Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki reaches cusp of NBA’s 30,000-point club

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DALLAS (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki chuckled at the memory of he and Steve Nash trying to sneak in a few shots between YMCA games inside the closest thing the Dallas Mavericks had to a practice facility nearly 20 years ago.

He also recalled a trying rookie season with the Mavericks that was compressed by a lockout, playing on three consecutive nights as a teenager and sometimes sitting out the entire game even when healthy for one of the worst franchises in pro sports.

The 38-year-old German can smile about it all now because he sits on the cusp of an exclusive club , needing 20 points Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers to join four Hall of Famers and a future one, Kobe Bryant, as the only NBA players with 30,000 points. Julius Erving reached that milestone with his ABA career included, while Nowitzki will be the first international player in the group.

“There was some doubt creeping in,” said the bearded father of three, recalling the baby-faced version with floppy bangs. “I’m glad I stuck with it and tried to get better. I’m glad we grinded it, barely took any time off in the summer, always trying to add something.”

Nash retired three years ago, forced out by back issues that limited him to 15 games his final season. Nowitzki looks better every day in his 19th season after being slowed early by a sore Achilles tendon. He’s already said he plans to make it 20.

Together, the best friends revitalized the Mavericks after a decade of losing. So it stands to reason that if Nowitzki were to take a moment to reminisce, his playmaking point guard would come to mind as he prepares to join a list that includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.

Not only did the Mavericks lack a practice facility that was theirs exclusively in the late 1990s, Nowitzki said they didn’t have catering after games or even food after practice. That’s why he and Nash had their favorite hangout – the Loon.

“We had to go to Chipotle after practice every other day,” he said. “And after games, everything was closed so we’d hit the Loon for a chicken sandwich or a burger and a beer for recovery. You can get away with a lot of things when you’re young.”

Nowitzki and Nash separated before achieving their greatest successes. Nash went to Phoenix as a free agent and won consecutive MVPs in 2005-06. Nowitzki took it the next year after beating Nash and the Suns the previous season for his first trip to the NBA Finals.

Dallas lost to Miami in that 2006 series, but beat LeBron James and the Heat five years later for the franchise’s only title. That’s the first thing Miami coach Erik Spoelstra thinks of when asked about Nowitzki and the looming milestone.

“What else do you need to accomplish in this league?” Spoelstra asked. “In the toughest, most pressured moments, he played his best. His game is timeless. When he’s playing anybody but us, I like throwing the game on and seeing Nowitzki play.”

Once former Mavericks coach Don Nelson moved Nowitzki to power forward, the smooth-shooting 7-footer redefined what’s known as the “stretch four” position, forcing teams to guard him at the 3-point line. But it was more than that to owner Mark Cuban.

“Put the ball on the ground, spin moves, finished at the rim, rebound and took it coast to coast, rebound and took it for a pull-up 3,” Cuban said. “There were big guys that could shoot 3s but they weren’t putting it on the ground and leading a fast break.”

Nowitzki won his championship by adding a one-legged fadeaway jumper that TV analyst Charles Barkley called unguardable and four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant worked to mimic.

These days, Nowitzki defers to Harrison Barnes in the Dallas offense. The Mavericks gave Barnes a max contract when Durant went to Golden State in free agency.

Barnes, who has a chance to be Dallas’ first 20-point scorer since Nowitzki in 2013-14, has enjoyed the closer view of his neighbor in the home locker room.

“You look at his body, his athleticism, you’re like, `OK, there’s no way this guy has 30,000 points,”‘ Barnes said with a smile. “It just speaks to his consistency, year in, year out, Hall of Fame players next to him, not Hall of Fame players next to him, going out and doing what he does all the time.”

The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since taking the title almost six years ago, cycling through dozens of roster moves to try to give Nowitzki another shot at a title. Cuban watched all those players come and go.

“When you get a new guy on the team, you’ve seen Dirk but never really watched Dirk,” said Cuban, who bought the team during Nowitzki’s second season in January 2000. “And that jumper, you see how smooth it is and you see it go through the net. And you start to see guys really start to appreciate them and realize just how incredible he is or the competitive streak he has. There’s just no way to put into words.”

There’s about to be another way to put it into numbers.

Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

LeBron James: Neighbor’s walls, not Breonna Taylor, got justice

Lakers star LeBron James
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Louisville police officers were not charged with killing Breonna Taylor. However, former officer Brett Hankison was charged with first-degree wanton endangerment for allegedly firing firing recklessly into nearby apartments during the incident.

That outcome left NBA players unsatisfied.

LeBron James:

The emotions LeBron – and many others – are feeling are completely understandable. This was a tragedy. Faced with an obvious injustice, it’s easy to demand the harshest-imaginable punishment. That didn’t come.

But it is not too late to address the injustices – which were always far larger than the officers at the scene returning fire – at play in Taylor’s death.

Tyler Herro carries Heat over Celtics in Game 4, within one game of NBA Finals

Tyler Herro after Heat-Celtics Game 4
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If the Celtics targeted Tyler Herro in the 2019 NBA Draft, they have more reason than ever to lament their near miss.

Herro scored 37 points to lead the Heat to a 112-109 win over the Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday. The 21-year-old rookie put Miami up 3-1 and himself in the record book.

The only other player so young to score so much in a playoff game? Magic Johnson, who had 42 points in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals at age 20.

The Heat will look to reach the NBA Finals in Game 5 Friday. Teams leading a best-of-seven series 3-1 have won 95% of the time.

Miami’s big concern: Bam Adebayo, who hurt his wrist late in the game. Adebayo (20 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals) played through the injury but appeared to be feeling it.

He and the Heat just kept grinding through everything, though.

Miami won despite shooting only 10-for-37 on 3-pointers (27%). Forget about make-or-miss league. The Heat willed themselves to victory with aggravating defense, hustle, rebounding… and, yes, big-time shot-making by Herro, who made 9-of-11 2-pointers and 5-of-10 3-pointers

The Celtics committed 19 turnovers – some forced by Miami, some self-inflicted. The Heat’s zone defense continues to make Boston uncomfortable, though Marcus Smart (10 points and 11 assists) found some success penetrating and kicking against it. Jaylen Brown (21 points and nine rebounds) knocked down some of those created looks.

After a scoreless first half, Jayson Tatum scored 28 points in the second half. Stephen Curry scored 33 second-half points after a scoreless first half in Game 6 against the Rockets last year. That’s the only time someone followed a scoreless first half with so many second-half points in the Basketball-Reference postseason database, which dates back to 1997.

But those successes weren’t sustained. Tatum (six), Smart (four) and Brown (four) all had too many turnovers.

This series is even by points scored. But Boston has been just a little too erratic, which is why Miami has the key 3-1 lead.

Report: 76ers open to trading if they hire Mike D’Antoni

76ers forward Al Horford and Tobias Harris
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The 76ers said they wouldn’t trade Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons.

Which makes it confounding they reportedly want to hire Mike D’Antoni as coach.

D’Antoni has typically succeeded with teams that can play small to spread the floor and pressure opponents through speed… and struggled otherwise. Post-based Embiid and non-shooting Simmons don’t fit D’Antoni’s demonstrated style.

Maybe Philadelphia’s roster could change.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Keith Smith:

The 76ers could trade Al Horford and Tobias Harris to reduce their glut of bigs. But Horford was already on the block (good luck convincing anyone to take his contract), and Harris is also expensive. For what it’s worth, Harris could thrive as a small-ball power forward in D’Antoni’s system, but Harris is often pigeonholed as a small forward on this roster.

The Embiid-Simmons pairing is a fundamental issue, though. Whatever Philadelphia does with Horford and Harris, Embiid and Simmons just haven’t played like they’d fit well together under D’Antoni.

If the 76ers remain insistent on not trading Embiid or Simmons, there are only so many roster moves that can be done to help D’Antoni.

Adding further complications, Philadelphia might be seeking a new lead executive. That could explain why Tyronn Lue has also gotten so strongly linked to this job. It’s not even clear who’ll oversee the coach and roster, let alone what plan that person will have.

So, yes, it’s meaningful if the 76ers are advancing trade talks with other teams to make their roster fit D’Antoni. But there are still plenty of questions about what will actually happen in Philadelphia.

For NBA players, Breonna Taylor grand jury decision ‘not enough’

Grizzlies forward Anthony Tolliver wears Breonna Taylor shirt
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — LeBron James sent the word to the Los Angeles Lakers in a group text on Wednesday afternoon, and basketball suddenly seemed irrelevant.

A grand jury in Kentucky had finally spoken. And James was letting his team know that NBA players, who have spent months seeking justice for Breonna Taylor, did not get what they wanted.

“Something was done,” Lakers guard Danny Green said, “but it wasn’t enough.”

Wednesday’s decision by the grand jury, which brought no charges against Louisville police for Taylor’s killing and only three counts of wanton endangerment against fired Officer Brett Hankison for shooting into Taylor’s neighbors’ homes, was not unexpected by many NBA players and coaches. They had a sense it wasn’t going to go how they hoped.

“I know we’ve been using our platform down here to try to bring about education and a voice in a lot of players on our team, especially also spoken out on justice for Breonna Taylor,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “We have not gotten that justice.”

Teams came to Walt Disney World to finish the season and crown a champion, and hoping that the platform of the NBA’s restart bubble could help amplify calls for change. Players and coaches have used the NBA spotlight to make statements at a time when the demand for racial equality and an end to police brutality is resonating as loudly as it has in generations.

And Taylor’s story – the tale of a 26-year-old Black woman who was killed March 13 by police in Louisville when they burst into her apartment on a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation centered around a suspect who did not live there – has captivated NBA players. Many have met, virtually, with members of her family to offer support. They say her name in news conferences, wear it on shirts, scrawl it onto their sneakers.

“We have moms. We have sisters, nieces, aunties. And just like men of color have experienced traumatic instances, so have women,” Boston forward Jaylen Brown said. “That is an example of some things that happen to women in our country. So, we wanted to stand alongside them, but also make it that it’s not just us. I think the future is female, so it’s important to show our sisters that we care. That’s why it’s been important.”

Even for teams not in the bubble, it mattered. Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce leads a committee of NBA coaches tasked with finding new ways to use their own platform to create change, and he’s encouraged his own players – Black and white alike – to speak out and take action, whether in Atlanta or their own community.

Pierce took Wednesday’s news hard.

“Yeah, there was a grand jury and yeah, they went through the information and yeah, they have facts to support whatever the claims may be,” Pierce said. “But that doesn’t provide any justice for those that are on the outside, those that feel like the police and law enforcement are there to protect them. … What currently is happening isn’t good enough.”

Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell:

Clippers big Montrezl Harrell:

National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts went a step further. “Sadly, there was no justice today for Breonna Taylor,” Roberts said. “Her killing was the result of a string of callous and careless decisions made with a lack of regard for humanity, ultimately resulting in the death of an innocent and beautiful woman with her entire life ahead of her.”

The league shut down for three days last month when a boycott that was started by the Milwaukee Bucks – in response to the shooting by police of a Black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin – nearly caused players to end the season because they felt their pleas for change were not being taken seriously enough.

And Wednesday’s news was another disappointment for them.

“We feel like we’ve taken a step back, that we haven’t made the progress we were seeking,” Green said. “Our voices aren’t being heard loud enough. But we’re not going to stop. We’re going to continue. We’re going to continue fighting, we’re going to continue to push, we’re going to continue to use our voices.”