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The Blazers, the Sixers, the Pistons, rebuilding and you

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It sits there on your desk, staring at you. Just a big red button. It doesn’t implore you, it doesn’t call out to you, it’s just a button. But you can’t help but glance at it with the first few losses. Then more and more, you stare. Your mind is racing with what to do. Should you?Shouldn’t you? You can’t. You can’t just throw away everything you’ve built, everything you’ve worked towards, just because…it’s not working. Can you? Can you really press it?

The Rebuilding Button.

Any team can be driven towards it at any time by the cruel hands of fate. Everyone has to use it at some point. Boston will have to within a few years, when those gnarled, courageous bodies pass that delicate apex between experienced veterans and aged liabilities. LA may have to, though they do better than most in immediately reloading, relatively speaking. But this year’s candidates are an odd mix.

“The Blazers?!” you ask. How can I possibly put them here? 6-5, big wins over good teams. They’re a contender, not a rebuilding project. And you’re right. It’s entirely possible that they won’t have to push the big red button. That Rich Cho will be able to continue building on the success of Kevin Pritchard and finally deliver on all the promise this Blazers team has held for four years. But then there’s the injuries. Portland’s tired of talking about them. Trust us, we’re tired too. But the reality is you can’t just not look at them. Oden’s knees, his legs, his hips, which may never be 100% again. Przybilla, with two surgeries in a year. Elliot Williams, a rookie, caught the bug. But all of this pales for the Blazers’ hopes compared to Roy. No cartilage. Unable to make it through games. Roy is talking like a 35-year-old worn-out veteran, not the young All-Star of a team headed to contention. Again, maybe he’ll be fine. But if he’s not, Portland may not have an option. Is it worth sifting through year after year of purgatory hoping the Basketball Gods will reverse your fortune and make the unhealthy healthy? We’re a long way from that. But that button is on Rich Cho’s desk. And with each report that comes in, he’s got to glance at it.

The Sixers should be winning. They just should be. Not destroying everyone, but not getting pummeled like they are. If you told me Elton Brand was going to average 17 and 8 ten games in, I’d tell you the Sixers were at least 5-5. No question. But they’re 2-8. And they continue to sit on Andre Iguodala, who has his nice comfy contract and recognition from his work with Team USA. He’d like to win, now, please. And yet they keep hoping this will work out, as Doug Collins storms out of practice and Jrue Holiday is not the savior. This team’s already been blown-up a few times. But they’re still looking for something they can depend on. And Ed Stefanski now has Rod Thorn over his shoulder, and Thorn will not show the same hesitation to press the button that Stefanski has. The Sixers have young assets with trade value. It may be time to use them.

The Pistons? Oh, the Pistons. Ben Gordon wants the ball more. Makes sense. He’s paid like someone who should get the ball more. But Rip Hamilton isn’t the problem. But Rip’s not the l0ng-term guy. So what do you do? How do you make sense of this? The answer is simple. You have Greg Monroe, you have Austin Daye. You have Jonas Jerebko when he gets back. It’s time to push the button. The Pistons waited too long, they could have been halfway down the road had Dumars pressed the button a year ago. Instead, they continue to hold on to Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, paying them money to wish they were somewhere else while they don’t help the Pistons go in the direction they need to. But finally, it may be time. Dumars has to be able to find a good deal out there, or get involved in some three-way deal. He can net the assets he knows he needs. That button has been there for six years. He pushed it with Billups, but only half-way. It’s time to slam the thing.

Three teams, three cores, three losing organizations. And the red button continues to sit on the desk.

Three things we learned Thursday: Memphis, Marc Gasol just win every close game

Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) shoots between Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu, from left, center Mason Plumlee, and forward Jake Layman (10) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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Here’s what you missed Thursday around the NBA while you were drinking homemade glow-in-the-dark beer with jellyfish genes in it (no, you try it first, I insist)…

1) Don’t play Memphis in a close game, they just find a way to win.
Last week, when Mike Conley went down with a back injury and was going to miss six weeks (give or take), we questioned if Memphis could keep their heads above water. They promptly went out and lost to a very good Toronto team.

Since then they have won five in a row, capped by an impressive 88-86 win over Portland Tuesday. Impressive because:

• Memphis is now 12-0 in games that were within 3 points in the final minute. You get in a close game with Memphis, you lose. (Statistically, we know some of that is luck, that there will be some regression to the mean, but that stat has propelled a team has been outscored by nine points this season, one that should be 12-12, to the 16-8 record they have.)

• Memphis trailed Portland 79-68 with less than five minutes to go, and still won.

Marc Gasol had 36 points and has been an absolute beast since Conley went down, doing whatever it takes to win.

• Toney Douglas — a guy the Grizzlies just picked up off the street this week, basically — comes in and is clutch down the stretch for them, including hitting the game-winning free throws with 0.5 seconds left (Damian Lillard tried to argue the call, to no avail).

The schedule gets tough for Memphis the next couple of weeks — Golden State, home-and-home with Cleveland, then Boston and Utah looming not long after — but do not doubt the Grizzlies. No team is as resilient as this bunch.

2) Bulls prove Spurs aren’t perfect on the road. It was bound to happen, the San Antonio Spurs were 13-0 on the road, they were going to stumble at some point. That point turned out to be Thursday night in Chicago, where the Spurs came out of the gate like they went out and had a big pregame meal of Lou Malnati’s pizza — 32 points on 30.6 percent shooting in the first half for San Antonio. The Spurs didn’t defend poorly, for example Kawhi Leonard held Jimmy Butler to no first-half points — in fact, midway through the first quarter Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez had scored almost all the Bulls’ buckets — but the San Antonio offense was dreadful. Throw a little credit to the Chicago defense if you want, but this was more San Antonio stumbling than a Chicago return to the Thibodeau era.

The Bulls were up 12 at the half and were able to hang on despite a strong second 24 minutes from Leonard (17 of his 24 came in the second half) and get the win. Dwyane Wade had 20 points and hit a couple of key buckets late to stabilize Chicago. For a Bulls team that is going to be in a playoff battle all season — they are the seven seed right now, one game ahead of the Pacers in ninth — these kinds of wins at home can prove huge.

3) What is it with Minnesota and second half? On the road, the Minnesota Timberwolves had played the Toronto Raptors even for the first 24 minutes — it was 59-59 at the half. And yet, there was a sense of dread for Timberwolves fans because all season their young team has just come apart in the third quarter — and then Toronto opened the second half on an 11-2 run. Minnesota, their credit, crawls back into it, but midway through the fourth the Raptors go on a 17-4 run sparked by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and the Raptors pull away for the 124-110 win.

Minnesota shows flashes of the kind of brilliance that has everyone thinking they might be a contender in a few years. Then they play like a young team for a stretch, they don’t defend well, and they throw those good efforts away. Not that they were going to beat a good Toronto team on the road, but the Timberwolves just can be frustrating to watch. Patience is hard, and Minnesota fans are being asked to show a lot of it. We can debate if it’s time to bring Ricky Rubio off the bench and let Kris Dunn sink or swim, but that’s not the core problem. Ultimately, the Timberwolves are young and playing like it. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, they can be the core of a contender eventually, but there is a lot of learning to do along the way. Tom Thibodeau can teach them. But it’s going to require patience.

Watch Joel Embiid completely erase Anthony Davis’ layup

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Anthony Davis is languishing in New Orleans, but at least Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers pitted The Brow against The Process. That is, Joel Embiid.

When the two multi-talented big men met on the floor in New Orleans, Embiid got the better of Davis on at least one play.

With the ball on the left wing, Davis was able to get a step on Ersan Ilyasova out of the triple-threat position. As Davis dribbled toward an open lane, Embiid slid over to add some extra protection:

Great timing and court feel from Embiid, who has looked like a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year.

Spurs fall to Bulls 95-91 after winning first 13 road games

Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) is defended by San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/David Banks)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Dwyane Wade scored 20 points, and the Chicago Bulls handed San Antonio its first road loss after a 13-0 start, hanging on to beat the Spurs 95-91 on Thursday night.

San Antonio fell one win shy of matching the NBA’s best road start set by the Golden State Warriors last season. The Spurs cut an 18-point deficit midway through the third quarter to four in the closing minutes, only to come up short.

Kawhi Leonard scored 24 for San Antonio. Patty Mills added 16 points, hitting 4 of 6 3-pointers. Former Bull Pau Gasol had 13 points and 10 rebounds in his first game in Chicago since signing with San Antonio in the summer, but the Spurs lost a road game for the first time since Oklahoma City knocked them out in the Western Conference semifinals last season.

Jimmy Butler scored all of his 13 points for Chicago in the second half. Rajon Rondo added 12 points, nine assists and 10 rebounds, and Chicago picked up the win after dropping three in a row and six of nine.

The Spurs hadn’t dropped a regular-season road game since Denver beat them on April 8. But after a big push down the stretch, they came up short in this one.

The Bulls led 65-47 midway through the third following a surge by Butler, who scored seven in a 54-second span after missing his first six shots. But the Spurs jumped back into it in the closing minutes of the quarter.

They went on an 11-2 run that Mills finished with a 3 to cut it to 72-66 just under a minute into the fourth.

Things got real tight when Gasol nailed a 3 to pull San Antonio to within 88-84 with 3:24 left. Doug McDermott then hit three free throws after being fouled by Tony Parker, and the teams basically exchanged baskets the rest of the way.

TIP-INS

Spurs: Parker had eight points and five assists after missing a game because of a bruised left knee. … For the second straight game, the Spurs set a season low for first-quarter scoring. They had 17 points after managing 19 at Minnesota on Tuesday night.

Bulls: F Doug McDermott scored eight points after being sidelined because of a concussion since Nov. 11. … Butler had scored 20 or more in 15 consecutive games, the longest streak by a Bulls player since Michael Jordan did it in 24 straight during the 1995-96 season.

 

Parker returns to Spurs’ lineup against Bulls

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CHICAGO (AP) San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker returned to the lineup Thursday night against the Chicago Bulls after missing a game because of a bruised left knee.

The seven-time All-Star did not play at Minnesota on Tuesday night after knocking knees with a Milwaukee Bucks defender the previous night. He started against the Bucks after missing two games with a thigh contusion.

Parker came into Thursday averaging 9.4 points and 4.4 assists.

Chicago’s Doug McDermott returned to the rotation after missing nearly a month because of a concussion.