NBA Playoffs: Dallas shooters go cold… or was it the Heat?

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It will be the “chicken or the egg” question out of Game 1, and we will not really know the answer until we are well along in this series.

Did the Dallas Mavericks just miss shots, or did the Miami Heat make them miss?

Because the key Dallas shooters were shooting like they played for the Bulls. Jason Terry was 3-of-10, J.J. Barea 1-of-8, Peja Stojakovic 0-3, Jason Kidd 3-of-8. In the two previous series, the Mavericks shot 44.5 percent from 10-to-23 feet, but they were 4-of-14 in Game 1 (28.6 percent). That all was key in Miami’s 92-84 win.

“We had opportunities we just didn’t take advantage of it,” Jason Terry said in a postgame interview broadcast on NBA TV. “Defensively you hold them to 92 points, but offensively that was just a disaster for us….

“You have to finish at the basket, you have to make your wide open shots and we didn’t get that accomplished tonight.”

These were the kind of looks that Dallas hit to beat the Trail Blazers, Lakers and Thunder. Barea got loose in the lane but his floaters rimmed out. Terry got good looks at threes but they fell short.

If you’re a Mavs fan, you hope it was just Game 1 nerves, just one of those nights.

Because the other explanation is that the Heat threw off their rhythm.

Miami is the most athletic and aggressive defense the Mavericks have faced. Oklahoma City and Los Angeles were both plenty long, but neither played with the aggression that the Heat did. The Lakers never bothered to close out on shooters, Miami closed out fast. Shawn Marion curls off a pick and Dwyane Wade still blocks the shot. Shooters felt footsteps.

It looked to be that way with Terry — the closeouts of the Heat seemed to rush him, throw him off his rhythm.

“They are a very good defensive team and it was tough to get shots all night,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said in a postgame interview broadcast on NBA TV. “Both teams shot under 40 percent, so that gives you some idea of how difficult good, clean shots are going to be to get in this series.”

Then on top of all those missed shots — 42 of them — the Mavericks grabbed just six offensive rebounds. Miami got second chance opportunities the Mavs did not.

For Dallas to score enough to win Dirk Nowitzki has to have a big night (he had 27 and was solid), but Jason Terry and one other player have to join him. Shawn Marion had 16 points on 12 shots to help out the cause.

But if Terry and the other Mavs shooters are not more efficient, this series will end early.

Dallas needs to play at a faster pace, not get sucked into a grind-it-out defensive game. They need to run sets that make Jason Terry a playmaker, not just a spotup shooter.

Unlike the Bulls, we know Dallas can knock down open shots. That they didn’t was either just one of those off nights or it was Miami’s athleticism forcing them to rush. Miami will be the same relentless defense in Game 2 Thursday.

That’s when we’ll start to get a clearer picture of what went wrong for Dallas.

DeMarcus Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior is a monster jam

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LOS ANGELES — DeMarcus Cousins sure looked his hops are back on this throw down.

Cousins started for the Warriors Friday night after missing almost a full year with a torn Achilles, and on the Warriors first possession they fed him the rock in the post. Cousins faced up on Marcin Gortat, drove baseline with a nice first step, but got caught under the basket and couldn’t power it up through the Clipper big, getting his shot blocked.

Nobody was blocking his next shot.

It was a side pick-and-roll where Gortat had to cut off Durant’s drive, but Danilo Gallinari didn’t tag into the middle to cut off Cousins’ roll (or, made the business decision not to). The result was an impressive first bucket for DeMarcus as a Warrior.

Cousins’ first shift was three minutes long. He’s on a minutes restriction for a while.

D’Angelo Russell drops 40 on Magic including shot that put Nets up for good

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D'Angelo Russell is playing like a guy in a contract year. And that’s just fine with Brooklyn.

Russell tied his career best with 40 points Friday night against the Magic, including hitting the shot that put the Nets up for good on the night with 27 seconds remaining. Russell was 16-of-25 shooting, including 8-of-12 from three, and he was an analytics dream — Russell took all but one of his shots either in the paint or from three.

The Nets — now 24-23 on the season and the sixth seed in the East — came from 21 back to get the win and that included their guards hitting the big shots at the end.

First up was Spencer Dinwiddie.

Then came Russell’s shot that proved to be the game winner.

With the Nets extending Dinwiddie during the season, it’s unlikely Russell returns to Brooklyn next season, but a number of teams are interested in him as a free agent (restricted, the Nets can match if the offer is low).

Report: Isaiah Thomas could return to Nuggets right before All-Star break

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The Denver Nuggets have shown off their depth this season. Three starters — Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap — have missed a chunk of time and yet until a few days ago the Nuggets were the top seed in the West, and they are still a clear second.

And all of that without Isaiah Thomas, their biggest name reserve. He has been recovering from hip surgery last March.

The Nuggets are hoping Thomas will make his debut next month, right before the All-Star Break, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Thomas has been gathering momentum in his rehabilitation process from hip surgery in March, and there’s hope among Thomas and the Nuggets organization he could return as soon as a Feb. 11-13 homestand against Miami and Sacramento, sources said.

There’s strong confidence that he will return no later than the first game after the All Star break on Feb. 22 in Dallas, league sources said….

The final hurdle for Thomas remains playing full 5-on-5 scrimmages. He is expected to start that process soon.

Thomas was playing well and playing through pain in Boston, becoming a fan favorite and pulling that team into the postseason, before his hip injury caught up with him. He tried to recover without surgery playing for the Cavaliers and Lakers last season, but that never really worked like he hoped. He had the surgery and signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets.

Thomas could provide a playmaking guard off the bench, although Monte Morris has filled that role for the Nuggets so well he gets mentioned as a most improved player candidate. Coach Mike Malone will need to finesse the minutes to get both of them touches and involved. How much Thomas can help the Nuggets in the playoffs depends on how he recovers (he has always been a defensive liability because of his size, which factors in as well).

If Thomas can show he would have value as a bench player he will have teams calling next July about a much bigger contract. He has motivation, and he’s popular around the league — people want to see him succeed. But is he fully healthy and does he still have the lateral explosiveness that made him so hard to stop on drives to the rim? We should find out the final couple months of the season.

Report: Kings’ Buddy Hield in 3-point contest

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Players who’ve attempted more than seven 3-pointers per game while making more than 40% of them this season:

Sharing company with only the greatest shooter of all-time will earn Hield a spot in the 3-point contest.

Carmichael Dave of KHTK Sports 1140:

Sacramento getting three players into the Rising Stars Challenge for the second straight year speaks to the team’s nice collection of young talent. Bogdan Bogdanovic (who won MVP last year) and De'Aaron Fox return to the game. No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III replaces Hield, who ages out.

Hield has a chance in the 3-point contest, though the league is better from beyond the arc than ever. He’ll certainly have plenty of competition.