NBA Playoffs: Dallas stands up to Lakers front line, lead 2-0

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The Lakers are back-to-back champions for two key reasons. One is Kobe Bryant.

The other is that nobody has been able to stand up to their front line. There are 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, plus 6’10” Lamar Odom — all very long and very skilled. All very hard to stop.

Dallas has.

That is why Dallas won Game 2 93-81, and is up 2-0 series. The Mavericks have won both games on the Lakers home court. They have stood toe-to-toe to the Lakers strength and not given up an inch. These are not the soft-as-tissue-paper Mavericks, and they are in total control of this series now.

For two games now Dallas has shut Gasol down, been more physical inside than Los Angeles, blocked shots and done what no team has consistently done for two seasons now. In Game 2 the Lakers were 13-of-23 at the rim (shots basically inside the restricted area) and 5-of-13 from there out to 9 feet.

Every team talks about standing up to the Lakers inside, but Dallas is doing it.

“For us, we have a lot of size,” Mavs center Brendan Haywood said. “Most teams come in don’t have the size that we have — Tyson (Chandler) is 7-feet, Dirk (Nowitzki) is 7-feet, I’m 7-feet. We have a lot of size we can throw at them and we can challenge shots at the rim.”

Pau Gasol was only 3-of-6 at the rim, Lamar Odom 1-of-6. Dallas challenged everything. Even DeShawn Stevenson was getting blocks on Gasol.

Dallas was able to pack the paint and challenge those shots because the Lakers outside shooting. Or more accurately, the lack of it. Particularly from three. The jump shots were worse than what was going on in the paint.

Los Angeles started 0-for-15 from three. They didn’t hit one — the first was a Kobe pull up — until there was just more than two minutes left and the game was all but decided.

The Lakers offense is all about spacing — if you pack the paint you have to leave someone open. Dallas did. The Lakers missed and did not make them pay.

Dallas held the Lakers to 32 second half points.

The Mavericks sealed the win with a brilliant second half from J.J. Barea, who had 12 points and four assits. The diminutive Puerto Rican guard — to look at him, he would be the last guy picked in your pickup-game at the YMCA — carved up the Lakers defense off the pick-and-roll and the Lakers defended it terribly. Odom and Gasol did not show out well, basically creating a second screen for Steve Blake or Shannon Brown to fight through. Then Barea used that to charge right at Bynum or whatever big had to protect the paint, then he’d hit the open man.

That followed the theme of the first two games.

These Lakers leave the door open. They make mistakes. From poor pick-and-roll coverage to missing threes to going away from Andrew Bynum when he was the best Laker big on the night (6-of-6 a the rim and with 18 points on 11 shots overall).

Dallas has capitalized. The Lakers have made mistakes in the past but been able to overcome — Dallas is showing mental and physical toughness, a veteran poise, and they are making the Lakers pay for their lapses.

Dallas has been the better team. Nowitzki has been nothing short of brilliant, drilling his unstoppable rainbow fadeaway on his way to 24 points in Game 2.

Now the Lakers will need to win in Dallas to keep this series going. They are going to have to do it in Game 3 Friday without Ron Artest, who will get suspended for a late cheap shot on Barea.

Dallas to a man said they were wary of the Lakers championship pedigree. They said this series is not over.

It doesn’t feel like that. It feels like Dallas is going to keep on standing toe-to-toe with the Lakers, punching them in the mouth and soon will be looking to throw the knockout punch.

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

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Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).

NBA refutes viral Reddit post claiming conspiracy to pad Jaren Jackson Jr.’s stats

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Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a defensive monster since coming back from foot surgery, something obvious by the eye test but backed up by impressive stats: 3.1 blocks and a steal a game, opposing players are shooting 44% on shots he contests and when he is on the court the Grizzlies have. 106.8 defensive rating (which would be best in the league by more than three points). He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year right now.

That led to a conspiracy theory post on Reddit about how the Memphis scorekeeper is padding Jackson’s stats, calling his numbers fraudulent. The post went viral — we all love to think we’re in on something nobody else knows — and has gotten to the point some Las Vegas sportsbooks have taken down Defensive Player of the Year betting.

The conspiracy theory does not hold water. At all.

The NBA pushed back on that theory by reminding people that all NBA stats are audited in real-time by someone watching the video in Secaucus (rebound or blocked shots being changed during a game is not uncommon because of this).

“In order to ensure the integrity of our game statistics, auditors, independent of the statisticians on-site, review all plays and stats decisions in real-time during NBA games,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank told NBC Sports. “If changes are necessary, they are made at that time or following a postgame review. All of the plays questioned in the post on Memphis games were scored consistently within the rules set forth by the NBA statisticians manual.”

Reddit has now labeled the post “Misleading.”

Another Reddit user compiled videos of the alleged stat padding incidents called out in the post, but watching them proves the NBA’s point that these were correctly assigned. For example, Jackson gets credit for steals on tipped balls, which is how steals are calculated. The video showed that many fans don’t understand the rules and definitions of what constitutes a steal or a block.

On a more fundamental level than that, the NBA now has gambling and fantasy sports partners — if there was stat padding, those entities would be on it and the first to call out the league. The league’s statistics are big business — you can bet on the number of blocks or rebounds that Jackson or other players will get — and those gambling and fantasy entities also watch the games closely.

But we’ll be talking about this conspiracy theory again when NBA awards season pops up, because people want to believe, even in the face of evidence proving they are wrong. Not that we needed basketball to teach us that lesson.

 

Report: Nuggets might consider Bones Hyland trade for defensive help

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A year ago, it felt like the Nuggets had found their long-term backup point guard in rookie Bones Hyland, a guy who could be part of the rotation when Jamal Murray returned. Except, in his second season, Hyland hasn’t taken a step forward — although his play has been better and more aggressive in recent weeks — and free agent Bruce Brown has shown he can play some backup one (even if he is more of a combo guard).

That has the Nuggets considering trading Hyland if they can get defensive help, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

After his name was discussed in trade conversations around last June’s NBA Draft, Denver begun gauging the trade value of second-year guard Bones Hyland, sources said…. While Hyland has two years remaining on his rookie deal, in anticipation of Brown’s next payday [Note: He is expected to opt out and test the market], plus Hyland’s upcoming second contract, has the tax-conscious Nuggets considering their options in the backcourt. Occasional clashes between Hyland and head coach Michael Malone’s old-school mentality have also been a factor in Denver’s trade dialogue, sources said.

In exchange for Hyland, the Nuggets have expressed an interest in defensive-minded frontcourt players, sources said, and will search for a player plus a first-round pick.

Brown has played his way to a bigger contract than the $6.8 million player option he has for next season, but the Nuggets are already big spenders and not looking to go deep into the tax (Nikola Jokic’s extension kicks in next season at about $46.9 million a year to start, and both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will make north of $33 million next season). It is possible the Nuggets let Brown walk and keep Hyland, still on his rookie contract and set to make $2.3 million next season, partly for financial reasons. Hyland is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 38.5% from 3, but he struggles defensively (which is where the clashes with Malone come in).

Denver has a chance to win the West this season and defense is what will decide if that happens — if the Nuggets can land another wing/forward defender, they may jump at it and worry about the backup one spot next summer. However, finding that player in a high-priced seller’s market may prove the biggest challenge — several teams are looking for that same kind of defensive help.

Report: Trail Blazers trying to extend Grant (with no luck), open to trade of Hart, Nurkic

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The Trail Blazers maxed out Damian Lillard last summer and promised to try and build a contender in the West around him. It hasn’t worked out that way, the Trail Blazers are 23-25 and sitting 12th in the West with a bottom-10 defense.

Which has pushed them to be possible sellers at the trade deadline — but not with Jerami Grant, who they are trying to extend, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports. Grant, however, can get more from Portland as a free agent.

Jerami Grant became eligible for a contract extension with the Trail Blazers earlier this month, and Portland has offered the athletic forward his maximum possible deal of four years, $112 million, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Grant has not accepted the offer, sources said, largely because the Blazers can extend him a larger contract with an additional fifth year once free agency begins June 30.

While Fischer notes that this summer the Trail Blazers could max out Grant (five years, $233 million) he’s not getting that contract either. Maybe the middle ground is in the five-year, $160 million range, but whatever the number is Grant isn’t looking to bolt the Pacific Northwest. Look what he told Jason Quick of The Athletic:

“I definitely like it here; love it here,’’ Grant said. “The guys have been very welcoming, it’s definitely a family environment, everybody is super cool, got good guys on the team, great organization — Joe, Chauncey, everything. I’m definitely enjoying it here…

“I ain’t really plan on leaving,” he said.

Two players who could be leaving — via trade — are Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic. They are drawing interest as Portland considers shaking things up, Fischer reports.

Portland has given rival teams the impression that it is open to discussing the majority of its players, particularly Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic, sources said, as the franchise remains committed to building a playoff contender around Lillard. Portland has engaged teams with an eye toward size with athleticism, plus wing-shooting defenders, sources said. Hart has become one of the buzzier names among league executives this week, as he’s expected to decline a $12.9 million player option for the 2023-24 season.

Hart is a front-office favorite around the league — at least on his old contract — and is seen as a versatile role player who has become a plus defender, can hit some 3s (33% from deep this season but 37.3% last season), and can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He could fit in a lot of teams’ rotation, there will be interest, but with him on an expiring contract, the offers will not be high.

Nurkic, who signed a four-year $70 million contract last summer, is averaging 14.1 points per game, is shooting 38.5% from 3 and is grabbing 9.7 boards a night. He’s also averaging a career-high 2.6 turnovers a night (one of the culprits of the Blazers’ sometimes sloppy play), and while not a negative defender has not been the kind of anchor the Blazers hoped for this season.

Portland needs to do something. Lillard has returned from injury to play at an All-NBA level — even dropping a 60-spot the other night — but even after all their summer moves this is the same old Portland team with not enough around Lillard to threaten the top teams in the West.