NBA Playoffs: Mavericks defense looks good thanks to Thunder offense

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“Tonight we played championship-level defense for the first time in the series,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after the game in an interview broadcast on NBA TV.

Maybe. But the Oklahoma City Thunder really helped them out with that — it’s a lot easier to cover a guy who is standing still. And the Thunder did a lot of standing around. On several trips down in a row in the second quarter Peja Stojakovic was on Kevin Durant, but the Thunder never exploited it as Durant stood still and called for the ball.

Russell Westbrook has and continues to take a lot of heat for the Thunder offense. Certainly he has had issues with 15 turnovers this series himself, a few of which led to some ugly frustration in Game 2. Then in Game 3, he scored 30 but was dominating the offense, shooting a lot and seemed to spend a lot of time just pounding the ball, dribbling at the top of the key.

But while Westbrook was dribbling, what movement do you see off the ball, what actions are being set up? Very little. Durant doesn’t work well off picks, doesn’t fight to get open. The Thunder’s offense has been stagnant, forcing Westbrook (or James Harden) to create everything off the dribble, maybe off a screen late in the clock.

Dallas has taken advantage of this, pressuring Westbrook and Harden when they have to create. They have Tyson Chandler in the paint, waiting to block shots. They are overplaying off-the-ball screens and the Thunder are not countering by big men slipping the screens or guys sliding out to the arc.

It all came together in Game 3 and the end result was Oklahoma City shooting 36.5 percent from the field and 1-of-17 from beyond the arc. The result was the Thunder scoring a rather anemic 96.7 points per 100 possessions. That is the reason the Mavericks are up 2-1 after a Game 3 win 93-87.

Dallas is a good defensive team, seventh in the NBA during the regular season giving up just 102.3 points per 100 possessions. But the Thunder put up 130.1 and 113.6 points per 100 possessions per game the first two. Oklahoma City attacked, hit their shots and got to the rim. But it was still a lot of success out of isolation and picks, not ball movement.

What happened Saturday was not all on Oklahoma City — Shawn Marion did a good job on Kevin Durant, who had 24 points but needed 23 shots to get that and only got to the line three times.Chandler has done a great job protecting the paint, taking away the easy buckets.

“We did not do a good job offensively, but I thought they did a great job, really took us out of our sets, they were trapping on the basketball,” Scott Brooks said after the game in an interview broadcast on NBA TV. “Just got us playing on our heels.”

Dallas did play its best defense of the series, but the Thunder fall out of their sets far too easily. The result is isolation basketball that is easier to defend. Isolation basketball that will not win them this series.

Ahead on Nets fastbreak, Rodions Kurucs whips pass… farther ahead (video)

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With D’Angelo Harris to his left, Rondae Hollins-Jefferson to his right, Joe Harris trailing and only Hawks in front of him, Nets rookie Rodions Kurucs passed ahead. Confidently. That was a bullet.

But to nobody – except maybe the referee. It looked high for the ref, though maybe an NBA player would have snagged the throw.

At Brooklyn still beat Atlanta, 144-127.

Wizards, Suns, Grizzlies blame each other for failed Brooks trade

AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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A three-way trade between the Wizards, Suns and Grizzlies fell part due to Brooks confusion. Phoenix thought it was getting Dillon Brooks. Memphis thought it was sending MarShon Brooks.

In the aftermath, the Wizards and Suns agreed to a simpler deal, swapping Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers for Trevor Ariza. But the saga was embarrassing.

So, it’s time to assign blame.

Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“[Memphis owner] Robert Pera did not have any conversation with Suns owner Robert Sarver about the reported three-way trade. Our front office also didn’t have any conversations with Phoenix regarding the reported three-way trade prior to it leaking during our game tonight.

“We were floored to learn of the reports involving Dillon Brooks in the reported trade. We never discussed Dillon as part of this trade with Washington — which was the only team we spoke with concerning this proposed deal.”

Ben Standig of NBC Sports Washington:

The Wizards entered into discussions about Ariza over the last 2-3 days. By that point, the Suns and Grizzlies were deep into conversations about a potential move with Memphis concerning Dillon Brooks. The two sides talked at least a half-dozen times over 7-10 days including at least one directl chat with owners of both teams.

With Dillon Brooks currently sidelined by a knee injury, the Suns requested the guard’s physical from the Grizzlies. Enough information and dialogue were exchanged during the process between all three teams that there was clear understanding of the players involved, at least for the Suns and Wizards. It’s possible what all witnessed was a bad case of nerves by the Grizzlies at the buzzer.

Gina Mizell of The Athletic:

Here’s how it all unfolded according to a source familiar with the Phoenix end of the night:

There never were any discussions between the Suns and Memphis about MarShon Brooks. And the Suns never had any interest in discussing that Brooks.

However, there were discussions for about a week between Phoenix and Memphis about Dillon Brooks. Washington was not involved in the discussions with either team at that point.

The Wizards inquired with the Suns late in the week about Ariza

Despite reports to the contrary, there were no discussions on Friday involving Suns owner Robert Sarver, according to the source. He was at the team’s holiday party for employees.

James Jones and Trevor Bukstein, co-interim general managers, were working together on talks with several teams and worked through Washington on the three-way proposal.

I don’t know who discussed whom. Maybe the Grizzlies really made up this Brooks excuse because they got cold feet at the last minute.

But I’ll give Wallace way more benefit of the doubt, because he spoke with his name attached. The spin from Washington and Phoenix is coming anonymously. If it’s shown he’s lying, Wallace will face the consequences of that. If the Washington and Phoenix reports are shown to be inaccurate, the leakers are protected by their anonymity.

For what it’s worth, I would have done the trade as the Grizzlies with either Brooks. I wouldn’t have done it as the Suns for either Brooks. Phoenix is better off now just getting Oubre, the most valuable player in the trade. Oubre is rough around the edges and headed into restricted free agency next summer, but the 23-year-old is still quite intriguing.

Russell Westbrook and Jamal Murray scuffle (video)

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The Nuggets had a productive weekend. A good way to tell: How aggravated their opponents got.

First, Russell Westbrook initiated a confrontation with Jamal Murray late in Denver’s win over the Thunder on Friday.

Royce Young of ESPN:

“I was standing in my spot, he tried to step over me, and then he shoved me first,” Murray said. “I guess they were losing or whatever, so I don’t know, ask him.”

Said Westbrook: “He was in my way.”

Then, after the Nuggets’ win over the Raptors yesterday, Toronto coach Nick Nurse lashed out at how Kawhi Leonard is officiated.

Nurse, via Eric Koreen of The Athletic:

“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.”

Westbrook and Murray each received technical fouls. Nurse will probably get fined.

But there’s only so much anyone can do about the Nuggets. They’re very good. Teams should get more prepared to handle frustration when facing Denver.

Indiana hires WNBA’s Kelly Krauskopf, she’s first female assistant general manager in NBA

Via NBA.com
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Women’s progress in the male-dominated world of the NBA is often focused on Becky Hammon in San Antonio and other coaches, or business-side executives such as Clippers president Gillian Zucker.

NBA front offices will start to see changes, too, and that took a big step forward Monday in Indiana with the hiring of Kelly Krauskopf, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Pacers.

“Kelly has played the game, worked in the WNBA league office, helped build and run the Fever franchise from its beginning and eventually built a championship team,” said Pacers’ President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard in a released statement. “She is very well respected in all basketball circles and she has great knowledge of our entire operation, so when we looked at this position, it made complete sense to just look in our own building. We think she will be a great asset to myself, General Manager Chad Buchanan and Senior Vice President of Basketball Operations Peter Dinwiddie as we pursue our goal of building a winning team for our state and our city.”

“As the architect of one of the WNBA’s most successful franchises, Kelly is a true pioneer in our sport,” said Pacers owner Herb Simon in a statement. “I’ve worked with Kelly over the past two decades, so I know her tremendous basketball mind, strong work ethic and proven leadership skills will continue to be of great benefit to our organization.”

Good for the Pacers — hire the best, brightest, most capable people and the organization will thrive. Krauskopf has unquestionably shown she knows how to run a basketball organization.

Krauskopf was the long-time president of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever who helped guide them to three Finals appearances and the 2012 WNBA title. She also worked with USA Basketball, helping select the American women’s teams that have dominated the sport. Then in 2017 jumped to the Pacers to head up their NBA2K League team.

Now she becomes the highest-ranking woman in an NBA front office (she will not have any WNBA or esports duties anymore).

“First, I would like to thank Herb Simon, Kevin Pritchard and Rick Fuson for this amazing opportunity,” said Krauskopf. “I have admired the work that Kevin and his staff have put forth so far and I am honored to be a part of an elite and historical franchise. The chance to work in an NBA front office for a first-class organization filled with great people I know and in a city that has become my home is extraordinary.

“My past experience has shown me that building winning teams and elite level culture is not based on gender – it is based on people and processes. I am excited to join the Pacers as we continue building the best NBA franchise in the business.”

Krauskopf is now the highest ranking woman in an NBA front office, however, she is not alone as Wojnarowski noted.

There is a growing number of women in front office basketball roles in the NBA, including Becky Bonner (Orlando), Amanda Green (Oklahoma City), Teresa Resch (Toronto), Michelle Leftwich (Atlanta), Ariana Andonian (Houston) and Natalie Jay (Brooklyn).