Archive for May 16th, 2011

By Scott Spangler

For only the second time since 1997, neither the San Antonio Spurs nor the Los Angeles Lakers will be taking part in the Western Conference Finals. Instead, two cities separated by about 200 miles will host said festivities. Oklahoma City is about a 3-hour drive from Dallas, right up I-35. But when comparing the makeup of the two clubs, the proximity is more like worlds apart.

Dirk Diggler

The Mavericks have been here before. During the Dirk Nowitzki era, Dallas has reached the WCF in 2003 and 2006. Rick Carlisle is an experienced coach with a veteran roster – Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Tyson Chandler, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Terry, and so on. These are guys with a ton of playoff experience.

Since the move from Seattle, this would be new territory for the Thunder. Both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are 22 years-old – either would represent the youngest player on Dallas’ active roster. What’s more, two other key members of Ok City’s rotation, Serge Ibaka and James Harden, are even greener.

Youth, to this point, has not been a problem for Scott Brooks’ club. Granted, Denver and Memphis aren’t exactly battle-tested. Still, to make the conference finals means you’ve won two rounds. And while some folks might feel coming off a seven-game series could be a disadvantage to the Thunder, it might also serve them going forward in terms of experience in an elimination environment.  Could that benefit OKC so soon? Tough to say.

Neither team has an answer for the opposing superstar. Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki will get theirs. Russell Westbrook could be a real problem for Dallas, though he only shot 32 percent against the Mavs this season. Still, no matchup is more favorable for either club than what the Thunder have at the point. The Mavs must rely on the type of team defense that helped contain Kobe Bryant. Westbrook is, to this point, the most dynamic playmaker Dallas has seen this postseason.

The bigs for these teams should provide steady interior presence and rebounding. Tyson Chandler and Kendrick Perkins have certainly made big splashes with their new clubs. Both are coming off tough second-round assignments. Perkins was dealing with Marc Gasol, Chandler with Andrew Bynum. Since neither center poses much of an offensive threat, these two will working away from one another and helping teammates more defensively.

Dallas is, without a doubt, the deeper team.  If Oklahoma City has any hope of making the Finals, slowing down Jason Terry is essential. James Harden must, at the very least, play his sixth man counterpart to a standstill. Continuing down the bench, we look for the Eric Maynor/J.J. Barea minutes to be an area of focus. The Lakers found out firsthand the damage Barea could inflict coming off high screens.

Dallas last played eight days ago, blowing away the Lakers on Mother’s Day. Since then, Oklahoma City has played three games, including one triple-overtime affair.  In certain cases, there could be a rest-versus-rust debate. Not here. The arrow may be pointing in different directions for these two franchises, but OKC will have to wait a little longer.

Again, the Mavs are an experienced bunch. They have been watching the Thunder/Grizzlies along with the rest of us. The rest should be what the doctor ordered for Dallas. I like the Mavericks to win this series in six games and advance to the NBA Finals.

Fans are discussing the upcoming series in this forum topic.

The Chicago Bulls beat the Miami Heat Sunday to take Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Finals series. Here’s some of what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said to the media after the loss:

Erik Spoelstra: So we’re obviously very disappointed about last night’s performance. We have to come in the next two days and try to fix some of the things that gave us problems. We all know obviously the effort plays, the secondchance opportunities — all those things really deflated our focus and our concentration and effort there in the second half. With all that said, and with all the evaluations about the game, we are still in a position to take control with a win on Wednesday. And this whole series will be about enduring and how long can you endure through the physical grind, but just as importantly, the mental grind, because it’s two very competitive physical teams.

Question: Udonis Haslem is the kind of guy, it would seem, if healthy, to offer exactly what you would need with hustle and rebounding and movement. Is he in a position to offer that, or is that simply not an option for you at this stage?

Spoelstra: It’s an option. I’ll evaluate everything. The reality is a lot of the rebound, secondchance effort plays were with our main guys on the court. And it’s something we can do much better. We’re a very good rebounding team. We’ve proven that all season long. We’ve got to revert back to our habits. And sometimes it’s the little things, finishing off your defense, the next rotation to block out, and just as important, finishing the offensive rebound possessions. They had five big threepointers after an offensive rebound that we could have gotten to shooters and make an extra effort. We weren’t able to do that.

Question: Similarly, Mike Miller is also another hustle kind of player. Very good rebounder, but also limited. Is he a guy who has the skill set that can help, or is he simply not in shape enough to be an impact player?

Spoelstra: He’s ready. All these things we’ll look at. We want to do it better as a group, and everybody that’s out there can do a better job of it.

Question: Two of your centers, Zydrunas and Dampier, are inactive. They offer a lot of size. Is that something you may need to rethink?

Spoelstra: I’ll evaluate everything. We could do normally much better than we did last night.

Question: Do you prefer to play sooner, or are you glad to have the two days off?

Spoelstra: Like I said in the previous series, you probably would rather get going. But that’s not the schedule we’ve been dealt. So we have to deal with it. And we can use the days to prep and work on some of these things.

Celtics sign coach Doc Rivers to extension

The Boston Celtics announced today that they have extended the contract of Head Coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed. Multiple reports over the last week said the deal was for five years and around $35 million.

“We are extremely happy to have Doc at the helm of the franchise for the foreseeable future and we firmly believe that he is the best coach in the NBA,” said Danny Ainge, Celtics President of Basketball Operations.

Rivers is currently ranked third in Celtics history among coaching wins trailing on Red Auerbach and Tommy Heinsohn.  Rivers has amassed a record of 336-238 (.585) in his seven years with the club and accomplished his 500th career coaching win earlier this season against the New Orleans Hornets (March 19, 2011).  In his time with the Celtics, Rivers has been honored by coaching the Eastern Conference All-Stars twice (2008, 2011), has been named the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month six times and guided the Celtics to their 17th NBA Championship.  He also was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year when he was in Orlando for his work during the 1999-2000 season.

“This is where I want to be,” said Celtics Head Coach, Doc Rivers. “This is where I should be. I have a great partnership with Danny and the ownership group. We are all dedicated to win.”

“Doc is a true Celtic and is one of the finest people I’ve had the privilege to work with,” said Wyc Grousbeck, Celtics Managing Partner and Co-Owner.

The AP reports:

Russian tycoon and New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov says his decision to head a pro-Kremlin political party was an “uneasy” one.

Prokhorov said Monday he would head the Just Cause party - what he later called in televised remarks “an uneasy and somewhat surprising decision.”

Just Cause hopes to win legislature seats in December parliamentary elections.

Reuters reports:

A Russian billionaire declared on Monday he sought to lead a party backing a second term for President Dmitry Medvedev, a move that could undermine an unwritten rule that tycoons stay out of politics.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, expected by many to run for president again in elections next year, cracked down on powerful “oligarchs” during his eight years in the Kremlin. Oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky was stripped of his fortune and imprisoned. Others have left the country.

Mikhail Prokhorov, one of those who has made his peace with the Kremlin, said on Monday he hoped to lead Right Cause, a party with a mainly middle-class constituency which supports a liberal free market economy. It has no seats in parliament and was formed only two years ago.

The AP reports:

Bulls take Game 1 from Heat with 103-82 rout

Derrick Rose scored 28 points, Luol Deng contained LeBron James and the Chicago Bulls struck first in the Eastern Conference finals, pulling away to beat the Miami Heat 103-82 in Game 1 on Sunday night…

Rose settled down after committing three of his four turnovers in the opening minutes and showed why he is the MVP. He hit three 3-pointers and the Bulls converted 10 of 21 in all…

Luol Deng had 21 points. He hit four 3s, had four steals, seven rebounds and simply put the clamps on The King, holding James to 15 points on 5-of-15 shooting…

Carlos Boozer added 14 points and nine rebounds. Joakim Noah had 14 rebounds and the Bulls pounded the Heat on the glass, 45-33, grabbing 19 on the offensive end while outscoring them 31-8 on second-chance points…

Chris Bosh led Miami with 30 points and nine rebounds. Dwyane Wade scored 18 points, but the Heat simply were overmatched down the stretch…

The Heat were leading 58-57 midway through the third when the Bulls made their move, reeling off 10 straight and seizing the momentum.

Rose and Bogans started it by nailing 3-pointers. A steal by Bogans against Wade led to two free throws by Rose after he got knocked to the floor going for a fast-break layup.

The AP reports:

Durant, Thunder beat Grizzlies to reach West finals

Kevin Durant scored 39 points for his best offensive outing of the series, Russell Westbrook had his first playoff triple-double and the Oklahoma City Thunder advanced to the Western Conference finals with a 105-90 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 7 on Sunday…

“Durant is a special player, one of the best players in the NBA,” said Memphis star Zach Randolph, who was limited to an inefficient 17 points and 10 rebounds…

Westbrook, criticized throughout the playoffs for taking too many shots, was at his all-around best with 14 points, matching his season-high with 14 assists and producing extra possessions with 10 rebounds. It was only the fifth triple-double in a Game 7, according to information provided to the team by the Elias Sports Bureau. Larry Bird, Jerry West, James Worthy and Scottie Pippen also accomplished the feat…

Mike Conley scored 18 points to lead Memphis, which had never won a playoff game before this year and made a bid to become the first No. 8 seed to reach the West finals…

James Harden added four 3-pointers and 17 points for Oklahoma City, and Nick Collison had 12 rebounds.

O.J. Mayo scored 14 for Memphis but couldn’t provide the same amount of room for Randolph as he did after moving into the starting lineup in Game 6.

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