The Inbounds: Dallas’ Improv High-Wire Act

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

Dallas had the worst offseason. Dallas had the best offseason. Two sides, one coin.

Usually when you whiff on a perennial All-Star with hometown ties to your city then lose your starting point guard and long-time bench scorer, you tend to lick your wounds and return to fight another day. But the Mavericks elected to instead immediately initiate Plan B.

And for a Plan B, it’s not bad.

Here’s a cool little example of how perception, standards, and expectations can shift.

Let’s say the Mavericks didn’t win the title in 2011. Let’s say the Blazers got another few 40-point barrages from Brandon Roy in an even bigger blaze of glory, or the Thunder had gotten their defense together enough to topple Dallas, or the Lakers…. yeah, no, that wasn’t happening. But let’s say either way that Dallas doesn’t win the title. This kind of a retool not only makes sense, it’s likely lauded as a smart initiative to rebuild. Instead of allowing the team to stagnate, Cuban went forward, instead of plugging in long-term, expensive contracts to players past their prime, Cuban and Nelson opted to acquire young players entering their prime on reasonable contracts and taking advantage of the amnesty wire, while developing the talent they have.

The franchise may not be held in as high regard as it is now, but the free agency decisions would have been received better.

Instead? “How could you let Dirk’s last year pass like this?! How could you dismantle a title team in just two years down to rubble?! Why would you downgrade?! Why aren’t you shooting for the title?! Loud noises posed as questions?!”

That’s just how perception shifts after a title. You’re elite, and staying elite is more important than looking out for the future.

This isn’t to say that the Mavs haven’t made mistakes. They had a shot at Deron Williams, setting them up for contention past the end of Dirk’s career, and were beaten because the Nets got Joe Johnson. Johnson is a severely underrated player, but if you can’t convince a player that his better shot at a title is with Dirk Nowitzki than Joe Johnson,then you haven’t done a great pitch job. (Note: I imagine the $25 million Dallas couldn’t offer in the fifth year was part of it, but whatever.) They not only missed out on Steve Nash, but they allowed the Lakers to get him in part thanks to the very trade they made to get Lamar Odom, who did nothing for them. They traded for Lamar Odom and all they got out of it was the Lakers getting Steve Nash. Oops.

But look at the roster they’ve managed to cobble together.

Darren Collison, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman, O.J. Mayo, Rodrigue Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Elton Brand, Brandan Wright.

That’s five former All-Stars, three role players with upside, a quality playoff starter, and a quality playoff reserve. That’s not bad for cobbling together something last minute. And it’s not so much about the guys that they got, it’s about the re-sale value of these players and the long-term flexibility. Mayo’s short-term deal, Collison’s contract, Marion, Carter, everything is movable both as an asset and as a short-term contract. It’s not about this year for the Mavericks, and it’s not about next year or any one particular year. It’s about putting the franchise in the best position to compete this year and get better later. That’s a delicate line to walk, and the Mavericks are managing to do it.

Is there any reason to believe this team won’t win 45-50 games, provided that a full offseason helps Nowitzki get back to form?

And they’ll be able to do it and still make moves to improve the team or take a stab at a superstar later. They’ll be in position to make whatever moves they want. They’ve transitioned to a younger team, let the older components go, and maintained cap management that can facilitate a total rebuild in three years.

It’s the same kind of model that both Houston and Denver to a degree have adopted. Consider what Cuban told CBSSports.com over the weekend.

“We’ve always been good at making trades and being willing to take on money,” Cuban said. “Now we can do it again starting next year. We can keep a big chunk of our current team, pay them and be in a position to take someone in a sign-and-trade, where all of the other teams that are supposedly luxury destinations, they can’t.”

“You can draft your Big Three,” Cuban said. “You can trade for youngs and turn them into a Big Three. You can do like Houston’s done and hopefully you have enough cap room and have three come together. But you can’t do the progressive trading like we used to. Those days are gone.”

via While CBA cramps some teams, Cuban learns how to rebuild Mavericks – NBA – CBSSports.com News, Scores, Stats, Fantasy Advice.

It’s becoming more about assembling different cores and then rotating them out. Piece by piece is getting more difficult with shorter deals and stricter rules. So the Mavericks have put themselves in a position to make the playoffs this year and to get a big pickup if one comes available. It’s an example of the misunderstanding of Dallas that has gone on over a decade. They don’t spend recklessly. They don’t just throw money out there. They pay for assets they want and they think they need, and they manipulate what they can manipulate.

The Mavericks aren’t a title team next season. But they’re in a position to keep their success going forward. There may not be contact with the bottom of the well for Dallas. Just constant reconfiguration, constant manipulation, constant maintenance and opportunism.

And as it turns out, improvisation.

James Harden struggles, Rockets still beat Jazz 104-101 for 3-0 series lead

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — James Harden never worried.

In fact, he didn’t know he had missed his first 15 shots.

Through it all, he never changed the attacking style that made him the NBA’s leading scorer.

Harden overcame a poor shooting performance and scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, leading the Houston Rockets to a 104-101 win Saturday over the Utah Jazz for a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series.

“Keep shooting. Keep being aggressive,” Harden said of his only thoughts. “My job is to go out there and produce. Be aggressive and in attack mode. Nothing changes.”

Not much has worked against Harden for the Jazz, and even when they thought they had him trapped, they weren’t able to control The Beard for a full game.

“You’re going to give something up. The best thing you can do with him is just try to make it hard on him. Even when you do that, there’s times where he’s going to make plays,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said.

The Jazz didn’t take it easy on Harden, and took every opportunity to knock him down, even when it sent him to the line. For one of the rare times this season, Harden passed up some shots. But he did take them – and make them – when they counted most.

Though the victory was hardly a thing of beauty, Houston coach Mike D’Antoni was grateful for the way it went down.

“Sooner or later we have to win games on defense. We did this time,” D’Antoni said of his team which is known for Harden’s lethal 3-point attack but has drastically improved on the defensive end since mid-season.

Harden made a 3-pointer and added two free throws with 42.4 seconds left to give the Rockets a 101-97 lead. After Donovan Mitchell made two free throws, Harden missed another 3-point attempt, but P.J. Tucker, who finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds, grabbed the rebound, was fouled, making one of two free throws.

Chris Paul said: “You trust (Tucker) to make those plays. … He’s going to do anything and everything to help the team win.”

Mitchell had a wide-open look at a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, but like so many of his shots in the hard-fought contest, it was off the mark.

Game 4 of the best-of-seven Western Conference series is Monday night in Utah.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well and we still won. That just gives us more confidence,” said Harden, who was 3-for-20 shooting with 10 assists. He was 14 for 16 from the line.

Paul scored 18 points and Clint Capela had 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Rockets, who shot 38.4 percent from the field and 67.6 percent from the line.

Mitchell scored 34 points, but struggled shooting, too, making just 9 of his 27 attempts. Derrick Favors had 13 for the Jazz.

Royce O'Neale, who played tenacious defense on Harden, made a 3-pointer for Utah’s last lead at 89-88. In fact, the Jazz led most of the game, but never by more than eight.

The Rockets made their move in the fourth quarter.

Gerald Green made back-to-back 3-pointers and Harden added a pair of free throws with 8:33 remaining put the Rockets up 84-80.

After two slow starts in Houston, the Jazz came out energized with a deafening crowd hanging on every basket. Utah led 11-3 and Harden picked up two fouls in the first 94 seconds, but stayed on the court. He couldn’t find his rhythm until the stretch run.

The Rockets have made no secret they are keying on Mitchell and Ingles to take away their playmaking and make other Utah players beat them. So far, no one else has made them pay.

Mitchell vowed to be more aggressive and apologized for being a “no show” early in the series. He re-introduced himself to the series in an exuberant show of shot-making and open emotion after big plays. But it didn’t last.

“I just started missing shots,” Mitchell said. “I can’t miss 16 shots (after the first quarter). That’s my role and I can’t miss makeable shots.”

Prior to Saturday’s big game, Mitchell was shooting 32.6% and had more turnovers (nine) than assists (six). After his hot start, Mitchell missed 11 straight field goal attempts but never stopped attacking.

Harden was missing 3-pointers and floaters, including two that were rejected by Rudy Gobert early in the game, and didn’t convert one until his emphatic fast-break dunk with 7:34 to play. But then he made a step-back 3-pointer to give Houston its largest lead at 89-83.

The leading MVP candidate did get to the line – something the Jazz have tried desperately to avoid.

Gobert had 10 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots.

 

Deep and dominant Bucks give Pistons longest playoff-game losing streak of all-time

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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DETROIT – Giannis Antetokounmpo finished dressing, sat in front of his locker and looked up.

Usually, that’s the signal a player is ready to begin his postgame interview.

The swarm of reporters in the visiting locker room barely even turned his direction.

“No media?” Antetokounmpo asked rhetorically as he feigned leaving. “OK.”

That the MVP favorite was an afterthought in the Bucks’ 119-103 Game 3 win over the Pistons on Saturday is a tribute to Milwaukee’s strength as a team. Four Bucks outscored Antetokounmpo as Milwaukee again crushed Detroit to take a 3-0 series lead.

All 132 teams up 3-0 in a best-of-seven series have won the series – most of them by sweep. The Bucks – who haven’t won a playoff series in the previous 17 years – can close this one in Game 4 Monday.

“It’s going to be a nice feeling, winning my first playoff series,” Antetokounmpo said after sitting back down. “And it’s going to be a nice feeling, the team getting out of the first round. And it’s going to be keep going. Whoever we play in the second round, I know it’s far away from here – six, seven days away – but whoever we play, we’re going to try to win.”

Forgive Antetokounmpo for looking ahead. Even for a team up 3-0, Milwaukee has looked particularly dominant.

The Bucks have outscored Detroit by 72 points so far – the second-largest margin through three games of a best-of-seven series. Here are the biggest combined margins through three games of all series (game scores in parentheses):

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Antetokounmpo (14 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, five fouls, four turnovers,) just never got got in a groove. The Bucks even got outscored by seven points with Antetokounmpo on the floor.

But Khris Middleton (20 points), Brook Lopez (19 points), Eric Bledsoe (19 points), Ersan Ilyasova (15 points), Nikola Mirotic (12 points) and George Hill (11 points) stepped up. The Bucks were +23 without Antetokounmpo – one of their best-ever marks while the superstar sat.

“It’s not just all about Giannis, as amazing and great as he is,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said.

For the Pistons, it wasn’t all about Blake Griffin.

Detroit’s best and most important player surprisingly played through knee pain that sidelined him the first two games. Griffin (27 points and six assists) had his moments, but he was clearly hobbled. Though the Pistons’ offense flowed far better with Griffin, their defense remains no match for the Bucks’ elite attack. Especially with Griffin slowed.

In a skid dating back to 2008, the Pistons have now tied the Knicks (2001-2012) for longest playoff-game losing streak at 13 games.

Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are the only current Pistons who played in a 2016 sweep to the Cavaliers. Nearly everything – arena, ownership, front office coaching staff, players – has changed since a 2009 sweep to Cleveland, which was preceded by dropping the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals the year prior against the Celtics.

But this record now falls on the franchise.

Here are the longest playoff-game losing streaks of all time:

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With a deep supporting cast he truly seems to enjoy and a win, it was easy for Antetokounmpo to brush off his lackluster game.

“Hey, there’s going to be nights like this,” Antetokounmpo said.

For Detroit, a lot of them.

Nuggets beat Spurs 117-103 to tie series at 2-2

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 29 points and 12 rebounds, Jamal Murray added 24 points and the Denver Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs 117-103 on Saturday night, rebounding from a flat performance tie the first-round series at two games apiece.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points and nine rebounds for San Antonio. DeMar DeRozan added 19 points before he was ejected with five minutes remaining after arguing with an official over an offensive foul.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Denver.

The Nuggets were more aggressive and physical after a deflating Game 3 loss, just as Denver coach Michael Malone had hoped.

“I want to see some emotion. I want to see some fire. I want to see some passion,” Malone said prior to the game.

Malone was able to stir that fire with a couple of changes after Derrick White‘s 36-point outing in San Antonio’s Game 3 victory.

Torrey Craig started over a struggling Will Barton and was charged with defending White to open the game, with Murray switching to Forbes. The moves proved beneficial, if not at first.

White was limited to eight points on 3-for-8 shooting after going 15 for 21 on Thursday. Craig finished with 18 points, going 5 for 7 on 3-pointers. Barton finished with 12 points and made all three of his 3-point attempts.

Down by 12 points in the first quarter, Denver outscored San Antonio 69-45 in the second and third.

Aldridge had 13 points in the opening quarter, shooting 5 for 9. His final points of the quarter came when he grabbed a miss by Marco Belineli and slammed it back in. Denver rallied in the second, with Jokic and Murray combining for 15 points as the Nuggets outscored 34-22.

The Spurs stopped driving to the basket and the Nuggets began making their 3-pointers.

Denver finished 15-for-31 on 3-pointers.

 

Trail Blazers’ Maurice Harkless fined $15,000 for throwing headband into stands

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Nobody wants your sweat.

I guess that’s the message the league was trying to send Portland’s Maurice Harkless, who was fined $15,000 by the league office for “throwing” his Ninja-style headband into the crowd near the end of Portland’s Friday night loss to Oklahoma City.

“Throwing” is a strong word for the light toss he made, not that the officials cared, Harkless was given a technical and ejected at the time for the move.

Harkless was fired up as he and Russell Westbrook had been jawing at each other before the ejection.