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.

One last look back: Best dunks of All-Star Weekend (VIDEO)

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Defense? That’s one thing that rarely makes an appearance All-Star weekend.

Combine that with the game’s best athletes and what you get are three days of insane dunks.

The NBA put this together, the best dunks of All-Star weekend in Charlotte. Enjoy.

Wizards’ Bradley Beal: ‘Recruiting process is really going alright…I’m trying’

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LeBron James went out of his way to say he was not recruiting guys on his free-agent heavy All-Star Team.

Bradley Beal had no such hesitation, he tried to recruit guys, as he told Chase Huges of NBC Sports Washington.

“The recruiting process is really going alright. It’s going alright. I’m trying,” Beal said. “This is new for me. I’m definitely getting some ears and seeing what guys are looking for.”

Beal was too smart to name names — that would have brought a fine from the league — but he said some guys asked if he was happy where he was, while other guys he talked to about the possibilities in Washington.

The problem is while the Wizards will have some cap space after trading Otto Porter and Markieff Morris (and assuming they don’t pick up the option on Jabari Parker) but they will be nowhere near the max cap space needed to land the elite free agents at the All-Star Game (Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, etc.). Even the second-tier All-Star free agents such as Khris Middleton will get max offers. Same with players who just missed the game, such as Tobias Harris.

If the Wizards renounce free agents they can get to $9 million in cap space, stretch and waive Ian Mahinmi and they can get to $18 million. That’s the top end. Meaning the Wizards will have room to make moves for good rotation players, but with John Wall‘s supermax extension kicking in at $38 million next season flexibility is limited. Genuine upgrades will be hard to come by.

Predicting what Washington GM Ernie Grunfeld will do next summer is a fool’s errand, but Beal is doing his part to try and bring more talent into Washington.

Kevin Garnett says 2000 Olympic team had $1 million bounty to dunk on Yao Ming

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Team USA earned a Gold Medal in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, led by Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, and Alonzo Mourning. Lithuania made the Americans work that year, losing by just nine in pool play then by two points in the semi-finals.

That’s not what anyone remembers from those Olympics, they remember Vince Carter doing this to 7-footer Fredric Weiss of France.

Recently Garnett sat down with Dwyane Wade for an interview (which airs on NBA TV today) and he told a fantastic story about that dunk. (Hat tip to Yahoo Sports)

Everything just paused. First of all, people didn’t know, we had a bounty out on Yao Ming. The whole USA team had a bet. We had a million dollar bet on who was going to be the first person to dunk on Yao Ming. None of us did. We all tried to dunk on Yao, but he would block it or we would miss. So, the first thing I thought of when I saw Vince dunk over Frederic was oh s***, you won the million dollars. But then I realized it obviously wasn’t Yao. I pushed Vince, and if you look at the clip, he almost punches me in the face by accident. But my first thought was, oh s***, you won, you got the million.

KG has the best stories.

MSG denies rumor James Dolan looking to sell Knicks

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Rumors that James Dolan is considering selling the Knicks — which elicits a “Hallelujah” chorus from Knicks fans — have been cropping up for a couple of years now. There were rumors he wanted to spin off the Knicks and Rangers into their own company to be sold. That’s just one, there are others — he confirmed he got a feeler $5 billion, but never a firm offer, for the Knicks — and each time he has shot them down.

This is no different.

On his latest Podcast, the Ringer’s Bill Simmons said he had heard that Dolan wanted to focus more on concerts/in-game experiences in Madison Square Garden and that the Knicks were “available.”

The Madison Square Garden Company released this statement (hat tip New York Daily News).

“The story is 100% false. There has been nothing. No discussions. No plans to have discussions – nothing.”

That’s pretty unequivocal.

While Dolan may entertain the idea on some level of selling the Knicks, until he takes concrete steps to do so — not rumors, but actual, documented moves — I’m not buying it. He’s sitting on a gold mine that keeps going up in value, despite how he manages it, so why sell now? Knicks fans that buy this rumor will likely end up like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football.