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.”

USA’s 78-game international win streak ends at hands of Australia, Patty Mills, 98-94

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Gregg Popovich wanted his USA team to face some adversity. For them to be challenged and see how they’d respond.

He got his wish on a Saturday afternoon in Australia and has to be disturbed by the result.

Australia, behind a red-hot Patty Mills who finished 30 points and drained seemingly every big bucket down the stretch, tore up the USA defense and outplayed the Americans when it mattered most, beating Team USA 98-94 in an exhibition match in front of a raucous 52,000 people in Melbourne.

Team USA had won 78 consecutive games — including both friendlies and in international tournaments — before this loss. The last USA exhibition game loss was in the run-up to the 2004 Olympics (when the Americans took home the bronze).

The USA opens FIBA World Cup play in just more than a week, facing the Czech Republic in their first game on Sept. 1. The Americans enter that tournament as the favorites, but the combination of improved international play and a lot of elite American talent staying home means the USA’s margin for error very slim. Teams such as Serbia and Spain — not to mention Australia — have to see this result and gain confidence.

This loss comes just two days after the USA had beaten this same team by 15 points, pulling away in the second half.

“They wanted it more than us tonight,” Kemba Walker said after the game. “Lesson learned for us.”

Those lessons include needing to clean up a defense that still has communication issues, and to find more consistent shot creation outside of pick-and-rolls with Kemba Walker or Donovan Mitchell.

Walker, who came off the bench to score 22, was clearly America’s best player. His ability to penetrate was the only thing all night that either forced the Aussie defense to collapse, or it allowed him to get space for a good shot. Donovan Mitchell, who finished with a dozen points including seven straight late in the game, was able to provide a little shot creation, but the Americans lacked much ball or player movement in this one. Harrison Barnes finished with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

Popovich is clearly still experimenting with lineups and combinations, and that is the silver lining of this USA loss. This was not the American’s best foot forward.

But don’t take anything away from Australia, which played a physical and feisty game all afternoon. They put the ball more in the hands of Utah’s Joe Ingles and he responded with 15 points, seven assists, and he and Andrew Bogut set up the offense and were smart with their passes. Bogut finished with 15 points. The Australian team played as a unit and their off-the-ball movement was impressive.

Team USA takes on Canada in a final exhibition game in a couple of days, before heading to China for the World Cup.

Report: Dwight Howard gave back $2.6 million in buyout with Memphis, what he will make in L.A.

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Dwight Howard will get his money, the full $5.6 million he opted into this summer. The man is getting paid.

The checks are just coming from two different teams.

To facilitate a move to the Lakers, Howard is giving back $2.6 million in a buyout with the Grizzlies — exactly how much he makes on a minimum contract with Los Angeles. From Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks of ESPN:

My guess is the Grizzlies will just take the cap hit this season to get Howard off the books.

This is exactly how this was expected to go down financially if Howard came to Los Angeles. The risk for Howard is he will sign a non-guaranteed contract with the Lakers — they can waive him for whatever reason, pay a small buyout fee, and Howard loses out on the $2.6 million.

That’s motivation for him to follow through on what he promised the team.

 

Former NBA, ABA coach Tom Nissalke dead at 87

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Tom Nissalke, who won coach of the year honors in the NBA and ABA, has died. He was 87.

Nissalke passed away at his home in Salt Lake City on Thursday after facing a “series of health-related problems” in recent years, according to the Deseret News.

He was the first coach of the Utah Jazz after the franchise relocated from New Orleans in 1979.

Nissalke was also an NBA head coach in Seattle, Houston, and Cleveland.

Nissalke got his start in the pro ranks as an assistant with Milwaukee and helped guide a team featuring Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to an NBA title in 1971. His work with the Bucks landed him a head coaching gig with the ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals. He led them to a 42-42 record in his first season and was named the league’s top coach.

He was hired the next season in Seattle but was fired after a 13-32 start. Nissalke then coached the Utah Stars and San Antonio before returning to the NBA with the Rockets. He won 124 games in three seasons with Houston, twice taking the team to the playoffs and the 1977 Eastern Conference finals.

Nissalke was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year after going 49-33 in 1976-77.

After retiring, he was active with the YMCA and worked as a radio analyst.

Nissalke is survived by a daughter, Holly, son Thomas Jr, and two grandchildren. His wife, Nancy, died in 2006.

 

How Dwight Howard convinced the Lakers to take a chance on him

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Laker fans Friday sounded like your friends after an ugly relationship and breakup, when you suddenly consider taking that person back. Laker nation took to Twitter screaming “ARE YOU SERIOUS? What are you thinking? Are you even thinking?”

The Lakers, however, are entering a second relationship with Dwight Howard with their eyes wide open — he will sign a non-guaranteed contract to be the team’s center (sharing duties with Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee). Howard will have to prove himself, on and off the court. The Lakers have leverage and can waive Howard and move on to Joakim Noah or someone else quickly if things do not pan out.

But how did it even get to this point? How did Howard — who did his annual summer media tour saying “I have changed, I am taking the game and my conditioning seriously, I just want a chance” and league observers shrugged because they have heard the same thing for years — convince the Lakers to roll the dice on him again? Shams Charania of The Athletic laid it all out.

Howard’s message to [Laker assistant coach Jason] Kidd and the Lakers was the same one he delivered to The Athletic in July from NBA summer league: He’s learned from the past several seasons, learned that, at age 33, he is simply one of the guys now. Howard believes he can contribute at a high level for any NBA team, but the eight-time All-Star also understands he has to focus on rebounding, defense, blocking shots, finishing around the rim and simply playing whenever he is asked… Kidd became convinced about Howard’s newfound awakening…

The Lakers then began setting workouts for free agents, and Howard traveled from Atlanta to Los Angeles on Wednesday. His meeting and workout with the Lakers was set for Thursday, but Howard went to the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo, Calif., on Wednesday afternoon for his own training session. The Lakers were surprised to see him, sources said, and many key decision makers were in attendance…

League sources said Howard had a convincing and emotional meeting with the players and Lakers officials, explaining how he had reached rock bottom a season ago and needed to find a new mindset in his life. On and off the floor. He was not the teammate he needed to be in playing for three teams in the past three years. He did not take the game seriously enough, he did not understand what was needed to turn the corner.

Howard has said all that before. Multiple times. To multiple teams and teammates. Maybe this time he has genuinely figured things out, but whatever he did and said was enough to convince the Lakers to buy in…

To a point.

One could argue — and I would make the case — that Noah would be a better fit on the court for the Lakers’ needs in terms of passing and defense, but he comes with plenty of risks as well (health, getting along with LeBron James, and how much he liked the nightlife as a Knick in New York and what that would mean in L.A.). At least with Howard, the Lakers mitigated that risk with the non-guaranteed contract. If Howard will not accept his role and is disruptive (as he has been in recent stops), if he is still eating candy like a bingeing 10-year-old on Halloween night, if he can’t stay healthy, the Lakers can waive Howard and move on. If the Lakers brought in Noah, they would have been smart to have the same non-guaranteed contract (if Noah would have signed that kind of deal).

For now the Lakers have their man, but he’s basically on probation. Howard has to prove in deeds everything he has said in words.