizzlies’ other backup centers is not a high bar.

But I still doubt Noah helps Memphis. The 33-year-old looked so wash up with the Knicks, not even Tom Thibodeau would sign the former Bull.

Pelicans: Elfrid Payton out six weeks

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The Pelicans are 5-1 when Elfrid Payton plays and 4-6 when he doesn’t.

New Orleans will have to find a winning formula without its starting point guard.

Pelicans release:

New Orleans Pelicans guard Elfrid Payton, who suffered a fractured left fifth finger against the New York Knicks on November 16, will undergo surgery tomorrow to repair the fracture. Payton is expected to miss approximately six weeks.

It’s not that Payton is great, though he has been solid this season. It’s that the Pelicans are ill-equipped to deal with this injury.

Jrue Holiday can shift to point guard, but that weakens New Orleans even further on the wing. Without Payton, the Pelicans are also forced to give more playing time to substandard players at point guard: Ian Clark, Tim Frazier and Frank Jackson.

At least New Orleans can pivot its offense to run the ball through Anthony Davis and Julius Randle. Those skilled bigs can distribute.

The Pelicans are in the middle of a tight playoff race. They have little margin for error, and this injury cuts deeply into it.

Report: Cavaliers GM Koby Altman told LeBron James they wouldn’t trade Kyrie Irving

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LeBron James told the Cavaliers not to trade Kyrie Irving last year. LeBron didn’t do anything to win over the point guard, who asked out. But LeBron still told Cleveland not to honor the request.

LeBron’s last message on the top went to Cavs general manager Koby Altman shortly before they dealt Irving to the Celtics.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

James was adamant on the call — do not trade Irving, especially to the Celtics. By the end of the call, according to four separate accounts of people present for the conversation, Altman told James the trade would not occur.

James suggested he didn’t feel he was lied to by Altman, so much as Altman was overruled by owner Dan Gilbert.

“You realize at that point in time, take nothing from Koby, because Koby (was just named GM), but at that point in time, you realize that Koby’s not the only one running the team, as (former GM David Griffin) had done, and that’s why Griff was let go pretty much,” James said.

Cavs front-office officials declined to be quoted for this story but disputed that Altman gave James any indication the trade would not occur. They also said Altman asked James whether he would commit to the Cavs long-term if Irving were not traded, and James said no.

If he didn’t have the authority to keep Irving, Altman shouldn’t have said he would.

Maybe Altman didn’t know he lacked that authority. He was new in the job, after all. So, maybe his error was easily forgivable. But it sounds like an error, nonetheless.

The Cavaliers also didn’t necessarily err by trading Irving. The package they got proved problematic, but the concept of trading the disgruntled star had more merit to the team than LeBron. LeBron lasted only one more season in Cleveland, and it seems likely – though not certain – he would have left even if the Cavs listened to him on Irving. That meant, the Cavaliers could have been left without LeBron and trying to trade Irving in the final year of his contract, when his trade value would have been lower. LeBron might have just wanted to use Irving for one more playoff run then leave Cleveland holding the bag.

The communication issues are a bigger issue. It’s unclear how to divvy blame between Gilbert, Altman and LeBron, but that call ended with those three on different pages. And it doesn’t seem LeBron’s exit has fixed the problem in Cleveland. Since, the Cavs:

Again, it’s unclear whether Gilbert, Altman or others are the problem. But that’s a lot of disarray under Altman, and at a certain point, it’s his responsibility to ensure proper communication is flowing smoothly within the organization.

There are numerous reasons LeBron left for the Lakers. But it’s hard to overlook the Cavaliers’ crummy management in the last year.

With John Wall and Bradley Beal, Wizards shouldn’t be this bad

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Entering the 2016-17 season, John Wall said he and Bradley Beal have a “tendency to dislike each other on the court.”

That year, the Wizards won 49 games and a playoff series – their best season in nearly four decades.

Dysfunction in Washington is nothing new. Losing through it is a change from the recent past.

The Wizards have not had a losing record in the previous five years. They made the playoffs in four of those years and won a postseason series in three.

Talent tends to win out, and with Wall and Beal, Washington has plenty.

But that hasn’t been enough this season. Washington is 5-11 and reportedly open to trading Wall and Beal.

This is the bottom falling out like never before in NBA history.

Wall and Beal have both proven themselves as All-Stars. Wall is just 28, and Beal is 25. Neither has missed a game this season.

Here’s every time since the NBA-ABA merger a team has had two prior All-Stars age 28-and-under play at least a third of team’s games and had a losing record, sorted by win percentage:

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Wall and Beal can blame their teammates – and they will. They can blame Dwight Howard‘s injury, as he fills a major hole on the team. They can blame the distortion of a small, 16-game sample. That’s all valid.

But Wall and Beal must be better. Every other team with two healthy prior All-Stars under age 28 has been better. Other such teams have had surrounding problems, too. They still found a way to top this.

I’m not convinced Washington will actually trade Wall or Beal. This seems more like testing the waters. But the pairing certainly isn’t worth insisting on keeping together.

As good as Wall and Beal seem on paper, this just isn’t working.