Posted on: May 25, 2011 8:02 pm

Mavs won, but what about that rebounding?

DALLAS -- The Mavericks won Game 4, so this gets glossed over in the papers, on the radio, on the internet. But it doesn't get glossed over in the Mavericks' locker room:

Their rebounding that night was abysmal.

At game's end, Oklahoma City had a 55-33 edge on the boards, but it was even worse than that midway through the fourth quarter. When the Thunder had that 99-84 lead with less than five minutes to go -- a lead that should have been insurmountable -- the Thunder also had a 48-22 edge on the boards. That's plus-26. That's more than double the Mavs' rebounding output.

What that really is?

"A big problem," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said before Game 5. "We're going to have to play a lot better. The plays where our bigs are scrambling and trying to get back to rebound, that's one thing. But the ones at the free-throw line where [OKC] guys are just stepping into us and taking the ball away? That can't happen."

So about that rally in Game 4. Two days later, Carlisle was ready to call it what it was.

"We pulled off a miracle," he said.

"We're going to have to play a lot better than we've been playing. We played pretty good in Game 3, but there were 5-6 minutes there late -- not good enough. We're going to have to put together 48 minutes of basketball. This is an opponent that causes a lot of problems."

This is an opponent, according to OKC coach Scott Brooks, that wasn't done in, emotionally, by that Game 4 meltdown.

"They're a resilient group," Brooks said. "The spirit of this team is good. We're going to play as hard as we can tonight. There's a never a doubt in my mind that's not going happen. They came today fresh. They're ready to play."

Category: NBA
Posted on: May 23, 2011 7:51 pm
Edited on: May 23, 2011 8:08 pm

I beg the OKC coach to change his lineup

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Three games in a row, Oklahoma City has fallen rather significantly behind the Mavericks in the first quarter of these Western Conference Finals. No surprise, really, given that three of the Thunder's five starters are on the court for their defensive prowess. Other than Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the bulk of the Thunder's offensive firepower -- mostly James Harden, with sprinkles of Eric Maynor and Daequan Cook -- comes off the bench.

So it's a no-brainer move -- right? -- for the Thunder to replace a defensive-minded starter for someone off the bench who can score. Say, Harden (12.7 ppg in the playoffs) for Thabo Sefolosha (4.5 ppg).


No, says OKC coach Scott Brooks.

"We've won a lot of games with what we have," Brooks said. "I know there's a lot of talk out there about [changing our lineup], but I feel we're pretty good. We've won 55 games this year, won a lot of games in the playoffs."

Look, I like Brooks and think he's really good at his job. But to see the results of the first three games -- all started by large Dallas runs -- and to dismiss outright a change to the starting lineup? That's dumb. That puts the "no" in no-brainer.

Especially since the Mavericks' starter at shooting guard is DeShawn Stevenson. If James Harden doesn't start because he can't defend anybody, well, there you go. Stevenson can't score. Harden can't defend? Match made in heaven, sounds to me.

But not to Brooks. And he explains it in a way that makes sense. I'll give him that. Here's what he said when someone in the media -- OK, it was me -- basically begged him before the game to replace Sefolosha with Harden.

"I just feel that's not the right thing to do," he said. "We've had a lot of success with what we've done building our team. ... One of the things you want your team to do is practice good habits every day and be consistent with those habits. They get that from me -- they know where I stand. I hate to talk about this, but we're a young team. If you give a young team instability, you're going to get very inconsistent results. Everything we do or I do, they know where I'm coming from."

Makes sense, it really does.

But so does replacing a starter who can't score with a guy who can, especially after watching his team struggle to score in the first quarter three games in a row.

Category: NBA
Posted on: May 21, 2011 8:29 pm

Controversy and cursing before Game 3

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Controversy has come to the Western Conference Finals. Both coaches had to deal with it before Game 3, and both did fine -- though Dallas coach Rick Carlisle handled his answer with profanity.

Well, he did.

First, though, the Thunder controversy. And you know what it is. It's Russell Westbrook, one of the best 10 players in the NBA, being benched for the entire fourth quarter as the Thunder won Game 2. About an hour before Game 3, Brooks was asked repeatedly how Westbrook has handled that turn of events.

"He's good," Brooks said. "Russell's a winner. ... Was he disappointed? He should be. You should be disappointed when you play [a lot] and don't play [down the stretch], but he's a team guy."

Westbrook has been roundly criticized for his shoot-first style of play, but Brooks made an excellent point in defense of his point guard: He plays on a unit that has just one other scoring option, Kevin Durant. The rest of the Thunder's first unit features defensive players Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha.

"Kevin and Russell have to keep the scoreboard moving, and they don't mind," Brooks said. "That's why Russell gets a lot of hits for taking a lot of shots, but he plays with a [mostly] defensive unit."

Now then, Carlisle.

And let it be known, I'm really starting to like that guy. He was asked about Mavs reserve center Brendan Haywood's comments after The Dunk Heard 'Round The World, Durant's nasty throw-down in Game 2. Haywood, as we noted in that link to the dunk video, blamed that play on bad perimeter defense by Peja Stojakovic and even on suspect coaching schemes.

Carlisle's reaction?

"Without hearing the quote or seeing his delivery or body language, it would be a mistake for me to comment," Carlisle said. "I just don't see that as being wise."

Carlisle then added that he didn't want to get into a "sh-t throw" about the whole deal. Puzzled, I asked him to repeat that word.

"Sh-t throw," Carlisle said.

Someone else asked him if "sh-t throw" has a hyphen.

"It can," Carlisle said.

Not here it can't. Because too many hyphens would be confusing. Watch. Here's that phrase, with a hyphen: Sh-t-throw.

And here's without: Sh-t throw.

See? Without, definitely.

Enjoy Game 3, folks.

Category: NBA
Posted on: May 19, 2011 8:25 pm

Nowitkzi might just shoot 40 FT's tonight

DALLAS -- After two days to contemplate the 48 points Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki laid on his team in Game 1, Thunder coach Scott Brooks has decided his team needs to get more physical with the Mavericks' star forward.

That's right. I said more physical. After his team surrendered 24 free throws to Nowitzki on Tuesday.

So what's the over/under on free throws tonight for Nowitzki?


Here's Brooks:

"We have to do a better job of forcing our toughness on [him]," Brooks said of Nowitzki, who he said "did a great job getting to spots, catching the ball where [he] wanted. ... We have to make sure we're very physical, play with more toughness, not let them have the ball where they want the ball."

Brooks said the sight of Nowitzki simply shooting the ball over his defender need to stop. No more jump-shooting for Nowitzki. No more step-back shots.

"That's the plan," Brooks said. "Make him put it on the floor. Make him go to his right. We're not going to throw anything he hasn't seen before, unless we throw four guys at him. You're picking your poison, but that's what you do -- pick your poison, and then you have to execute it with great precision. And sometimes even that doesn't work."

Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said he was leery of doubling Nowitzki, knowing the Mavericks are loaded with players who can shoot the 3-pointer: Jason Terry, Jose Juan Barea, Jason Kidd, Peja Stojakovic.

Thunder forward Kevin Durant said he was leery of the other side -- allowing Nowitzki to go one-on-one, hanging another half-a-hundred on the Thunder.

Brooks is the one who has to make a decision, and it sounds like he has decided: One player will force Nowitzki to dribble, and a second defender will provide help. If Nowitzki finds open teammates -- and if they're knocking down 3-pointers -- so be it.

I just broke down tonight's game for you.

You're welcome.

Category: NBA
Posted on: May 17, 2011 8:16 pm

Game 1 pregame. Me and Carlisle! Sort of.

DALLAS -- Awfully good of Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks to lay out the keys for the Western Conference Finals. Not so good of Carlisle to blow off my question, which I'll get to in a minute.

First, the keys.

Carlisle volunteered that his team is focused on three areas against Thunder: Avoiding turnovers, rebounding and transition defense. His biggest concern, it sounds to me, is the penetration of OKC point guard Russell Westbrook, because that penetration leads to scoring opportunities for Westbrook, NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant and others.

A few minutes later Brooks was asked to make like Carlisle and give three keys to this series. He came back with two of the same ones: avoiding turnovers, and rebounding. His third was 3-point defense, noting that the Mavericks have some of the most prolific 3-point shooters in NBA history (Jason Kidd is third all-time, Peja Stojakovic fourth and Jason Terry eighth).

Back to Carlisle, and my question. He started it! Well, he did. He mentioned how "fragile" success is in the NBA, how things can change quickly, and that his team has to "stay in the present."

So I asked what I thought was a logical follow question about the fragility of success, as it related to his aging team. I asked him about the thin line between being experienced and being old, and if his team was close to that line. I asked him if his team's window for an NBA title was open now, but closing soon.

Carlisle gave me one of those squinting, frowning looks. And he said, "I don't think about that. I'm only thinking about this game."

Fine. Be that way.

Category: NBA
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