NBA Playoffs: Can anyone slow Nowitzki, Durant?

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One player does not win a basketball game.

But if Dallas or Oklahoma City can figure out a way to slow the other’s star player in this series — starting with Game 2 Thursday night — they will have a huge leg up. Because in Game 1 those two pretty much scored like Wilt in Hershey.

Part of that is on the officials — they called a tight Game 1 (both ways) and if you can’t be physical with these guys they will shred you. And get to the line a lot (and nothing makes for great television like a parade to the free throw line). Oklahoma City may want to make sure Dirk can’t catch the ball 18 feet out on the right baseline and face up — one he has the battle is lost. Doesn’t matter if you get a hand in his face, he can hit 8 out of 10 blindfolded from there. You have to deny him his spots on the floor.

Same with Durant — they defenders he struggles with are the ones that play great ball denial and don’t let him ever get comfortable. If he does, you lose.

Expect both teams to try and be more physical with the other’s star, look for more hard double teams to come earlier.

All of that has trade offs — double Dirk and those deadly Mavs jump shooters are wide open. Double Durant and you’ll have Russell Westbrook and James Harden flashing to the basket. Will the defenders help the helper, will the rotations be tight? If not, both teams can make you pay.

Westbrook is another key for this Game 2 — not in the he should score 30 way (he can, but it comes at a cost) but can he strike the balance we saw in Game 7 against Memphis. He can score, but he needs to balance the team out. As Beckley Mason said so well, he can’t eat that marshmallow.

There are a lot of interesting things to watch this game. At key moments the Thunder struggled when the Mavericks went to a zone, will they attack it better this game? On the other end, can OKC find a good defensive answer for the J.J. Barea/Nowitzki pick-and-roll?

Game 1 felt like an outlier. A one off. Nowitzki and Durant are elite scorers, but to expect that kind of performance in Game 2 is a mistake. Others will step up, teams will have adjustments. Game 2 will give us a better feel for what the rest of this series will look like.

It’s going to take more than one player to win it.

Not so fast: Austin Rivers reportedly will not sign in Memphis, other teams interested

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Austin Rivers is a below-average guard (his 7.1 PER this season is well below his 10.4 career average, and that was already troublingly low) and certainly was not the most popular guy in the Clippers’ locker room, but for a team in desperate need of guard depth, they could do worse. Especially for a minimum contract the rest of this season.

Which is why the rumors of Rivers to Memphis after he clears waivers from the Suns made some sense (Rivers was traded to Phoenix from Washington in the Trevor Ariza deal). Mike Conley is a borderline All-Star but behind him the Grizzlies are giving Shelvin Mack, MarShon Brooks, Wayne Selden, and others regular run. Maybe Rivers could help.

But…

Rivers will not be signing in Memphis, reports the well connected Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian.

Contrary to today’s reports, a source with knowledge of the negotiation tells The Daily Memphian that while the Grizzlies considered the matter, the team is not signing Rivers. Unlike on Friday night, when early reporting seemed to reveal some internal confusion among the NBA teams involved in a proposed transaction, this seems merely to be a case of a premature report.

Even The Athletic’s Shams Charania, who first broke the news, has backed off.

There is not a huge demand for Rivers’ services, but some team in need of depth will role the dice.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse fined $15k for criticizing refs on behalf of Kawhi Leonard

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After the Raptors lost to the Nuggets on Sunday, Toronto coach Nick Nurse said:

“You can’t tell me that one of the best players in the league takes 100 hits and shoots four free throws, and they handed him two for charity at the end,” Nurse said in a two-part rant that will earn him a fine from the league office. “So he was going to have two free throws for the game with all the physical hits and holding and driving and chucking and doubling and slapping and reaching and all the stuff. It’s been going on all year. I do not understand why they are letting everyone play one of the best players in the league so physically. I do not understand it.

“Tonight was a very severe case of a guy who was playing great, taking it to the rim and just getting absolutely held, grabbed, poked, slapped, hit and everything. And they refused to call any of it. It’s unbelievable to me. Unbelievable to me. It’s ridiculous. The guy is one of the best players in the league and he doesn’t complain, he doesn’t do this, he doesn’t do that, and they just turn their head and go the other way. It’s been going on all year.”

Predictably…

NBA release:

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has been fined $15,000 for public criticism of the officiating, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

This obviously doesn’t come close to putting the Raptors over the top for Leonard in free agency next summer. Los Angeles teams are still favored. But this bodes well for Toronto re-signing Leonard.

Not only did Nurse endear himself to Leonard, the coach might even help Leonard get a more favorable whistle going forward. If that happens, it’ll make the Raptors more likely to win and therefore more likely to keep Leonard.

Dave Joerger: Luka Doncic praise not veiled shot at Kings’ front office or Marvin Bagley, who’s the next Kevin Durant

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Kings coach Dave Joerger said of Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic:

“Perhaps there was an idea that there was a ceiling on him – I don’t see it, unfortunately for us,” Joerger said. “He’s great for them and he’s great for our league.”

It was easy to read into that statement. Sacramento drafted Marvin Bagley No. 2, passing on Doncic, who went No. 3. One of Bagley’s key supporters has been Kings assistant general manager Brandon Williams, and Williams and Joerger have been feuding.

Now, Joerger is fighting the inferences.

Joerger, via James Ham of NBC Sports California:

“All we’re trying to do is say something positive about another team’s player,” Joerger said. “There’s no veiled shots at anybody. De’Aaron (Fox) gushed about him and Bogi (Bogdan Bogdanovic) gushed about him and his ability and wishing him the best. It’s unfortunate that we had to play him and so is the rest of the league because the guy is playing really well right now.”

“It was out of love and positivity and people are trying to turn it something between Vlade (Divac) and I. Vlade and I are like this. Three years we’ve been working together and we love it. I love him.”

“When we drafted Marvin at two, we were high-fiving like crazy. We got the right guy for us and where we’re going to be. This isn’t going to be a story in three days and it will definitely be buried five years from now when we have the next (Kevin) Durant, (Russell) Westbrook, because that’s how good they are going to be. They are both going to be in the All-Star game and we’re going to be deep in the playoffs and I’m excited about that. I like where we are and love we’re going.”

Talk about an overcorrection. Durant and Westbrook have each won MVP. When those two reached their primes and stayed healthy, the Thunder made the Western Conference finals every year. Fox is having a breakout season and is on the star track, and Bagley looks solid for a rookie. But that’s an insanely high bar.

It might even be Joerger protesting too much, to the point he adds only more belief to the idea his initial statement contained subtext.

Maybe that’s unfair to Joerger. Coaches frequently praise opposing young players with “unfortunately for us” – meaning “unfortunately for us” we must play against him for many years. This could have been totally innocent.

But I can’t help but notice Joerger mentioned Divac, who quickly gave the coach a vote of confidence when hot-seat talk emerged, and not Williams. Joerger also made a point guard-small forward comparison, even though Fox and Bagley are a point guard and power forward/center – unless you recall Divac saying Bagley could play small forward. Another veiled shot at the front office?

I really don’t think so. But Sacramento’s years of dysfunction make people see rifts and subtle jabs where none might exist. That’s just something the Kings will have to deal with until they sustain success.

Report: Austin Rivers signing with Grizzlies

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The Wizards, Suns and Grizzlies are trapped in a transaction triangle.

After a three-way trade between the teams fell through due to Brooks confusion, Washington and Phoenix completed a simplified version of the deal. The Suns sent Trevor Ariza to the Wizards for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers, whom Phoenix is waiving.

Rivers’ landing spot? Memphis of course.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Don’t expect Rivers to be a major difference maker in Memphis. He’s a solid defender who had been a decent 3-point shooter the last couple seasons but not at all so far this year. When not spotting up, he’s often overly ambitious – but occasionally impressive – as a driver.

Rivers will add depth at shooting guard, where the Grizzlies have Garrett Temple, Dillon Brooks, Wayne Selden, MarShon Brooks and Shelvin Mack.

Memphis must waive one player now. It could be MarShon Brooks. We know how the Grizzlies (and Suns) view him.

This signing leads to a conspiracy theory I don’t believe, but find interesting: The Grizzlies agreed to the trade with Dillon Brooks… learned the full parameters of the deal… realized they’d rather just sign Rivers outright than deal Dillon Brooks, Selden and a second-rounder for Kelly Oubre… claimed they meant MarShon Brooks all along… let the Wizards ship Rivers to the Suns, who’d waive him… signed Rivers.

When undermining the original three-team deal, the Grizzlies would have had to know Washington and Phoenix would complete their own trade with Rivers getting waived. Perhaps, Memphis surmised that while the teams negotiated, but the timing – and complexity – makes that unlikely. But still fun to consider.