1. Mavericks Aren't Following The Script
One month ago, the Western Conference playoff script appeared to be in final editing. A couple of plausible themes were being pitched.
Perhaps the two-month pilot would resemble an episode of "Lost" with innumerable twists and unforeseen storylines.
Or, maybe, a sitcom would best suit the cast of characters. One with the stars -- Kobe Bryant and his teammates -- delivering the punch lines on a cast of various bit players looking to steal an occasional scene.
In that script, you would see an aging actor like the San Antonio Spurs looking for another chance at glory. Added to the mix would be a newcomer in Oklahoma City trying to make a name en route to becoming the next big star. And, of course, there are always the solid prime-time mainstays like Utah and Denver delivering consistently good performances.
The safe bet was on the sitcom, featuring the Lakers making a mockery of the West by rolling through three rounds on their way to their third straight NBA Finals.
Then, suddenly, they found themselves staring at a group of guys intent on rewriting the ending to the story. While L.A. was busy planning a parade route, the Dallas Mavericks were orchestrating the kind of trade that may just give Dirk Nowitzki his best chance at a title.
Prior to the trade, several issues were keeping the Mavs from being a legitimate title contender -- including their lack of perimeter toughness defensively, the inability of their complementary frontcourt players to impact the game offensively, and the inconsistency of their secondary scoring options in big moments. All were major concerns for coach Rick Carlisle.
All were addressed with the trade.
Butler is a perfect fit for three major reasons.
First, his ability to defend multiple positions at a much higher level than his predecessor, Josh Howard, takes a load of pressure off Dirk and point guard Jason Kidd. Butler can combine with Shawn Marion to give the Mavs a tandem that can make any wing tandem they face in the postseason work for everything they get.
Second, Butler gives them a true second scoring option whose production isn't based solely on making long-range jumpers. That will take pressure off Jason Terry and allow him to make his impact felt in fewer minutes and with less team dependence on his jumper's being there night in and night out. Butler gets his points in a variety of ways. He can post. He gets offensive rebounds. He draws fouls. He has a deadly pull-up jumper. And, best of all, he can score without having his number called.
Finally, Butler is rock-solid in the locker room and is a great chemistry guy. He is a quiet leader and a winner. There will be no "acclimation period" since the guy flat-out knows how to play with anyone. It also doesn't hurt that he must feel like he's been given a new lease on life by exiting the disaster otherwise known as the Washington Wizards.
Brendan Haywood gives the Mavs everything Eric Dampier has provided, plus the ability to finish plays around the rim and in transition, which Dampier struggles with. His length will be a huge factor against the Lakers if they meet in the playoffs.
Nowitzki and Kidd have been to three Finals between them but have never had a complete enough cast to bring home any hardware. This is the best team either has played on and, as Dallas' 13-game winning streak indicates, it may be good enough to grab the Larry O'Brien Trophy, if not an Emmy.
Tim Legler is a regular Daily Dime contributor.
2. What Will Happen To Ginobili?
With his contract set to expire, the official word out of San Antonio says the Spurs have every intent to re-sign Manu Ginobili this summer. But last summer the Spurs balked at the opportunity of extending Ginobili, preferring first to see whether his body was capable of withstanding the rigors of a full season. Ginobili will be 33 in July, but his age is closer to 35 than 31 when you consider the actual miles that come with long postseasons, long summers and an unfortunately long list of injuries.
It's enough to supply any general manager with an understandable pause.
But Ginobili is providing a reason for league GMs to think twice about thinking twice -- he's regained his super-stud form after two seasons of continuous ankle injuries. His February 2010 numbers ran in lockstep with his career-best work. Since his reinsertion into San Antonio's starting lineup, Ginobili has responded by scoring 38 and 28 in take-notice outings against the Cavs and Knicks, respectively.
This complicates Ginobili's impending free-agent status, and so does another salient fact entirely beyond his control: only one team can sign LeBron James.
Put differently, several teams enjoy the luxury of significant cap space this summer, but the Spurs are not one of them. San Antonio is financially strapped and could be forced into a hard decision if a ready-to-spend team turns to Ginobili as a free-agent consolation prize. That, and the possibility that someone will include the promise to bid for Ginobili as part of their sales pitch to a max-level free agent.
The unique intangibles derived from winning the Euroleague, an Olympic gold medal and multiple NBA titles is a nice fallback for teams that fail (or simply can't afford) to acquire two max-level free agents. Some clever GM could parlay Ginobili's resurgence into a relatively inexpensive but nevertheless compelling selling point in pursuit of the market's biggest prize.
The question before the Spurs is not simply the judgment of how much, and for how long. There is a prior question. Who will the Spurs be bidding against in their attempt to re-sign Ginobili?
To read more from Varner, check out his blog 48 Minutes of Hell
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Wednesday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.
4. Another Game, Another Trey For Billups
Chauncey Billups scored a game-high 25 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, to lead the Nuggets to a win at Minnesota. Billups has made at least one 3-point field goal in each of his past 33 games, one game shy of the longest streak of his career (34 straight games for the Pistons in 2005-06). The only NBA player to fashion a longer streak of that kind this season is Houston's Aaron Brooks, who has at least one 3-pointer in each of his past 36 games.
5. Extreme Behavior
Tyreke Evans, Kings: On a night the Kings decided to honor Evans, he didn't disappoint, notching his first career triple-double (19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists) to help the Kings defeat the Raptors.
Hedo Turkoglu, Raptors: His slump continued (he has failed to score in double digits in four of five games). The forward went 2-for-8 from the floor, tallying just six points in a Raptors' loss.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"We'll keep fighting for them. We'll keep playing hard. I've been in this league a long time and I believe in our talent."
-- Forward Elton Brand after the Sixers were booed during their loss to the Bobcats
6. Opposite Directions
7. NBA Video Channel
8. Grizzlies Rough Up Celtics
Celtics forward Kevin Garnett didn't sugarcoat a lopsided loss.
"I think it speaks for itself," said Garnett. "They came in and just totally annihilated us. Nothing to it. I thought we played hard in spurts, but it seemed like whatever they threw up, it went in."
The Celtics dug themselves a hole early, but it truly did seem like the Grizzlies could do no wrong at times. In one sequence, Marquis Daniels missed a driving layup and Memphis pushed the ball quickly up the court. O.J. Mayo drove hard to the basket and threw up a desperation reverse layup that floated through the net. That was Boston's night in a nutshell.
To read the entire blog, click here
9. Mr. Clutch: Kobe Bryant
Through the years, there have been many different sets of data about clutch shooting. Any which way I have ever seen it sliced (last five minutes of close games to last 10 seconds), as I have written on TrueHoop before, it has looked like Kobe Bryant has been a guy who shoots a ton in crunch time, and hits at a pretty good, but not elite, rate.
I'm open to the idea that he could still be the best clutch player in the NBA. At that time of the game, there's value in being able to create scoring opportunities. Bryant may shoot those difficult fallaways that often miss, but he'd be a far worse player if he couldn't get a shot off at all. And that's the situation some lesser players would find themselves in.
Quite honestly, I think the real way to crown a crunch-time king would be with video. Somebody should make a TV special where they string together every crunch-time touch of the handful of elite end-game players (Bryant, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, etc.) If we want to tell the world that somebody is the most likely to succeed in a certain setting, let's take an honest and complete look at how they do in that setting. Show me the turnovers, the misses and all that. Let everyone watch all of that video -- not just the makes! -- and at the end of that I think we'll end up with a good sense of who's the best.
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