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Dallas Mavericks punch playoff tickets

Dallas Mavericks punch playoff tickets: Playoff Dirk made an appearance Monday night, when the Mavericks punched their tickets to postseason
April 12, 2016

Dallas Mavericks punch playoff tickets

Dirk Nowitzki’s favorite time of the year started a little early this season.

There is no doubt that Playoff Dirk made an appearance Monday night, when the Dallas Mavericks punched their tickets to the postseason with the stakes about as high as possible for a regular-season game.

If the Mavs lost this one, they’d have been in serious jeopardy of being the odd team out in the fight for the final two spots in the Western Conference. Nowitzki wasn’t going to let that happen.

As a result, seeding will be the only thing at stake for the Mavs when they host the San Antonio Spurs in Wednesday’s regular-season finale. For the 15th time in 16 seasons, Nowitzki’s Mavs will finish better than .500 and be postseason participants.

Nowitzki got his first taste of the playoffs way back in 2001, when he held his own against 37-year-old legend Karl Malone as the Mavs pulled off a major upset of the Utah Jazz.

Nowitzki scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Mavs’ 101-92 win over the Jazz on Monday. Those numbers aren’t too far from the postseason norms for one of four players in NBA history with career averages of at least 25 points and 10 rebounds per game in the playoffs.

Jazz fans might never forgive Nowitzki for his infamous “Utah is a bad city” quote from those 2011 playoffs, but he wasn’t the most despised player in a Dallas uniform Monday night. That honor goes to ex-Jazz point guard Deron Williams, whose 23-point, six-assist performance must have been especially painful for the Utah faithful to watch.

Credit ESPN

NBA’s LeBron tops Power 100 list for third straight year

Fantasy Basketball: LeBron James and Stephen Curry grabbed the top spots on the Horrow Sports/MVPindex Power 100 as the NBA dominated the rankings
April 5, 2016

Fantasy Basketball

Fantasy Basketball: LeBron James and Stephen Curry grabbed the top spots on the Horrow Sports/MVPindex Power 100 as the NBA dominated the rankings released on Tuesday with 24 players on the list that evaluates an athlete’s brand and marketability.

It marked the third consecutive year that James, who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers, topped the list while Curry, who led the Golden State Warriors to an NBA title last year, shot into second place from 45th.

World number one tennis players Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams and former NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder rounded out the top five.

“Steph Curry made the biggest jump on and off the court of any athlete we’ve seen, frankly in any statistical analysis,” said Rick Horrow, owner of Horrow Sports Ventures.

“When you look at the count, 24 of the 100 (athletes) are basketball players and seven are in the top 25, including one and two. So you have the opportunity to rise to the top of the list if you are a star basketball player.”

The concept for the list was created in 2009. MVPindex joined last year to provide a social media component. On-field results comprise 50 percent of athletes power ranking while the other half is based on off-field attributes: primarily social media presence (including reach, engagement, and conversation).

The list focuses on long-established sports and the U.S. market specifically with 44 of the 100 spots taken by NFL and NBA players.

Boxers and mixed martial arts fighters are included in the list while soccer players are omitted as Horrow said it is impossible to get a fair on-field ranking for them because of overlapping international federations and national teams.

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, was the best-ranked National Hockey League player at number six despite a difficult year that saw him under investigation by police on rape charges that were later dropped.

NFL players occupied the next two spots with Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown at number seven followed by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

Former world number on golfer Rory McIlroy and James Harden of the NBA’s Houston Rockets closed out the top 10.

The most noticeable trend on the latest list was a strong move by the NBA into the top 10 combined by a drop-off in NFL players considering quarterbacks had occupied five of the top 11 spots in last year’s list.

Tiger Woods, once a fixture in the top 10, failed to make the list after falling steadily from second place two years ago to 76th last year.

Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant, who will retire at the end of the current NBA season, also slid further down the list as he dropped to 84th place compared to 36th place last year.

Credit Reuters Sports

Cleveland Cavaliers won without Irving

Cleveland Cavaliers won without Irving: LeBron said it felt like playing three games in three nights, yet as the Cavs have for most of the season.
April 4, 2016

Cleveland Cavaliers won without Irving

Cleveland Cavaliers won without Irving: LeBron James said it felt like playing three games in three nights, yet as the Cleveland Cavaliers have for most of the season, they passed the test.

James scored 31 points and passed for 12 assists, and J.R. Smith matched his season high with 27 points in the Cavs’ 112-103 victory against the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday.

Cleveland played a back-to-back that concluded with an overtime victory Friday night in Atlanta against the Hawks. The Cavs didn’t return home until after 3 a.m. Saturday, then had to be back at the arena for a Sunday afternoon tipoff against a Hornets team that entered in third place in the East.

In addition, the Cavaliers played without guard Kyrie Irving, who sat out due to a sprained right ankle.

“We’ve played against some really good teams that’s been hot as of late,” James said. “For us to even have the energy the way we played today and go out and execute the way we did, it’s exceptional basketball.”

The Cavs’ erratic play seems to be evening out at the right time. Cleveland won for the fourth time in five games, and it concludes the season with four of its remaining five opponents either fighting for playoff seeding or their playoff lives.

The Cavaliers (55-22) took control in the fourth quarter thanks to defensive breakdowns by the Hornets on three consecutive possessions. Cleveland led by 21 in the first half, but the Hornets had the deficit down to four in the fourth quarter before the defense unraveled.

Smith’s 3-pointer — one of his six on the day — cooled the Hornets’ momentum and extended the Cavs’ lead to 99-92. James followed with a basket off a cut to the rim, and Kevin Love made a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, and the lead was back to 104-94 before Hornets coach Steve Clifford could call a timeout to fix the defense.

“Game on the line, three straight blown coverages, all basic stuff,” Clifford said. “Gotta make those plays, gotta make it hard on them. Can’t make those mistakes. They’re so good that they’re going to make plays anyway. They’re going to score when there’s good defense and they play better offense. We can’t give up those blown coverages.”

The Hornets (44-32) lost for the second time in its past seven games and at least temporarily tumbled from third into a three-way tie for fourth in the muddled East.

Charlotte clinched a playoff berth without even playing Saturday night, for which Clifford congratulated his players at the morning shootaround. Now home-court advantage in the first round is the next goal, but the Hornets are in a tough stretch right now. They left Cleveland, the top team in the East, to fly to Toronto to play the second-best team.

“We looked at it a couple of weeks ago, and over the last 10 years, it’s made a significant difference in the first round,” Clifford said. “The percentage of teams that had home court win a lot more than those who don’t.”

The Cavs made 16 3-pointers Sunday, just shy of their season high of 18. Love, who had 25 points and nine rebounds, and Smith combined for 11 of them. Love has shown signs recently of pulling out of a shooting funk that plagued him since the All-Star break. He is shooting 45 percent from 3-point range over his past five games.

“I mentioned a week or two ago just picking my spots before we head into the (postseason),” Love said. “I feel like I’m doing that.”

Kemba Walker scored 29 points for the Hornets, including 15 in the third quarter. Marvin Williams scored 22 points, and Jeremy Lin added 14 off the bench.

“They’ve got so many guys who can make plays,” Williams said. “They have a lot of talent over there, so you really have to be solid with your assignments. We didn’t do a great job of doing that.”

Credit Reuters

NBA scores 2016: Don’t give Russell Westbrook extra motivation

NBA scores 2016: Prior to facing off against Russell Westbrook, Toronto Raptors coach told reporters he wanted multiple bodies guarding Westbrook
March 29, 2016

NBA scores 2016

NBA scores 2016: Prior to facing off against Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder, Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey told reporters he wanted multiple bodies guarding the Thunder’s star point guard.

When a reporter told Westbrook that Casey was planning to send a wall of two guys at him all night, Westbrook wasn’t too worried.

“They better get three,” he said.

He was right. Westbrook had 26 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds to record his 16th triple-double as the Thunder dismantled the Raptors in a 119-100 win. Kevin Durant added 34 points and Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka were fantastic in their roles, but it was Westbrook — who made Kyle Lowry look like a second-string point guard — who once again made the Thunder go.

Westbrook doesn’t need extra motivation. He continually plays perhaps too hard, but the Raptors gave him an extra reason to attack. When Westbrook is playing like he did against the Raptors, the Thunder are a threat to anyone — even the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.

Against the Raptors, he was 10-of-16 from the field and had only three turnovers. And his intensity — he’s like the amplifiers in This Is Spinal Tap, he goes up to 11. He even goes all out on a missed free throw.

His tenacity was contagious to the rest of his team, too. Ibaka had 15 points and eight rebounds and was running the court knowing Westbrook would get him the ball. Adams was a menace down low, manhandling the Rockets defensively. And Durant had a quiet 34 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

After stumbling out of the gates following the All-Star Game, the Thunder have won eight in a row. Westbrook has them peaking at the right time. They still haven’t beaten a full-strength Warriors or Spurs team, but no one is going to want to play Westbrook and Durant if they’re firing on all cylinders. They’re close right now.

Casey and the Raptors might have a piece of advice for the Thunder’s playoff opponents: Don’t make Westbrook mad.

To be fair to Casey and the Raptors, however, the coach didn’t try to give Westbrook ammunition heading into the game. He was actually singing his praises. “[Westbrook] plays with a huge chip on his shoulder and that helps him be a great competitor,” Casey said. “You have to meet his force with your force.”

Westbrook’s force, however, is too much for pretty much everyone in the league.

Credit SB Nation

Hawks remain hot, end Pistons’ winning streak

Hawks remain hot: Quietly and efficiently, the Atlanta Hawks keep piling up victories. The team that headed into the Eastern Conference playoffs last season
March 28, 2016

Hawks remain hot

Hawks remain hot: Quietly and efficiently, the Atlanta Hawks keep piling up victories. The team that headed into the Eastern Conference playoffs last season as the top seed could be this season’s darkhorse.

Paul Millsap had 23 points, nine rebounds and five assists and the Hawks snapped the Detroit Pistons’ five-game winning streak with a 112-95 victory at The Palace. Atlanta, which had eight players in double figures, won for the 13th time in its last 16 games.

“I think we’re playing our best basketball right now,” said Hawks shooting guard Kyle Korver, who chipped in 12 points. “You look at a period of 10 games, 15 games, you can get a good grasp of where we’re at as a team. These last 15 or so games has probably been our best stretch of the season. We feel good about where we’re at.”

Millsap, who was also a force at the defensive end with four steals and four blocks, left the game with 5:21 remaining after banging into Detroit center Aron Baynes. He suffered a cut above his left eye that required 10 stitches.

Kent Bazemore contributed 17 points and Al Horford added 13 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Hawks (44-30), who extended their Southeast Division lead to one game over Miami. Jeff Teague collected his fourth double-double with 12 points and 12 assists in a game the Hawks never trailed.

“More than defense, it was the energy,” Horford said. “We understood this was a really big game. They’re playing for something over there. It’s not a coincidence they just won the previous five before this. They’re probably going to go ahead and win their next five. It’s fun to play teams at this stage that are fighting for something.”

The Hawks, who won the season series 3-1, also handed the Pistons (39-35) their previous loss at the start of Detroit’s nine-game homestand, 118-114, on March 16th.

Atlanta, which won 60 games last season, currently holds the No. 3 seed thanks to its late surge.

“We’re definitely under the radar and that’s fine,” Korver said. “We have no problem with that. It’s been a much different season than last year. We hit our stride in December and January last year and had a big win streak in February. Then, we kind of cruised. We didn’t feel like we were playing our best at the end of the season. We still have eight games left but we feel good about how we’re going into (this season’s) playoffs.”

Tobias Harris had 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for the Pistons, and Andre Drummond supplied 19 points and 17 rebounds. Detroit remained two games ahead of Chicago, which lost to Orlando on Saturday, for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“That was a very good team that is really hitting its stride,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “They played terrific at both ends tonight. That’s the most intense and energetic anybody has played against us all year.”

The Pistons, who shot 38.6 percent, were down double digits most of the way after scoring 15 first-quarter points.

“That’s a playoff team, that’s a team that’s trying to fight for something,” Pistons forward Marcus Morris said. “To come off a back-to-back and have that much energy really opened my eyes.”

Drummond and Atlanta guard Dennis Schroder exchanged words during the third quarter after Drummond elbowed him in the head and Schroder committed an offensive foul. Drummond received a technical after an officials’ review.

That lifted the intensity level and Detroit whittled the Hawks’ lead to nine by the end of the quarter. After the Pistons came within seven, the Hawks used an 11-3 spurt to make it 94-79.

Detroit couldn’t muster another run.

Credit Reuters Sports

Clippers Griffin back at practice, return still uncertain

Clippers Griffin back: The Clippers power forward still needs to be activated before he can begin his four-game suspension
March 28, 2016

Clippers Griffin back

Blake Griffin is back on the practice court.

Clippers Griffin back: The Clippers power forward still needs to be activated before he can begin his four-game suspension, but after missing 41 games with quad and hand injuries, Griffin joined his teammates for practice for the first time Saturday since getting medically cleared.

“We’re not going to do much contact anyways,” said head coach Doc Rivers. “He’s just going to go and see what he can do and go from there.”

Rivers said Griffin had been cleared “for a while,” but he still needed time to build up his quad to the point he could practice. That point is now, and when Griffin, Rivers and the Clippers believe he’s ready to play in a game, he’ll then be activated.

At that point, Griffin can start his suspension.

“I don’t know if one practice is enough to activate him,” Rivers said. “We’ve got to activate him when we think he’s ready to play.”

Whether or not Griffin is activated before Sunday’s game against the Nuggets, the news is obviously positive, particularly considering the tone earlier in the week.
Just a few days ago, Rivers said he felt like Griffin would be back before the playoffs but couldn’t say that “with 100 percent certainty.” When asked if there was any concern he could miss the rest of the season, Rivers said he didn’t think that would happen but that there was a chance.

By Saturday, all that had changed. Rivers said he’s seen plenty of Griffin’s workout over the last month, and his movement has gotten considerably better. Now, the Clippers will need to continue to watch and monitor Griffin as he works his way back in practices.

Rivers said he won’t be excited until Griffin is back in the lineup for a game, but it’s an obvious stepping stone to that point. Rivers said he’s not sure what’s a morale boost and what isn’t, but he has to believe it’ll be nice mentally for his players to see Griffin back on the court.

“We can start, kind of, putting our playoff stuff in,” Rivers said. “Now, even if he doesn’t play right away, at least we can work on it. That’ll help us.”
The Clippers will still need to play at least their next few games without Griffin, and thus far they’ve managed to put together a 27-14 record without their star forward, better than many anticipated.

Clippers Griffin back

“If you would’ve told me that was our record, I would’ve signed on the line right away,” Rivers said.

To make up for Griffin’s absence, the Clippers received increased play from just about everyone on both units. But as Rivers pointed out, every game without Griffin is “still in survival mode.”

“Every game is a single game, and that’s how guys have viewed it,” Rivers said. “I just think as it’s gone on, it’s gotten harder and harder, because it takes a lot of energy to win games. I don’t think the average person respects winning one game in the NBA, how much goes into it. It’s hard.”

That became more evident this month, as the level of competition increased in March. After going 11-3 in January and 7-4 in February, the Clippers started March 5-7, including a 1-4 road trip against some of the top teams in the West before returning home to beat the Trail Blazers on a buzzer-beater Thursday.

Rivers said perhaps more than anything, the Clippers have missed Griffin’s ability to stop a run as they looked for players other than Chris Paul to make a play.
“We’ve scored the same for the most part, but it’s definitely been harder without him, more his passing than his actual scoring,” Rivers said. “I don’t think it’ll be hard, but it’s different. Anything different upsets your tempo a little bit, so it’ll be different.”

What should help Griffin and the Clippers is his familiarity with the offense and with Paul, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick as he works his way back on the floor.

Rivers said he’d prefer Griffin could get 20 games before the playoff, but he knows that’s no longer realistic with 11 games left in the regular season.

Now, Griffin will get on the floor whenever he’s ready.

“I don’t care if it’s zero (games), to be honest, now, as long as he’s playing to start the playoffs,” Rivers said. “Is that an ideal way of going into a playoff series? No, but I’d rather have him than not. That’s the way I look at it.”

Credit NBA

Photo Credit: ESPN

LeBron ponders superteam with Melo, CP3, Wade

LeBron ponders superteam: LeBron James made it clear he wasn't being facetious when he said he wanted to team up with his best friends in the NBA
March 24, 2016

LeBron ponders superteam

LeBron ponders superteam: LeBron James made it clear he wasn’t being facetious when he said he wanted to team up with his best friends in the NBA — Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade — before their careers are through.

But he was unsure how feasible the scenario really is.

“I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together. … At least one, maybe one or two seasons — me, Melo, D-Wade, CP — we can get a year in,” James told Bleacher Report in February for a feature story on James’ and Anthony’s relationship that was published Wednesday. “I would actually take a pay cut to do that.”

In the article, James said he has harbored thoughts about that potential lineup but declined to go into much deeper detail. Asked after the Cavaliers’ 113-104 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday whether he has shared those thoughts with Anthony, Paul or Wade, James hinted he has.

“I mean, we’ve had plenty of conversations,” James said. “We’ve been together for almost 15 years, so we’ve had plenty of conversations.”

Cleveland.com reported that general manager David Griffin talked to James on Wednesday about his comments to Bleacher Report, while coach Tyronn Lue spoke to James after Saturday night’s loss to the Miami Heat in which James was talking to his former teammate Wade at halftime when he should have been warming up with the Cavaliers trailing by 21 points.

“I just told him we can’t have that, being down like we were and him being the leader,” Lue told Cleveland.com. “Just me being a competitor, I didn’t like it. We had a long talk about it. It was good. He understood, he apologized, and he’s been great.”

James, Anthony and Wade entered the league together in 2003, with James going first, Anthony third and Wade fifth in the draft. Paul was selected fourth in the 2005 draft.

The four of them played together on the 2008 Olympic team, winning gold in Beijing, but other than that, they have played together only in All-Star exhibitions. Wade and James played together in Miami for four seasons, winning two championships.

But with James and Paul on max deals and Anthony and Wade not far behind, is bringing all four players together just a pipe dream?

“I don’t know how realistic it could be,” James said. “It would definitely be cool if it happened, but we don’t know how realistic it could be to have us four. But, I mean, if you got an opportunity to work with three of your best friends [you take it], no matter what. It’s not even about sports. It’s about being around guys that you don’t even have to say nothing, you automatically know. We just have that type of history.

“So can it happen? I don’t know if it can even happen, but it would be cool.”

Wade was less committal when asked about the possibility after Miami’s 112-88 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.

“I don’t know, man,” Wade said. “Yeah, I heard it. I read it. I’m not really jumping into the headlines right now. For me, I’m focused on my teammates in here. As cool as the headlines is, that has nothing to do with what we’re trying to do in here.”

Anthony, asked about a potential future foursome after the New York Knicks’ 115-107 win in Chicago on Wednesday, also framed it as more improbable than inevitable.

“I don’t know,” Anthony said. “We’ve still got years in this league, so we’ll see what happens. Everybody dreams sometimes. Everybody has fantasies.”

Anthony did make a bit of news, however, declaring that he, Paul and James would all play in the 2016 Olympics this summer in Rio. James has yet to commit publicly to the competition.

“We all have those [thoughts],” Anthony said. “We’re about to play together [on] the Olympic team. Except for D-Wade, but we’re about to have that experience.”

Wade will be a free agent this summer, and James could be one if he opts out of his deal with the Cavs, as many expect him to do in order to sign a new contract under the escalating salary cap like he did last summer. Paul is signed through the end of 2016-17 and has a player option for the following season. Anthony is signed through 2017-18 and has a player option for 2018-19.

It would take significant maneuvering to bring the dream to life. However, Anthony, like James, vowed he would make the financial sacrifice necessary to make the numbers work.

“I’d take a pay cut if it happens,” Anthony said. “I think we all would have to take a pay cut.”

The time they have left to try to pull it off before their skills begin to fall off remains a question. James (31), Anthony (32) and Wade (34) are all in their 13th season. Paul (30) is in his 11th.

Another question is what city they could all call home. Paul and Anthony already spend their offseason in Los Angeles, and James and Wade recently purchased homes there, according to Bleacher Report.

Anthony, who according to an ESPN.com report wanted to wait in the summer of 2014 for James to make his free-agency decision because he thought he had a chance to join him, made it sound like L.A. or Miami would be a more likely landing spot than New York or Cleveland for the four of them.

“I think by that time [in your career], you want to go somewhere warm,” Anthony said. “By that time. That’s later. That would be later — retirement. … I’m just adding fuel to the fire.”

However, during the ESPN broadcast of the Knicks-Bulls game Wednesday, Anthony stated his loyalty to the Knicks, perhaps pushing back any potential of assembling a Big Four.

“I came here for a reason, which was to win in New York,” Anthony said. “Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case thus far, but I feel like I have unfinished business to take care of. And I feel like, I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, if I just get up and run away from something that I started, that I feel a part of and that’s not done yet, then I think I would carry that burden on my shoulders. That’s just me as an individual.”

A source familiar with James’ thinking told ESPN.com that James is unsure whether any NBA owner would go for such an arrangement because of how much power he would be conceding to the players.

For now, it remains a hypothetical, and one that Wade wants no part of.

“Don’t put me in it,” Wade said. “I ain’t jumping in that. Don’t put me in that right now. I’m not answering that question about what we talked about.”

Added James, according to Bleacher Report, “We’ll see.”

Credit ESPN

NBA Grizzlies forward Barnes banned for off-court move

NBA Grizzlies forward Barnes banned : Memphis Grizzlies forward Matt Barnes was suspended one game without pay by the NBA on Saturday
March 21, 2016

NBA Grizzlies forward Barnes banned

NBA Grizzlies forward Barnes banned: Memphis Grizzlies forward Matt Barnes was suspended one game without pay by the NBA on Saturday after trying to force his way into the locker room of the rival Milwaukee Bucks.

The ban was issued for Barnes’s attempt to enter the locker room and his verbal challenge of Milwaukee forward John Henson after both players had been ejected from Thursday’s 96-86 Bucks’ home triumph.

Barnes, averaging 9.6 points and 5.3 rebounds a game in his 13th NBA season, will miss Saturday’s Memphis home game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

In addition to the ban, Milwaukee guard Greivis Vasquez was fined $15,000 for following Henson to the locker room. Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and center Greg Monroe were each fined $10,000 for lesser roles in the incident.

Henson blocked a Barnes shot with only 5.5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. After the play, Henson taunted Barnes and was subsequently whistled for two technical fouls and ejected.

Barnes, 36, was then charged with a technical foul and ejected for a profanity-laced tirade.

At 39-30, the Grizzlies are fifth in the Western Conference, five games ahead of the last playoff spot. The Bucks, 30-39, are five games behind Chicago for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot with 13 games remaining.

Credit Yahoo Sports

Photo Credit: ESPN