O.J. Mayo helps Mavericks bounce back to hand Suns fifth straight loss

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PHOENIX — Dallas barely showed up for their game against the Clippers on Wednesday, falling behind by double-digits early and then never really competing while the second half turned into nothing more than extended garbage time.

Things began similarly in Phoenix on Thursday, with the Suns getting out to an 11-1 lead in the game’s first three minutes. But whether due to the level of competition or due to finding an inner will to fight, Dallas came back strong to build a 15-point lead of its own, before ultimately hanging on for a much-needed 97-94 victory.

“We played one of our strongest-willed games of the year,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said afterward. “Difficult situation, coming off the back-to-back and a rough one [Wednesday night], but everybody really played with a lot of heart and a lot of guts.”

Dallas got a big offensive game out of O.J. Mayo, who finished with 23 points, five rebounds, and five assists in 40 minutes of action. Mayo turned the ball over six times, so his night was far from perfect. But with the game tied at 87 with 34 seconds left, he hit what was effectively the game-winner — a tough 21-foot jumper over Sebastian Telfair, who was right there defending and in pretty good position.

Mayo said that his previous ventures into the lane made him look for space to take the jumper in this situation.

“I was trying to get into an area where I could just elevate over Bassy, who’s a good defender with his hands and feet,” he said. “I went [into the lane] one time and got a charge, another time I got my shot altered by [Markieff Morris]. So I just wanted to get into an open area around the foul line so I could elevate over him.”

Goran Dragic had a chance to tie on the following possession, and got right to the rim after getting past Mayo, but couldn’t convert the left-handed layup. It was fouls and free throws the rest of the way, and former Sun Vince Carter made four of those free throws to help seal it.

“I live for those moments,” Carter said. “I would’ve been mad if I missed ’em. Believe me.”

The Suns fought hard themselves to get back into this one and even have a chance near the end, considering the brutal 23-4 run they endured to open the second half — one that lasted over eight minutes, and turned their four-point lead into a deficit of 15.

It’s been the pattern in Phoenix all season, where the Suns have fallen behind by double-digits in eight of their nine home games, and have come back to at least tie the game every single time. The excitement created by the wild swings on this night was likely enough to send fans home feeling satisfied — or at least, the folks behind the money-back guarantee promotion that was in effect for this one would certainly hope so.

Phoenix got a nice performance from Markieff Morris, who grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds. And Luis Scola worked his tail off all night long, defending and taking charges while knocking down six of his 10 shots in 24 minutes. But with Michael Beasley continuing his inconsistent play, and Marcin Gortat being similarly ineffective offensively, Phoenix doesn’t have a lot of other places to look for reliable sources of production.

This was a physical contest, with plenty of players getting dinged up along the way. Chris Kaman left with an ankle sprain, Shawn  Marion went down with a groin strain, Jermaine O’Neal left after getting poked in the eye, and P.J. Tucker suffered a sprained MCL.

Dallas won the battle of attrition, and Carlisle couldn’t have been more pleased afterward. Though he did promise the team would continue to work on its deficiencies, while using an interesting analogy in the process.

“We’re going to keep working to eliminate mistakes,” Carlisle said. “We still missed blockouts, we still turn it over. Sometimes we make hard work out of sex. And it’s tough in this league when you do that, when you shoot yourself in the foot. But we’ve got good guys, and they really stuck together tonight, and it was big for us.”

Doc Rivers says Paul George will be out for the first 10 games

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We are expecting not to see Paul George on the court with Kawhi Leonard in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform until November. But until this week, we didn’t have a good idea about when George could return over the course of the next month.

Speaking to reporters this week, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers let it slip that George could miss up to the first 10 games of the regular season. That would put George at a tentative return date of Nov. 13 against the Houston Rockets.

Via Twitter:

The Clippers are still expected to be one of the best teams in the NBA, and the real question heading into the first several weeks of the season will be how much they allow Leonard to sit out due to load management if George is not on the floor.

The real question in Los Angeles — on both sides of the hall at Staples Center — will be about health, and the Clippers know that it’s not how you start the season but how you finish. It seems likely they will wait until George is fully ready to return to action rather than rushing him back from dual shoulder surgery.

Kyle Kuzma reportedly cancelled plans to announce Chinese sponsorships

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Tensions are still high between the NBA and China, and both sides are hoping that things return to normal soon. Whether that’s possible is another thing altogether, particularly with how raw the response to the NBA has been by domestic fans concerned with the NBA sticking to its stated principles with regard to social justice.

This has affected not just the league, but players too. James Harden and Russell Westbrook were involved in an incident where an official shut down a legitimate question by a CNN reporter. Now it’s being reported that Los Angeles Lakers big man that Kyle Kuzma decided not to announce sponsorship deals with Chinese companies during his team’s visit to the continent this month.

Via Bill Oram:

Kuzma’s plans to announce additional sponsorship deals with Chinese companies were scrapped once the Lakers arrived on Tuesday and found themselves caught in the middle of a stalemate between the NBA and the Chinese government.

The whole story of what it was like to cover the trip in China as an American is worth reading by Oram. It’s an interesting look at the collision of politics, business, and the perception of sports as separate from those spheres.

Meanwhile, players and their management teams will need to think more carefully about the social perception of business deals both at home and abroad.

Facilitator Kawhi Leonard in Clippers opener could be glimpse into season

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

LOS ANGELES — You could see the impact almost immediately.

In his first minutes in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform last Thursday against Denver, Kawhi Lenoard drained a 14-foot midrange shot, stole a Gary Harris pass and turned that into a step-back three-pointer. Five points and a steal, all in 21 seconds.

More importantly for the Clippers, you could hear the impact almost immediately, too.

Leonard was talking a lot on defense, directing players and making his presence heard. That has been the case in team practices as well, according to people with the Clippers.

“He’s more verbal than you would ever know,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s more demanding in a very positive way. You have to do it right. I love that for our team.”

Questions abound about how Leonard — and Paul George, when he returns at some point likely in November — will fit in with an established Clippers roster and culture this season. The Clippers on paper may be title favorites, but how all those pieces come together remains one of the potential turning points of this NBA season.

The cultural fit seems smooth.

Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell brought an intense, hard-working, tough-to-play-against ethos to Los Angeles — but Leonard and George are lunchpail guys at heart. The Clippers’ new editions may be top five (certainly top eight) NBA talents, but they came into the league seen as “3&D” guys with some potential. They worked their way to the top, and that works for the Clippers.

On the court — at least in the slightly more than 10 minutes he played against Denver — the roster fit also seemed smooth.

Leonard had seven points on 3-of-6 shooting, but what stood out were the six assists. Leonard played a facilitator role. The first bucket of the game was a Leonard drive-and-kick to JaMychal Green in the corner, who hit the three. Leonard’s other assists were mostly to bigs Ivica Zubac and Harrell cutting to the basket.

Doc Rivers’ plan is to let Leonard feel how other teams are going to guard him, them adapt.

“Some teams will try to guard him one-on-one and he’ll probably try to score,” Rivers said. “Some teams, like Denver today, was up doubling him a lot, and he’ll be a facilitator…

“That’s what Kawhi does, it’s not like we’re recreating anything here. He’s a smart player. We’re going to try and keep as much shooting out with him, so teams can’t help. We will try to keep one roller on the floor with him, so that guy’s going down the middle of the paint and he’s creating help. We don’t have to make it that difficult.”

“He found me every time I was open,” Zubac said. “I really like playing with him.”

This was not by direct design so much as Leonard taking what the defense gave him.

“It just happened naturally,” Leonard said. “For the most part I cause a lot of attention, and I’m going to pass it to the open man. They was knocking down the shots tonight.”

We will see more of “facilitator Leonard” this season, and facilitator George as well. That Rivers wants to keep shooters on the court around his stars speaks to what a vital role Green and second-year guard Landry Shamet will play in Los Angeles — they are going to get opportunities and have to make the defense pay. (Shamet had 11 points against Denver and was 2-of-5 from three.)

Then off the bench, Los Angeles rolls out the best pick-and-roll combo in the league right now, Lou Williams and Harrell. Those two drove the Clippers offense last season, which is why both finished in the top three in Sixth Man of the Year voting, but this season there will be less pressure on them. They may not even close games, even though Williams is one of the better end-game bucket getters in the league.

The Clippers are that deep with talent.

Leonard showed already how he just makes the game easier for that talent. Zubac setting picks for Leonard and rolling, with shooters on the floor, is not going to be easy to stop — and that’s without George in the mix yet.

It’s more than the Xs and Os, however, Leonard and his rings just bring a gravitas to the Clippers they needed.

“He has a presence about him when he is on the floor, just feels a little different, how he carries himself, how he plays,” Shamet said.

That presence could carry the Clippers franchise to places it has never been before. It’s the impact the Clippers are ultimately hoping to see.

Cavaliers visit owner Dan Gilbert, recovering from stroke

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Cavaliers visited team owner Dan Gilbert, who is recovering at home after suffering a stroke in May.

After playing an exhibition game in Detroit on Friday night, the Cavs delayed their trip to Boston so they could spend time Saturday with the 57-year-old Gilbert.

He recently returned to his home in Franklin, Michigan, after staying at a rehabilitation facility in Illinois. Gilbert suffered a stroke on May 26 after being taken to a hospital by a family friend following stroke-like experiencing symptoms.

All of Cleveland’s players, along with first-year coach John Beilein and his staff, held a film session and short walk-through on a replica basketball court Gilbert has at his home before having lunch. Gilbert and his wife, Jennifer, spoke with many of the players.

The Cavs play their third preseason game Sunday against the Celtics.

Gilbert has owned Cleveland’s franchise since 2005.=