Dallas was much more than sick Dirk Tuesday night

4 Comments

Dirk Nowitzki was an inspiration, a guy with a triple-digit fever hitting what was essentially the game-winning bucket, the dagger shot on a scoop layup with 14 seconds left.

But he’s not why the Mavericks won. Or not primarily.

They won because of zone defense and Tyson Chandler and the pick-and-roll and a number of little things the Mavericks did right. Or at least right enough in what was an ugly yet compellingly entertaining game. Dallas did not get its usual night from Nowitzki, it had to compensate in other areas.

Here are a few things that did work:

Fourth quarter defense: The Mavericks have been a pretty good defensive team in the playoffs that has kept Miami to shooting 42 percent in the first three games, keeping the Heat to 10.5 fewer points per game than they scored in the regular season. But with the game on the line Dallas did a better job — Miami scored 14 fourth quarter points on just 33 percent shooting and Dallas also forced six turnovers. While the Mavs have struggled to contain Dwyane Wade they continued to be aggressive and take the ball out of LeBron James’ hands (he helped with that). The result is LeBron has 9 fourth quarter points all series. Dallas was able to play that fourth quarter defense in part because of …

Zone defense: Dallas tried this a few times in Game 1 and got torched, so they went away from it for a while. But in the key parts of Game 4 they returned to their matchup zone and it got Miami hesitating. In particular LeBron, who was not aggressive all night, saw a zone did not turn the corner on the pick-and-roll and attack, he rather held back looking to pass. His passivity and the aggressiveness of the Dallas defense meant turnovers and poor shots from Miami.

Tyson Chandler: He was arguably the best Mavs player Tuesday night. He had four offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, nine total and finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds. He is the biggest man on the court and while Dwyane Wade made a sensational block on one play it was Chandler attacking inside that stemmed the tide of Miami’s runs. He was, if not the best Mavericks player, the most aggressive.

Running pick-and-roll with Marion and Chandler: This was a brilliant adjustment by Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. Usually Dirk Nowitzki sets the picks late and Jason Terry comes off them. But the Mavs started using Dirk off the ball (maybe in part to conserve his energy) and having Chandler and Marion as the roll men. It worked to the tune of 16 points on 10 attempts (compared to 2 points the 9 times Dirk set the pick). Chandler has been a force to fear rolling to the hoop since Chris Paul was feeding him the rock and he had some strong moves to the basket in this one. Marion finished with 16 points and got all his made baskets inside of 10 feet. There was room to operate because with Dirk outside the Heat had to respect the shooter.

Fourth quarter execution: For the second time this series, Dallas was the better team in the final six minutes. They did it at both ends — every shot Miami took late was contested, where Dallas was getting good looks by running their offense. They weren’t hitting those shots because it was that kind of ugly game, but Dallas was getting better looks.

Ugly is fine by Dallas. Another comeback is as well. What matters is this is a best-of-three series now. And if Dallas keeps doing these little things they have a real chance at the franchise’s first title.

Timberwolves win first road game in 52 days, top Heat (video)

Leave a comment

MIAMI — Jordan McLaughlin’s layup with just under nine seconds left put Minnesota ahead for good, D’Angelo Russell led all scorers with 27 points and the Timberwolves added to Miami’s late-season stagger by beating the Heat 129-126 on Wednesday night.

Malik Beasley scored 21 points, Juancho Hernangomez tied a season-high with 17 and McLaughlin added 13 for Minnesota. The Timberwolves were down by 12 with 3:59 left, then closed on a 20-5 run to get just their second victory in 20 games.

Jimmy Butler’s two free throws with 13.8 seconds left put Miami up 126-125, but McLaughlin’s layup on the next Minnesota possession put the Timberwolves on top to stay. Butler’s layup with 3.2 seconds left got blocked by Russell, and the Wolves held on.

Minnesota snapped a nine-game road losing streak, getting its first road victory since beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 5.

Kendrick Nunn led Miami with 24 points. Bam Adebayo had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Butler — back after a two-game absence for personal reasons — had 18 for Miami. The Heat fell to 23-4 at home and have dropped seven of their last nine overall.

The Heat stayed a half-game ahead of Philadelphia in the race for the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Philadelphia lost in Cleveland earlier Wednesday, a game where 76ers star Joel Embiid departed early because of a shoulder injury.

The Heat have had major trouble closing games of late — a 22-point lead late in the third quarter against Cleveland on Monday was frittered away in what probably was the worst loss of the season, until now anyway — and a long film session and meeting on Tuesday clearly didn’t solve the issue.

They were up 121-109 with 3:59 left, and 123-112 after a layup by Butler 24 seconds later.

And Minnesota — a team that came into the night with one win in a span of 48 days — still wasn’t finished off. The Timberwolves scored the next 11 points to tie the game, getting five of those points from Beasley and a tying free throw from McLaughlin with 46 seconds left.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Minnesota’s 27 attempts from 3-point range in the first two quarters was a first-half franchise record. … The Wolves are 4-0 in road games against Southeast Division teams this season, and 6-19 in all other road contests.

Heat: Adebayo played through a sprained right ankle, pushing his consecutive-game streak to 144 — extending the fourth-longest such streak in team history. … Goran Dragic’s first basket was a 3-pointer, and that pushed him one point past Grant Long (5,473) for 10th on the Heat career scoring list. … Nunn got his third consecutive rookie of the month trophy in a brief halftime ceremony.

JOHNSON RETURNS

Wednesday marked James Johnson’s first game back in Miami since the trade that sent him to Minnesota earlier this month, a move that sent Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to Miami from Memphis. “I think Minnesota is seeing what kind of versatility he can bring to the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

LOOKING AHEAD

A large contingent of fans from Slovenia were in attendance Wednesday — and more are coming Friday, when the Heat play host to the Dallas Mavericks. At last season’s Dallas-at-Miami game, more than 2,000 Slovenians were in attendance to watch their nation’s two best NBA players, Dragic and Dallas star Luka Doncic, go head-to-head.

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: At Orlando on Friday night.

Heat: Host Dallas on Friday night.

Trae Young blocks 7-foot Mo Bamba at rim (video)

Leave a comment

Trae Young might be the NBA’s worst defender.

He’s small (6-foot-1 with a 6-foot-3 wingspan). His athleticism is far from imposing. He also carries a massive load for the Hawks offensively, leaving little energy for defense.

But he still blocked 7-foot Magic center Mo Bamba at the rim.

Not a great moment for Bamba.

Joel Embiid leaves 76ers game with shoulder injury (video)

Leave a comment

Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons?

The debate has gained attention this season after the 76ers spent years retooling around their stars. The answer clearly isn’t neither. But that’s what Philadelphia now faces.

With Simmons already injured, Embiid got hurt in the 76ers’ game against the Cavaliers tonight.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Losing Embiid for an extended period would be a huge blow to Philadelphia, especially with Simmons already out. The 76ers (fifth place, half a game out of fourth) are right on the edge of getting home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Embiid had been playing so well lately. This is an especially tough time for a setback.

At least Philadelphia has depth to cope. Al Horford can easily slide from power forward to center. Tobias Harris might be better off at power forward than small forward, anyway. This is where Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks, acquired just before the trade deadline, come in handy as additional wing options. Kyle O'Quinn can also play behind Horford.

But the loss of talent is the biggest development, and there’s no overcoming that until Embiid and Simmons get healthy.

Zach LaVine: Trash talk directed at Dennis Schroder, not Bulls coach Jim Boylen

Leave a comment

During the Bulls’ loss to the Thunder yesterday, Zach LaVine appeared to say, “I have f—ing 40 points!”

Many assumed LaVine was snapping at Chicago coach Jim Boylen. But LaVine clarified his target was Oklahoma City guard Dennis Schroder.

Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

I take LaVine at his word.

Want to make a case LaVine dislikes Boylen? You’ll just have to point to all the other evidence.