Damian Lillard, Austin Rivers

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.

Gasol, Douglas lead Grizzlies past Trail Blazers, 88-86

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AP
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Marc Gasol scored 36 points and Toney Douglas made two free throws with less than a second left to give the Memphis Grizzlies an 88-86 comeback victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Douglas finished with 11 points, scoring the game’s final six points to seal Memphis’ fifth straight victory.

Gasol was 13 of 24 from the field, including 4 of 6 from outside the arc. But Douglas, signed by Memphis this week because of injuries, took over down the stretch. The guard scored on a 19-footer with 34 seconds left, then converted two pairs of free throws in the last 20 seconds.

CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers with 24 points, and Damian Lillard had 19 on 6-of-18 shooting. Evan Turner had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Portland held a 79-68 lead after Al-Farouq Aminu scored inside with 5:28 left. But Memphis clicked off a 14-2 rally and it settled into a one-possession contest.

Tony Allen had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Memphis.

Shooting issues that plagued both teams in the first half, spread past intermission as each started 4 of 14 from the field. That helped Portland maintain its lead after carrying a 50-43 advantage into halftime.

Despite converting only 5 of 20 shots in the third, Portland actually extended its lead, entering the fourth with a 69-61 advantage.

The Portland lead would reach 13 again in the fourth and was still at 11 when Memphis started its rally behind Gasol, who had nine straight points for the Grizzlies.

Portland had a previous 13-point lead in the second quarter as every Grizzly but Gasol was suffering shooting woes.

Gasol managed 19 points in the half, while Portland got 15 points each from McCollum and Lillard.

TIP-INS

Blazers: F Evan Turner started his first game of the season due to an injury to Maurice Harkless. …McCollum entered the game averaging 24 points. … G Allen Crabbe finished with seven points after scoring at least 14 in four straight games. …C Mason Plumlee had four points, ending his streak of seven straight games in double figures.

Grizzlies: Memphis coach David Fizdale finally said enough about calls and no-calls late in the first half to earn a technical courtesy of official J. T. Orr. Lillard missed the free throw to open the third. …Gasol also got a tech in the third quarter for arguing a call. … F JaMychal Green had a career-high 18 rebounds. His previous best was 17 this week in a win at New Orleans.

EXTENSIONS

Earlier Thursday, the Grizzlies announced that they have agreed to multi-year extensions with general manager Chris Wallace, John Hollinger, executive vice president of basketball operations, and Ed Stefanski, vice president of player personnel. Terms were not disclosed.

HARKLESS HURT

Portland forward Maurice Harkless did not play because of a left ankle sprain suffered in the latter stages of the Portland’s 115-107 loss at Milwaukee on Wednesday night. “I remember him wincing. He was on the free throw line,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “It was late in the game, like the last 2 minutes.”

NOTHING FREE

Both teams struggled from the free throw line. Portland made 29 of 40 in the game while Memphis was 20 of 30.

UP NEXT

Trail Blazers: Portland hits the middle game of a five-game trip, landing in Indiana on Saturday to face the Pacers.

Grizzlies: Memphis continues its homestand Saturday against the Gold State Warriors.

Stephen Curry gets fouled, hits crazy rainbow circus shot vs. Jazz (VIDEO)

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Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry is a wizard when it comes to shots you don’t think can ever reach the iron. Each time he does something like this, he surprises you even though you should be used to it by now.

But I’m not. The Utah Jazz aren’t. Heck, maybe even Steph isn’t used to it by now.

As Curry was driving down the left side of the floor on Thursday, Shelvin Mack got out of position and wound up trailing the Warriors star. With Curry rounding the pick, Mack reached and earned a foul.

Thinking quickly, Curry then hoisted up a rainbow of a shot that gently kissed the net on the way down.

Curry would go on to make the free throw for the 3-point play.

Watch Karl-Anthony Towns blow by two defenders, posterize Jonas Valanciunas

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We’re 21 games into Minnesota Timberwolves C Karl-Anthony Towns‘ sophomore season and it already seems cliche to say that he has guard skills

But, like, he does have guard skills.

There was more evidence of that on Thursday night as the Timberwolves matched up with the Toronto Raptors in Canada.

With the ball near the top of the arc and with the Raptors defense collapsing on the Minnesota guards, Towns saw an opportunity to split the defense and run to the rim with the ball.

Toronto C Jonas Valanciunas slid over to meet Towns at the rim, but there wasn’t much anyone could do.

https://streamable.com/sixp

Spurs’ Pau Gasol goofs, heads toward Bulls locker room in return to Chicago (VIDEO)

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Pau Gasol spent two seasons at the United Center with the Chicago Bulls, so it made sense that when he returned as a member of the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, he would know his way around. In fact, Gasol knows the bowels of Chicago’s home arena so well that he wound up walking toward the wrong locker room as a force of habit.

During the NBA on TNT’s coverage of the game, reporter Allie LaForce showed cameras following Gasol after he said hello to some folks in the tunnel.

Unfortunately, Gasol walked about 15 feet before realizing he was heading to the wrong side.

Maybe it was something of an indicator for the night, as the first few quarters of play between the Spurs and the Bulls were extremely sloppy.