Who is going to win Rookie of the Year? Try Damian Lillard.

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Predicting who is going to win Rookie of the Year is a lot like trying to predict this winter’s snowfall totals in the first week of September — we have some broad trends to go on but the specifics are ahead of us still. It’s a guess.

My guess: Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers.

There are a few reasons for this. One is that he is better than people realized coming in the draft — he went all the way up to No. 6 but came from off the radar. One of the key reasons he wasn’t higher was he played at Weber State in Utah, a school people end up at as a safety school and one without great competition in basketball. Team GMs had to sell owners and fans Lillard was not a long shot pick.

When I saw him at Summer League in Las Vegas he clearly was not. He was an explosive athlete. He can and did score and there were moments you pictured a Russell Westbrook like attacker. But he also showed way more polish as a rookie than scoring guards like Westbrook and Derrick Rose showed.

What is more, he goes on to a team with LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, as well as some other veterans. He’s got a guy on the wing and an All-Star in the post to play off. Guys he can feed for open looks, guys who create lanes for him because the defense can’t help. Yes, the talent he has to face (particularly at the point) is substantially better at the NBA level than Summer League, but he is in a position to succeed.

That is, if he is given the green light. If the goal of the Blazers coaching staff is to control him and not let a rookie make decisions, he will be limited.

What about Anthony Davis, you ask? He’s going to be very good, he is going to come in as a defensive force, and in a few years he is going to be the best player out of this class.

Davis is a long, shot-blocking, rim-protecting big man but to really be effective doing that at the NBA level — to be Tyson Chandler or Dwight Howard — he must get stronger. Guys will be able to physically overpower him right now. Plus, the pace of the game and what he will be asked to do defensively will be an adjustment.

And really, you don’t win the ROY award by playing defense. You’ve got to score. And while Davis can finish around the rim and while he has some midrange game, he is not going to be asked to score much. Offense they get from him will be a bonus. Eric Gordon will lead this team on the offensive end.

Davis is so very good and he could still win ROY. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist stands a chance because he will get minutes on a bad Bobcats team, because he will hustle every play like few in the league, and because he showed in Las Vegas he has a better shot than he got credit for coming out of college. I like him

But Lillard is very good — athletically and making decisions — and he is in a position to succeed with players around him. He’s my pick because he will impress and put up numbers. It may take a while for the casual fans and national columnists to catch up, but he will be the guy to watch.

It’s going to be fun to watch it play out.

Thunder’s Taj Gibson providing scoring help for Westbrook

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Taj Gibson often describes his role for the Thunder as doing whatever the team needs.

For now, scoring is playing a bigger part than usual. The versatile 6-foot-9 power forward has found his way since being traded from Chicago and has emerged one of Oklahoma City’s few consistent offensive weapons alongside Russell Westbrook in the playoffs. He may need to keep it up to give the Thunder a chance of winning the first-round series with Houston – Oklahoma City trails 2-1 heading into Game 4 Sunday at home.

Gibson built a sterling reputation in Chicago, but the Brooklyn, New York native is more concerned with the respect he’s earned since his arrival.

“They see I’m in here late nights, early mornings, just constantly working with my teammates, constantly putting work in,” he said. “The confidence is going to be there because they understand you do the work, but I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help my team.”

Gibson has done a little bit of everything since coming to the Thunder. He has provided experience and versatility to an already stacked frontline that includes emerging young players Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. He also has added toughness, and at times, scoring punch. His athleticism and ability to guard on the perimeter against outside-shooting big men and on switches fills some of the void created when the Thunder traded Serge Ibaka on draft night this past offseason.

“Great vet,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “Great man, first and foremost. Very positive and does what it takes to win. It was a great pickup for us.”

Domantas Sabonis was the starting power forward when Gibson arrived in Oklahoma City, but once he got settled and began to understand coach Billy Donovan’s system, the Thunder improved. Gibson replaced Sabonis for the first time March 9 against San Antonio, and the Thunder went 11-5 with him in the starting lineup. He averaged 9.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21 regular-season games for the Thunder.

He is averaging 11 points on 65 percent shooting in the playoffs. He was effective on offense in Game 2, establishing himself early and helping put the Thunder in position to win. Oklahoma City went away from him late, and Houston rallied for the victory.

In Game 3, the Thunder went back to him consistently. a href(equals)’https://apnews.com/dab4b99c496a4450906c11a9c72132d1/Westbrook’s-triple-double-leads-Thunder-past-Rockets-115-113?utm-campaign=SocialFlow&utm-source=Twitter&utm-medium=AP-Sports’He finished with 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting in Oklahoma City’s 115-113 win/a on Friday night.

“Taj is a great post player,” Westbrook said. “He does a great job of getting in great position down low. When we see a matchup that we like we are going to keep going to him. Whether it is a miss or a make, it gives us the opportunity to score the basketball in the paint.”

Gibson did damage inside and out and punished the Rockets with his mid-range jumper.

“It’s no shock to me, just because that mid-range is automatic for him,” Thunder forward Doug McDermott, who also joined the Thunder in the trade with Chicago, said. “He’s tough to guard on that block too.”

Gibson also had a fast start in Game 2, but once the Thunder began to struggle, they went away from him. Gibson knew he didn’t need to change much going into Game 3.

“Just continue to be aggressive,” he said. “I felt like I had good shots in Game 2. Just got to stay with it and play the game as it flows to me.”

On defense, Gibson has been a better option than Kanter and Adams, who have struggled to keep up with the more athletic Rockets. Gibson performed well in all facets in Game 3, and Donovan needs more of that in Game 4.

“I was happy for him last night,” Donovan said Saturday. “I thought he gave us a great lift in both the first and second half. He’s professional, he’s a man, and he’s a reliable guy.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

Watch Kawhi Leonard, Mike Conley in epic playoff duel Saturday (VIDEO)

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Kawhi Leonard scored 16 straight points for the Spurs at the end of regulation to give San Antonio the lead and a chance. Then Mike Conley hit a floater in the lane forced overtime.

There Mike Conley hit a floating bank shot that had the Grizzlies up three with :47 seconds left, only to have Leonard answer with a three to tie the game. Marc Gasol would break that tie and get Memphis the series-evening win.

Conley and Leonard traded blows through the clutch parts of Saturday’s epic Game 4 between Memphis and San Antonio. It’s worth checking out the highlights again.

John Wall goes coast-to-coast, behind-the-back for lefty dunk (VIDEO)

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There’s not going to be many plays better than this in the entire playoffs.

There wasn’t a lot for Wizards’ fans to cheer in Game 3, the Hawks took control early and routed Washington, making it a 2-1 series. But there was this, John Wall going coast-to-coast with the ball, going around-the-back and throwing it down left handed.

Wall is just so fast end to end.

Warriors take 3-0 series lead over Blazers with 119-113 win

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 34 points, Klay Thompson added 24 and the short-handed Golden State Warriors overcame a slow start to take a 3-0 lead in their playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers with a 119-113 victory on Saturday night.

The Blazers led by as many as 17 points in the first half, but couldn’t hold off the Warriors, who can clinch the series with a win Monday night in Game 4 at the Moda Center.

Golden State was without Kevin Durant, who was sitting for a second straight game cause of a left calf strain, and coach Steve Kerr stayed back at the team hotel because of illness.

The Warriors took a 108-100 lead after Andre Iguodala‘s dunk with 4:05 to go.

Noah Vonleh‘s dunk got Portland within four at 110-106 with 1:29 left, but Curry answered with a 3-pointer that all but sealed it, sending fans streaming for the exits.

CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 32 points, while Damian Lillard added 31.