The Portland Trail Blazers had one of the better offenses in the NBA this season, ranking seventh in Offensive Rating and 10th in points per game. In their playoff opener against the Memphis Grizzlies, though, the Blazers managed just 86 points (and a 15-point first quarter) in a 100-86 Game 1 defeat.
Portland has been playing for a few weeks now without its starting shooting guard, Wesley Matthews. And although the Blazers swung a trade deadline-day deal to get Arron Afflalo from the Denver Nuggets, he missed the playoff opener as he recovers from a shoulder injury suffered late in the season vs. the Golden State Warriors.
After enduring one of their most difficult nights on offense, a little help may be on the way for the Trail Blazers.
Arron Afflalo could return to the lineup for Game 2 on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Portland fell 0-1 in the best of seven first round series against Memphis with a 100-86 loss on Sunday night.
When seen afterwards leaving the locker room, Afflalo was asked if he’d be good to go in Game 2, telling CSNNW.com, “Yeah, I’m good.”
Afflalo, who suffered a right shoulder strain earlier this month against the Golden State Warriors, missed the last three games of the regular season while recovering.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts said Afflalo did partake in some shooting drills on Sunday morning, adding that it was good “he’s getting some range in motion.”
Afflalo was listed as doubtful for Game 1, allowing CJ McCollum to replace him in the starting lineup. McCollum struggled in his first career playoff start, scoring only two points on 1-for-8 shooting.
The Blazers could certainly use McCollum’s scoring off the bench, as the unit was outscored 33-21 in Game 1. Chris Kaman, Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe all finished with seven points each.
No. 1:Celtics make convincing playoff push — They very easily could justify missing the playoffs this season and then cashing in on their growing cache of draft picks, but the rebuilding Celtics have evidently decided to go for it. When Marcus Smart dropped a buzzer-beater Saturday night against the Raptors, it only confirmed as much. Boston entered Sunday with the No. 8 spot in the East, a half-game lead over the Heat, and to hear the players and brass, the playoffs are where this young team belongs. It’s a rather refreshing tone considering how much tanking has dominated the conversation in the NBA this season. Zach Lowe of Grantland did a study on the Celtics during this playoff push and here’s some of what he found out:
“The playoff-chasing Celtics of 2015 are a cute feel-good story — and little more. The rebuild is moving faster than expected, with a surprise run at the no. 8 seed in a dreadful conference, but there is a giant chasm separating this plucky, starless group from what it aspires to be.
“The important thing to remember about us,” coach Brad Stevens said in a sit-down with Grantland last week, “is that we have a long, long way to go.”
It says everything about the difficulty of rebuilding that Boston has absolutely nailed Phase 1 and yet has no clear path to 50 wins. Multiple rival executives described Boston’s trading spree of the last two years as “a masterpiece” in rebuilding. Contract timetables, injuries, and other variables made it impossible for Boston to deal its aging stars at peak sell-high times, and yet Danny Ainge still nabbed great value for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics have as many as six extra first-round picks1 coming and oodles of cap space, they’ve drafted solid players across the first round, and they just acquired a dynamic young point guard — Isaiah Thomas — on the cheap.
But they have no stars and no clear path to getting one outside a major break in free agency or the trade market. The Celtics have made the leap to mediocrity so fast that they may have no easy way out. They’re still not good, but they’re not bad enough to get an early first-round pick — to get a clear shot at a star, in other words. Even if they lose this season’s slap fight for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot, they will likely pick in the late lottery — a range that looks like their draft ceiling for the next few seasons. “That’s a concern for all 30 teams,” Ainge says of being stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity. “It’s the nature of our league. You definitely need good fortune.”
The Celtics discussed holding off on the Thomas deal to deflate their win total, but decided after some debate that they could lose out — or pay a higher price — if they waited until the summer. “Ideally, he might have been someone you pick up in the summer,” Ainge says. “But someone else might trade for him. You might be in a bidding war. You have to move while the iron is hot.”
No. 2:Grizzlies in fight for playoff positioning — The most intriguing April drama in the West is about playoff positioning near the top. The Rockets now hold a half-game lead over the Grizzlies for the No. 2 spot, and why is that so important? Well, the No. 2 team will most likely get the Mavericks and avoid the suddenly-smoking Spurs in the first round. Memphis had successfully fended off all threats for the No. 2 spot until now. And while the race is hardly over, the contest between Memphis and Houston will only intensify, especially with Dwight Howard back in the mix for the Rockets (though on a minutes restriction). Here’s Michael Wallace of ESPN on the Grizzlies, who lost a tough game to the Wizards on Saturday:
“I don’t think it’s the toughest division in our league; it’s the toughest division in all major leagues,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “Year in and year out, it’s ridiculous. So for our guys to get rewarded for their hard work, it would be positive.
“It’s what’s important to you. You hear about San Antonio, right? They don’t care about a division title. They don’t care about seeding. Well, we’re not them.”
While it’s all about the end game for the Spurs, who are going for their second straight championship and sixth in the past 16 years, the Grizzlies are still focused on the intermediate steps toward success. Winning an NBA championship remains the top goal for Memphis, but hanging the franchise’s first division banner in the rafters of the 10-year-old FedEx Forum along the way is a major priority.
The last time every team from an NBA division made the playoffs was in the 2005-06 season, when the Pistons, Pacers, Cavaliers, Bulls and Bucks advanced. That’s never happened in the NFL or Major League Baseball, although it’s occurred in two different divisions in the NHL over the past five seasons.
No. 3:Blazers must shore up their D or else — If you’re a Blazers fan you, must be thrilled with the way the team has hung in there in the rugged West despite missing Wesley Matthews and an inconsistent season from Damian Lillard and with LaMarcus Aldridge playing through a thumb that’ll require surgery in the offseason. Portland once again is in position to do damage in the playoffs (ask the Rockets, who are still stinging from Lillard’s series winner last spring), but not if they don’t clean up their biggest issue first: defense. Oregonian writer John Canzano, still stung by the Blazers surrendering 126 to the Clippers last week, discusses:
But on the other hand, Chris Kaman was willing to address the biggest issue that coach Terry Stotts whiffed on — atrocious team defense by the Blazers. The biggest problem for Portland if any of this should come to a Clippers-Blazers playoff series.
Decide for yourself which guy had the worse post-game peformance. I’m not up in the air. Kaman settled it when he said, “We scored 122 points. That’s not stopping anybody. And we didn’t stop them either, they had more points (126) than we did. We got hurt on transition and on threes.” He was only saying what everyone could obviously see at Moda Center.
I like Stotts. I championed his hiring. I banged the drum for his contract extension even before the end of last season. I like where he’s headed with this rig, but if he’s unable to get real about the deficiencies of this team and remains in denial, I’m concerned about the short-term prognosis for a team that has fought to this point.
No. 4:Dirk gives Shaun Livingston a pass for low blow — Dirk Nowitzki is usually a cool customer except when threatened with severe physical pain, as anyone else would (see Chris Kaman last week regarding Chris Paul). So at first, he was taken aback when he was whacked in the private area by Shaun Livingston. But when these things happen, you must take into account the history of the offending party. Livingston doesn’t exactly conjure up memories of flagrant assaults. And so, while Mark Cuban wasn’t in a forgiving mood Saturday, Dirk gave Livingston a pass. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas MorningNews has some golden quotes from Dirk:
Livingston, trying to defend Nowitzki in the post, was using his right hand to hand-check Nowitzki in the back. Somehow, his hand got in between Nowitzki’s legs and clearly caught Nowitzki in the groin area.
For the rest of the game, the AAC crowd booed Livingston every time he touched the ball and in the fourth quarter, Livingston and coach Rick Carlisle exchanged words briefly after a foul was called on J.J. Barea against Livingston.
Things escalated after the game when owner Mark Cuban talked to Golden State coach Steve Kerr and Livingston, then assistant coach Alvin Gentry, as they left the court.
Nowitzki had this to say about the play, which was reviewed and ended up with Livingston called for a flagrant foul, penalty one.
“Well, I give him the benefit of the doubt because he’s really not that type of player,” Nowitzki said. “He hasn’t been his entire career. I’m not really sure what he was trying to do there, if he was trying to get to the ball through my legs or anything. But like I said, he’s not a dirty player.
“But I really enjoyed his tight grip he got. I really enjoyed that.”
No. 1:LeBron ties Cavs passing mark — It’s pretty impressive, when you really think about it: A 6-8 forward has as many assists for the Cavaliers as Mark Price. Such is the essence of LeBron James, whose eight assists in a victory over the Suns pulled him even with Price, the main point guard on those LennyWilkens teams that won a lot of games but couldn’t beat Michael Jordan in the postseason. LeBron’s court awareness has always been one of his strengths, and some might say a weakness, like when he passes up a big shot instead of taking it. Anyway, to be tied with Price, one of the best point guards of the last 25 years, is a compliment. Joe Vardon of the Northeast Ohio Media Group breaks it down, and how LeBron played without a headband:
James scored 18 points and eight assists and tied – but didn’t surpass – Mark Price (4,206) for the franchise’s record in career assists, even though James had those extra opportunities in a fourth quarter he was supposed to watch from the bench.
He added six rebounds and shot 6-of-16, with just three points at halftime. A three-pointer at 7:05 game him 10 points for the game, extending his streak of consecutive games in double figures to 626 games – third longest in NBA history.
So if you really want to reach, you could make a (flimsy) argument that James’ streak was saved by the headband. He only had two points before he tore it off.
James buried another three with 2:04 left in the fourth quarter that sealed the win for the Cavs by pushing their lead to 15. But it was a game that should’ve been sealed long ago.
It was the Cavs’ fourth game in five nights. A rugged four-game road trip lies ahead. A time for a light moment was needed. So Blatt was asked early in his postgame conference if he had noticed James ditched the headband.
“I did and I was wondering myself what happened,” David Blatt said. “But I did not venture to ask him because it seemed to be inappropriate at the time. But I hope you guys do, I’m going to read about it. I did notice that, actually. Kind of weird.”
No. 2:Warriors, Clippers resume “friendly” rivalry today — The referees, as well as fans, are always on alert when these two teams play. So much bad blood, as well as memorable contests, have happened when the Clippers and Warriors suit up and today shouldn’t be any different. While both teams are virtually set for the playoffs, the intensity should manage to rise anyway. Here’s Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, who spoke with Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green (Blake Griffin‘s favorite opponents) setting it up…
“It’s going to be a good game,” Bogut said of ABC’s feature game Sunday against the Clippers. “We don’t like each other, and it’s kind of one of those throwback games from back in the day, when there were flagrants and technicals and all of that type of stuff. Hopefully, there isn’t any of that (Sunday), but it usually goes that way at one point of the game.”
Green said: “This is two teams that over the past few years have come into their own and are fighting for something. When you’re fighting for something, (chippy) stuff tends to happen. When you’ve got two talented teams, the more physical team will probably win the game. That’s the way you have to approach it.”
As sexy as the point guard matchup is between Stephen Curry and Chris Paul, games between the Warriors and Clippers — once dormant franchises, now consistently competing for the top spot in the Pacific Division — are almost always decided by the teams’ big men.
The Clippers won last season’s first-round playoff series, when Bogut was sidelined with a broken rib. When he missed the matchup this Christmas, the Clippers’ starting big men beat the Warriors’ starting posts by 11 points and 16 rebounds in a 100-86 victory. When Bogut was in the lineup in the teams’ first meeting this season, the Warriors’ bigs won the night by eight rebounds, by a plus-21 to a minus-31 plus-minus rating and by a 121-104 final score.
No. 3:Blazers in recovery mode — One of the trickiest things to do is adjust after a key injury, and do it in the final weeks of the season. For the Blazers, life will be different without Wesley Matthews, gone for the season with a torn Achilles. Matthews was a dogged defender and one of the team’s more reliable 3-point shooters. Coach Terry Stotts will be challenged to make the adjustments and weave Arron Afflalo into the mix quicker than he expected. How will this get done? Mike Richman of the Oregonian offers some clues …
For all the uncertainty surrounding the Trail Blazers in the wake of Wesley Matthews’ season-ending Achilles tear, the situation isn’t wholly uncharted territory for head coach Terry Stotts.
When Stotts was an assistant coach with Dallas during the 2010-11 season, the Mavericks lost a key starter to a season-ending injury and regrouped to win the NBA title.
On Jan. 1 2011, Mavericks starting small forward Caron Butler ruptured his right patellar tendon. He missed the remainder of the season and Dallas’ title run.
“We’re a team of good individual players, but we’re a team first,” coach Rick Carlisle said told reporters in Jan. 2011. “We’ve got to pick up the slack as a group.”
“We will ask other guys to step up,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told NBA.com days after Butler’s injury.
A similar sentiment has emanated from the Blazers in the last few days following Matthews’ injury.
“We can have multiple guys come in to still help the team play at a high level,” Blazers point guard Damian Lillard told reporters on Thursday night.
Butler was 30 when he was injured. He was two years removed from two All-Star seasons in Washington, but still an important part of the Mavericks veteran group that had serious title hopes.
“He was a starter, a big part of what we were,” Stotts recalled of Butler at the time of his injury on Saturday before the Blazers faced the Timberwolves. “We struggled a little bit, but obviously we won a championship.”
The Mavericks were 25-8 when Butler was injured, but lost seven of their next ten games, including a six-game winless streak.
After the the losing skid, which dropped Dallas to 28-15, the Mavericks found a groove. They won 29 of their final 39 games and earned the third seed in the West playoffs.
Much like the Mavericks of four years ago, the Blazers in 2015 struggled immediately following a major injury. In its first game without Matthews, Portland lost to the worst team in the Western Conference on Saturday night.
Like Portland, the 2011 Mavericks had a veteran solution to fill the injury void.
No. 4:Jazz finally getting more from Exum — These are somewhat important days for teams that are either out of the playoffs or headed that way. It’s a good time to take stock in the players on the roster, find out who might stick and who might not, and also get a better read on rookies. That’s what the Jazz are doing, and they’re thrilled to report that Dante Exum is starting to come around. It’s been a mostly lost year for Exum; he was one of the more heralded rookies in the class of 2014 who never managed to get significant playing time or a role in the rotation. At least now, he’s starting to turn the corner and can use the final 20 or so games as a launching pad into next season. Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune reports about Exum’s defense, which is getting rave reviews …
Before Dante Exum heard his name called and walked across the stage at the Barclays Center on draft night, the Utah Jazz front office had questions.
Would he defend?
Could he defend?
“When we watched Dante’s tape before the draft, one of the questions we all had was ‘Can he defend at all?’ ” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said this week. “Because he didn’t. He just kind of hung out.”
Late in Exum’s rookie year, as he returns to the place where he was picked fifth overall last June, the Aussie point guard has done his best to quell those concerns.
“That’s one of his strengths right now,” Snyder said.
The 19-year-old Exum has had plenty of ups and downs in his first season as a pro. He’s not in any Rookie of the Year discussions. And when you scour most rookie rankings, Exum’s name rarely sneaks into the top 10. Exum is only averaging 4.5 points and 2.3 assists in about 20 minutes per game.
“It’s not like he’s putting up great numbers statistically,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “But he’s solid. You can see he’s moving in the right direction. … I think with his length, you watch him over the years, he’s going to be something special.”
And there’s a reason the teenager has started 19 straight games for the Jazz, with his 20th likely a matchup against Brooklyn’s Deron Williams on Sunday evening.
“Dante is trying to contribute any way he can,” Snyder said. “He’s figured it out. He knows right now [defense is] something I can do that’s going to get me on the court and is going to help my team.”
No. 1:Blazers lose Matthews for season — The Portland Trail Blazers got a big win at home last night on TNT, beating another Western Conference playoff team, the Dallas Mavericks, 94-75. But the bigger story for the Blazers was the loss of starting shooting guard Wesley Matthews, who went down in the third quarter with a non-contact injury to his left leg. The Blazers eventually announced that Matthews had suffered a torn achilles and he would miss the rest of the season. Matthews had started every game this season for the Blazers, and was averaging 16.2 ppg. For a team with championship aspirations, the loss of Matthews will be tough to overcome, writes Jason Quick in the Oregonian…
The injury is officially a ruptured Achilles, but to the Portland Trail Blazers, it was a breaking of their heart. To the people of Oregon a punch to the gut.
How important is Wesley Matthews to the Trail Blazers?
Owner Paul Allen, moments after Matthews was carried off the court, went back to the locker room to check on him. I’ve watched Greg Oden‘s knee explode. Watched Brandon Roy hobble off the court. And seen Rudy Fernandez carted out, immobilized on a stretcher.
And never have I seen Allen move from his courtside seat.
Matthews is that type of player.
He doesn’t just make three-pointers with the best of them. He makes this team.
He has an unbelievably positive attitude. Sometimes, I believe, he wills the Blazers out of slumps with his sheer belief that the Blazers are the best team in the West.
He holds teammates accountable, willing to call them out if he sees an effort, or an attitude, not meet his standards.
And he sets an admirable example with his tireless and determined work ethic. I’ve seen some great, hard-working professionals put on a Blazers uniform – Scottie Pippen, Joel Przybilla and Roy among them – and none of them outwork Matthews.
Few throughout the years have been as banged up as Matthews. He once played the last half of the season on an ankle the size of a grapefruit, waiting until after the season to have surgery. His elbow has been battered. His side has been bruised. And this season, he famously hyperextended his knee – elicting gasps from the Moda Center crowd – only to return later in the game, bringing a chuckle to coach Terry Stotts on the sideline.
Wesley Matthews is, quite frankly, the heart and soul of the Blazers.
And now, it no longer beats. Out for the rest of the season.
No. 2:Parker taking “baby steps” — One season ago, San Antonio’s Tony Parker finished sixth in MVP voting. This season, he’s struggled with injuries and, even after returning, hasn’t been able to consistently play the way he did last season. Now back and healthy, with the playoffs looming, Parker hopes the worst is behind him, writes Dan McCarney in the San Antonio Express-News…
It was the type of move that has been seen only rarely from Tony Parker in his star-crossed 14th NBA season, a lightning quick crossover that left his defender grasping at air followed by an aggressive drive to the basket resulting in two free throws.
Coming against Sacramento’s Andre Miller, who will turn 39 in two weeks, Parker wasn’t about to gloat. After looking more than a little aged himself during his recent slump, how could he? No, he was pleased simply for a glimpse of his old self with 19 points in Wednesday’s victory over the Kings.
“I’m not going to take credit (for crossing Miller up),” he joked at practice on Thursday. “I’m just happy I shot 50 percent (8 for 14). Baby steps. Baby steps.”
And perspective. Two solid games, sandwiched around one dreadful performance, does not constitute a turnaround for Parker, just as the Spurs cannot be declared as having recaptured their championship mojo with a three-game win streak that includes two victories over the lowly Kings.
But unlike his 19-point outing at Sacramento last Friday, in which he scored 11 points in the fourth to inflate his production, Parker was steady pretty much throughout Wednesday’s rematch before the game got out of hand in the second half. Less important than the numbers was the manner in which they were produced, with Parker using the blend of mid-range shooting and around-the-rim accuracy that made him a six-time All-Star.
“(Coach Gregg Popovich) was joking, saying ‘I don’t remember the last time you shot a tear drop’ and I said, ‘You’re right,’” said Parker, who hit two of his trademark floaters in the third quarter alone.
“Sometimes you go through those times and you don’t know why you don’t know how to play basketball any more. It happens and so our job is to get back in rhythm, get back the way I was before I got hurt.”
No. 3:What about JaVale? — One of the better players to become available in the last few weeks was former Nuggets big man JaVale McGee, who was traded at the deadline to the Sixers and then waived on Sunday. Yesterday it appeared for a few hours as though McGee was heading to the Celtics, until that deal fell through. As Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski writes, McGee is apparently looking to land somewhere he can can control his contract next season, while teams that have been interested in McGee have wanted the same option…
McGee visited the Celtics this week and had been inclined to sign there, only to have his agent, B.J. Armstrong, and Celtics general manager Danny Ainge become unable to move past that deal point on Thursday afternoon.
For McGee, the plan is to sign a deal that provides him with a player option on the 2015-16 season – something teams, including Boston, would prefer to be a team option. That way, if McGee plays well, teams won’t be so vulnerable to lose him this summer.
McGee had courted interest from multiple playoff contenders, including the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri signed McGee to a $48 million extension in Denver, and remains interested in offering him an opportunity to join the Raptors for a playoff run, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Nevertheless, McGee’s insistence on holding onto his freedom for the 2015-16 season could cause some teams to resist committing to him for the rest of this year and the playoffs.
The Hawks lead Cleveland, LeBron’s latest team, by 10 1/2 games with 22 to play. But the Cavaliers, to give them their due, have won 20 of 24 and beat Golden State last week and Toronto on Tuesday. Naturally, this has inspired many in the media to proclaim the Cavs the East’s best team — even if the standings don’t reflect anything of the sort.
Any sign of a Cleveland uptick was bound to become an uproar, given that the Cavs have LeBron and the hoops world revolves around him. And I’d also submit that the Hawks, who’ve won five straight after that post-All-Star flop-apalooza against the Raptors, aren’t playing quite as well as when they were winning 35 of 37. But it’s not like they’ve turned tail at the sound of LeBron’s approaching footsteps. This isn’t a team easily cowed.
If the Cavs win Friday, we’ll be treated to six weeks of the The-King-Has-Reclaimed-His-Throne stories. If the Hawks win, we’ll be buffeted with It’s-Only-A-Matter-Of-Time-Before-The-King-Reclaims-His-Throne. Because he’s LeBron, he and his team will always be granted the benefit of every doubt. But I have fewer doubts about these Hawks than I do LeBron’s Cavs. At last check, 48-12 trumps 39-24.
“Yeah, it’s like street ball,” said James Harden. “You grew up playing games like that.”
If Harden keeps growing up any faster, they’re going to have to raise the rafters of Toyota Center just so he doesn’t go straight through the roof.
He’s scored more points in a game this season than he did Sunday. Grabbed more rebounds. Dished out more assists. Played more artistically.
But never been more ferocious, more driven.
You’re damn right that 105-103 overtime win means more when it comes against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
As messages go, this one couldn’t have been delivered more emphatically if it had come wrapped around a brick and tossed through a plate glass window or attached to a flaming arrow.
While there may still be a horse race for the award this season, there’s no doubt which thoroughbred is now galloping ahead of the field.
Less than 72 hours after James stated his case by outscoring Golden State’s Stephen Curry 42-18 in a routine win by the Cavs, Harden provided his response.
James scored more points (37 to Harden’s 33), but took far more shots (35 to 18) to get them. Playing without point guard Kyrie Irving, James controlled the ball like a yo-yo on a string and tried to do too much. Playing without center Dwight Howard, as he’s done for much of the season, Harden simply opened his arms wide to embrace all of the things that had to be done.
“Every time you watch [Harden] play, you’re watching history,” Rockets Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon had said a few hours before the tip. “He’s doing something spectacular. Every night the best defensive player on the other team has to guard him and also the game plan of the other team is how to stop him. And he’s still finding a way to be effective and giving them an opportunity to win every time. So he is definitely the MVP.”
No. 1: Aldridge 1, injured thumb 0 — Black was going to be the color of the night heading toward the Portland Trail Blazers’ home game against Washington Saturday, the proper attire for the sort of mourning already going on over forward LaMarcus Aldridge‘s injured left thumb and the six-to-eight weeks Aldridge likely was going to miss recuperating and rehabbing. But then Aldridge surprised Blazers fans by announcing that he would postpone surgery and try to play with the torn ligament. And he did just that in Portland’s 103-96 victory, putting the “triumphant” into his return with 26 points, nine rebounds and one splint. Here’s some of the quotage from the Blazers’ locker room:
Head coach Terry Stotts: “Well it was a win that we needed to get. Understatement: it was good to have LA back. I’m glad he had a good game with the thumb and the splint. It was very encouraging.”
Blazers guard Wesley Matthews: “He was big time. Even if he didn’t have the monster game that he did, I think just his presence and his sacrifice of his own body and for him to recognize how special this season is and can be and continue to be, for him to give that up to be out there with us in the trenches, it speaks volumes. … He can’t sit out. He doesn’t want to sit out. He loves this game and figures if he’s got something to give, he’s going to give. I can relate to that.”
Aldridge: “I felt okay. There was a few moments where I got it hit or whatever, and it was kind of tender. But for the most part, it was okay. … I was just trying to work with it. I kind of figured it out as the game went on, how to use it or whatever, and I kind of played with it.”
More Aldridge, on the Moda Center crowd reaction: “It was humbling. I thought they definitely showed me love and they respected what I was doing at that moment, trying to play through it, so that was humbling.”
Not all was sweetness and light on the injury front in Portland, however. Wing Nicolas Batum sat out Saturday’s game after aggravating a right wrist injury Thursday against Boston. He initially hurt it when he took a spill in Milwaukee Dec. 17. Here is an update from The Oregonian:
Batum missed the next game, Dec. 19 at San Antonio, then played in the next two games before sitting out the Dec. 23 game at Oklahoma City. He said he has aggravated the injury several times – usually when he falls to the court. On Thursday against Boston, it was a third quarter fall that took him out of the game and ultimately led to him missing Saturday’s 103-96 victory over Washington.
Batum, who is wearing an immobilizing brace, said he is unsure whether he will rest and let the wrist heal, or continue playing through discomfort during the Blazers upcoming trip at Brooklyn, Cleveland, Atlanta and Milwaukee.
He is averaging 9.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 38 games. He is shooting 38.7 percent from the field and 27.6 percent from three-point range, figures he largely attributes to his ailing wrist.
“It’s my shooting wrist,” Batum said.
No. 2:Pistons fear Achilles worst for Jennings — The pain in which Brandon Jennings writhed on the court at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee Saturday night — you could almost feel it. The way the Detroit Pistons’ point guard grimaced and banged the floor with one hand, while grabbing at his left ankle with the other, was palpable. Jennings, who had been rejuvenated along with the Detroit Pistons since they reconfigured their attack in a post-Josh Smith world, suffered a serious injury when he took a defensive step back on an inbounds play, and most who saw the replay and its aftermath immediately began to think of a torn Achilles tendon. That included teammate Caron Butler, as chronicled by the Detroit News:
“I saw him in pain, just the way he was. It was the second time I’ve seen something like that,” Butler said after Saturday’s game.
If Jennings didn’t know exactly what it was at the time, Butler had a good enough idea, remembering a former teammate Pistons fans should be familiar with.
“Chauncey Billups,” Butler said, his face cringing at the memory of Billups’ Achilles tear in 2012 when both were members of the L.A. Clippers.
“It happened in Orlando. We were playing good basketball, Chauncey was playing great. I was right next to him. He asked, ‘Did you kick me?’ I said, ‘Nah, I didn’t touch you.’ He was on the ground grimacing so he got up and went back down because he couldn’t move. He just started hopping.”
The Pistons know how important Jennings has been, averaging 19.8 points since Smith was released. They were expecting a medical update Sunday, with backup D.J. Augustin poised to step into a bigger role again this season the way he did in Chicago when Derrick Rose got hurt early last season.
Like a quarterback, Jennings touched the ball every single play he was on the floor, the most improved player in the last 15 games. Averaging 21.3 points and 7.5 assists on 44-percent shooting tells only part of the story.
“He’s tapped into a part of his DNA that says he’s a star and he’s got to that place,” Butler said. “And we were riding him out. Greg and Andre and everybody’s gonna have to raise the bar.”
“He’s been the guy who’s been our catalyst offensively,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He’s been averaging 20 a game, high-assist, low-turnover, playing at the highest level of his career. Was a huge factor in the previous 15 games so, it’s a major, major loss.”
No. 3:Waiters believes he has grown — Dion Waiters was back in Cleveland with his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in anticipation of Sunday’s clash with the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. He’s the shooting guard traded a couple of weeks back in the deal that delivered New York’s J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland, part of a roster makeover credited – along with LeBron James‘ spa-shutdown of two weeks to heal and invigorate – for the Cavs’ boost in play. Waiters didn’t sound like an eager participant but he did submit to and answer questions from the media, including ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, on topics such as being scapegoated and his rapport with star teammates past and present.
“I ain’t really care what nobody say. It ain’t affect me. I slept good every night. I slept good every night. So, I mean, that’s what comes with the territory. That’s what comes with it when you got somebody like LeBron who brings all that attention around the team when we wasn’t used to having that. So the littlest things that you do, they be like the biggest. It’s so crazy. But it is what it is. I’m not in that situation anymore. Over here it’s still the same situation, but it’s different. I’m happy, I’m comfortable already two weeks in and I feel like I’ve grown. I’ve grown in a short period of time as a player and off the court.”
Waiters is averaging 11.4 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.8 steals on 39.8 percent shooting from the floor and 25 percent shooting from 3-point range in eight games with the Thunder. His production is nearly identical to the 10.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals on 40.4 percent from the field and 25.6 percent from 3 that he averaged for Cleveland this season before the trade.
The difference is in the win-loss column. The Thunder are 5-3 since acquiring Waiters. The Cavs are on an upswing as well, winners of five in a row.
“Both teams are doing great — winning,” Waiters said. “Everybody seems at ease now and that’s what it’s about, just being happy, being comfortable and having fun, getting an opportunity. That’s what it’s about.”
While his relationship with James has apparently ended, Waiters explained why reigning MVP Kevin Durant has embraced him.
“From the outside looking in, he probably saw how things were looking or how I’m always the odd man out and things like that. How it was going, how my name was always in something and half the time it probably never was me,” Waiters said. “I was that guy who you point the finger at, but I was fine with it. I could take it. I didn’t have no pressure on me. I didn’t have no pressure on me. My job is to go out there and play basketball, get as many wins as we can as a unit and unfortunately, it didn’t work out. And I think the organizations made great decisions on the moves and it’s helping both teams.”
No. 4:Lakers didn’t treat Bryant properly? — We return now to our regularly scheduled injury news – notice a trend in these daily reports? – and to the suggestion by ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes that the Lakers, and specifically coach Byron Scott, could have handled the early days of Kobe Bryant‘s shoulder injury better. Instead, by letting Bryant continue to play after an overload of early-season minutes, Scott’s decision might have contributed to the torn rotator cuff on which they’ll all be updated Monday.
In hindsight, these issues appear greatly troubling, because just as Bryant must treat every aspect of his health, training and diet so seriously at this age just so he can perform, so too must the Lakers, and especially Scott, be ever so cautious with him.
That’s all the more true because Bryant is the Lakers’ sole attraction during an awful season, the lone reason for fans to tune in or attend games, all they really have to look forward to until the draft lottery. From a business sense, Bryant is their cash cow — their extremely well-paid cash cow — and thus missteps are extremely costly.
Where does blame lie? Certainly some falls on Bryant. He’s as powerful as any figure within the Lakers’ organization and as powerful as any player within any NBA franchise. If he wanted to play fewer minutes, he could have. If he wanted to get his shoulder examined earlier, he could have. The only person who could’ve stopped Kobe was Kobe, but he didn’t, because Kobe is Kobe. He believes he will overcome.
So the blame truly falls on Scott, who hasn’t been shy about admitting his fault in the issue. And, to a greater degree, the blame truly falls on the entire organization for not stepping in at some point earlier on when Bryant was playing all those minutes.
The Portland Trail Blazers will be without leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge for the next 6-8 weeks as the three-time All-Star will havesurgery on a torn ligament in his left hand.
The Blazers, who have lost five of their last six games following Thursday’s 90-89 loss to the Boston Celtics, refuse to feel sorry for themselves despite a rash of injuries (which included Nicolas Batum re-aggravating a sore wrist) over the last month.
“I don’t want to get into not having LaMarcus and I don’t want to get into having Nic out there,” head coach Terry Stotts said after the game. “Everybody knows what Nic can bring and what LA brings, so we have to figure out different ways of scoring and sometimes different ways of playing.”
“We’ve got to hold down the fort,” added guard Wesley Matthews. “We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got to find ways to win and continue to play basketball the right way.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Wherever the Portland Trail Blazers go the next 6-8 weeks, they’ll have to do it without star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. The Trail Blazers’ backbone will miss the next 6-8 weeks after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb, the team announced Thursday night.
A three-time All-Star, Aldridge has a radial collateral ligament tear in his left thumb and will undergo surgery later this week, per the team’s release. He suffered the injury in second quarter of Portland’s 98-94 win over Sacramento Monday.
His injury leaves Damian Lillard to lead the way for a Trail Blazers team that has clawed its way into the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference standings behind league-leader Golden State. Aldridge is leading the Blazers with 23.2 points and 10.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.8 blocks.
Filling the void for anyone else on the roster, even Lillard, at least temporarily, is something Portland coach Terry Stotts could handle with some rotation tweaks here and there. But there is no replacing Aldridge for potentially two months.
The NBA officially crunched the numbers Thursday morning, noting that Kerr’s Golden State Warriors already had clinched the West’s best record through games played Feb. 1. That’s the cutoff date for designating the All-Star coaches. Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer and his staff had earned the honors with the East All-Stars with the 35-8 Hawks’ home victory over Indiana earlier Wednesday evening.
Kerr’s spot on the West sideline for the annual showcase Feb. 15 at Madison Square Garden was assured with the Warriors’ 126-113 victory over Houston in Oakland. It left Golden State with a league-best record of 34-6 with five games remaining through Feb. 1. Even if it were to lose all five, Kerr’s club would sit at 34-11, .7555, at the cutoff.
Portland, at 31-12 with six games before Feb. 1, could get no higher than 37-12, .7551. Memphis would reach 35-12, .744, if it were to win its five games over the next 11 days. Dallas would max out at 36-13, .734, while both Houston and the L.A. Clippers can do no better through Feb. 1 than 34-14, .708.
Had Portland beaten Phoenix Wednesday, the Trail Blazers and coach Terry Stotts might have gotten to 38-11, .7755, pushing the All-Star honor closer to the deadline. But few can quibble with Golden State’s status as the conference’s and the league’s most successful team through the first half of 2014-15.
The Warriors, who won a franchise-record 17th consecutive game, are off to their best start in the Golden State era. They are one of only 10 teams in NBA history to have won at least 34 of their first 40 games. Golden State ranks No. 1 in field-goal percentage (.487), as well as No. 1 in defensive field-goal percentage (.421). Its average margin of victory (11.8) is the fattest since Kerr played with the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (12.2).
Kerr becomes the first rookie coach to earn the All-Star berth since Indiana’s Larry Bird worked the East’s bench in 1998. He will be Golden State’s first All-Star coach since Don Nelson in 1992.
Kerr, a former 3-point specialist for Chicago and San Antonio, general manager in Phoenix and savvy broadcast analyst, downplayed the achievement as he and the Warriors drew close. “It’s more just keep getting better to me,” he told reporters. “Keep improving, keep taking another step forward. And if we do that, there’s a lot of good stuff to come.”
Most head coaches cite their staffs, who join them on All-Star Weekend, and Golden State is no exception, with Ron Adams, Alvin Gentry, Luke Walton, Jarron Collins, Bruce Fraser and Keke Lyles all contributing. The Warriors players seem to value their input, according to a report Wednesday on MercuryNews.com.
“They do a great job of preparing us,” center Andrew Bogut said. “Ron Adams and Alvin Gentry and those guys, they do a really good job for us with our scouting reports and their preparation.”
Bogut noted that the biggest thing he noticed with Kerr’s staff members was that they had “no agendas” and didn’t play favorites.
“It happens on a lot of teams, just to try to align themselves with certain guys in case there’s coaching changes or whatever, and that happens I’d say in 80 percent of NBA teams,” Bogut said. “I don’t see that on this team with this coaching staff. They’re comfortable in their own skin. I think that starts from Steve Kerr because he’s told these guys, ‘Do your job. I don’t expect you guys to get involved in politics.’ “
With both All-Star coaching staffs in place, the players come next. All-Star starters will be named on TNT Thursday evening, with reserves coming next week after a vote of conference coaches. Stephen Curry is expected to start for the West for the second straight year, but Kerr called it “criminal” if Golden State were to have just one All-Star. In his view, backcourt ‘mate Klay Thompson should go to New York, too.
Said Kerr: “Klay deserves it. To me, the thing with the All-Star game that I’ve always felt long before I came to Golden State is the best teams deserve the benefit of the doubt. Players who put up stats are really good. Players who put up stats and help their team win a ton of games are All-Stars, and that should absolutely put Klay in the game.”
The Atlanta Hawks have sparked debate in recent weeks regarding the 2015 All-Star Game in New York next month, with folks wondering if their ensemble style will be sufficiently honored when the East squad’s reserves are chosen by the conference coaches.
Budenholzer, in his second season with Atlanta (35-8), earned the honor when the Hawks beat Indiana Wednesday night at Philips Arena. The victory clinched the best record in the conference through games played on Sunday, Feb. 1, the cutoff for determining the All-Star coaches. Joining Budenholzer will be assistants Kenny Atkinson, Darvin Ham, Taylor Jenkins, Charles Lee, Neven Spahija and Ben Sullivan.
“It’s a credit to our players, our front office and our entire organization,” Budenholzer said. “I really feel strongly about our assistant coaches; I think they do an amazing job. It’s a great honor but it’s our players that put us in this position. It’s the players that deserve the credit.”
By beating Indiana, Atlanta stretched its winning streak to 14 games, matching the longest in franchise history, and won for the 28th time in its past 30 games. Six Hawks scored in double figures, as Atlanta shot better from 3-point range (13 of 29, 44.8 percent) than the Pacers managed overall (31 of 78, 39.7 percent). And yet it was marksman Kyle Korver‘s dunk in the first half that had people talking.
The 33-year-old got loose on a break and threw down for the first time since Nov. 16, 2012. That one, at Sacramento, came 199 games ago according to STATS. It was, by their count, Korver’s 16th dunk in 12 NBA seasons.
Korver has a good chance to join Budenholzer in New York, given his reputation among the league’s coaches and his statistically eye-popping season so far in shooting 50 percent, overall, 50 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent on free throws. But then, strong cases can be made as well for point guard Jeff Teague and big men Paul Millsap and Al Horford.
There’s uncertainty, too, in naming Budenholzer’s counterpart as coach of the West All-Stars. The same Feb. 1 cutoff is in play and Golden State’s Steve Kerr began Wednesday as the favorite owing to the Warriors’ 33-6 mark. But four more teams – Portland (Terry Stotts), Memphis (Dave Joerger), Houston (Kevin McHale) and Dallas (Rick Carlisle) – all were in striking distance with 10 days left.