portland-trail-blazers Gerald Wallace

Portland’s bandwagon getting full as Lakers come to town

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As you read this, the Portland Trail Blazers are the top seed in the Western Conference. Which after five whole games has all the meaning of a politician’s campaign promise, even in a 66 game season. Few people mention them as title contenders.

But if you were watching the other day they beat Oklahoma City comfortably. A few people took notice. Thursday night they get the Los Angeles Lakers, win that (and the Lakers always struggle in Portland) and that Trail Blazers bandwagon is going to start to fill up.

How did this happen? Portland was a team built for Brandon Roy and Greg Oden to be the stars, but their bodies betrayed them and the Blazers had to go another direction.

They went that direction fast — every season since ’05-06 the Trail Blazers have been one of the three slowest-playing teams in the league. This season they are the fourth fastest (97.4 possessions per game, stats via Hoopdata). With that they have maintained their offensive efficiency, which at 104.7 points per 100 possessions is fifth best in the NBA.

Part of the reason for that success is they are not settling for jumpers any more, as Zach Lowe broke down at Sports Illustrated’s Point Forward.

The Blazers took a lot of shots (26) at the rim (against the Thunder), something they have done much more of this season. About28 of Portland’s 83 shots per game – 33.7 percent — have come at the rim; such close shots accounted for just 30.5 percent of its overall attempts last season, and considering how often this team is getting to the line now, those stats undersell the degree to which it is going to the basket. LaMarcus Aldridge is shooting more jumpers, but he hasn’t reduced his close shots or free throws in the process. Gerald Wallace is barely shooting long two-pointers at all so far, preferring to either fly to the rim or shoot threes.

They also have the fifth best defense in the league, 94.7 points allowed per 100 possessions.

That’s’ a 10 point per 100 possessions differential. The only teams with better ones are the Heat, Bulls and Nuggets. (You expect the Heat and Bulls, the Nuggets are another team surprising us early.)

Can they keep it up? That is the big question. Can they continue to defend at this level — they were an average defensive team the last few years, are they just playing well in a hot streak to start the season or are they this good? Will other teams’ threes start to fall? Portland has six players averaging double-digits in scoring per game, can they maintain that kind of balance? Can Aldridge be the go-to guy in the clutch? Jamal Crawford can keep up this pace, but can Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas? Portland has been a great rebounding team this season after being weak at it in years past, will they revert?

I’m not convinced they are contenders, not yet. But I also don’t think all the numbers are flukes. In a Western Conference in transition Portland is going to be a top-four seed in West and come the playoffs they will be a handful for any of the preseason contender

Report: Lakers would trade No. 1 pick if they get it

Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott smiles as the studio begins to fill before the NBA basketball draft lottery, Tuesday, May 19, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
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The Lakers might not even have a first-round pick this year.

Thanks to the ill-fated Steve Nash sign-and-trade, the Lakers owe the 76ers (via the Suns) a top-three-protected first-rounder. As the No. 2 seed in the lottery, the Lakers have just better than a coin-flip chance of landing in the top three and keeping the pick.

But if the Lakers land the top selection, they might not engage in the Ben Simmons-or-Brandon Ingram debate.

Colin Cowherd of Fox Sports:

Is this a good idea? The answer, as usual, is it depends on what they could get.

There’s a logic to adding another young player whose peak would align with Lakers’ core. D'Angelo Russell (20), Julius Randle (21) and Jordan Clarkson (23) aren’t ready to win. It might be better to add someone who will enter his prime when they do.

But the Lakers’ market and prestige make them a popular free-agent destination, and free agents value winning. Moderate improvements that would stick many teams on the mediocrity treadmill could open the door for the Lakers signing a star.

The Lakers should weigh these factors and trade offers logically and decide what to do if they get a top pick.

Of course, there are other factors. Jim Buss faces a somewhat-self-imposed deadline for contending. To the person in charge, what’s best for the franchise’s long-term outlook might not matter as much as a potential quick fix.

Kevin Durant: ‘When I’m talking to women, I’m 7 feet. In basketball circles, I’m 6-9’

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) pumps his fist in reaction to a foul call on Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) in the third quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinal NBA basketball playoff series in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Oklahoma City won 112-101. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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How tall is Kevin Durant?

He’s listed at 6-foot-9, but his teammates have guessed everything from 6-foot-10 to 7-foot-3.

Durant, via Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal:

“For me, when I’m talking to women, I’m 7 feet,” he said. “In basketball circles, I’m 6-9.”

“But really, I’ve always thought it was cool to say I’m a 6-9 small forward,” he said. “Really, that’s the prototypical size for a small forward. Anything taller than that, and they’ll start saying, ‘Ah, he’s a power forward.’ ”

This mirrors Kevin Garnett, who Flip Saunders once called “6-foot-13” because Garnett didn’t want to get pigeonholed as a center.

But most height fudging in the NBA has players trying to be listed as taller. Read Herring’s piece for a fun look at the hijinks.

LeBron James wants to face Dwyane Wade, Heat in conference finals

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) and Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) greet each other before an NBA basketball game, Saturday, March 19, 2016, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
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The Heat haven’t gotten past the Raptors. The Cavaliers haven’t toppled the Hawks, for that matter.

But can you imagine a Cleveland-Miami conference finals?

LeBron James can.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“I think naturally of course. That’s since I’ve came back,” James said. “It’d be great to play against those guys in the postseason. Throughout my whole career, I’ve always wanted to go against (Dwyane) Wade in a playoff series. We’ve always talked about it even before we became teammates in ’10. It’s not been heavy on my mind but it’s crossed my mind throughout my whole career.”

LeBron doesn’t realize how bad of an idea this is, which is what makes it such a bad idea.

It isn’t that the Heat are playing better than Toronto right now – though they are. It isn’t that the Heat are a tougher matchup for Cleveland than Toronto – though they are, routing the Cavs twice in three regular-season games (one of which LeBron didn’t play).

It’s that facing the Heat would bring a ridiculous level of drama to the series, and LeBron’s teammates are more equipped to face the Raptors and the fewer distractions that would come with that matchup.

LeBron just wants to be on the court with his friend, Dwyane Wadewith him or against him. I think LeBron can handle that, enjoy that and still produce.

But it undermines his teammate’s focus when LeBron does something like chat with Wade during halftime when they’re trying to prepare for the second half. It can bother teammates when even more attention than usual is placed on LeBron, who’d be THE storyline in a matchup with his old team.

If the Cavs had a choice – and they obviously don’t – they should avoid all that.

But the way the teams are playing, LeBron will probably get his wish.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson suggests Seattle starts a petition to bring back Sonics

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, left, signs autographs for fans during the Brooklyn Nets NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Barclays Center, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had a dumb idea about the Sonics.

So, he posted it to Twitter:

Yes, because this is how the NBA decides where to place teams.

Seattle’s City Council voted not to sell part of a street to Chris Hansen, essentially blocking a new arena – which is probably for the best. Why build a stadium when you might not even get a team? NBA commissioner Adam Silver says the league isn’t expanding anytime soon, and no franchise appears imminent to move.

But a petition could change all that do nothing – except rile up Wilson’s fans, no matter how detached the idea is from reality.