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.

Dwyane Wade signs ‘lifetime’ deal with Li-Ning

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MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade has signed a lifetime contract with Chinese apparel company Li-Ning.

Wade made the deal official at an event in Beijing on Wednesday with the company’s CEO and namesake Li Ning, who is revered in China for his gymnastics success.

Wade’s relationship with Li-Ning began in 2012, after he previously was an endorser for Converse and Jordan Brand. In addition to the continued production of basketball and lifestyle apparel, the new deal calls for Wade to take “a greater role” in youth developmental camps and basketball clinics in China and other parts of the world over the coming years.

Wade finished last season with the Miami Heat. He has not decided if he will return to the Heat next season, which would be his 16th in the NBA.

New Bulls forward Jabari Parker: ‘They don’t pay players to play defense’

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Jabari Parker never found his footing with the Bucks. Parker’s injuries and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ascension left Parker – a top recruit then No. 2 overall pick – trying (and often failing) to to fit into a complementary role he clearly never envisioned for himself.

After signing a contract to become the Bulls’ highest-paid player, Parker is unapologetically embracing a new mission.

Parker, via 670 The Score:

I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense. There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them.

A better offense wins a championship.

Parker is generally right. Scoring is rewarded far more than defense. If NBA teams don’t want to encourage that attitude, they ought to pay players more for other skills. Until then, players like Parker – who has no salary guarantee beyond this season – will continue to be drawn to scoring.

Parker is also correct that certain players get their points-per-game average no matter what. What he fails to explain: If that player needs too many shots to get it, he hurts his team. Good defenders force inefficiency from their opponents.

But, again, players who get theirs in the points column are often rewarded in salary.

So, expect Parker to hunt his points during his upcoming contract year.

These quotes only reinforce what we’d already seen from Parker. He showed glimpses of strong defense during this year’s playoffs, but that was rare for him. His skill set and approach are offense-first.

And great offense probably beats great defense. But offenses are rarely reliably great. Defense more often can be. The Warriors, as exceptional as they are offensively, are also elite defensively. I’m not sure Parker grasps that.

It’s on Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to convince him, but managing this issue is easier said than done. Not only does Parker bring years of habits to Chicago, he’s playing to prove himself next season. The Bulls have a team option on him for 2019-20.

Parker will most positively affect winning by trying hard on both ends of the floor. He might most positively affect his bank account by saving his energy for offense.

You might not like him saying it, but it’s also reality.

Report: Kawhi Leonard warming to playing for Raptors

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Shortly after the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors, word leaked he didn’t want to play for Toronto.

That stance is apparently softening.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

They’ve been in communication with Kawhi Leonard’s camp. He’s going to play. He’ll be in training camp. He’s healthy. He may be at USA Basketball’s minicamp next week which Gregg Popovich is coaching. That’s possible.

But the one thing I was told today he’s started to warm to the idea that he’s going to a contender. He’s got a team that could be as good as anybody in the Eastern Conference.

And now it’s on Toronto to try to recruit him, keep him. But in his mind right now, he’s headed to L.A. next year.

Leonard has little choice but to get on board. If he withheld services from the Raptors, they could fine him – eventually all the way up to his entire $20,099,189 salary for next season. Perhaps even more catastrophically, if it was determined he withheld services for more than 30 days of the season, he could be denied free agency entirely.

Maybe he could have finessed using his injury as an excuse rather than explicitly holding out. It has been threatened before. But that’s hard to manage and would have hurt his stock among all teams, including his preferred destination(s).

The best way for Leonard to get everything he wants is going to Toronto, playing well then becoming a free agent next summer.

I’d advise Leonard to keep an open mind until then. It might have made sense to posture against the Raptors to discourage a trade. But the trade has happened. Maybe he’ll join Toronto and like it more than he expects.

Paul George didn’t expect to stay with the Thunder, but he considered them throughout the season and found a long-term home. I don’t expect that to repeat with Leonard and the Raptors, but it could. Why close the option?

If not, Los Angeles will always be waiting.

Report: Spurs wanted to declare Kawhi Leonard out for the season, but he wouldn’t let them

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In February, Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again during the 2017-18 season. Leonard didn’t, but the Spurs never followed Popovich’s doubt with a clear statement on Leonard’s status. Instead, Popovich repeatedly deferred questions of Leonard’s health in the following months to Leonard’s “group.”

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Privately, officials within organization had hoped Leonard would let the Spurs declare him out for the season due to his injury, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Believing he’d eventually return, Leonard declined each time

Did Leonard not realize this made him – not the Spurs – look bad? Especially once it leaked he’d been cleared medically. Especially when he told the team repeatedly and public once he’d return soon but never did.

Perhaps, this was just genuine competitiveness. Maybe Leonard really thought, or at least wanted to believe, a return was around the corner. This could have been him valiantly never giving up.

But there’s a reason teams usually err on the side of caution in long-term injury announcements. It’s to protect the player from looking bad for remaining out if he’s not quite ready as quickly as initially projected.

The Pacers received a disabled-player exception for Paul George in 2014-15, and he still beat the odds to return late in the year. The Celtics called Gordon Hayward out for this season and weren’t going to stray from that public stance until he suited up, even when – for a moment – it appeared he had a chance of returning.

Even if the Spurs publicly declared him out for the rest of the year, nothing would have stopped Leonard from playing. It’s not a binding resolution. Instead, he repeatedly missing targeted return dates and looked soft to many because of it.

And he insisted on the strategy that led to that perception!

This is just more evidence those around Leonard might not know what they’re doing.