What the Blazers should do if the lockout ends

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The Blazers had an interesting year last season. Brandon Roy’s injuries made him a shell of his former self, and 2007 #1 pick had yet another devastating knee injury that caused him to miss a full season. However, the team got a breakout year from LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews backed up his contract, and a mid-season trade for Gerald Wallace invigorated the team’s frontcourt. The Blazers were disappointed when they lost in the first round to the Dallas Mavericks, but that doesn’t look all that bad in hindsight. Here are a few things the Blazers should do next season:

1. Pray for Health

Brandon Roy may never be a top-10 player again, but if he could be anything like the player he was in 08-09, it would help the Blazers tremendously. And at this point, we all know the Greg Oden story — if he’s healthy and can find ways to stay out of foul trouble, he’s a top-5 true center in the NBA who will only get better. But for the majority of his career, he’s been paid to wear a suit. If Oden can get back on the floor and stay there, everything changes for the Blazers. But obviously, that’s a big if.

2. Hope that LaMarcus Aldridge continues to be a star

Aldridge has always been a good player, but last season was a breakout year for him. His PER jumped by a full three points, he averaged 21.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game, and had an incredible +/- of +14.4 points per 100 possessions. The good news is that Aldridge can get even better if he starts to mix in more drives to the hoop set up by his silky-smooth, high-release jumper and raise his scoring efficiency, which is somewhat pedestrian. Of course, life will be a lot easier for Aldridge if Oden is healthy enough to free him up for wide-open 15-footers or the rest of the Blazers free up the lane to give him some easy dunks, which leads us to:

3. Hope the Raymond Felton era starts well

Andre Miller, who was a wonderful floor general but couldn’t shoot threes or beat all that many folks off the dribble, is gone. Now Raymond Felton is running the show in Portland, and the bowling-ball like former Knick and Nugget has both serious speed and three-point range. If he can run the show successfully and set things up for the ultra-athletic Nicolas Batum and Gerald Wallace and give dead-eye shooter Wes Matthews some clean looks while Aldridge continues to fill it up from the blocks, he team could get a lot better offensively. And if Oden is back to patrol the paint, the Blazers could at long last become serious contenders out west.

Thunder pick up Paul George in his return to Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George made a winning return to Indiana, hitting the clinching free throws with 10.7 seconds left in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 100-95 victory over the Pacers on Wednesday night.

Steven Adams had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Russell Westbrook finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists in his ninth triple-double this season. The Thunder have won two straight on the road.

Victor Oladipo led the Pacers with 19 points and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 15. Indiana had a chance to tie the score after getting the ball back with 15.2 seconds left, but George got a steal then hit a couple free throws.

The Pacers’ winning streak ended at four.

But the highly anticipated matchup between George and Oladipo, the key components in last summer’s blockbuster trade, didn’t go as expected.

George was booed loudly during introductions and every time he touched the ball. Fans only cheered for George when he was called for a foul or made a mistake and it seemed to take a toll on the four-time All-Star. He finished 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, had two rebounds and four turnovers.

Oladipo, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, didn’t have a typical night either. He was 9 of 26 with five rebounds and six assists.

The result: Both teams struggled.

Indiana led 27-22 after one but gave the lead right back by allowing Oklahoma City to start the second quarter on a 9-0 spurt.

After the Pacers answered with a 9-0 run, the Thunder closed the half on a 9-3 spurt to make it 51-46.

The trend continued in the second half.

Indiana charged back to take a 63-59 lead before the Thunder used an 11-2 run to pull out to a 73-69 lead going into the fourth.

Oklahoma City extended the lead to 92-81 with 5:16 to go but only scored six points the rest of the way. That was just enough to hold on.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Oklahoma City is 4-10 on the road. … Oklahoma City got its first series split with the Pacers since 2012-13. … Oklahoma City had 17 offensive rebounds and was 13 of 29 on 3-pointers.

Pacers: Thaddeus Young had 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals. … Made 11 3s but fell to 14-3 when making 10 or more 3-pointers in a game this season. … Center Myles Turner had three blocks, his 12th game this season with three or more. … Former Colts coach Tony Dungy attended the game. He’s in town for Thursday night’s NFL game between the Colts and Broncos.

ALL-STAR DAY

The Pacers got a win before they even took the floor.

A little less than three hours before tip, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Indiana would host the 2021 All-Star Game. It will be the first time the Pacers have hosted the marquee event since 1985.

The move comes seven months after Larry Bird hand-delivered the formal proposal at the league’s New York headquarters in an IndyCar.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Faces Philadelphia on Friday, trying to improve to 17-1 in the series since moving to Oklahoma City.

Pacers: Host Detroit on Friday, seeking a seventh straight home win in the series.

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

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During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

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Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.