NBA Playoffs: Dirk Nowitzki is better than you as Mavs take 2-0 lead

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Some playoff series are emotionally exhausting because of the extreme highs and lows. Then there’s Mavericks-Blazers, which is like a sixteen hour day of manual labor. You’re going to want to pass out about six times, you’re going to get injured, and you’re going to be pumped when you make progress.

The Blazers are bloodied. The Mavericks are pumped.

Dallas is up 2-0 after a 101-89 win.

Another game of runs. A 12-5 opener from the Blazers, an 11-4 streak from the Mavs. A 7-0 run by the Blazers, a 14-5 rush by Dallas, and a 9-2 close from the Mavericks to put it away. Every time one team gets a hold, the other team responds, until the 4th quarter rolls around.

Then it’s Dirk Nowitzki time.

Nowitzki has 32 points in two fourth quarters of this series. And after another terrible shooting night for three frames, Nowitzki took over in the final quadrant this game. The elbow turnaround fadeaway? Check. The baseline spin and lift? Yup. And a very special “recover the lost drive under the basket, go straight up and drop it in over LaMarcus Aldridge” splash. That’ll be all, Blazers. Back to Rip City and the drawing board.

The Blazers did get a fair amount of things go right for them in this game, especially early. Crash Wallace got off the snide, scoring 18 points and adding 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Wallace got out in transition a lot early to capitalize on Mavericks’ turnovers. Then things dried up in the second half. Why? The Mavs stopped turning the ball over. And I don’t mean that  in terms of “oh, they Mavericks were sloppy early and then got a little better.” No.

The Mavericks went 27 minutes, stretching from the 2nd quarter through the end of the game, without a turnover. That’s ridiculous. That’s impressive. And that’s something that will absolutely choke you out if you’re a team trying to push the tempo. The Blazers tried to get out and run, but instead when the Mavericks stopped turning the ball over were worked back into a grind again. It sounds weird for such a good defensive team in Portland to need transition opportunities, especially considering the long-time identity of the Mavericks for the past ten years as a high octane, fast pace offense. But that’s the reality, as the Mavericks’ newfound defensive intensity and accuracy in limited sets make their game more conducive to slowing it down in the half-court set.

Jason Kidd went off, again, scoring 18 points on 7-11 shooting, including 3-6 from the arc. If Kidd keeps shooting like that, what are the Blazers going to do? Andre Miller has had trouble with him. Wesley Matthews had trouble with him. The Blazers need a guard to check Jason Kidd, which they probably didn’t figure coming in. Surprise!

But the Blazers had success in some areas. LaMarcus Aldridge remains a capable counter to Nowitzki offensively. Andre Miller and Wesley Matthews shot well. But the bench really failed. Brandon Roy was held scoreless in eight minutes, which is just kind of sad and let’s all not look at it because I don’t want to cry for the poor guy. If you want one weird outlier? Peja Stojakovic scored 21 points and shot 5-10 from the arc. If Peja is giving them anything, that’s an issue for Portland, especially when Rudy Fernandez is only scoring 1 point.

So the struggle heads to Portland in front of the usually raucous crowd. Dallas will need to overcome the emotional boost if they want to close this thing out in short order. But given how much the Mavericks have had go right in the first two games and how close the series has been through two games? Don’t count on it.

It’s a long working day. Sun’s just getting started.

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.