VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Damian Lillard says don’t compare me to Steph — Let’s be fair to Warriors coach Steve Kerr. He said he voted for Damian Lillard to make the All-Star team (Lillard didn’t). But when Kerr said, off-hand, that Lillard reminded him of Steph Curry after Lillard torched the Warriors last month in a Blazers’ win, it didn’t sit well with Lillard. The teams played again Friday night but Lillard had his say prior to the game and spoke with Joe Freeman of the Oregonian:
It was intended to be a compliment.
But it was perceived as a slight.
After Damian Lillard torched the Golden State Warriors for a career-high 51 points and the Trail Blazers beat the unbeatable by 32 points, Steve Kerr was asked about Lillard’s remarkable individual performance.
“He looked like Steph Curry out there,” the Warriors’ coach said, following the Blazers’ 137-105 victory in the first game after the All-Star break.
Nine days later, after Lillard scored 33 points in a 111-102 victory over the Indiana Pacers, an Indiana-area reporter asked the Blazers’ All-Star point guard if he was trying to impersonate Curry when he punished the Pacers for 20 first-quarter points.
“I don’t impersonate anybody, man,” Lillard replied to the question, clearly annoyed. “I was being Damian Lillard.”
Lillard has been one of the NBA’s best players since the All-Star break, averaging 33.5 points, 5.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds over 11 games. He’s scored at least 50 points twice, at least 40 points three times and at least 30 points eight times. He’s shooting 48 percent from the field, including 42 percent from three-point range, and the Blazers (34-31) have amassed a 7-4 record, surprisingly remaining in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
But along the way, instead of celebrating the individuality of Lillard, some have branded him Curry Light. They see an athletic point guard with a propensity for hitting deep three-pointers, making clutch fourth quarter shots and showcasing slick handles. They see a player with a small-school background and ties to Oakland. And they can’t help but see the reigning MVP.
Well, that can’t help but make Lillard feel disrespected.
“I respect Steph Curry,” Lillard said Thursday. “Because what he’s doing is amazing. But I’m my own man. So don’t come to me and say I’m impersonating him. You telling me I’m impersonating somebody by doing well at my job is disrespectful.”
No. 2: Davis copes with tough season in New Orleans — Raise your hand if you thought Anthony Davis would have this kind of season in New Orleans. He started slowly and didn’t get the fan vote to start the All-Star Game. Also, the Pelicans struggled despite being healthier than in the past. Finally, it doesn’t appear they’re headed to the playoffs. Davis is wrapping up a decent season personally, and recently had a sit-down with Justin Verrier of ESPN:
That’s the scary part: When you have the 11th-best season ever, how far does up go? The Pelicans clocked in at third in Zach Lowe’s preseason League Pass rankings with a simple explanation: “Anthony Davis is limitless.”
It hasn’t exactly been a ski lift to his summit since, with the Pelicans’ injury woes and adaptation to just his second NBA head coach pushing Davis one step back before any leap toward the league’s top pound-for-pound player. But with nights like Wednesday, or the 59 points and 20 rebounds he piled on the Pistons two weeks ago, that ascension doesn’t feel so far away anymore.
In the meantime, Davis has welcomed some of the spoils of his newfound stardom. He’s fast becoming the guy you’ll see over and over again during commercial breaks of national NBA games. He’s diving headfirst into first-person media. He will also make a guest spot in the latest “Barbershop” movie, set in his hometown of Chicago, poking fun at the eyebrow that seems to be his meal ticket in that realm.
“Yeah, just embracing it,” he said. “The opportunity doesn’t come around a lot for guys. When I get the opportunities I try to embrace them and have fun with it. It’s all gonna go by so fast. Everybody tells me, ‘Your career goes by fast. Just like that — snap of a finger.’ So any time I get a chance to do anything, whether it’s a movie, commercial, appearance, whatever, I try to have fun and enjoy as much as possible.”
Unlike his lofty basketball pursuits, about which he has rarely if ever demurred, Davis is a bit more conservative when it comes to these sorts of roles.
“Nah. I mean … of course, people know who I am. But I don’t feel like I’m a celebrity,” he said. “I don’t look at myself like that. Of course when you go out and people ask you for your autographs or pictures, it kind of puts in perspective how, I’ll say how big of a name you are. But I don’t go anywhere like, ‘I want front-row seats.’ That’s not me. … I don’t really look at myself like that.
“[The movie] came to me. Or, my agency. But that’s because it was in Chicago, it has ties with Chicago and all that, so I think that was a big factor. But, even still. Being in a movie is pretty fun. I guess I don’t really see myself in that light. I guess because I’m so laid back and chill. If I was more outgoing or … Hollywood, I guess. I don’t know. [Laughs.] That’s not me. I’m just real chill.”
After all, he is 23.
No. 3: Heat still in a holding pattern over Bosh — There’s no need to rush anything, given the circumstances and history. So nobody’s putting any sort of urgency in Miami as it pertains to Chris Bosh. His health is still a concern and a mystery to those outside of the organization as he continues to weigh whether to return this season, and if so, when. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, other than saying Bosh is in the team’s thoughts, remains relatively mum. Here’s Michael Wallace of ESPN.com:
In his most extensive comments on Bosh since the Heat’s leading scorer has been out, Spoelstra said that the 13-year veteran will work out with the team when it returns from its current three-game road trip.
“We love Chris, and he’s in a great place right now,” Spoelstra said after the Heat’s morning workout at the United Center in Chicago before Friday’s game against the Bulls. “He’s working out right now in Miami. When we get back, we’ll be able to do some workouts with him. But more than anything else, he’s in a good place mentally. We don’t have a timetable or anything like that. We’re just happy he’s healthy.”
Spoelstra’s comments came a day after Bosh released a statement through his public relations firm that said he does not have deep vein thrombosis — or blood clots in his leg. In the statement, Bosh also said he is working with the Heat to explore precautionary treatment options and “taking every necessary step” to make sure he remains free of the condition moving forward. Bosh’s statement did not disclose his specific condition.
“I have been working out, training with the team, watching film of the games, walking through plays and have attended home games despite not being visible to the public,” Bosh said in the statement released Thursday. “I remain positive that I will be able to return this season.” Bosh, 31, was in the midst of his best season in six years with the Heat when he was held out of the All-Star Game last month for what the team initially indicated was a calf strain. Multiple league sources confirmed Bosh’s condition was more serious than the strain, but team officials have declined to provide specific details.
This is the second time in as many years that Bosh’s season has been interrupted by a health scare. Last season, Bosh missed Miami’s final 30 games to treat a blood clot that had traveled from his calf to his lung and led to his dealing with severe pain and being hospitalized for several days.
Heat forward Luol Deng said he’s hopeful Bosh will be able to rejoin the team on the court this season. Bosh leads the team with an average of 19.1 points a game, and his 81 made 3-pointers this season are already the most he’s had in any season of his career.
“Chris has been working out; he’s been following guys and talking about what we can do better as a team,” Deng said Friday. “He’s all-in even though he’s not playing right now and not traveling with the team. For us, it just shows us who he is. Even though he would love to be playing and be part of what’s going on right now, he’s doing all he can to let us know he’s still invested.”
According to league sources, Bosh still has medical hurdles to clear before he’s allowed rejoin teammates on the court for any extensive basketball work. Team executives also declined comment Friday when asked about Bosh’s treatment status.
It also remains unclear whether Bosh’s personal medical advisers are in total agreement with the Heat’s and NBA’s medical team regarding all aspects of his health status and clearance required to play. For now, Spoelstra said both Bosh and his teammates are encouraged by his progress in recent weeks. The Heat (37-27) are fourth in the Eastern Conference standings with 18 regular-season games left and have won eight of 11 games since losing Bosh at the All-Star break.
“He’s been able to do individual workouts with the coaching staff, but it’s not about that or a timetable right now,” Spoelstra reiterated. “We’re just happy he’s around and he’s healthy. His spirits are good. We love him, and I love his spirit in being around the team.”
No. 4: Raptors have a front court duo, too — The success of the Raptors is dictated mainly by a pair of backcourt guards who made the All-Star team and cause hell for the other team. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are having solid seasons, but the difference in the Raptors, and maybe the factor that could carry them over the top, is Bismack Biyombo and Jonas Valanciunas and how well the big men are working together and complementing each other. Here’s Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun:
Head coach Dwane Casey would also tell you that his team would not be in this position without the top centre combination in Raptors history, starter Jonas Valanciunas and defensive stopper Bismack Biyombo.
Valanciunas, the fifth pick of the 2011 draft, is playing the best basketball of his career. His scoring and efficiency are up and so is his rebounding and all-around defence. He has scored at least 10 points in a personal-best 16 consecutive contests.
Biyombo has been the ying to the Lithuanian’s yang, emerging as one of the best defensive players in the league after signing a bargain-basement deal with the Raptors last summer.
Biyombo was selected only two picks after Valanciunas in 2011, but strangely, the Charlotte Hornets elected to part ways with the 23-year-old, thinking his progress had plateaued.
To Toronto’s pleasant surprise, that line of thinking was way off. While Biyombo has gotten better offensively, most notably, in his ability to catch the ball, shoot free throws and go up faster, he has made the most strides at the other end.
“He’s much more than I expected,” Casey admitted after a Raptors practice on Friday.
“I didn’t know that he would have that much impact on our defence. He’s a huge addition for our team, gives us an air of toughness, physicality … I can’t think of how many games he’s won for us with his defence. His energy, his spirit,” Casey said.
By all accounts, the scrimmages between the team’s top two pivots have been great theatre and both believe they are benefiting from competing against each other in practice and by watching each other play during games.
“Yeah, you see someone doing something good, you want to learn and be better,” Valanciunas said. “He’s motivating me every day to work hard and go in the right direction.”
That goes both ways.
“It has been great because we’ve got to push each other,” Biyombo told the Toronto Sun.
“At the end of the day, JV and I both knows that if us as bigs, we can play different, at a high level, the team is going to be special and it’s going to be a team that challenges a lot of people.
“It’s an excitement, a challenge, but at the same time, it’s a learning process for both of us.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: A tough season for Philly’s Jahlil Okafor is officially over after the first-round pick was shut down to rapid a torn meniscus. Okafor’s surgery was deemed “minor” by the Sixers … Marc Gasol might be recovered enough to play for Spain in the Rio Games, or maybe not. It’s still iffy … Would the NBA dare even think about expansion? NBA commissioner Adam Silver gave his thoughts … Former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen is OK with those Kawhi Leonard comparisons … Phil Jackson is still big on Carmelo Anthony and so can folks please stop with those trade rumors? … Remember when the injury-plagued Grizzlies were forced to play a journeyman guard named Eddie Gill for 48 minutes? Didn’t think so.