Blazers president, players back Nate McMillan

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It doesn’t sound like Nate McMillan is going anywhere.

After a weekend of speculation that Nate McMillan’s seat was getting warm after a slow start for the Trail Blazers and a recent six-game losing streak, team president Larry Miller threw water on that fire.

Miller went on 95.5 FM in Portland’s pregame show and sounded like a man not rushing to make any moves (transcription via Blazers Edge).

We’re going through a little bit of a struggle right now. But I’m confident that Nate and the coaching staff and the team will get this turned around. And we’ll get back on track. Teams go through this. The Lakers just lost four games in a row. Teams go through these struggles sometimes and I would just want to make sure the fans will be there with us….

They are playing hard. They are giving effort out there. To your point, they’re scrapping, they’re fighting. For some reason, we haven’t been able to execute in the fourth quarter. It’s not for lack of trying. If that were the case, I’d be looking at this like, ‘Hey we’ve got a really, really serious problem.’ It’s not for lack of trying. They’re trying. Just the execution hasn’t been there….

I’ve been talking to Nate, he’s hanging in there, he’s doing everything he can to turn this thing around. To me, Nate is one of the best coaches in the league, without question he’s one of the best coaches in the league, and we’re fortunate to have him as our head coach here. Again, I’m confident Nate is going to figure out how to get this turned around. He’s in a pretty good mood, he’s in pretty good spirits as well as can be expected, he’s doing good.

I’m not convinced the effort has been quite as consistent as Miller said, but certainly other issues have been far bigger. Like injuries to stars. And that has impacted the execution.

Several players also told the Oregonian that McMillan was not the problem and had not lost the team.

“He still has us. Just look at us, we are still playing hard, trying to win,” (Lamarcus) Aldridge said. “If he didn’t have us, then guys wouldn’t compete. I would say guys are competing, we just aren’t finishing games. Do you agree? Because if he didn’t have us, there would be teams scoring layups, everybody taking bad shots … I mean, if the coach doesn’t have the respect in here, you are not going to play hard.”

“Yeah, I heard something that he said we are not listening to him … I say bull,” Batum said. “We trust him. We’ve had success with him. Fifty wins. Fifty-four wins. Sometimes when you lose, you hear ‘It’s his fault. It’s his fault.’ But no. We believe in him. He has tried to keep a fire in us. And we have been up 10 in all these games we lost. So we believe in him. Trust me. Trust me.”

Put it all together and it sounds like the Blazers are not rushing to make a move. That doesn’t mean something wouldn’t be considered if the Blazers go back to their losing ways, or next summer. But for now, nothing is changing in Portland.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.