NBA Playoffs: Dallas is just better than the Lakers

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The Dallas Mavericks are better than the Los Angeles Lakers.

It is a weird thing to type, but it’s true. They may not have been for 40 minutes, 30 seconds on Friday night — the Lakers were up eight points with 7:30 left in the game — but the Mavericks offense dominated the rest of the way. Dallas won 98-92, on a huge, late comeback.

Dallas will move on. These two teams will play at least one more game or three because the rules demand it — but this series is over. Not because no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit before in the NBA playoffs, but because right now Dallas is better than Los Angeles.

Kobe Bryant was rightfully frustrated afterward, talking about the Lakers’ mistakes; there were plenty. But Dallas is forcing them. This is about Dallas doing the things a contender does and the Lakers being unable to this year.

Dallas has the single best player in this series in Dirk Nowitzki (he had 32 points in this one on just 19 shots). Each game someone else has stepped up and made the key plays to be the other scorer Dallas needs (Peja Stojakovic with 11 in the fourth quarter Friday). Dallas is executing better in the fourth quarter. Dallas is getting better coaching (or at least the Dallas players are executing what the coach wants).

When the Lakers led by eight in the fourth quarter, Dallas started to rain threes down — the Mavs shot 60 percent in the fourth quarter. It was not the two-time defending champs, it was Dallas that closed.

The Lakers played a much better defensive game in the second and third quarters, the best they played in this series. Their spacing, their aggressiveness on closeouts were better. At least it got better after a first-quarter shootout, with the Mavs knocking down open 3-pointers and the Lakers working hard on getting the ball inside.

Andrew Bynum was a beast inside; it may have been his best game as a pro. He finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, but he was by far the most energetic and motivated Laker on the floor. His steal out at the 3-point line and finishing dunk was a signature play… or would have been if the Lakers had won.

But the Lakers never pulled away. Dallas has been too good all series to let the game slip away. This is where Jason Terry’s 23 points came in, he was the scoring spark the Mavs needed.

Then in the fourth quarter the Mavs started to rain threes on the Lakers. The Lakers stopped helping the helper — one Lakers defender would get beat, another Laker would slide in the paint to help stop penetration but nobody would rotate over to help out the helper. The result was Stojakovic getting wide-open threes. Even Nowitzki got wide-open threes. Kobe was as guilty as anybody. This was the “trust issue” Bynum talked about, and if you define trust by your defensive rotations, then the Lakers still have trust issues.

The use of Stojakovic was brilliant by Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle — the Lakers had gone with three bigs (Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Bynum) but by putting Peja in, it forced Odom to come away from the paint and cover. It spaced the Lakers out and created room for others — which the Mavericks used well.

Dallas executed. The Lakers stopped executing.

As they often do at the end of games, the Lakers threw the triangle out the window and went to isolation or pick-and-roll plays. The result was Bynum not touching the ball once down the stretch. Not once. It was Kobe shooting over double-teams while Odom stood open 12 feet away. It was terrible inbound passes from Fisher. It was a bad foul by Fisher 28 feet from the basket.

Meanwhile, Dallas just kept doing their thing and hitting shots (11-of-28 from three, 39.7 percent).

This is not the end of the Lakers dynasty. The core of this team — Gasol, Bynum, Kobe, Odom, even Ron Artest — are all young enough to make another run. The team needs work, but the core is there to make another run.

But not this year. This year they are done.

The Mavericks are the better team.

Chris Paul injures right hamstring, status unclear for Game 6 vs. Warriors

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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul played the part of the hero for the home team on Thursday night as Houston beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals to take a 3-2 series lead.

Now, the question is whether Paul will be able to play in Game 6 on Saturday night.

After a game in which the Rockets were not particularly offensively impressive, Paul came up with some clutch baskets despite struggling overall. Paul got the better of the Golden State defense several times from beyond the arc, including one instance in which he gave a shoulder shimmy to Stephen Curry, allowing the Warriors guard a dose of his own medicine.

But Paul appeared to injure his right hamstring on a play with 51 seconds to go in fourth quarter as he was shooting a floater in the lane. After his shot, Paul remained on the ground and down at the Houston end of the floor as possession changed sides. Paul left the game some 30 seconds later, and was unable to finish the game.

The Rockets point guard had already been battling a right foot injury and had to get lots of treatment just to be able to play in Game 5. It’s not entirely surprising that Paul injured himself on his right side. A weakened link in the kinetic chain tends to force other muscles and joints to compensate for injured areas. When overused or improperly used, the chance for a new injury in another part of the kinetic chain — say, up the leg and into the hamstring — is entirely possible.

That seems like what happened to Paul on Thursday night, but we will have to wait for official word from the team before we know whether he will be playing on Saturday. Hamstring issues can the nagging and despite lots of treatment there is also the swelling that will occur when Paul has to fly to Oakland.

As expected, Chris Paul said he will be good to go (players are the worst at providing a timeline for their injuries).

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni says that Paul will be evaluated tomorrow and will be continuing to get treatment but he is not worried about someone being able to fill Paul’s shoes. That’s certainly the right thing to say for D’Antoni but we know how Game 6 might go if CP3 is unable to play.

Chris Paul plays the hero as Warriors devolve to iso ball in Game 5 loss

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I personally thought a Western Conference Finals game couldn’t get any uglier after I watched Game 4 between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.

Boy, was I wrong.

Thursday night’s Game 5 matchup between the Rockets and the Warriors two teams produced three heinous quarters of NBA playoff basketball, made even more unbearable by the fact that we know how good these two teams can be when they’re really humming.

Much as it was in Game 4 it was Houston’s defense that was on display, ironically forcing the Warriors to play much in the way the Rockets do when they lose. Golden State battled the shot clock with isolation ball much of the game, with Kevin Durant getting the ball at the top of the arc as some of the league’s top players — including a two-time MVP in Stephen Curry — widened the floor in a 1-4 flat set for the 7-foot wing.

To their credit, both Curry and Durant were in good shooting form through the first half but as the periods ground on they started to slow. Draymond Green was Draymond-y, scoring 12 points while grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds with four assists. Statistically, it’s hard to understand how the Warriors lost. Golden State shot better from the field, from the arc, and from the charity stripe. But their scoring was concentrated and their offense predictable at just the wrong moments.

Houston’s attack was nothing to shake a stick at, either. James Harden‘s scored just 19 points on 5-of-21 shooting, and as a unit the Rockets doled out 12 assists. Incessant switching and a tendency to hound the ball on defense allowed Houston to force a whopping 18 turnovers from Golden State. It was the most important statistic of the game for the Rockets, who scored 18 points on those turnovers despite being outpaced in 3-point shooting, points in the paint, and in fastbreak buckets.

Then, the fourth quarter happened. Everything changed, and as we are wont to do, the game felt much cleaner. Both teams had their energy up, they traded baskets, and the lead went back-and-forth.

Enter Chris Paul.

Houston’s point guard was the savior, scoring 20 points on a piddly 6-of-19 shooting performance. But Paul’s box score did not tell the tale of his impact on the game. Several times with the shot clock winding down, Paul came up with big beyond-the-arc buckets, at one point hitting one over Curry, giving him back a shoulder shimmy much the way the Warriors point guard did in Game 4.

Paul’s leadership pushed Houston forward, but his commitment during Game 5 might get overlooked after the Rockets point guard was forced to check out of the game after a play with 51 seconds remaining. On a floater in the lane, Paul appeared to hurt his right hamstring. Unable to play, Paul had to watch the final minute from the Houston bench, and his availability for Game 6 is currently up in the air.

It was ugly and it was gritty, but the Rockets beat Golden State on Thursday night, 98-94, to take Game 5 and a 3-2 series win as the Western Conference Finals heads back to Oakland.

Now, we look toward Game 6 in California on Saturday, May 26 at 6:00 PM PST.

Eric Gordon buckets, Draymond Green turnover seals game for Rockets

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For the second game in a row, the Houston Rockets were clutch in the fourth quarter and the defending champion Warriors clanked and fumbled their way to a loss.

Houston won Game 3 98-94 because down the stretch Eric Gordon made plays (and free throws) and Draymond Green fumbled away the Warriors chance.

It started with the Rockets up one with less than two minutes to go, when Eric Gordon — who led the Rockets with 24 points — drained a three that gave Houston some breathing room.

Six seconds later, Draymond Green answered with a three to keep it a one-point game.

With 10 seconds left in the game, a Trevor Ariza free throw made it a two-point game, giving the Warriors a chance to come down and tie or win. Then Green did this.

Gordon was fouled, hit two free throws, and it was ballgame.

The Rockets are now up 3-2 in the series and are one win away from the Finals.

Draymond Green thought Warriors might trade him after fight with Steve Kerr

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Draymond Green is the backbone of the Golden State Warriors, not just because he was the 2016-17 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Green sort of does it all, including passing, scoring, rebounding, and myriad other scrap work that doesn’t show up on regular box scores.

But there was some doubt in Green’s mind in 2016 that he would stay with the team. Green was involved in an argument during a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and after things settled down the Warriors big man was concerned the team might trade him.

The thought of doing so is sort of ridiculous, but apparently that was something that flashed into Green’s mind given the tenseness of the situation between he and Kerr.

Via Bleacher Report:

But Green’s mood was still foul, and he left the arena that day believing his days as a Warrior were numbered. He feared the relationship had been fractured, that the Warriors would choose Kerr over him. That he’d be traded.

“One hundred percent,” Green tells B/R. “Especially with the success that he was having as a coach. Like, you just don’t get rid of that.”

The thing that makes Golden State great isn’t just the players, or the system, or Kerr. It’s the human resources management aspect of their organization that allows them to compete on the court in the way they do.

It’s not crazy to think that a player could be shipped out of town thanks to a disagreement with a coach, although the leverage players have these days likely has put a stop to that realistically happening. But that Kerr, Green, and management were able to get things back under control that season was to the benefit of everyone involved.