The streak is dead — Wizards win first game of season. But they made it hard on themselves.

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Break up the Wizards.

Okay, maybe we’re not there yet. But Washington’s 12-game losing streak to start the season came to an end at home with an 84-82 win over Portland. They did it with 19 points from Jordan Crawford off the bench, with Trevor Ariza being efficient (14 points on 6-of-9 shooting) and with some good defense.

But this is the Wizards, they couldn’t make it easy on themselves.

Washington led by 15 early in the fourth quarter thanks to a combination of good defense and bad Trail Blazers shooting — from the start of the second until 2 minutes into the fourth quarter the Wizards scored just 35 points on 27.7 percent shooting. Damian Lillard (who finished with 20) was 2-of-12 in that stretch while Wes Mathews was 0-for-6. Portland scored 16 in each of the second and third quarters. Washington didn’t light the world on fire in there, they just sucked less.

But this is the Wizards, there would be no easy win — the Trail Blazers went on a 15-0 run to tie the score at 79-79 with 3:15 left in the game. The Wizards went nearly 7 minutes without scoring. And we had a ballgame.

Portland briefly took the lead when Nicolas Batum drew a foul on Ariza and hit one of his free throws to put Portland up 80-79.

But on the next trip down the court Nene (who still looks rusty but played better minutes than Washington has been getting off the bench) fumbled the ball in the post, got it back and had the presence of mind to kick out to Crawford for a three, and the Wizards were up 82-80. Next trip down, LaMarcus Aldridge tied it with a jumper.

Then Emeka Okafor made the two plays that won the Wizards the game. First he blocked a J.J. Hickson shot inside (after Aldridge passed up a wide-open 10 footer to dump it to Hickson by the rim, at which point Hickson hesitated and allowed Okafor to recover; it was all very Hickson).

Then at the other end Wizards guard A.J. Price drove, drew the defense, dished to Okafor who was fouled on his shot. He sank two free throws and it was 84-82.

Portland had one last chance but Aldridge picked up his dribble under pressure and his release valve ended up becoming a leaning, contested Batum three that airballed, and while Lillard made a crafty play to get the rebound he got caught in the air and passed to himself. And that was pretty much it, despite what could have been a foul on the last inbound on Nene, but at this point the Wizards deserved a break.

This doesn’t solve all of Washington’s problems. Not by a long shot. This is still an offensive team capable of 7-minute dead stretches, they just got away with it for a night.

But it’s a win, and Washington needed one.

As for Portland… was this even their worst loss of the season? They had a very ugly one to Phoenix earlier that wasn’t this close and didn’t have a comeback. It was a worse performance, although to be fair the Suns are a better team.

The fact that we are debating this tells you all you need to know about how Portland’s season is trending.

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more and Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.