ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 preview: Dallas Mavericks

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Last season: Dallas was one of the surprise teams in the league last year. A lot of people (myself included) questioned how Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki would pair, particularly with Jose Calderon at the point. Turns out very well — Ellis and Nowitzki made a killer pick-and-pop tandem. And the Mavs could shoot — as a team they hit 38.4 percent from three (second best in the league behind the Spurs). That led to the third best offense in the league pushed them to 49 wins and the playoffs (despite a 22nd ranked defense). Once again in the playoffs the Mavs were written off as just a warmup round for the Spurs, but instead Dallas pushed them to seven games, trying to trap and be more aggressive on defense (Spurs players said at the Finals what Dallas did helped prepare them for Miami’s style). Basically all season long Dallas exceeded expectations… except for Mark Cuban’s, of course.

Signature highlight from last season: Dallas came closer than anyone else to knocking off the Spurs in the playoffs, in part because Vince Carter was clutch in Game 3.

Key player changes: Dallas shook up the roster this off-season. I think they got better but there are a lot of changes, which leads to questions. Gone are guys who played key minutes last season: Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion, Vince Carter, Samuel Dalembert and Shane Larkin (Dalembert, Larkin and Calderon were traded to New York).

In their place come Tyson Chandler (from that trade with the Knicks), Chandler Parsons, Jameer Nelson, Raymond Felton, also Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson.

Also key, Dirk Nowitzki re-signed for 3 years, $25 million — about the most team-friendly deal of any superstar. That signing cleared the way for the Chandler Parsons free agent signing.

Keys to the Mavericks season:

Can Tyson Chandler lift this defense up to top half of the league at least? Dallas doesn’t win the 2011 NBA title without Tyson Chandler playing elite defense in the paint as a rim protector. Last season the Mavericks had Dalembert in the paint and the 22nd best defense in the NBA. Chandler is going to be expected to clean up a lot of messes and improve that number. The question is can he still — last season he lacked the same quickness and fluidity on defense, but remember he missed the start of the season with a fractured fibula. Is he all the way back now? He also seemed to check out mentally in New York, I’d expect him to be more focused now (he’s fantastic at talking and quarterbacking a defense). Of course, Chandler in the paint can’t be the only defensive improvement, Dallas is going to have to show improved perimeter defense as well. The backcourt of Jameer Nelson and Monta Ellis are not exactly stoppers, but Parsons will help, he’s solid out on the wing. Dallas doesn’t need to be the 2004 Pistons, but they need to at least be in the top half of the league and more ideally the top 10 to really reach their goals. They have a lot of work to do on that end of the court.

Can Chandler Parsons be worth everything he just got paid? It’s easy to see on paper how Parsons can thrive offensively in Dallas — he stays on the weak side while the Ellis/Nowitzki pick-and-roll happens on the other side of the floor. Parsons can cut to the basket, get a pass and finish at the rim or he can space the floor where he is dangerous both on the catch-and-shoot and off the bounce. At age 25 Parsons has gotten paid like a top option player in the NBA, he has the talent to do it, but now he’s going to have to show it on the court. Nightly.

Who will step up off the bench? Last season the Mavericks had a quality bench — Vince Carter got votes for sixth man of the year, they had DeJuan Blair and others that contributed solid play. This season the bench looks consists of Devin Harris, Doran Lamb, Al-Farouq Aminu and Richard Jefferson (plus Brandan Wright up front). And Felton, I guess. Dallas should have a strong starting five but they are going to need quality bench production and that means some of those guys are going to have to step up their game.

Why you should watch the Mavericks: The easy answer here is Dirk Nowitzki — the best shooting big man in the history of the game, a guy with one of the iconic shots in the history of the game (that one-legged fade-away). He is worth the price of admission. Frankly, with all the offensive weapons this season the Mavericks are going to be fun. But if you’re a basketball junkie, you should tune in to see the adjustments and plays from coach Rick Carlisle — he’s as good an Xs and Os coach as there is in the league. He constantly puts guys in great positions to take advantage of their skill set.

Prediction: 53-29, and I think they have a real shot at being a little better and getting the four seed and home court in the first round of the playoffs. This is a better Mavericks team than a year ago. Around the Mavs they seem to think they have another contender on their hands (I’m looking at you, Cuban), I don’t see that. But this team is in the second tier in the West and making the second round of the playoffs is a real possibility. However that’s as far as it goes.

LeBron, Lakers top Tatum’s big afternoon for Celtics

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LOS ANGELESLeBron James scored 29 points and put the Lakers ahead on a fallaway jumper with 30 seconds to play, and Los Angeles split its season series with the Boston Celtics with a 114-112 victory Sunday.

James missed a tying free throw moments before he coolly nailed the shot the put the Lakers ahead to stay in a frenetic fourth quarter to cap the latest chapter of this famed NBA rivalry.

Anthony Davis had 32 points and 13 rebounds in the fifth straight win overall for the Lakers, who took a 32-point blowout loss in Boston last month.

Davis hit two free throws with 12.3 seconds left and added one more with 6.7 seconds to play, before Jayson Tatum was called for charging in the final second as he attempted to create one last basket.

Tatum matched his career high with 41 points for the Celtics, who had won 12 of 14 starting with that dominant win over the Lakers in January.

Boston turned the ball over with 15.5 seconds left after James’ big shot, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens got a technical foul for arguing about it. Davis missed that free throw, however.

Grant Williams hit two free throws for Boston immediately afterward, and Davis hit one of two to give a final chance to the Celtics.

Jaylen Brown scored 20 points for Boston, but Kemba Walker missed his second straight game with left knee soreness.

The rematch was far more competitive than the teams’ first meeting this season, with both taking small leads in the fourth quarter before the exciting finish.

Davis’ third 3-pointer put the Lakers up 108-105 with 2:08 to play, but Gordon Hayward hit a jumper before Brown’s 3-pointer put the Celtics back ahead 110-108 with 1:17 to go.

With the Lakers’ immediate return to excellence since beating out Boston to acquire Davis last summer, these longtime rivals are both playoff-bound championship contenders yet again.

Los Angeles is comfortably atop the Western Conference standings, while the Celtics sit third in the East. Both teams have a decent shot of meeting in the NBA Finals for the 13th time if they continue to grow from big games like this thriller.

Tatum underlined his growing superstardom by matching the career high he set against New Orleans last month. He scored 16 points in a five-minute barrage alone during the third quarter, finishing the period with 18.

The Lakers hung in with 16 points in the third from Davis after his quiet first half.

Walker scored 20 points against the Lakers last month to beat James for the first time in the stars’ 29 career meetings. The Lakers took their worst loss of the season in that initial meeting while getting just 23 minutes from Davis, who had just returned from a two-week injury absence.

The rematch featured much more defense than the teams’ first meeting, with Rajon Rondo and Brown both making big steals for their respective clubs. Only Tatum made a major offensive impact in the first half with 19 points.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Walker’s injury is “not a long-term thing,” Stevens said. Walker did work in the weight room before the game. … The bench scored just five points in the first three quarters, including only one field goal, and finished with 11 points.

Lakers: James went down in pain early in the fourth quarter when Daniel Theis ran into him under the basket. James stayed in the game after a timeout. … Rondo spent much of the pregame warmup chatting with Kevin Garnett, his longtime Celtics teammate. Garnett then watched the game from the baseline near the LA bench with Lakers part-owner Patrick Soon-Shiong. … The matchup is always a hot ticket for celebrities. Fans near courtside included Eddie Murphy, Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington.

UP NEXT

Celtics: Visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night.

Lakers: Host the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Jaren Jackson Jr. out for at least two weeks for Grizzlies

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Gordon Hayward
(Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Memphis Grizzlies announced that Jaren Jackson Jr. suffered a sprained left knee late during the second quarter of Friday’s game vs the Los Angeles Lakers:

Memphis says Jackson will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

In his second year, Jackson has been a big part of the Grizzlies surprising success. Memphis is currently in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with a record of 28-28. Jackson has proven to be an ideal running mate for rookie point guard Ja Morant, as the Grizzlies have rebuilt quicker than anyone expected.

With Jackson out, Memphis will need to replace 16.9 points and 1.6 blocks per game. Jackson also regularly functions as the Grizzlies backup center, sliding over to play the pivot when starter Jonas Valanciunas is out.

With Jackson out for at least two weeks, and potentially longer, Memphis will lean on Kyle Anderson and rookie Brandon Clarke at the four. The trickle-down impact may be more minutes for backup center Gorgui Dieng, who was acquired at the trade deadline, up front behind Valanciunas. In addition, Josh Jackson, who spent the first few months of the season in the G-League, has had a bit of resurgence in recent weeks. With Anderson likely to play more at power forward, Jackson may see even more minutes on the wing.

Ben Simmons out at least through Monday

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons‘ troublesome back will keep him out at least through Monday reports NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters. Winters reports that Simmons went through testing upon the Sixers return to Philadelphia on Sunday and will have further testing done on Monday:

Simmons missed the first game back from the All-Star break on Thursday due to back soreness. He then exited Saturday night’s game at the Milwaukee Bucks after playing less than five minutes.

Simmons went to his second-straight All-Star game last week. He’s averaged 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.2 assists and a league-leading 2.1 steals per game through 54 games this season.

An up-and-down season sees Philadelphia currently fifth in the Eastern Conference. The 76ers are an equal 1.5 games behind Miami for fourth and ahead of Indiana in sixth. The Sixers would love to climb to fourth for homecourt advantage in the postseason, as they’ve been dominant at home with a 26-2 record, while underwhelming on the road at just 9-20.

With Joel Embiid continuing to suffer from injuries, while also having his minutes managed, Philadelphia can’t afford to be without Simmons for long. The 76ers added depth on the wing at the trade deadline with Alec Bucks and Glenn Robinson III, but have little behind Simmons at point guard. Raul Neto started in Simmons’ place on Thursday, but did not play on Saturday until the game was well in-hand for Milwaukee.

Lance Stephenson hopes strong season in China springboards him back to NBA

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The Chinese Basketball Association season is up in the air because of the Coronavirus outbreak. The season is postponed and, while there is talk of restarting it on April 1, there are more questions than answers about that plan right now.

Lance Stephenson was in China playing for the Liaoning Flying Leopards and — as many American scorers can do against the soft defenses in the CBA — put up impressive numbers. Stephenson is hoping to use that as a springboard back to the NBA, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Will it work for Stephenson? Maybe. It only takes one GM looking for a little scoring punch down the stretch to buy-in.

However, GMs also know the numbers are inflated in China and it doesn’t translate to being able to do the same thing in the NBA. Jimmer Fredette is example 1A. Or, here are the top five scorers in the Chinese league so far this season:

1. Dominique Jones (Jilin Northeast Tigers) 37.8
2. Joe Young (Nanjing Monkey Kings) 35.9
3. Darius Adams (Qingdao Eagles) 34.9
4. Tyler Hansbrough (Sichuan Blue Whales) 32.3
5. Jonathan Gibson (Jiangsu Dragons) 31.2

All of those guys, and a lot more, would like to use China as a springboard back to the NBA. That, however, is proving to be a long leap.