Portland Trail Blazers v Washington Wizards

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.

Knicks have Carmelo Anthony confident of more post-Olympic success

New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony speaks to reporters during NBA basketball training camp in Tarrytown, N.Y., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Associated Press
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GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Carmelo Anthony couldn’t wait to get started.

Maybe that’s because he looks at the New York Knicks and sees real NBA talent around him for the first time in a few years.

Or perhaps it’s because he knows his most successful seasons have come following the Olympics.

Whatever the reason, Anthony is talking like someone who believes his team is going back to the playoffs – and maybe going far once they get there.

“Like I said yesterday, I haven’t been excited like this in a long time to actually get going and ready to create something,” Anthony said Tuesday after the Knicks held their first practice.

The Knicks haven’t been exciting at all recently. Anthony had never missed the postseason until New York fell just short in 2014, and now he’s been shut out three straight years. The Knicks tumbled to a 17-65 finish two years ago, when Anthony was limited to 40 games before knee surgery, and went 32-50 last season.

Anthony often tried to carry the scoring load himself during those last two seasons, but he doesn’t see a need now. The Knicks traded for Derrick Rose, signed players such as Joakim Noah, Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings, and expect big things from Kristaps Porzingis after his All-Rookie campaign.

Anthony has repeatedly said how excited he is to play with Rose, who believes he can make the game easier for the 32-year-old forward.

“He’s been here the longest, he’s went through a lot of things here, experienced a lot, so this is his team,” Rose said. “Me and Jo – I can only speak about me and Joakim – we’re coming in here, we’re battle-tested. Our job is to make his job as easy as possible and if it’s sacrificing, it’s sacrificing. Whatever he wants us to do, we’re going to do it. We don’t want no problems, we just want to win.”

The only time Anthony’s done that lately is in the Olympics.

He won his third gold and fourth medal overall in Rio, both records for a men’s basketball player. While most players crave a break after the long NBA season, Anthony said he was “in the best shape that I’ve felt in a long time” after playing this summer.

Olympic competition has provided him with a boost before.

The 2008-09 season, after his first gold medal, remains his most successful team season as a pro. He had never even won a playoff series before leading Denver to the Western Conference finals, averaging 27.2 points in 16 games before the Nuggets were eliminated by the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers.

He didn’t win another series until 2013, coming off his second gold medal in London. He led the NBA with 28.7 points per game in carrying the Knicks to the Atlantic Division title and eventually the East semifinals.

He didn’t do it alone back then, with Chauncey Billups in the backcourt in Denver, and Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire in the frontcourt in New York. The Knicks believe this team, like those, is filled with players who will earn Anthony’s trust.

“We’re hoping that, again, the level of talent that is on the team will lead to him not thinking, `I have to do everything,”‘ coach Jeff Hornacek said.

Anthony hosted most of the roster in Puerto Rico over the summer for basketball and bonding, so he’s gotten to know his teammates off the court.

He likes what he sees.

“I don’t know how great we can be,” Anthony said. “I don’t want to put kind of no ceiling on that, but we control our own destiny at this point.”

Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney

Who will start at power forward for Bulls? “It’s an open competition.”

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 29: Nikola Mirotic #44 of the Chicago Bulls shoots the ball during the game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 29, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Four-fifth of the Chicago Bulls starting lineup this season is locked in: Rajon Rondo at the point, Dwyane Wade at the two, Jimmy Butler at the three, and Robin Lopez at center.

But who starts at the four? Taj Gibson? Nikola Mirotic? Bobby Portis?

Fred Hoiberg isn’t letting anyone know quite yet, via our friend Sean Highkin of The Athletic.

The conventional wisdom has been that Mirotic would get the start because with Rondo/Wade/Butler teams could just pack the paint, clog driving lanes, and force them to shoot jumpers. Mirotic shot 39 percent from three last season and could be a stretch four that opens driving lanes for the three guys who like to slash to the rim. The downside there is defense, which is why Gibson can’t be counted out.

Expect Hoiberg to try a lot of combos trying to figure out what works. That’s what preseason games are for.

Jahlil Okafor’s hands dwarf a basketball (photo)

2015 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot
Nick Laham/Getty Images
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It’s cool the 76ers had a baby-sized basketball for Jahlil Okafor to hold.

Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News:

Wait. That’s a regulation NBA ball?

Stephen Curry on his pending free agency: “I want to be back here. I like playing here.”

Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant, left, and Stephen Curry pose for photos during NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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Next summer, Stephen Curry will be a free agent.

With 100 percent certainty, he will be a max player.

With 99.9 percent certainty, he is not leaving the Golden State Warriors, if you talk to other teams around the league.

Still, when he heads to his hometown of Charlotte and a few other spots, he’s going to be asked about it. The topic came up on Tuesday, the first day of Warriors training camp practices, and Curry tried to shoot the idea of him leaving down. Here is the exchange, via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

Are you optimistic about your chances of coming back next offseason?

“Yes,” Curry said.

 

Kevin faced this a ton last year in almost every city he went. Are you gonna talk to him at all about that, how he handled it?

“Maybe,” Curry said. “But I’m not gonna let it distract me at all. I want to be back here. I like playing here. And that’s it. The rest of it is about what we’re gonna do this year.”

There are a lot of teams hoarding cap space and planning to make a run at free agents next summer, but no teams are setting their sights on Curry as happened with Durant. Where there was a sense around the league Durant wanted to look at his options and could be swayed, that is not the sense with Curry. He’s not going anywhere.

Maybe Curry plays the final couple years of his career back in his hometown of Charlotte, where his father played, but that’s a long ways off. At midnight July 1 next summer the Warriors will offer Curry a five-year max contract, he will sign it, and nothing will change in the Bay Area.