Mavericks clinch playoff spot with 101-92 win over Jazz

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks clinched a Western Conference playoff spot for the third consecutive season and the 15th time in the last 16 years.

Dirk Nowitzki scored 22 and the Mavericks earned the No. 7 spot Monday with a 101-92 win over the Utah Jazz, leaving one remaining postseason slot.

The postseason is nothing new for the organization, but the team seemed to be in dire straits when it dropped 10 of 12 during a stretch in March and lost Chandler Parsons for the season after surgery on his right knee on March 25.

Dallas made a playoff push by winning seven of its last eight games.

“Well, it’s been a lot of work,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s been an amazing two weeks. Our guys looked like they were down and out, and we all dug in. Everyone dug in, especially the players, and we found a way to get into the playoffs.

“Tonight was game seven. That’s the way we approached it.”

Utah (40-41) lost control of its own destiny and needs to beat the Lakers on Wednesday and for the Rockets (40-41) to lose to the Kings. Houston holds the tiebreaker against the Jazz if they finish with the same record.

Dallas (42-39) rode its two biggest stars to victory as Nowitzki hit four 3-pointers and added 11 rebounds. Deron Williams scored 23 of his own against his former team.

“Coming in here, we knew it was going to be like a playoff atmosphere,” said William, who was booed throughout. “In a sense, (it) was a playoff game because there was so much at stake.

“(The boos) got me going out there a little bit. Not only the booing, but the stuff that was being said when I was sitting on the bench, at dead balls, stuff like that.”

Gordon Hayward finished with 26, but was 1 for 9 from 3-point range. The Jazz struggled to shoot the ball and were 2 for 18 from behind the arc in the second half.

“We just didn’t play that good,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I don’t think we made a perimeter shot until about five minutes left in the game. It just puts a lot of pressure on you.

“We talked about the last 20 games or so to try to be in a playoff race and find ourselves in this position. Unfortunately, Dallas was a better team tonight. We looked like a team that’s the youngest team in the league. And that’s what we are. This is a good experience for us. It hurts right now.”

The Mavs took a 50-46 lead into halftime after leading by as much as eight in the first half. The Jazz struggled to keep up with Nowitzki in the first quarter, in which he scored 10, and Williams in the second, when he scored 16.

“We just weren’t staying within the offense,” Jazz forward Derrick Favors said. “We missed a lot of shots that we normally make. (Rodney Hood) normally makes most of the shots he takes. It was just a tough offensive night for us.

“Wasn’t any nervousness. Just (missed) a lot of shots that we normally make.”

TIP-INS

Mavericks: Nowitzki hit four 3-pointers and now has 1,700 in his career to become the 15th player in NBA history with at least 1,700 career triples. … Nowitzki needs two made free throws to become the seventh player in NBA history – and the first 7-footer – with 7,000 career made free throws.

Jazz: Starting center Rudy Gobert hit the floor with when he rolled his right ankle fighting for a rebound. He immediately went to the locker room and did not return. He was on crutches and in a walking boot after the game. … Trey Lyles started his second consecutive game with Derrick Favors dealing with right knee soreness. Favors played but clearly wasn’t fully healthy.

SAAVY VETERANS

The Mavericks are the second most experienced team in the NBA and the Jazz are the least. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said before the game that helps his team. “Experience is valuable,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have been in a lot of playoff games and a lot of big regular season games. There were some things you can remind them of. But as the second-most experienced team in the league, I don’t think there’s a lot I need to say to them.”

 

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.