51 Q: Can Parsons, Matthews get healthy, lift Dallas to the playoffs?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Can Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons get healthy enough to lift Dallas into the playoffs?

There was a time, just a few years ago, when the answer to this question was “it doesn’t matter, they have Dirk Nowitzki.”

It’s not anymore. Nowitzki is still good — he averaged 17.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists a game last season — but he has slipped from the ranks of “top-5, can carry a team all by himself” status. If you watched him last season, you saw him miss more open looks than anyone remembers. According to the shot tracking stats at NBA.com, Nowitzki hit 47 percent of his open looks on two-pointers last season — when the defender was 4-6 feet away — which is well down from 52 percent the season before. He hit just 42 percent of his open jumpers inside 10 feet. He missed more of his isolation jumpers. The shots just were not falling at the same rate as they did with the Mavs title team in 2011 or the next couple seasons, and at age 37 the slide is likely to continue.

Nowitzki needs help. And that’s where the health of Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons will decide the potential playoff fate of Dallas. (The health and play of Deron Williams will be the other key part of any playoff push.)

If healthy and playing near their peaks, Parsons and Matthews provide quality wing scoring and defensive options that Rick Carlisle would deploy brilliantly to space the floor and exploit mismatches. If D-Will and Nowitzki run a pick-and-pop, Matthews is spacing the floor at the arc and Parsons makes a smart cut to the basket, it’s not going to be easy to defend.

But will Parsons and Matthews be healthy enough to make that a reality?

Dallas went the full Bill Belichick on Parson’s injury, trying to keep secret what was actually done for reasons only they and the Illuminati know. It turns out to have been a hybrid microfracture surgery on a non-weight-bearing part of his knee, which is a good thing for Mavs fans. Parsons still is not cutting and jumping at full speed, but he should be able to play at the start of the season, if not very soon after.

Matthews is recovering from a torn Achilles and his timetable stretches out further. What Rick Carlisle said the other day seemed slightly misconstrued, he said Matthews will be back on the court by Christmas, but that is likely sooner. Matthews has tried to push for the start of the season, but Thanksgiving may be more realistic.

The bigger question is can these guys return to peak form quickly following their return?

History says no. Guys coming off microfracture tend to take some time to fully trust that knee again (as with other knee injuries) and they can be somewhat limited for a while. That timeline stretches out even further with guys coming back from a torn Achilles —most players are never quite as explosive or quick again, and even the few that have gotten the full measure of their athleticism back have taken a while to reach that point.

Dallas does not have much depth behind these two guys — Justin Anderson and John Jenkins are your primary backups. Williams can play some at the two if J.J. Barea is at the point (and I expect we will see a lot of guard-heavy lineups early in the season from Dallas), but none of these options are particularly threatening to opponents.

The other problem for Dallas is they are in the West — if they get off to a slow start without their two best wing players, it may be hard to dig out of the hole in the second half and get back into playoff contention.

Dallas likely will battle Utah and Phoenix for the eight seed in the West (this assumes that the Warriors, Clippers, Spurs, Rockets, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pelicans will make it and fill in the top seven seeds in some order). It’s likely going to take 46 or more wins to make the cut.

If Dallas is going to get to that number, they need a lot of things to go right. Nowitzki can’t decline much, D-Will needs to bounce back, someone has to step up as a defensive stopper in the paint, and they are going to need big seasons out of Parsons and Matthews. I think those two will play well together and lift this team, particularly after the All-Star break when they are healthy and recovered. That should have Dallas in the mix for the playoffs in the West.

But I’ve got a feeling it will be too little, too late to earn an invite to the postseason dance by beating out younger, healthier teams.

LeBron James on fan throwing item at Bronny during game: ‘Just disrespectful’

Bronny James
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LeBron James‘ son, Bronny, has an incredible amount of attention on him for a high schooler.

Unfortunately, someone took it too far while Bronny was playing a game in Massachusetts yesterday. A young-looking fan threw something at Bronny during a game.

LeBron:

LeBron, via ESPN:

“I didn’t see it or hear it, actually. While I was on the opposite side of the floor, I did see the referee stop the game or stop the inbound, and the cop came up there,” he said. “I didn’t even know what happened until the video evidence showed me when I got here.

“It’s just disrespectful, and it was a little kid too. I don’t know how old that little kid was, so I don’t know if he learned that on his own or if he learned it at home. Whatever the case may be, it’s disrespectful. I wonder how old that kid is, if he is the age around Bronny’s age [15] or [James’ son] Bryce’s age [12]. I’d like to see them try that while they’re paying attention.”

You can hear LeBron as a parent in these words, wondering the age of the thrower and where he learned the behavior.

It’s a shame the fan acted this way. Hopefully, someone teaches him a lesson about why this was wrong.

Three Things to Know: Don’t take Damian Lillard for granted, he explodes for 61 points

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Damian Lillard explodes for 61, reminds everyone he is elite. It’s not so much that Damian Lillard is forgotten by fans around the nation as much as just taken for granted. Because he plays in the Pacific Northwest and doesn’t end up on national television all that often, and because he’s been consistently so good for so long (but without the Trail Blazers being seen as a real threat to win a ring), fans sleep on him being one of the best and most entertaining guards in the NBA.

Not on Monday.

On Martin Luther King Day, Lillard reminded everyone just how special he can be scoring 61 points, knocking down 11 threes, and scoring seven in overtime to make sure Portland beat Golden State in a showcase TNT game.

The Warriors threw every defense they could find at Lillard: Double teams, a few triple teams, and most of the night Warriors players would pick him up full court. It didn’t matter. Lillard looked every bit the guy who finished top six in MVP voting the past two seasons, the All-NBA guard the last two seasons (and likely a third in a row this season), the guy who just can’t be stopped when he is on. Lillard scored 42 through the first three quarters, added a dozen more — including some clutch threes — in the fourth, then had seven more in OT. It was a virtuoso performance.

Lillard will likely get taken for granted again by fans this season, especially on a Portland team that is 19-26 and made a trade over the weekend — sending Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, and two second-round picks to Sacramento for Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel, and Caleb Swanigan — that was about cutting the team’s luxury tax bill in half. It also signaled to the league the Blazers would be sellers at the trade deadline, looking to get out of the tax entirely. (Expect for Portland to try and ship out Hassan Whiteside in a money-saving trade next.)

It’s a trade that largely waved the white flag on the season. Maybe things go right, Jusuf Nurkic comes back and Portland makes a push up to the final playoff slot in the West — and that’s a big maybe — but they are not a postseason threat this year.

Just don’t wave the white flag on Lillard, he’s still one of the game’s elite guards.

2) Kemba Walker owns LeBron James (at least once in the last 29 games, but he’ll take it). Kemba Walker, toiling away his career in Charlotte on teams where the dream was just making the playoffs, never seemed a threat to the LeBron James juggernauts in Miami and Cleveland. LeBron had beaten Walker 28 consecutive times.

Monday it was Walker’s turn.

Boston crushed the Lakers in a game that had fans flipping over to America’s Got Talent because there was more drama on that stage than the TD Garden. The Celtics took charge with a 12-1 run in the second, grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.7 percent of their missed shots for the game (led by Ennis Kanter), got 20 points from Walker and 27 from Jayson Tatum in a “don’t you dare leave me out of the All-Star Game” performance, and cruised to a 139-107 thumping of the Lakers. Boston led by 14 at half and the entire fourth quarter was basically garbage time.

Jaylen Brown dunking on LeBron pretty much sums up the night.

After that play, Brown stared down LeBron and got a technical — I hate that tech. Let the players show some emotion, let a little trash talk go down. If we wanted emotionless performances we’d put on a Keanu Reeves movie.

“I ain’t going to lie, that was pretty nice, pretty awesome,” Brown said after the game (via the AP). “LeBron, he’s gotten so many other guys. Just to be out there against one of the best players to ever play the game is an honor. I always like that matchup and it gives me a little extra boost.”

For the Lakers, this is a was a “flush it and move on” game that happens to every team over the course of a season. I’d be careful reading too much into this one game. Anthony Davis returned from his bruised tailbone but looked rusty. LeBron was just off, the Boston defense took Los Angeles out of their flow, and the Lakers stood around a lot and didn’t move off the ball. Marcus Smart had a good defensive game, Tatum’s length helped on that end, but mostly this was just an off night for the Lakers. There are questions about this Los Angeles roster, but one night in Boston didn’t tell us much about them.

3) Russell Westbrook now has a triple-double against every team in the NBA. Before MLK Day, only LeBron James had recorded a triple-double against every franchise in the NBA.

Russell Westbrook, welcome to that club. Monday he scored 32 points, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds against the one team still on his list — the Oklahoma City Thunder, for whom he had played up until this season.

Much like Lillard (mentioned above), we tend to take for granted just how impressive a player Westbrook is — triple-doubles are hard to come by and he just racks them up like they’re his birthright. We need to take a step back and admire what Westbrook does. we’re not going to see the likes of him for a while.

Westbrook’s play didn’t turn around Houston’s slump. The Rockets fell to the Thunder 112-107, that’s four losses in a row and 5-of-6 for the Rockets. In a tight West, these kinds of streaks can damage playoff seeding and Houston needs to right the ship quickly.

Friends reach out offering help after disturbing video of Delonte West surfaces

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Delonte West battled bipolar disorder during his eight NBA seasons, a career that was cut short in part by a series of actions likely tied to his condition.

He’s been out of the league since 2012, but his challenges have not changed. Over the weekend, a disturbing video of West being attacked and beaten on a Washington D.C. street surfaced. It was followed by a second video showing West handcuffed and apparently talking to the police (or waiting to talk to them), where West used graphic and disturbing language to accuse another man of pulling a gun on him.

In the wake of that, West’s former St. Joseph’s teammate Jameer Nelson posted this on Twitter:

West’s former coach at St. Joseph’s Phil Martelli followed that us, as did others on social media.

Others who knew West also chimed in:

Let’s hope West gets the help he needs.

Kemba Walker stops personal losing streak to LeBron James at 28, Celtics top Lakers

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BOSTON (AP) — Kemba Walker finally beat LeBron James, and he did it by helping the Boston Celtics send the Los Angeles Lakers to their biggest loss of the season.

Walker ended a career-long losing streak against James, scoring 20 points to beat him for the first time in 29 tries and lead the Celtics past the rival Lakers 139-107 on Monday night.

“I’m happy I got one at least, before he goes,” Walker said with a laugh after the Celtics snapped their three-game losing streak. “Who knows how long he can play, because he’s just incredible. But you know, it’s only one. One and 28.”

Jaylen Brown scored 20 points, drawing a taunting technical after dunking over James, and Enes Kanter had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Boston.

“I ain’t going to lie, that was pretty nice, pretty awesome,” Brown said. “LeBron, he’s gotten so many other guys. Just to be out there against one of the best players to ever play the game is an honor. I always like that matchup and it gives me a little extra boost.”

James said there was no shame in getting beaten — this time.

“Why would I take it personally? It’s part of basketball,” he said. “It’s not the first time I got dunked on. It might not be the last time I get dunked on. But Jaylen’s been playing exceptionally well this year. It was a good play.”

The Celtics gave up the first eight points of the game but turned things around when Anthony Davis, playing for the first time in almost two weeks, went to the bench with a pair of fouls 49 seconds apart early in the first quarter.

“The less he plays, the better for everybody else,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.

James had 15 points and 13 assists for the Lakers, who had won 10 of their previous 11 games. But the Celtics made 13 of their first 22 3-point attempts to open a 103-75 lead in the third quarter — the biggest against Los Angeles all season until Boston made it a 34-point game in the fourth.

“We were fortunate to put the ball in the basket quite a bit,” said Stevens, whose team shot 56% overall. “The ball going in masks some things.”

Walker’s 28 games without a win against James was second in NBA history only to Sherman Douglas’ 0-30 head-to-head record against Michael Jordan.

“If anybody: him. The guy I couldn’t beat, it’d be him. He’s such a great player, he’s done so much in this league,” said Walker, who spent the first eight years of his career in Charlotte. “He’s beaten a lot of guys. I bet you there’s a lot of people who don’t have a winning record against LeBron James.”