Parker shoots against Lillard during NBA basketball game in Portland, Oregon

San Antonio’s stars actually play, but a rookie steals the show

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The Spurs were playing the second half of a back-to-back, on the road in a notoriously tough place to win, with stars that are notoriously still pretty old.

It begs the question: Had David Stern not dropped the boom earlier this season with a $250,000 dollar fine for keeping their stars out, would Gregg Popovich rest his starters in another nationally televised game?

Maybe, maybe not. Only Pop knows. But what we do know is that the Spurs played with a full deck against the Portland Trailblazers, and a young rookie point guard completely stole show.

Damian Lillard was sensational against the Spurs, pouring in a career-high 29 points to go alongside seven rebounds and six assists in a solid 98-90 win for the young Blazers.

After getting saddled with a few early fouls against Tony Parker, Lillard settled in and grew more comfortable as the game went on, pulling off moves against Parker like he was walk-on at a Big Sky Conference school and not a four-time champion.

With Lillard’s step-back game on point and LaMarcus Aldridge providing some steady offense (22 points, 10-for-16) on the block, the Blazers were able to survive despite their typical shaky depth. The Spurs got 40 of their 90 points from their bench, but failed to get any of their outside shooters going in a 6-for-19 effort from behind the arc.

Although they hung around in typical Spurs fashion, it was Nicolas Batum who closed out a game that Manu Ginobili looked primed to take over. In a one-possession game with a little over a minute left, Batum curled off a screen and fired with no hesitation, nailing a 3-pointer that seemed to take the sails out of the Spurs ship. Batum wisely double-tapped the zombie Spurs though by blocking Parker’s layup attempt and sealing it late with two free throws.

This loss, of course, is almost completely meaningless to the Spurs. For a team that knows they’ll be in the playoffs, games like these are nothing but glorified practices. They want to win, of course, but it doesn’t really set them off path with a loss. But for a young squad like Portland in need of positive reinforcement? Wins don’t get much better than this.

Watch Spurs’ Dejounte Murray throw off-the-backboard alley-oop to himself in pickup game

Washington guard Dejounte Murray, center, dribbles the ball past Mount St. Mary's center Taylor Danaher (50) as Washington forward Marquese Chriss, right, watches duirng the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Just a suggestion for rookie Dejounte Murray: Don’t do this in front of Gregg Popovich. You may not like his reaction.

That said, the Spurs needed to get more athletic this off-season — landing Pau Gasol certainly didn’t help that cause — so enter first-round pick Murray, who pulled this off in a recent pickup game.

Murray is going to be brought along slowly in a backcourt where Tony Parker and Patty Mills will be splitting time at the point. Murray is more of a combo guard and is going to have to shoot a lot better than he did in college (28.8 percent from three) to get some run. But this is a situation where the Spurs can groom him, bring him along slowly, and see if they have another draft steal.

He’s certainly got the athleticism.

Corey Brewer: “James (Harden) is going to play defense this year”

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 18:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets walks across the court during their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Toyota Center on March 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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James Harden‘s defense is not as bad as its reputation.

Well, at least it wasn’t two seasons ago — his near MVP season he was in good enough shape that he could put in a respectable effort on that end and still handle his massive offensive load. There were still some mental lapses, but his focus was better and his improvement lifted the team defense. Last season, he regressed back to youtube “highlight” defense Harden — his conditioning was not where it needed to be, he didn’t expend as much effort on that end, and it showed.

Harden got a massive contract extension this summer, and Dwight Howard is Atlanta’s problem — now Harden has to lead the Rockets. By example. Corey Brewer told ESPN you’re going to see that on defense.

“I think this year he’s going to play better defense, We’re going to let the past be in the past. It’s the future of the Rockets, man. James is going to play defense this year.”

We’re all Missourians on this one: Show me.

Remember that the Rockets will be out and running — Mike D’Antoni is the coach now, and Daryl Morey is going to get the up tempo ball he wants (which Kevin McHale had them doing, but Harden didn’t like him so…). D’Antoni’s teams in Phoenix played better defense than their reputation — points per possession they were middle of the pack — but that has never been his focus.

Will Harden be able to run like he needs to on offense and still defend at a reasonable level?

If he can, it’s a big step toward the Rockets being a dangerous team in the West because if he does it others will follow. Otherwise, every Rockets game will be a shootout, which is entertaining but not going to get a team deep into the playoffs.

 

Watch Drake hit a half court shot while doing a situp

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 26:  Singer Drake celebrates after Terrance Ross #31 of the Toronto Raptors sinks a 3-pointer in the second half of Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Indiana Pacers during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on April 26, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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I can see the questions on Twitter/in the comments already so let me save you some time.

Because it’s summer.

Because it’s Drake (he’s a celebrity and an NBA hanger-on with some quasi-official position with the Raptors).

Because Stephen Curry did it, too.

Because what other hoops are you watching on a late August afternoon?

And besides, you clicked on it. You know you want to see it.

So here it is, Drake, hitting a halfcourt shot while doing a sit up. Enjoy.

FOR THE KIA!!!!! @highlighthub @bleacherreport

A video posted by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on

Mario Chalmers says he’s cleared to play

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers moves the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015, in Washington. Chalmers was ejected in the first half. The Wizards won 100-91. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
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Mario Chalmers was thriving with the Grizzlies after a midseason trade from the Heat when a torn Achilles ended his season.

Not the way Chalmers wanted to enter free agency.

Still unsigned, he says he’s progressing.

Chalmers:

Can he go 100%, though? If not, when?

A few teams could use another point guard. If Chalmers shows his health, he belongs in someone’s rotation. But that might require taking a low-paying deal and working his way up from the third point guard spot – or even just onto the regular-season roster.