NBA Playoff Preview: Dallas vs. Portland

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SEASON RECORDS
Mavericks: 57-25 (No. 3 seed)
Trail Blazers: 48-34 (No. 6 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Tied 2-2, with Portland winning the most recent two games including one just two weeks ago (a game Tyson Chandler missed, so be careful about reading much into it).

KEY INJURIES
Mavericks: Roddy Beaubois sprained his foot in the season finale, and while X-rays were negative he may miss at least some of the first round; Caron Butler has been ruled out after knee surgery.
Trail Blazers: Of the guys left on the roster and expected to play, there are no significant injuries. Brandon Roy’s knees are relatively fine, for example. We could list all the Portland injuries from this season but it would take up the entire Internet.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Mavericks: Off. 107.6 (8th in NBA); 102.3 (7th in NBA)
Trail Blazers: Off. 105.6 (10th in NBA); 104.2 (14th in NBA)

THREE KEY MAVERICKS

Roddy Beaubois: There are things we know about the Dallas offense — Dirk Nowitzki is going to hit long two-pointers with a hand in his face, Jason Kidd is going to knock down threes and makes some nifty passes, and so on. We know what to expect. What Beaubois provides is the unexpected — the burst of speed, the creativity. Well, he does when he’s healthy. Like seemingly everything about the Mavericks this season Beaubois has been inconsistent, and now injuries may keep him out for part of the first round. But Dallas could use him. It needs the energy he brings.

Tyson Chandler: He has rightfully been credited as being key to the Mavericks defensive turnaround this season, there’s nothing like having a big guy who will defend the rim on your team. And he’s better offensively than he gets credit for. But like all things Mavs, the defense has been inconsistent this season, and he needs to anchor its revival. LaMarcus Aldridge cannot be allowed to take over games, Portland penetration has to be cut off, and that falls to Chandler.

Jason Terry: Portland is a very deep team and Terry coming off the bench will need to provide points to the second unit of the Mavs to make sure Portland does not get on runs while some of the starters catch their breath. Also, Jason Kidd has had some tough games against Portland this season, twice going scoreless, and Dallas needs points from the backcourt. If Kidd is off again, Terry will have to step up on offense.

THREE KEY TRAIL BLAZERS

LaMarcus Aldridge: He had big games in Portland’s two regular season wins over Dallas — but both times there was no Tyson Chandler in his way. Now there will be but Portland still needs big nights out of their leading scorer. He has to get boards, particularly offensive ones, as well. Aldridge needs to attack and if he can get Chandler into foul trouble that will be big for the Trail Blazers.

Brandon Roy: He is not going to take over this series, but he can take over a game. Back on March 15 he dropped 21 on Dallas and keyed the win. If he can be solid off the bench then have that one game or two where he looks like the old Brandon Roy and can help them steal a game, Portland’s chances improve. The long layoffs between games in the first round may help him a lot.

Gerald Wallace: He will be matched up on Dirk Nowitzki. There may be no better maker of contested shots in the league than Dirk (‘Melo is right there, too) but Wallace has to make Nowitzki work for his shots and live with the results. Also, Wallace needs to go at Nowitzki and make him work on defense, as well. Wear him down. It’s not about stopping Dirk, it’s about making him less efficient and effective.

OUTLOOK

Maybe the best first round series, period. These two teams are very evenly matched. It’s going to be late game execution and unexpected players stepping up that will be key…

But the big key is the bigs. The Chandler/Aldridge matchup will be the barometer of this series — when Aldridge gets his Portland stands a real chance of winning. When Chandler owns the paint and Portland is taking too many jump shots and not getting rebounds, Dallas will win.

Dallas’ defense has been inconsistent of late — don’t be shocked if they got back to a lot of the matchup zone they used earlier in the season to try and even things out. They cannot have off defensive games in this series, it is evenly matched and they will be challenged to win even when they are on.

The battle of the benches will also be a lot here — Portland rolls out Roy, Rudy Fernandez and Wes Mathews (catch the fever!). That is a group capable of winning a game with hot three-point shooting. Jason Terry, JJ Barea and their bench can do the same thing for Dallas. It’s just another barometer in what will be a very close series.

PREDICTION

Flip a coin. It’s been trendy to pick against Dallas lately, people are forgetting just how good they really are. They can play well at both ends.

I’m not forgetting, but I like what Wallace can do for Portland on Dirk, and I like the bench of Portland to steal a couple games, and that will be enough. Fear Wes Mathews!

Trail Blazers in 6.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.