A look ahead to Thunder-Mavs Game 4

By Scott Spangler

It’s funny how perception tends to change drastically after each contest of a seven-game series. Thursday Oklahoma City took Game 2 in Dallas and the series took a turn as the Thunder seized homecourt advantage.

Then in Game 3, it was the Mavericks winning one on the Road at the Ford Center, reclaiming homecourt. So naturally, the talk today in Dallas centered on putting the WCF to bed in five games.

And should OKC respond with a win this evening, we have a best-of-three and all the pressure is on the Mavs again. That’s the nature of playoff basketball. Not quite as dramatic as hockey, but you get the idea.

As for the adjustments coaches are required to make during the course of these series, those, too, can vary greatly from game to game. Despite slow starts in each of the first three games against Dallas, Thunder head coach Scott Brooks has vowed not to alter his starting lineup

That means keeping Kendrick Perkins on the floor, which has been an issue in matching up against Maverick center Tyson Chandler. Perkins is still not at 100 percent (knee) and running with Chandler has been a problem.

To this point against the Mavericks, OKC is minus-32 with Perkins on the floor and plus-23 with him on the bench. He has not been much of a defensive presence vs. Dallas, and his lack of offensive game doesn’t help on the other end.

Saturday night, Dallas was running an extra defender at OKC wing scorers, allowing screeners to go free most of the night. The Mavericks obviously do not respect the ability of Perkins to make them pay for doubling the ball.

There is the notion Oklahoma City should go with a smaller lineup, but Brooks has been reluctant to do so in the past, usually as a last resort. It might come down to that tonight.

Column: Do Thunder and Russell Westbrook have a problem?

By Scott Spangler

russell westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks may have won on some levels after Thunder-Mavericks Game 2 with the decision to stick with guard Eric Maynor, but something may have been lost with his starting point guard Russell Westbrook, despite what is being said publicly. There may in fact be a problem.

How do we know?

Despite a horrid offensive showing in the first half of Game 3, Brooks stuck with Westbrook the entire second half. And while Westbrook’s final offensive numbers were respectable, a lot of that came while matched up against the diminutive and defensively-challenged J.J. Barea.

Westbrook did produce 30 points, and yes, he was getting to the foul line, but it took 20 shots and all of that came at the expense of offensive flow (4 assists to 7 turnovers). The Thunder only had 11 assists as a team on 27 made field goals. That tells us there was a lot of pounding the ball and very little ball movement.

That makes life so much easier on a defense.

Credit Dallas for remaining committed to what looked to be a deliberate defensive game-plan. From the outset, the Mavs were using Tyson Chandler to blitz the ball in pick and roll situations. On just about every high screen, the Mavericks left the screener uncovered because they were concentrating on keeping two defenders in front of Westbrook. And what exactly is there to fear by cutting loose Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka?

The result of this strategy was a stagnant offensive performance by the Thunder. OKC did not break the 30-percent shooting mark until late in the third quarter.

Getting back to the Brooks/Westbrook issue, it doesn’t take a Mensan to conclude there is a rift there. Clearly, there was frustration on the part of the player throughout Game 2 in Dallas. After being ripped clean by defensive mastermind Peja Stojakovic and then losing the ball to Jason Kidd in successive possessions, Brooks made the move to Maynor.

We all saw Westbrook boiling over on the bench. We all saw him play the good teammate in timeouts and in huddles. We also read his postgame response. “When we’re winning, I’m good.”

So, Scott Brooks makes the switch to Maynor Thursday night in a game his starting PG and offense were performing rather well, and then sticks with his backup. Conversely, he decides to hang with Westbrook in Game 3 despite suffering through a dreadful first-half performance.

Nothing about that makes sense.

One could certainly understand the Game 2 decision. Brooks’ bench was performing splendidly in Game 2, and the Thunder had seized momentum. Brooks simply stuck with what was working. But when nothing is going well Saturday night and OKC’s guard play had much to do with that, it’s tough to rationalize Westbrook 42 minutes, Maynor six.

Not so tough when considering the likelihood of a coach appeasing the star point guard, doing what he can to not lose the player.

This is not to suggest a move to Maynor would have saved the day, and certainly not to lay all the blame at the feet of Westbrook. It’s just that, the sudden shift in Brooks’ approach leaves many of us scratching our heads.

Read fan reaction and share your own opinion in this forum topic.

Column: A New Dirk Nowitzki? Not So Much.

By Scott Spangler

michael redd

This just in: Dirk Nowitzki is now and has been a phenomenal postseason performer – for years.

The lion’s share of NBA “analysts” are hopping aboard the Charles Barkley bandwagon, lauding Dirk’s newfound mindset.

“This is a different Dirk Nowitzki.”


One of four players to post career playoff averages of 25 points and 10 rebounds and the guy is just now stepping it up?

There is no denying what we saw Tuesday night in Dallas is the stuff of legend. Dirk gave the Thunder 48 points on just 15 shots. That will not happen again. However, Maverick fans have become quite accustomed to brilliance from their star power forward.

In a word, Nowitzki is efficient. There are a few players out there who can put up 29 points per game in a playoff run; not many, but a few. But how many of those are doing that putting up just 18 shots?

And that’s a step above the incredibly efficient regular season numbers he put up this year. In his 12th NBA season, Dirk averaged 23 points on 52 percent shooting, right under 40 percent from deep, and 89 from the foul line.

I recall Chris Webber sitting on the TNT set in late March, doing postgame for Mavs/Lakers. This was a blowout win for L.A., complete with a near-brawl emanating from a Jason Terry shove of Steve Blake. C-Webb launches into his “soft” spiel, which is funny on a number of levels, primarily because it’s Webber himself offering up that particular label.

Webber, who never wanted anything to do with the rock in a tight game and wanted no part of anything inside 18 feet when play got rough, calls out Nowitzki specifically and declares Dallas as a first-round out because their best player fails to plant Kobe Bryant on a fast break.

Just wondering what Gregg Popovich might say about that. Five different playoff series Pop has coached against Nowitzki and the Mavericks. The first one, a 23-year-old German star-to-be gets his front teeth knocked out, only to respond with 42 points and 18 boards.

“Soft,” he says.

Then we get word out of L.A. about Pau Gasol’s personal issues, the girlfriend, fiancée, whatever, and how that may have affected his play in the series vs. Dallas. This would be the Gasol many argued was the top Euro in the league not too long ago.

This reminds me of a series two years ago between the Mavs and Nuggets. Nowitzki had just been hit with a sledge hammer. The Crystal Taylor imbroglio would have buried most guys.

Taylor was a con-artist marking Nowitzki from the outset. He proposes marriage, and Taylor gets a $250,000 rock for her trouble. After being arrested on warrants, it comes out this woman has a number of aliases. Dirk was played. And all of this coming down during that Denver series.

How does said superstar respond? Averages 34 points, 11 rebounds, shoots 53 percent. If only Jason Terry or Josh Howard could focus like this. It might have been a series. I’m guessing George Karl would also smirk at the soft label.

The critics will, more often than not, point to two series when attempting to discredit Nowitzki’s postseason body of work – Miami in 2006, and Golden State in 2007. Admittedly, that catastrophe against the Warriors was bad on so many fronts, and Dirk shared in it.

If anyone could effectively gameplan for Nowitzki, it was Don Nelson. Using guards to play underneath and running a second defender at him once the ball was floored, Golden State frustrated Dirk and dared anyone else in a Maverick uniform to beat them. Didn’t happen.

That said, if we are putting any player not named Michael Jordan under a microscope, some pretty shoddy moments are going to be revealed.

Again, try 25.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per playoff contest on for size. Four men in NBA history have done as much in the postseason. Soft doesn’t apply here.

We all know the deal. Dallas has to go the distance for Dirk and the Mavericks to shed some rather unflattering tags. Because Jason Terry is shooting the ball well, and because Tyson Chandler finally represents a real presence inside, Charles Barkley has decided to be a front man for the Dirk parade. And now he’s not so soft. Amazing how that works.

Kevin Garnett gets roasted for years by Nowitzki – regular season, playoffs, you name it – absolutely taken apart. Somehow, a trade to Boston lands him beside Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and KG is a champion. Never called soft or weak? Garnett… you know… the guy who screams at air and rarely looks an opponent in the eye.

But he was traded to a team with other future Hall of Famers and now he’s never to be questioned.

News flash: Garnett is much the same dude he was in Minnesota, just a bit older and the act has worn thin.

The guy in Dallas is much the same, too. He is doing what he’s always done. It’s about time we get the story straight with Dirk Nowitzki.

Read fan reaction and discuss your own opinion in this forum topic.

Preview of Thunder vs Mavericks Western Conference Finals series

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.

Commentary: Lacking fight in Game 4, Lakers are swept away by Mavs

By Scott Spangler

It looked like the Los Angeles Lakers, who on Sunday were swept 4-0 in their second round playoff series by the Dallas Mavericks, lost Games 3 and 4 in the last five minutes Friday night. It is obviously easy to say this now, but it was my feeling at the time.

Dirk Nowitzki

The Mavs were down eight midway through the fourth quarter in Game 3, and responded with a 20-7 run to close. When Dirk Nowitzki hit a lefty hook to give the Mavericks the lead for good, there was no mistaking the Lakers’ body language.

Only moments earlier, a must-win, yet could-win situation for the Lakers was in play. As they left the court of American Airlines Center, eyes cast down and shoulders slumped. The final minute of Game 3 robbed L.A. of any ambition that might have remained.

The Lakers played defense at a high level most of Game 3 – championship caliber defense, in fact. On Sunday during Game 4, it was gone. Maverick guards got in and out of the paint at will. Jason Terry was the beneficiary of a lot of it, as he nailed several open threes, but J.J Barea made his way in the painted area with ease. Even 38 year-old Jason Kidd got inside for kickout passes to open teammates.

Sunday was just the day Dallas shooters were really knocking them down. Of course, that will happen when the opponent isn’t giving much in the way of resistance.

jason terry

And once threes started falling for Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic, L.A. packed it in. Andrew Bynum started short-arming everything, except J.J. Barea. Lamar Odom was thinking about a beach. Phil Jackson pondered life after coaching, but certainly not peyote.

Might the Mavericks have left the door open once shots stopped falling? Tough to say. Since shots kept going down, we will never know for sure. Dallas has been guilty of easing off the pedal before, and not just in Miami five years ago.

This is the club that led Portland 3-0 in 2003, only to see the series go seven games. And the Lakers are the one franchise that would seem capable of making that type of history. Until now, Dallas would seem the perfect victim.

But again, shots kept falling for the Mavs. The defense continued to smother Kobe Bryant and dared others to convert. No one stepped up and the Los Angeles Lakers went quietly, without much of a fight.

All due respect to the two-time defending world champions. This is a trophy kill for the little Mavericks, a team that many believed wouldn’t survive Portland. There’s much to be proud of for Mark Cuban and Dallas fans everywhere.

Still, the effort Sunday wasn’t what one would expect from a champion. Perhaps all Laker will had been sapped through three games. And maybe, Dallas just took it.

What’s your reaction? Discuss opinions with other fans in this forum topic.

Keys to victory for Lakers-Mavericks Game 2

By Scott Spangler

The Dallas Mavericks visit the Los Angeles Lakers tonight for Game 2 of their second round series. Here are some keys for both teams:

For Los Angeles

Pound the ball inside

Kobe Bryant is a wonderful player, but the Lakers are most effective when Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are getting their touches. Gasol is an excellent interior passer and works well in the high-low game. For the record, Bynum shot 70 percent against the Mavericks in three games this year, though not so well Monday as his touches were limited. Look for that to change this evening.

Tyson Chandler is a very good post defender, but can be foul-prone. Everything will be determined by how tight or loose referees Bennett Salvatore, Monty McCutchen, and Bill Spooner call things early. We expect the Lakers to force whistles from the tip.

More Odom, Less Artest

Lamar Odom is a matchup problem in general. Six-ten forwards who can spot up or floor the ball are funny that way. But he is a particularly tough cover for Dirk Nowitzki, who really isn’t adept at defending in space. Forcing Dirk to expend energy would certainly make it tougher on the other end of the floor.

The way Ron Artest is going right now, Dallas can afford to cut him loose in halfcourt sets. At the very least, more second-half clock for Odom would give Rick Carlisle plenty to worry about.

Slow it down

The Mavericks want to run. More than any remaining playoff team, they want to get out and get easy buckets. The Dallas guards are small and operate better in space. The Lakers must control the glass and the pace. Phil Jackson is usually adamant about limiting run-outs. If he has his way, this game will be played at a snail’s pace.

For Dallas

Work towards making the Lakers one-dimensional

Kobe is going to get his. Should he get really hot, it’s not the end of the world (see G1). The problem comes when Gasol is getting touches and starts to feel it, or when Bynum is working effectively in the paint. The Mavs must pick something they can live with and try like hell to take away everything else.

Also, should Derek Fisher and Ron Artest start knocking down open looks, do not overcompensate. Those guys are not heavy lifters. Stick with the defensive gameplan and do not panic.

Get out and run

With the Lakers doing everything they can to get this game to a crawl, Dallas must fight to get it going up and down. The Lakers’ length is a problem to the Mavericks. They want to negate that disadvantage with Jason Kidd and the running game. The bucket is a lot more accessible with Bynum and Gasol trailing the play.

Help Dirk!

Dallas has the edge in depth and they’re loaded with big-game experience – Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, and Peja Stojakovic.  Someone else must step up again in G2, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be Jason Terry.

What’s more, the Lakers have problems with scoring guards. This is where the Mavericks can offset some other deficiencies. J.J. Barea has played well against the Lakers in the past.  He could very well be a factor this evening.

Have an opinion? Share it with other fans in this forum topic.

Commentary: Tyson Chandler a rare difference-maker in paint for Mavericks

By Scott Spangler

While watching the Dallas Mavericks open against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals Monday night, it was easy to pick out the headliners. Even someone just crawling out of a time capsule, never having heard the name “Dirk,” could observe this gangly sharpshooter with the golden locks and quickly identify the talent as otherworldly.

As for the Lakers, after Kobe Bryant, we look down the LA front line and see Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. This would be an embarrassment of frontcourt riches for, oh, 25 other NBA clubs. But for this organization, it’s simply two more in a long line of outstanding big men.

Commentary: Tyson Chandler a rare difference-maker in paint for Mavericks

Dallas counters with an interior presence of its own – a presence this club hasn’t known since the late 1980s with James Donaldson and Roy Tarpley. In his first year with the Mavs, Tyson Chandler has restored that sort of stability inside.

The Lakers past history boasts the likes of Mikan, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, and O’Neal… a basic who’s-who of franchise centers.

In contrast, Chandler might very well represent the best center Dallas has ever had.

I can barely recall Ralph Drollinger, an original Maverick who enjoyed a six-game NBA career. And in the mid-80s, there was Wallace Bryant; probably best remembered for blocking the shot of MVP Moses Malone late in a game to help secure Dallas’ first-ever win over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Growing up as a Maverick fan, I always thought Pat Cummings was a fine NBA center. But I was a preteen who thought of girls as gross and bathing as unnecessary, so I recommend you consider the source. Cummings brought the lunch pail every night, but if I am being honest about it, he barely qualified as a journeyman forward.

Fast-forwarding to the Donaldson era, Maverick fans rejoiced because this was a brute that would toss bodies about and rebound the basketball. Until this past summer when Dallas traded for Tyson Chandler, James Donaldson was widely regarded as the best big man in franchise history.

So when Chandler placed third as the NBA’s Defensive Player of The Year a couple of weeks ago, I could not help but to crack a smile and think of the first playoff game in Maverick history. The Seattle SuperSonics came into Reunion Arena to kickoff a best-of-five series. My father and I made that one, sat nosebleed, and watched Jack Sikma run Kurt Nimphius through the torture chamber all night.

Silly me, I had this crazy notion Kurt could slow down a seven-time All-Star.

Twenty-five years later, the Mavericks have a legitimate middle man.  Not a power forward masquerading as one, but a real center. Tyson Chandler won’t ever be confused with Wilt Chamberlain, but he’s a far cry from Ralph Drollinger.

And he is something Dallas has lacked in the Dirk Nowitzki era. Shawn Bradley, Raef LaFrentz, Erick Dampier were all unable to deliver. Chandler gives this team real belief that it can unseat the two-time defending champs.

It is not just belief, confidence, or swag. Actually, it’s all of that AND the toughness to back it up.

Read fan reaction and discuss your own opinion in this forum topic.

Views: Tyson Chandler shines for Mavs in Game 5 vs Blazers

By Scott Spangler

Tyson Chandler looked like a man wanting desperately to atone for a rather forgettable performance in Game Four. Shawn Marion no longer appeared baffled about coaching strategy.

Chandler played this game angry. Who could blame him? The Maverick center was very much a part of what happened Saturday at the Rose Garden. That said, he certainly answered the bell 48 hours later.

Until tonight, LaMarcus Aldridge has clearly been a problem for Chandler. But as an All-Star caliber forward, that is to be expected. This is a tough cover for any big.

Monday evening, the Tyson Chandler that received consideration for the league’s Defensive Player of The Year showed up, and his teammates couldn’t help but to fall in.

The meek little Mavericks that wilted away two days earlier had been restored. Being at home didn’t necessarily mean better shooting for Dallas, but it did do something for the rebounding.

Try 49-37 on for size. How about twenty offensive boards?  Thank Mr. Chandler for 13 of ‘em.

This game changed in the third quarter. Rick Carlisle dusted off his zone defense and put it to work. Dallas began to stretch that advantage, outscoring the Blazers by eleven to end the quarter leading 75-63.

And so, after JJ Barea scooped and scored, pushing the Dallas lead to 85-66, any sign of Blazer voodoo emanating from Brandon Roy and his magical meniscusless knees seemed unlikely.

For the record, nine times these two teams have met this season, regular season and playoffs. The visiting team has yet to break through.

Another Heartbreaker for NY

By Scott Spangler

A crucial offensive rebound by Roger Mason gave the New York Knicks another chance, and they capitalized with a Jared Jeffries layup to go ahead 93-92 with 19.3 seconds remaining.

Garnett hit a tough hook in the lane over Jeffries to reclaim a one-point advantage for the Celtics just six seconds later.

It was Garnett again – this time on the defensive end – with a huge steal along the baseline. KG managed to get a timeout called to save possession as Boston holds on to win 96-93 in the second game of this best of seven.

Magic Look to Even Series 1-1

By Scott Spangler

They are launching grenades in Orlando. At the half, both teams hitting south of 40 percent. The Magic lead by six and need to build on a second-quarter outburst, which saw them outscore the Hawks 32-20.

A loss would put Orlando in dire straits heading to Georgia. Teams carrying a 2-0 lead end up advancing at a 94 percent clip.

Once again tonight, just about the only thing working for Stan Van Gundy is the play of Dwight Howard, fresh off his record-setting third consecutive Defensive Player of The Year Award. So far in this one, Howard has racked up 25 pts and 13 boards with about 6 minutes left in the third.

Despite shooting only 37 percent thus far, Atlanta is 6 of 15 from 3-point range. Add to that, the Hawks have only gone to the foul line seven times, converting four. Have I mentioned the massive (38-21) rebounding deficit? Well, there’s that, too.

The Magic are now up 55-48, about 5 minutes to go, third quarter.