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NBA Sunday: Mavericks Are Contenders

With Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki and good fortune, the Mavericks may surprise the NBA. Again.

Moke Hamilton

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When Dirk Nowitzki received Jason Kidd’s pass from the top of the key, he immediately realized that Chris Bosh—the man who he had dominated all series long—was out of position.

With nine seconds on the shot clock and the Miami HEAT desperately trying to salvage the game—and their season—Nowitzki made his move.

He pivoted, drove to his left and picked up his dribble. Udonis Haslem closed in, but Nowitzki gently put his head in the sternum of Bosh and knocked him off balance.

It was a long 13-year wait that Nowitzki decided had lasted long enough.

He rose up over the out-of-position Bosh and connected on a rainbow jumper on the baseline. There was 2:30 remaining in Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals, but this was the nail in the coffin.

On this night, Notwitzki led his Dallas Mavericks to the promised land.

With any luck, in 2015, he will have another opportunity.

Nowitzki is a bit wiser, has a bit more mileage and is a bit more, say, ripe than he was in 2011. But back then, when his Mavericks shocked the world, he succeeded thanks to a talented supporting cast that augmented his skills and helped him play to his talents.

Being fully aware of the NBA’s new economic era that was on the horizon, Mark Cuban made the somewhat controversial decision to put his championship in his pocket, look forward, and make some difficult decisions that saw key cogs of the championship take their talents elsewhere.

J.J. Barea left for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Corey Brewer headed to the Denver Nuggets, Caron Butler found himself as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers and DeShawn Stevenson and Tyson Chandler—two of the team’s starters—became a New Jersey Net and New York Knick, respectively.

It’s been a long three years.

Combined, the Mavericks have gone 126-104. In 2013, they failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2000—the year Cuban purchased the team. And even though they rebounded last season with a 49-33 campaign, they couldn’t get past the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, despite being the only team to take the eventual champions to a seventh and deciding game.

Now, three years later, with the riper version of Nowitzki, the Mavericks have reassembled a strong supporting cast around him that will enter 2014-15 as one of the dark horse teams in the Western Conference. The recent dominance of the Spurs, the continued toiling of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the emergence of the Golden State Warriors and the improvement of the Los Angeles Clippers have helped contribute to a growing belief that the Mavericks are a team of yesteryear.

That’s far from true.

———

Injuries are a part of the game.

It’s a somewhat trite expression, but that doesn’t make it false.

The Washington Wizards know that well, as they will be forced to begin their season without Bradley Beal. The Spurs have shut reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard down for the remainder of the preseason due to an eye infection and reigning league MVP Kevin Durant’s Jones fracture could have him out until Thanksgiving.

In Chicago, Derrick Rose is still trying to get himself and his body back to 100 percent so that his talent-laden team can have an opportunity to fulfill their potential.

Indeed, injuries are a part of the game. Along the way, players get hurt, and sometimes, a team that was quietly waiting in the wings—quietly toiling when nobody was watching—pounces and seizes opportunity when it presents itself.

That could be the 2014-15 Mavericks.

Last season, the Thunder’s playoff hopes were dashed when Serge Ibaka suffered a left calf injury.

The season before, in 2013, they lost All-NBA performer Russell Westbrook after he suffered a meniscus tear in the team’s first round playoff series against the Houston Rockets.

In 2012, it was Rose’s tearing of his ACL that changed the landscape of the title chase in the Eastern Conference, but key injuries to the likes of Joakim Noah and Iman Shumpert played a role, as well.

In 2011, Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups were hobbled, and the New York Knicks were D.O.A.

Clearly, not all of the aforementioned teams were actually championship contenders, but as we enter 2014-15 with Durant, Leonard, Beal and Paul George on the shelf, we can also easily recall the fact that many players who do play for Eastern contenders—Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Pau Gasol and Kyle Lowry, for example—have had their fair share of health woes in the recent past.

Out West, aside from Durant and Leonard, there is copious concern amongst fans of the Golden State Warriors over both Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry. The same can be said of Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers.

The unfortunate truth is that players get hurt and teams who were long thought to be over the hill and outside of contention—a team like the Dallas Mavericks—are presented with an opportunity to rise up and surprise a few people.

That is far from false.

———

This past offseason, we were witnesses to something quite rare. The Mavericks and Nuggets explicitly admitted making mistakes when the teams reacquired players that they had previously traded. For the Nuggets, it was Arron Afflalo and for the Mavericks, it was Tyson Chandler.

After being signed-and-traded to the Knicks back in December 2011, Chandler was just as good as advertised for his first two years in New York City. Last season, though, Chandler became frustrated with the franchise for its lack of leadership and direction, suffered through multiple injuries and simply had trouble being as effective as he once was.

With Phil Jackson taking over in New York and the team hell-bent on installing a triangle offense, Chandler didn’t seem to fit. Jackson opted to trade Chandler back to the Mavericks and Cuban was more than happy to welcome Chandler back.

With Nowitzki and Chandler reunited, the hope for Rick Carlisle’s team is that they can recapture their past glory and play an offensive system that was similar to the one utilized by their 2011 title team. Nowitzki and Chandler will be asked to play themselves, but it is Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons who must take their games to another level if the Mavericks are to have any sort of sustained success.

Ellis, entering just his second year with the club, has already shown good chemistry with Nowitzki. Eerily similar to Jason Terry, Ellis found his way to Dallas with a reputation of being a somewhat selfish, shot-happy miniature combo guard.

Jameer Nelson, Devin Harris and Raymond Felton probably lack the collective talent of Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea, but so long as the trio can help maintain floor spacing and avoid turnovers, Carlisle will probably be content with having Ellis handle the ball more often than Terry did since Ellis is more adept at getting to the basket.

Eventually, Al-Farouq Aminu and Brandan Wright could emerge as impact rotation pieces and if one of either Jae Crowder, Gal Mekel or even Richard Jefferson can find a way to give this team something every single day, the Mavs will be in business.

The Mavericks may need some help in the form of a key injury or two in the Western Conference, and they may need one more piece between now and February’s trade deadline, but to not consider them as a team capable of surprising many people this season?

That would be a major mistake.

———

In the end, as usual, it will all fall on the head and shoulders of the franchise player.

Now, at 36 years old, Nowitzki’s tires are well worn, but they may still have some tread left, even though that was up for debate as recently as one year ago.

A balky knee caused Nowitzki to appear in just 53 games during the 2012-13 season, where he averaged just 17.3 points and 6.8 rebounds. One would have had to go back to Nowitzki’s second year in the league (2000) to find similar numbers.

However, last season, with Ellis as his running mate, Nowitzki played 32.9 minutes in 80 of the Mavericks’ 82 games. He shot over 49 percent from the field for the just the third time in his 16-year career and managed to score 21.7 points per game.

This season, splitting shots with Ellis and Parsons, Nowitzki’s numbers may decrease, but his efficiency and proficiency are still there.

Together, with Chandler, the two hope to recapture their past glory.

The last time Nowitzki and Chandler shared the court as teammates was on June 12, 2011.

With about 30 seconds remaining until the Mavericks solidified themselves as basketball royalty, ahead by nine points, Nowitzki received a Kidd pass on a cut and gently converted a left-handed finger roll over the outstretched arm of Chris Bosh.

It was the same exact game-winning shot that Nowitzki converted to help the Mavericks pull of an amazing Game 2 comeback in this very same building—the AmericanAirlines Arena.

With LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Bosh all standing in the paint, Nowitzki had effectively risen up, over and above Miami’s Big 3.

As he and Chandler retreated down the court on the game’s final token defensive possession, in unison, they raised their arms in triumph.

After Chandler corralled a loose ball on the HEAT’s final possession, he and Nowitzki, in unison, put both of their hands on top of their heads.

Gasping, teary eyed and overcome with emotion, in unison, Chandler and Nowitzki locked eyes and marveled at their accomplishment. They had toppled the dynasty.

Together, they defied father time and even Las Vegas. Together, they became champions.

That was the last time Chandler and Nowitzki shared the court with one another.

Now, as they suit up together yet again—each a bit older and wiser—together, they hope that they can turn back the hands of time.

With a new supporting cast and brilliant front office management, the Mavericks will attempt to surprise everyone this season.

And if they do, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

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NBA

David Nwaba and the Road Less Traveled

David Nwaba speaks to Basketball Insiders about his unconventional path to the NBA.

David Yapkowitz

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A player’s path to the NBA usually follows the same formula: A star in high school, a strong college career, and then eventually being selected in the NBA Draft. However, there are times when a player’s path is more unconventional. In the case of David Nwaba, he definitely took the path less traveled.

He attended University High School in West Los Angeles, where he was named All-Western League MVP twice as well as being an all-league selection. He finished his senior year in 2011 putting up 22.0 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game.

He went to an NCAA Division 2 school, however, Hawaii Pacific University, but never suited up for them as he redshirted his freshman year. He played a year at Santa Monica Community College, where he was the Western State Conference South Division Player of the Year before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. According to Nwaba, the decision to leave Hawaii Pacific was made with the NBA in mind.

“It was always a dream of mine, it’s also why I left a Division 2 school that I started at,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I had bigger dreams of playing D1 and potentially the NBA. So that was a dream of mine. I never thought the journey would go like this but it is how it is.”

Behind Nwaba, Cal Poly made their first-ever NCAA appearance in 2014. They won the Big West Tournament as the seventh seed out of eight teams, and then knocked off Dayton for the right to come in as a No. 16 seed against No. 1 seed Wichita State. Cal Poly would go on to lose to Wichita State, but sparking that run to March Madness put Nwaba on the basketball map.

He didn’t get to the NBA right away, though. His first professional experience came with the then Los Angeles D-Fenders, now South Bay Lakers, the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate. He initially began with the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings affiliate, but his rights were traded to Los Angeles. His strong play in the G-League was what caught the Lakers’ attention, enough to give him a pair of 10-day contracts, and then one for the rest of the season.

“It was a perfect spot to start up my professional career The G-League is a place to develop your game, and I think I developed a lot,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I learned a lot about the game, and I think it was a good place for me to start just out of college.”

Although he made a strong impression on the Lakers, Nwaba found out that nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. Due to a roster crunch when the team signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over the summer, the Lakers ended up cutting him. He didn’t stay unemployed for long though. Before he had a chance to hit the open market, the Chicago Bulls claimed him off waivers.

He’s since carved out a role as one of the Bulls most dependable players in the second unit. And just like his path to the league, his role is a bit of an unconventional one as a shooting guard. He’s shooting 51.7 percent from the field, but most of his shots come from in the paint. He only shoots 26.3 percent from three-point range. It’s been effective for him though.

“It’s just bringing energy off the bench and just being that defender,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “For the most part, I just try to be aggressive going to the basket, finishing at the rim, making the right plays, just defending and playing hard.”

The Chicago Bulls got off to a slow start this season. They lost 17 of their first 20 games. In December, they started to pick up their play, winning 11 of their 20 games including a seven-game win streak. However, they’ve now dropped eight of their last 11 games. Despite that, Nwaba does see some encouraging signs. And in the Eastern Conference, he’s not quite ready to count out another run.

“We’re developing every game, just building chemistry amongst each other,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “Who knows, all it takes is just a streak of eight to ten games or something and we’re already back in the playoff race. You never know, anything can turn around. It’s still a long season, a lot of games to be played, and a lot of time to develop our game. We’ve still got a lot of time with each other.”

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NBA Daily: The Los Angeles Lakers Could Be Up Next

The Los Angeles Lakers may not make the playoffs this season, but they’re trending in the right direction.

Dennis Chambers

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The Los Angeles Lakers are coming.

They may not be playoff-bound this season as some of their purple and gold faithful hoped for, but the prestigious franchise occupying the Staples Center is showing improvement from their young players. Perhaps even enough to lure the likes of established stars come summer time.

In Luke Walton’s second season as the Lakers’ head coach, he hits the All-Star break with his team holding a 23-34 record. Granted, that’s not the level of success he was used to during his time with the Golden State Warriors, but it is only three fewer wins than his team had all of last season.

Prior to limping into the break on the back of a three-game losing streak, the Lakers had won eight of 10. During that stretch, they’d beaten the likes of Oklahoma City (twice), Indiana, and Boston. Along with making the most of their performances over that span, the Lakers were also doing so without 2017’s second overall pick, Lonzo Ball, who’s sidelined with an injury.

But Ball isn’t the only Los Angeles darling who has shined this season. In fact, it’s arguable that he’s not even the most impressive youngster on the team.

Drafted second overall last season, Brandon Ingram is showing the improvement this season that warranted such a high selection. His play thus far suggests he’s one of the building blocks of the Lakers’ next era in contending for a championship.

In his 53 games this season, Ingram is averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. His shooting from the floor and from beyond the arc have both seen dramatic increases as well this season. Over the same stretch that saw the Lakers go 8-2 with wins over cemented playoff teams, Ingram upped his assists per night to 5.2, taking the place of facilitator with Ball sidelined.

Though Ingram and the Lakers haven’t been setting the win column on fire all season, the steady growth and improvement show to him that the team is moving in the right direction, under the right coach.

“I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” Ingram said to reporters during All-Star weekend. “I think guys have gotten better every single day. I think we come in with the mindset that we have a really good coach that pushes us every single day. I like the progress of what we’re doing in our organization.”

Walton, this season more than last, has shown the ability to get the most out of the players he has. Ingram’s improvement, plus the capability as a point guard Ball has shown, are the givens. They were highly selected players, expected to contribute immediately. But it’s the production of the players who were afterthoughts that are a major testament to Walton’s teachings.

Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart were selected with the 27th and 30th picks in last June’s draft. Both were collegiate upperclassmen with noted handicaps in their respective games that led to teams selecting younger, or more athletic, or sweeter shooting players in their place.

A few years from now when everyone looks back, that could prove to be a silly mistake.

All Kuzma has done this season is keep his name consistently in the Rookie of the Year award race by averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and shooting nearly 36 percent from beyond the arc. He’s been a lightning rod of scoring for the Lakers on nights where they desperately need it, racking up 13 games where he’s reached at least 20 points, and three games breaking the 30-point plateau.

Hart, on the other hand, hasn’t been as steady a performer as his fellow late first-round selected teammate. But when called upon, especially since Ball has been out, Hart’s shown the all-around game that made him one of the most decorated players in college basketball while at Villanova.

Over the last month, Hart has averaged 8.8 points and five rebounds per game, while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. During that same stretch, Hart’s scored in double-figures six times and registered three straight double-doubles at the beginning of February.

Moving forward, as the Lakers look to add high-priced free agent in the coming summers, having guys like Kuzma and Hart on cost-effective rookie contracts is a luxury teams around the league hope to have.

Diamonds in the rough like Kuzma and more than capable contributors like Hart are nice, of course, but the real reason for optimism in L.A. is Ingram. He’s the player with a star power ceiling. He’s the guy that the likes of LeBron James and Paul George look at when they weigh their free agent options, as a guy who can handle the workload on the nights they may not have it.

Ingram’s game isn’t finished, though; far from it, in fact. But he knows that, and he’s aware of the steps he needs to take to get to that next level.

“To improve my game I think from a shooting standpoint,” Ingram said. “If I get that down, I think it would be a lot more easier for me to drive to the basket, break down a lot of guys, make plays for my other teammates. I think it would take me to a whole other level.”

Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers doesn’t come void of expectations. There, in Hollywood, everyone is always watching. Fans, other teams, the media, everyone is waiting for the next time a Laker championship comes around. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, Ingram thinks the current legend captaining the ship is the young team’s best asset to achieving that ultimate success everyone in Los Angeles is accustomed too.

“Magic Johnson,” Ingram said. “He’s in our front office. He’s at most of every practice, every single day. For any advice why not go to him, with the caliber of player he was and how many championships he won, the way he carries himself. He always there for just information on anything we need.”

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NBA All-Star Friday Recap

Simon Hannig recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2018.

Simon Hannig

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NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game was highlighted by many stars this year, including Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Nate Robinson, Candace Parker, Bubba Watson, Rachel DeMita and many more. Team Lakers was led by head coach, Rachel Nichols. Team Clippers was led by Katie Nolan.

Quavo, of hip hop group Migos, had the first the two points for Team Clippers, and Justin Bieber had the first three points for Team Lakers.

Team Clippers defeated Team Lakers 75-66.

Quavo led the way for Team Clippers with 19 points on 7/10 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse had 17 points on 8/14 shooting and 6 rebounds. Actor and social media star Brandon Armstrong finished with 16 points on 6/17 shooting, 11 rebounds and 3 assists for Team Clippers. Both wereamong the top three leading scorers for Team Clippers.

NBA2KTV host, actress and model, Rachel DeMita led the way for Team Lakers with 17 points on 6/12 shooting and 2 rebounds. NBA legend Nate Robinson was the second leading scorer for Team Lakers with 14 points on 4/11 shooting, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

Other notable NBA and WNBA legends stats from tonight’s game — Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky) had zero points. Paul Pierce had 4 points on 2/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Jason Williams had 2 points on 1/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Tracy McGrady had 3 points on 1/3 shooting, 3 assists and 2 rebounds. Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) had zero points.

Quavo was named MVP.

BBVA Compass Rising Stars Game

There is a ton of young talent in this league, and the league will be in good hands for years to come. The talent was put on display tonight in Los Angeles.

Utah Jazz rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell gave us an early preview of the dunk contest tomorrow by throwing an ally-oop pass to himself off the backboard in the first half.

However, it was all Team World in the first half as they led 78-59 at the break. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings each had 14 points to lead Team World. Jaylen Brown led the way for Team USA with 16 points at the half.

It felt like a three point contest throughout the entire game, as there were 96 combined three point attempts. Bogdanovic led the way with seven three pointers made for both teams.

All in all, Team World defeated Team USA 155-124. Hield led the way for Team World with 29 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics led the way for Team USA with 35 points and 10 rebounds.

The MVP of the game was Bogdan Bogdanovic, who dazzled the crowd with his three point shooting. He had 26 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds with seven made three’s.

Next up for the NBA in this fun-filled weekend is NBA All-Star Saturday Night with the dunk contest, three point contest and much more.

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