Western Conference Round 2 Playoff Preview: Los Angeles vs. Dallas

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SEASON RECORDS
Mavericks: 57-25 (No. 3 seed in Western Conference)
Lakers: 57-25 (No. 2 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Lakers 2-1, and Los Angeles dominated the last two between these teams in March (during the Lakers post All-Star Game hot streak).

PLAYOFF SERIES
Mavericks: defeated the Portland Trailblazers 4-2
Lakers: defeated New Orleans Hornets 4-2

SERIES SCHEDULE (times Eastern)
Game 1 – Mon May 2 at L.A. Lakers 10:30PM (TNT)
Game 2 – Wed May 4 at L.A. Lakers 10:30PM (TNT)
Game 3 – Fri May 6 at Dallas 9:30PM (ESPN)
Game 4 – Sun May 8 at Dallas 3:30PM (ABC)
Game 5 * Tue May 10 at L.A. Lakers TBD (TNT)
Game 6 * Thu May 12 at Dallas TBD (ESPN)
Game 7 * Sun May 15 at L.A. Lakers 3:30PM (ABC)
* if necessary

KEY INJURIES
Lakers: Kobe Bryant has a sprained ankle that is going to continue playing through. After a few days off he should be near 100 percent.
Mavericks: Caron Butler has been close to return after knee surgery and will push to be back for this series, although how much he can play even if he does return is a valid question.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per possession)
Lakers: Offense 107.9 (7th in NBA); Defense 101.3 (6th in NBA)
Mavericks: Offense 107.6 (8th in NBA); Defense 102.3 (7th in NBA)

THREE KEY LAKERS

Andrew Bynum. In the final couple games of the New Orleans series, the Lakers seemed to find their defensive stride again. Andrew Bynum is at the heart of that; his ability to contest shots at the rim and rebound is key. He will have a stiff challenge as he will have Tyson Chandler, one of the best defensive centers in the game on him. But Bynum needs to keep Chandler occupied so he is not the spectacular help defender Chandler can be.

Pau Gasol. He will be matched up on Dirk Nowitzki in a battle of two of the best power forwards in the game. Nobody stops Nowitzki, but if Gasol can make him work on the defensive end and contest those fadeaways he can at least make the big German less efficient it will go a long way to helping the Lakers chances.

Lamar Odom. He will come off the bench and get a lot of time on Dirk Nowitzki, he gives the Lakers another long defender to throw at him and one more comfortable out on the perimeter as a defender than Gasol. Both the Lakers and Mavericks bring scoring off the bench with their sixth men, but the Lakers with Odom bring more size and that can be key for Los Angeles.

THREE KEY MAVERICKS

Tyson Chandler. He is potentially the difference maker in this series — he needs to be able to mark Andrew Bynum and still be a fierce help defender in the paint. He is going to have to own the boards. He was a dominant force in the Portland series (especially Game 5) but he going to have to play like that or better for Dallas to have any chance in this series.

Dirk Nowitzki. Obviously, Dirk is at the heart of the Mavericks offense. But he also will have to guard Pau Gasol on defense. Nowitzki would like to make Gasol work so hard on defense that his offense is less efficient. He’ll also have to rebound and make plays inside to negate the Lakers size up front. He was a force against Portland but he will have to play better this round.

Jason Terry. Last time these two met Terry’s biggest play was to push Steve Blake then start a little ruckus that got Matt Barnes ejected. He’ll have to do more than that now. No, we don’t mean push Kobe, we mean scoring. Terry carried the Mavericks offense for stretches against Portland with his quickness and shot making, and he will have to step up and score a lot against the Lakers to give them an edge in bench play.

OUTLOOK

The last two times these two teams met in the regular season, the Lakers dominated and won handily. In the second game the Lakers even sent a little message, having Pau Gasol in the game late in the fourth quarter well after the game had been decided. The Lakers wanted Dallas to know who was the alpha dog.

The Lakers went through a slump since then, but seemed to get that footing back at the end of the Hornets series. Los Angeles looked like a contender again.

Dallas played physical ball against Portland, but they have struggled to stand up to the Lakers brand of physicality in recent contests. The Lakers are longer, a little more athletic and with that more skilled. Plus, they have traditionally struggled to stop Kobe Bryant from going off (remember te 62 points in three quarters). It’s a tough combo to deal with. Dallas just doesn’t run into that and it throws them off their game. Dallas may be the deeper team, but that is not going to help much now when the stars can play 40 minutes a night.

Dallas could use some big minutes from Roddy Beaubois, who is back from another injury and had an off regular season but who provides the kind of quickness and playmaking the Lakers struggle to contain at the point. If not from Beaubois, Dallas needs to get that from somewhere.

Dallas in beating Portland stood up to a team that wants to be physical and Dallas closed the series out by winning on the road. That is what Dallas has to do to have a chance in the next round, they just have to do it against a much better team than they just faced.

PREDICTION

Dallas can push the Lakers when Tyson Chandler is playing well. But unless they get something from Beaubois or some unexpected offense from somewhere, it’s hard to see how this ends much differently than the teams’ regular season meetings. Given the Lakers penchant for closing series out on the road, we’ll say

Lakers in 6.

After full season in Europe, Luka Doncic not expected to play in Summer League

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Deandre Ayton played 35 games for Arizona last season. Marvin Bagley III played 33 games last season for Duke. Jarnen Jackson Jr. played 35 for Michigan State. None of them played past March.

Luka Doncic played 61 games for Real Madrid — at a higher level than NCAA basketball — and the season ended two days before the NBA Draft. Plus in Europe, the practices are often far more strenuous than the games (many teams keep doing two-a-days through the season).

Not surprisingly after that long a season Dallas is not going to ask Doncic to play in the Las Vegas Summer League, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

This was expected in most quarters no matter who drafted Doncic. Rest and recovery matter more than getting him into the glorified pickup games of Summer League.

Doncic will be ready to go when the season starts, and he will be one of the favorites to win Rookie of the Year.

Former Spur Bruce Bowen rips Kawhi Leonard for asking out after injury

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For years, players have bought into “the Spurs way” not just on the court but off — it was always about what’s best for the team first. That meant Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and others taking discounts from the max salary they could have earned at points to help the team keep the roster to do that. Sacrifice was part of the game.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that former Spurs are closing ranks around Gregg Popovich and the franchise in the wake of Kawhi Leonard pushing his way out the door following missing most of last season with a leg injury.  It was the treatment of that leg injury — Leonard did not trust the Spurs’ doctors and got a second opinion that saw things differently — which started the rift, although the advice from Leonard’s uncle/advisor and agent also play a role in widening the gap.

On SiriusXM NBA Radio this week (h/t ESPN) former Spur Bruce Bowen ripped into Leonard for complaining about his treatment.

“First, it was, ‘Well I was misdiagnosed.’ Look here: You got $18 million this year, and you think that they’re trying to rush you? You didn’t play for the most part a full season this year. And you’re the go-to guy, you’re the franchise and you want to say that they didn’t have your best interest at heart? Are you kidding me?…

“I think he’s getting bad advice,” Bowen said. “I think what you’re starting to see now is an individual given a certain amount of advice, and it’s not the right advice. Here it is: You were protected in San Antonio. You were able to come up during a time where you still could lean on Tim [Duncan] Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili]…

“As a player, if I’m a leader of a team, my team goes on the road in the playoffs, I’m with my guys,” he said. “Because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about camaraderie. It’s about fellowship. It’s a brotherhood. When that didn’t happen, it’s all kinds of sirens and alarm signals that says to me, ‘Is this person fully vested?’ … I don’t want to take on a player who’s not willing to support his guys during the course of their time needing him.”

Bowen added, “there’s nothing but excuses going on.”

The backlash to Leonard is to be expected, particularly from those in San Antonio (not so much from people in Los Angeles, where Leonard is trying to force himself to). The injury treatment started the rift, but Leonard is putting his desires in front of those of the team and franchise — and that’s his right, he’s far from the first player to do that. It’s just not something we have seen from San Antonio. The Spurs have long sought out not only guys who could play on the court but guys who fit a mold personality wise and would put the team first. On the court Leonard had done that, going back to when he won Finals MVP. Now, off it, he has had a change of heart, for whatever reason (or reasons).

Bowen is more outspoken than most, but this will be the sentiment out of San Antonio if Leonard leaves.

That is not going to change the reality on the ground, however.

Michael Porter Jr.’s status for Summer League, next season unclear

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Blake Griffin. Joel Embiid. Ben Simmons. Most recently, Harry Giles.

NBA teams are not afraid to sit an injured player throughout his rookie year, not if they think there’s a payoff on the other side.

Thursday night during the NBA Draft concerns about Michael Porter Jr.’s surgically repaired back (among other things) had the guy considered a potential top pick a year ago sliding down the board to Denver at No. 14. That’s potentially a steal for the Nuggets, but even at the press conference immediately after the pick Nuggets’ president of basketball operations Tim Connelly sounded very cautious.

A day later, speaking to Marc Spears of The Undefeated at ESPN, both Porter Jr. and the Nuggets’ owner/president were suggesting he is out for Summer League and could have a redshirt year next season.

Porter Jr. said the day before the draft that it was possible he could miss summer league action through injury…

Nuggets president Josh Kroenke told The Undefeated he was uncertain about whether Porter Jr. would play in summer league or during the 2018-19 season.

According to reports, Porter Jr. was showing a slight limp at his introductory press conference with the Nuggets Friday.

The Nuggets are right to be cautious here and think long-term. It would be a shock to see Porter Jr. at Summer League in July. Could he lace up his shoes and play at some point next season? Maybe. Depends on his rehab and how he progresses, but the Nuggets have zero fear of letting him sit out a season. This is a team that just missed the playoffs last season and is expected to take a step forward this time around without Porter — they don’t need him to be good, they have Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and the rest.

Porter needs to get healthy, and that very well may mean sitting out a season. Then when he does play accept a role and go from there.

Take 2: Collin Sexton to wear Kyrie Irving’s jersey number with Cavaliers

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Collin Sexton endeared himself to the Cavaliers with his competitive streak, speed and attitude long before they picked him in the NBA draft.

His jersey number showed them something else: He’s fearless.

Sexton made quite a first impression by deciding to take No. 2, his college number but also the one previously worn in Cleveland by All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. After showing off his jersey at a news conference Friday, Sexton said he doesn’t feel pressure to live up to Irving’s high standards.

“Not at all,” he said. “Coming in, I’m going to set goals for myself and then as well there’s going to be team goals set. But I feel like I’m not going to have to live up to anybody’s shoes, but I’m going to come in and learn and be the best player I can be on the court as well as off the court.”

Some Cleveland fans feel No. 2 should be retired. After all, Irving made the biggest shot in franchise history in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals before asking to be traded last summer to escape the daunting shadow cast by LeBron James.

Maybe one day No. 2 will hang in the rafters. For now, it belongs to Sexton.

With an eye toward rebuilding – and maybe persuading James to re-sign this summer – the Cavs selected Sexton, the lightning-quick Alabama point guard, on Thursday night with the No. 8 overall pick. As a freshman, the 19-year-old Sexton carried the Crimson Tide to the NCAA Tournament, for a brief time giving the school’s rabid football fans a late-winter diversion before coach Nick Saban blew his whistle in spring practice.

The Cavs believe Sexton, who earned his “Young Bull” nickname in high school for his charge-ahead playing style, can help them finally offset the loss of Irving. Without him, Cleveland lacked a dependable second-scoring option for James; the club spent the entire season with a virtual revolving door at the position as coach Tyronn Lue started eight point guards.

Irving’s absence was never felt more than in the Finals as the Golden State Warriors only had to concentrate on James. The Cavs didn’t have another player capable of breaking down their defense.

Sexton gives Cleveland a new weapon.

He’s in good hands. At Alabama, Sexton played for former NBA guard Avery Johnson, and he’s being passed to Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, a 14-year pro looking forward to developing the youngster.

“I’ve watched him play,” Lue said. “I understand who he is as a player and as a person, talked to his parents a lot throughout the course of his college selection, so I know them very well. I’m just excited, man. To be able to have a young talent that I can help mold and build and make better and teach him what suit to wear, what shoes to wear with a suit, how to tie a tie, when you go to dinner, things like that that Bryan Shaw and Robert Horry and Ron Harper and those guys taught me, so I’m very excited about that.”

Sexton wowed the Cavs during his personal workout, which came one day after Cleveland was swept by the Warriors. He attended Game 4, and as he witnessed James, Kevin Durant and others competing at the highest level the game offers, Sexton could imagine one day being part of the action.

“Like the seats were shaking,” he said. “Fans were screaming. Just I feel like I’ll be ready to play in something like that when it’s my time.”

Sexton smiled throughout his introductory news conference, which came following a nearly sleepless night in New York. And while he came across as easygoing and affable, there’s a darker side to Sexton.

On the floor, he’s ferocious.

“When you get between those lines, there’s no friends,” he said. “When you get between those lines it’s us against them, and we’re trying to win. It’s like a switch that cuts on. It’s go time when you get on the court.”