Mavericks finally return to court for West Finals vs. Thunder
The Dallas Mavericks have had a whopping eight days off since finishing the two-time reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers in a sweep in their Western Conference semifinal series. But all that rest might be a good thing for Dallas, the oldest team remaining in the playoffs, as it opens the West Finals at home on Tuesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Mavs are 6-point favorites for Game 1 on WagerWeb.com.
Oklahoma City is the youngest team left in the NBA’s Final Four and was the third-youngest in the NBA this season. The Thunder finished off Memphis in seven games on Sunday, 105-90 in an impressive performance. OKC’s two superstars came up big. Kevin Durant followed up a terrible Game 6 with 39 points, the fourth-highest scoring total for any player in his first Game 7. And Russell Westbrook, who some had criticized for shooting too much in this series, was at his all-around best with 14 points, matching his season-high with 14 assists and producing extra possessions with 10 rebounds. Durant was the main beneficiary, as 21 of Durant’s 39 points were off passes from Westbrook. Oklahoma City is now 42-14 when Westbrook assists on at least 16 points.
The Mavericks swept the Lakers thanks mostly to Dirk Nowitzki, whom L.A. simply couldn’t guard. Dirk led Dallas to two wins in three games against the Thunder during the regular season (both wins in OKC), by averaging 23.5 points on 61.9 percent shooting. It’s thought that OKC will stick athletic, 6-foot-10, 235-pound Serge Ibaka, the top shot-blocker this postseason, on Dirk. But it’s tough to swat fallaways, step-backs and one-legged step-backs taken 15 feet and out. Behind Ibaka, gritty and determined veteran Nick Collison, a solid 6-10, will have to take a few shifts.
Durant tore up the Mavs this season by averaging 29.3 points on 52.4 percent shooting. But Westbrook struggled, averaging 14.3 points on just 31.8 percent shooting. The Thunder’s lone win in the series came in a game in which Nowitzki missed with an injury. But Dallas’ two wins came with Caron Butler in the lineup – he averaged 18.0 ppg in those two – and he’s still out injured by trying to work his way back.
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Magic Johnson rips Lakers after sweep vs. Mavericks (video)
It should be an interesting offseason for the Los Angeles Lakers as it is expected this team will look a lot different next season after getting swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday.
None other than former Laker legend Magic Johnson has said that GM Mitch Kupchak needs to “blow up” the roster. Already there are rumors that Los Angeles will make a play for Orlando center Dwight Howard, who can become an unrestricted free agent after next season and reportedly has eyes on Hollywood – just like a former Magic star center did back in the mid-1990s.
“I think you can be together too long,” said Johnson. “This group has been together too long… they don’t believe in one another. … What it means is (Lakers owner Jerry Buss) has got a lot of work to do. .. he’s now you’ve got to come up with some fresh faces… He’s probably going to have to blow up this team.”
It will be tough reshaping the roster, however, because most of the team’s key players have big contracts that will be difficult to unload. And, based on comments from both Kupchak and outgoing coach Phil Jackson, a massive roster makeover may not be on the horizon.
Jackson said Johnson’s remark about blowing up the roster was “unnecessary,” and Kupchak disagreed that Johnson’s opinion is shared by the Lakers front office.
“I thought Earvin was trying to motivate our players,” Kupchak said. “I talk to Earvin from time to time, and I think Dr. Buss does from time to time, and this moves too quickly for him to be intimately involved in what’s going on day to day, so I would hesitate to think that was the case.”
Magic also ripped Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom for their “classless” acts during the team’s Game 4 loss to the Mavericks. Magic said the duo “embarrassed” the Lakers organization with their cheap fouls. It’s a lock that Bynum will be suspended for multiple games for the start of next season after his obvious takedown of Dallas’ J.J. Barea.
Mavericks can all but end Lakers dynasty in Game 3
Has a two-time champion ever been looked at so differently after just two games of a playoff series? It sure seems the Los Angeles Lakers look both overmatched and old in their Western Conference semifinal series as L.A. now has to head to Dallas for Friday’s night’s Game 3 with their dynasty on life support and in a 0-2 hole. And the Mavs are 2.5-point favorites for Game 3 on WagerWeb.com.
Let’s get to the key player news for this one. As for this writing the NBA hadn’t decided but it is expected that the Lakers’ Ron Artest, still one of the top defenders in the league, will be suspended for clotheslining Mavericks guard J.J. Barea in the waning seconds of Game 2. Why Artest was in the game with the outcome decided is rather questionable. Artest was given a second technical foul (he early elbowed the Mavs’ Tyson Chandler) and ejected. With Artest’s past, it would be a minor miracle if he’s not suspended.
“It was uncalled for,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “There’s a good chance he’ll be suspended. I hope not.”
That means one less defender to help on Dirk Nowitzki, who has been torching the Lakers. And it means one less body comes off a Laker bench that already has been terrible through two games. That bench scored 12 points in Game 2 or as many as Barea did.
The last time the Lakes lost the first two games of a series as the home team was 1977, when they lost to the eventual champion Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals. Only three teams have lost the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home and come back to win the series. They are the 1969 Lakers, the ’94 Rockets and the ’05 Mavericks.
In Game 2, Los Angeles missed its first 15 3-point attempts in Game 2, only avoiding its first playoff game without a 3-pointer since May 8, 2001, on Kobe Bryant’s 3-pointer with 2:43 left. Los Angeles finished 2 for 20 on 3-pointers, but the Lakers also appeared simply exhausted during long stretches of their 75th playoff game in the last four seasons.
The Lakers are done if Pau Gasol doesn’t return to form. He had a pedestrian 13 points, 10 rebounds and one assist and has been torched by Nowitzki. Last season during the playoffs, Gasol averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds on 53% shooting. This season, after seven games entering Wednesday, he was averaging 14 points and seven rebounds on 43% shooting.
Pressure on Lakers in Game 2 vs. Mavericks
When a Phil Jackson-coached team wins the first game of a playoff series, it always wins the series. When it doesn’t, well, then things can get interesting. And that’s where we are with the Lakers after they were stunned 96-94 at home in Monday’s Game 1 against the Dallas Mavericks despite leading by 16 at one point in the third quarter. The Lakers know they can’t go back to Dallas down 0-2 and they are 7-point favorites tonight on WagerWeb.com.
Of course the Lakers also lost Game 1 last round against New Orleans at home and rallied to take that series. But only once has a team rallied to win an NBA championship after losing its series opener in each of the first two rounds of the playoffs. And unlike the Lakers, Rudy Tomjanovich’s resilient 1994-95 Houston Rockets lost their series openers on the road.
Kobe Bryant had a good game overall in Game 1 for the Lakers but came up empty on three straight possessions — including a pretty good look at that potential game winner — in Game 1′s final 20 seconds. Bryant scored 21 of his 36 points in the second half, but he couldn’t close out the Mavs. His bad pass was stolen by Jason Terry with 20 seconds left, and he fumbled a handoff from Pau Gasol with 4 seconds to play before missing that catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.
Dirk Nowitzki, on the other hand, hit the winning free throws and had four total points in the final 40 seconds. He finished with 28 points and 14 rebounds.
Game 2 has not been kind to the Mavs on the road in recent playoff series. They are 0-3 since 2008 in Game 2 situations on the road and 1-4 overall.. Peja Stojakovic has continued a solid run with his shooting, nailing better than 44 percent from 3-point range in seven playoff games.
The Lakers are 2-16 all time in series when they have started in an 0-2 hole. When splitting the first two games, they have won 29 of 41 series. Kobe’s 36 points Monday marked his 81st playoff game with 30 points or more. He trails only Michael Jordan (109) on that list. … The Lakers shot just 38 percent in the second half Monday. Take away Bryant’s 9-of-17 shooting in that half, and the rest of the Lakers were 7-of-25 or 28 percent. The Lakers’ usually strong bench was outscored, 40-25, in Game 1, including 17-8 in the second half.
Mavericks look to end Blazers’ season in Game 6
If the Dallas Mavericks want to get any rest ahead of a likely Western Conference semifinals matchup with the two-time NBA champion Lakers, they need to end their series against the Trail Blazers in Portland tonight. And the Blazers are 4-point favorites on WagerWeb.com. The second-round series between the winner of the Mavericks-Blazers series and the Lakers-Hornets series will begin Monday and Game 7 of this series would be Saturday – so no rest for the winner. L.A. also plays tonight but should be able to finish off New Orleans.
Dallas shouldn’t even be in this Game 6. And they wouldn’t be had the Mavericks protected a 23-point lead in the final 13:16 and a 10-point lead in the final 3:33 of Game 4. Monday’s Game 5 win would have eliminated the Trail Blazers and the Mavs would have become the first team in either conference to advance in the playoffs. Tyson Chandler was the difference in Game 5 with 14 points and 20 rebounds. The Mavericks crashed the offensive glass in Game 5, grabbing 41.7 percent of their missed shots, their second-most dominant performance all season. Portland’s Brandon Roy went from scoring 24 points in Game 4 to just five in 26 minutes of Game 5. In the Blazers’ three losses in this series he is averaging 2.3 points on 20 percent shooting. In the two wins it’s 20 ppg on better than 65 percent shooting.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle called Game 5 a must-win, a nod to Dallas being 0-4 in Portland this season and to the club having lost eight straight playoff road games. Portland has never won a playoff series after falling behind 3-2. Also, Portland has been ousted in Game 6 of the first round the past two years. The Blazers haven’t won a playoff series of any kind since 2000. Of the previous 157 series tied at 2, the Game 5 winner has come out on top 83 percent of the time.
The Blazers simply must get more from Gerald Wallace. The Blazers forward is averaging 11.8 points and shooting 40 percent from the field in the series.
Mavericks still have shot at No. 2 seed but must beat Hornets
There is only one game in the NBA’s final night of the regular season on Wednesday night that has meaning for both teams and that’s when New Orleans visits Dallas, with the Mavericks opening as 11-point favorites on WagerWeb.com’s NBA odds.
The Mavericks will claim the No. 2 spot with a win here and a Los Angeles Lakers loss in Sacramento. And you might be thinking that there’s no chance that L.A. loses that one. But be aware that the Lakers don’t have injured center Andrew Bynum and that this is probably the Kings’ final game ever in Sacramento with the team set to move to Anaheim. So the players and the crowd will be jacked up.
The Mavericks could still finish anywhere between 2nd and 4th in the Western Conference. Here are the following scenarios:
*-No. 2 seed: To become the No. 2 seed, the Mavericks must win today and the Lakers must lose.
*-No. 3 seed: To become the No. 3 seed, the Mavericks either have to a) win today, have the Lakers win and have the Thunder lose (vs. the Bucks) or b) lose today and have the Thunder lose as well.
*-No. 4 seed: To become the No. 4 seed, the Mavericks must lose today and have both the Lakers and Thunder win.
Thus because there is so much on the line, expect all of Dallas’ starters to play. New Orleans also has something to play for: the No. 7 seed. The Hornets and Grizzlies are tied for that spot, with New Orleans holding the tiebreaker if both win or lose tonight. And Memphis rested all of its starters already once this week and is expected to tonight as well.
New Orleans leads the season series with Dallas 2-1. All three of the games have been decided by three points or fewer, with the most recent meeting ending in crazy fashion. The visiting Mavericks led 92-85 with a minute to play March 9, but New Orleans scored the final eight points — the last three coming after Jarrett Jack was fouled shooting a 3 — to seal a wild 93-92 victory. Jack was only in the game because Hornets star Chris Paul missed the game with an injury.
Thursday NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns
The final NBA game before the All-Star break features the Dallas Mavericks trying to become the fourth team in the NBA with 40 wins this season against a Phoenix team trying to stay close to the No. 8 spot and final playoff berth in the West. Dallas is a 1.5-point favorite on WagerWeb.com.
The Mavericks will try to join the San Antonio Spurs (46-9), Boston Celtics (40-14) and Miami Heat (41-15) as the only teams to go into the break with at least 40 wins. The Mavs, winners of 12 of 13, improved to a season-best 23-games over .500 with Wednesday’s 116-100 win over the Sacramento Kings for a record of 39-16. A win over Steve Nash and the Suns would give Dallas 21 wins against teams with winning records, a higher percentage than the Spurs, Celtics and Heat.
Wednesday’s win was a great sign for Dallas because lightning-quick French point guard (i.e. think Tony Parker) Roddy Beaubois made his season debut after breaking a leg in August. Beaubois had 13 points, six assists and three steals in 21 minutes against the Kings. With his return, Dallas got a taste of fielding a complete team — excluding Caron Butler — for the first time this season. It is deeper, more talented and now more dynamic in the backcourt than perhaps any team in the Dirk Nowitzki era. The Mavs had eight players score in double figures Wednesday in winning its 12 game in the past 13.
Phoenix, which is two games behind Utah for eighth in the West, enters off a 102-101 win over Utah on Tuesday. Channing Frye had a career-high 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. In the first quarter alone he was 7 of 7, five of them 3-pointers, for 19 points. Steve Nash had 20 points and 14 assists for Phoenix, winner of seven of its last nine. Nash remains one of the most efficient players in the league, averaging almost 17 points and better than 11 assists per game while shooting 52 percent from the field and 41 percent from beyond the arc.
The Mavericks don’t usually play well in Phoenix, losing losing 17 of their last 25 visits to the Valley of the Sun. They are an impressive 7-4 on the second night of back-to-back games, however.
Billups expected to play when Nuggets host Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks’ 10-game winning streak, their second run of at least 10 games this season (only San Antonio has also accomplished that) is in major jeopardy on Thursday night when the Mavs visit Denver. And in fact the Nuggets are 3-point favorites on WagerWeb.com.
Dallas played on Wednesday night against the Kings and got 15 fourth-quarter points for J.J. Barea to beat the Kings 102-100. Barea’s strong play made up for Dirk Nowitzki’s tough night caused by a sprained right wrist. Dirk had his right (shooting) wrist wrapped in tape, was often flexing it or rubbing it and shot just 4-of-14 for 10 points. The Mavericks now are 26-1 when scoring 100 points or more.
As mentioned, it’s the second winning streak of 10 or more games this season for the Mavs. They won 12 in a row bridging November and December. This is only the second season in franchise history that they’ve had multiple double-digit winning streaks. They had three 10-plus streaks in 2006-07, topped by a 17-gamer, when they went 67-15.
The Nuggets also played on Wednesday night, losing at Golden State 116-114. Denver had a chance to tie or win the game on the final possession but didn’t even get the ball in Carmelo Anthony’s hands. Melo finished with 29 points. Nene had 17 points for a Nuggets team playing without starting point guard Chauncey Billups.
Billups (knee) is, however, expected to play tonight against the Mavericks, according to Nuggets coach George Karl.
“I think in the back-to-back situation he’s going to play (tonight),” Karl said. “If he played (Wednesday night) he didn’t think he could probably play (tonight). So he just wanted to take the extra day.”
Billups has missed six games this season. He hurt the knee Monday during the Nuggets’ game against Houston until he watched the game film. He left in the first half and didn’t return.
The Mavericks already have one win at Denver this season, having clipped the Nuggets, 102-101, at Pepsi Center in early November. The Nuggets won the rematch in Dallas three days later, 103-92. The Mavericks have won two of their last three in Denver. This will complete the Mavs’ 11th set of back-to-back games. They are 7-3 on the second night so far.