NBA Playoffs: Dallas, Los Angeles finally meet in postseason

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Seriously, how has this not happened before?

The Dallas Mavericks have been to the playoffs 11 consecutive years reaching all the NBA finals one time. The Lakers have been the Lakers in that same time, having been one of the most dominant teams in the NBA.

Yet there has been no playoff meetings between these teams since the 1988 Western Conference finals, when Mark Aguirre and Rolando Blackman were leading the Mavs.

In recent years, the Lakers have dominated regular season meetings, winning 2-of-3 this season, because like everyone else the Mavericks have struggled to deal with the Lakers length up front.

Which makes Tyson Chandler the biggest key to this series for Dallas. He is arguably the best defensive center in the game and he will play the role of Sisyphus in this series, given the task of slowing the Lakers in the paint. Sure, he will get Andrew Bynum primarily while Dirk Nowitzki will get time on Pau Gasol, but in the end Chandler is the backstop. He has to alter shots from whomever is hot and clean up the glass or Dallas is in trouble.

Dallas has another problem — Kobe Bryant. Another problem no team has an easy time with, but Dallas has the added issue of not having a good defensive matchup for him. Not the older Jason Kidd for sure, and if Jason Terry is on him Kobe will go straight to the post and attack him. (Portland went at Terry and they don’t have a Kobe-like talent.) Shawn Marion and DeShawn Stevenson will split time, but both of those are not ideal either (because of matchup problems for Marion and offense problems for Stevenson).

On offense, Dallas needs to space out the floor by hitting threes, and they have to get to the free throw line. Two things they struggle to do against the Lakers in the regular season, but they have to find a way in this series.

Dallas also is going to need a big series from Dirk Nowitzki, but he will be guarded by the long Gasol and Lamar Odom. He has to get his no matter what, and still be efficient.

Dallas is going to need someone to make plays at the point — that is the Lakers weakness. But can Jason Kidd do that? Is it J.J. Barea off the bench?

The real secret chance for Dallas is Rodrigue Beaubois. He missed most of the season recovering from a foot injury and was never right. He missed the start of the first round of the playoffs and was almost moot. But he is the kind of quick, slashing guard that gives the Lakers trouble. Dallas will need him.

These games are going to be close — they almost always are when these teams meet. But in the end the Lakers pull out the win. Consistently. And Game 1 might be just like that.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.

Report: Chris Paul’s hamstring injury ‘not good’

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The question looming over the Western Conference finals: How is Chris Paul?

The Rockets revealed little last night about Paul’s hamstring injury. Time to see how his body responded would provide clarity.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

That stinks. It’s also a fairly expected development. Paul appeared to be in rough shape before leaving the court.

The Rockets have bought themselves margin for error, but a sidelined or even hobbled Paul would sap a lot of it.

If Paul can’t play in Game 6 tomorrow, expect Eric Gordon and James Harden to receive a larger offensive roles (though not necessarily more minutes). Gerald Green could play more, and maybe Luc Mbah a Moute gets back into the rotation.