Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns

The Extra Pass: King of the Hill and Monday’s recaps

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Everyone has their spot. A guy like Charlotte Bobcats center Al Jefferson, for example, has gone to his spot with such frequency over the years that he’s  been deemed the “mayor of the left block.” No matter the opponent or teammates, you know where to find him on a nightly basis.

LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t all that dissimilar. While it’s admittedly strange to see the Portland Trail Blazers atop the Northwest Division standings, ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder no less, Aldridge grounds everything by being so wonderfully predictable.

The consistency is alarming. Every time down, there’s LaMarcus Aldridge, on the left side of the floor about 15-feet out, ready to unleash one of his three moves that all counter each other and all seem to lead to the same result.

If Jefferson is the mayor of the left block, Aldridge is the emperor of mid-range.

During the 2012-13 season, Aldridge put up a whopping 753 mid-range field goal attempts. For the sake of context, the third most prolific mid-range shooter, Carmelo Anthony, put up 179 less attempts than Aldridge did from that range (10-23 feet).

After attempting 10.1 shots per game from the mid-range area last year, Aldridge has ramped that number up to 12.8 attempts per game this season. He’s not bashful.

This might be a huge problem if Aldridge was just prolific and not proficient, but that isn’t the case. Aldirdge  has made 65 of his attempts (46.1 percent) this year, which is twice as many as any other player in the league not named Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Smith, or Evan Turner.

It hasn’t been all Aldridge though, of course. Portland’s player movement and ball movement so far this season have been spectacular to watch, and second-year coach Terry Stotts deserves a ton of credit for turning this offense into a fine-tuned machine.

The early returns still feel a bit unusual, though. A big part of Portland’s production comes from places on the floor that don’t typically yield great results, which can certainly put opposing defenders into a bit of quandary. Forcing a player into shooting the most inefficient shot in basketball is a great thing against every other team, but what do you do when a guy like Aldridge is actively seeking out and knocking down that shot?

It’s not just Aldridge’s shot selection, either. Above the break threes are much more difficult to make than shorter corner threes, as the league shoots a higher percentage on those attempts from the corner. With that in mind, Damian Lillard is tied for first in makes above the break with Stephen Curry, while Wes Matthews is shooting a blistering 51.4 percent on his attempts from that same zone. Basically, the Blazers are excelling in the areas most teams try to avoid.

It’s working, though. Portland ranks third in offensive efficiency so far this season, even if they are just 22nd in made field goals in the restricted area and second in mid-range attempts. That’s typically a combination that leads to disaster offensively, and the Blazers are keeping company in those categories with some of the dregs of the league.

But it’s hard to argue with results, isn’t it? The Blazers are killing it offensively, even if it’s being done in a way that few others are travelling. It’s certainly unconventional, but perhaps that will make the Blazers a little tougher to knock off their spots than we might think.

D.J. Foster

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Trail Blazers 108, Nets 98: It was a tale of two halves for Brooklyn (well really one quarter and then a half). The first quarter of this game was ridiculous — the Blazers shot 72.2 percent and trailed by 9, 40-31. Kevin Garnett and 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting, just scoring with easy over Aldridge, and as a team the Nets shot 73.7 percent. The Trail Blazers hung close thanks to the three ball. Then in the second half the Nets reverted to the stagnant isolation basketball they have played of late and they got in trouble for it — they scored 35 points on 22 percent shooting in the second half. Meanwhile the Blazers kept making plays and getting buckets, staring the third on a 21-8 run and never looking back. This game was a microcosm of two teams going in the opposite direction.

Bulls 86, Bobcats 81: The Bulls’ offense still has not found its groove — they shot 36 percent as a team in this one and Derrick Rose was 4-of-13 — but what the Bulls do maybe better than anyone is grind out wins when their offense is off. They held the Bobcats to 36.3 percent shooting, but say this for the Bobcats they are scrappy. Gerald Henderson had 10 of his 16 in the fourth including some key buckets to cut the Bulls lead to one. But with it all on the line Rose hit a driving lineup then Luol Deng hit a key three (he finished with a team-high 21). Not pretty, but Chicago will take the win.

Thunder 115, Nuggets 113: Ty Lawson was dishing and scoring (he finished with 29 points) and Denver was finally clicking, up on the Thunder by 9 entering the fourth quarter… then Oklahoma City started its run. Russell Westbrook had 11 of his 30 in the fourth quarter and Kevin Durant had 13 of his 38 in the final frame as they led OKC back to take the lead then they held on for the win. And I mean hung on, Denver had a chance with 2.7 seconds left but ran an odd lob play for Timofey Mozgov. Brian Shaw is still learning, too.

Mavericks 97, Sixers 94: From their 8-0 run to open the game Philadelphia led most of the first three quarters. Evan Turner led the way with 26 points on the night and Tony Wroten had 19 (Michael Carter-Williams is still out injured). The Sixers was scrapping, they shot just 38.4 percent but they got the offensive rebound on 29.5 percent of their misses. Still, a 14-4 run late in the third gave Dallas the lead and they held on the rest of the way. Monta Ellis had 24; Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion had 20 a piece.

Warriors 98, Jazz 87: It was a night when the shots were not falling for Golden State, especially in the second half (they shot 31.4 percent), and they were vulnerable… but they were playing the Jazz who were shooting no better (39.5 percent for the game). Golden State put up 37 in the second quarter and was up 23 at the half. It was only close at the end of the game because the end of the Warriors’ bench gave up the lead and Mark Jackson had to put his starters back in. Except for Stephen Curry, who had a Jazz player fall on his head and could have a concussion when Marvin Williams fell on his head.

Grizzlies 106, Clippers 102: Memphis is getting back to their style — call it “grit and grind” or whatever you wish — but it is physical and other teams find it hard to play against. The Clippers did — Memphis imposed their style and will on this game and the Clippers could not win that way. Even if Tony Allen did get ejected for kicking Chris Paul in the face. Memphis led most of the way and every time the Clippers threatened the Grizzlies would make a little run (one 8-0 and another 9-2 both in the fourth quarter). Zach Randolph was a beast with 26 points and 15. Marc Gasol is just a joy to watch play because everything he does is smart and he almost had a triple-double with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. Chris Paul had 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Report: Spurs to sign Joel Anthony after Pau Gasol injures hand

CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 13: Joel Anthony #50 of the Detroit Pistons dunks over James Jones #1 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on April 13, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Pistons defeated Cleveland 112-110 in overtime.  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 David Maxwell/Getty Images)
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The San Antonio Spurs will be without Pau Gasol after he injured his hand during warmups against the Denver Nuggets this week. In light of a roster in need of a big man, the Spurs will reportedly move to sign veteran Joel Anthony to a 10-day contract, according to Yahoo! Sports.

Anthony, 34, played in 16 games last season for Detroit. He was in training camp with San Antonio this season, so he will have some familiarity with both their offensive and defensive schemes.

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There’s no word yet on whether Anthony will actually see much playing time or if he’s simply slotting in as a backup.

Spurs fans no doubt want to see Davis Bertans move up the depth chart with Gasol out, so it’s possible that Anthony will simply slot into his space.

It’s also a possibility that Anthony supplants Bertans, who is playing just 9.9 minutes per-game this season.

Devin Booker scores 26 as Suns edge Knicks 107-105

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 13:  Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns shoots in the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest during NBA All-Star Weekend 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 13, 2016 in Toronto, 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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) The Phoenix Suns had more reason to feel good about their future, while the New York Knicks just missed a chance to escape their frustrating present.

Devin Booker scored 26 points and made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 31 seconds left, and the Suns beat the Knicks 107-105 on Saturday night.

“It was just an excellent pass by (Eric) Bledsoe,” Booker said. “I’m thinking he’s going to come off the screen but I’m always shot ready. He made a perfect pass, hit me in the hands and I just shot it with confidence. Ended up being a big shot, the last points of the game.”

Carmelo Anthony‘s attempt at a winning 3-pointer rimmed out as Phoenix snapped a two-game losing streak and handed New York its second loss in a row.

“That was a tough one to digest right there,” Anthony said. “We got the play that we wanted, got the shot that we wanted, got the look that we wanted, did everything but went in.”

Bledsoe added 23 points, while P.J. Tucker and Marquese Chriss each had 15.

Anthony led the Knicks with 31 points but was scoreless in the fourth quarter. Derrick Rose had 26 and Kristaps Porzingis scored 14.

Rose made a layup to give the Knicks a 105-102 lead, but Booker responded by drawing a foul on Courtney Lee and sinking both free throws to cut the deficit to one. Rose missed a jumper from the top of the key, P.J. Tucker missed a point-blank layup and Ron Baker missed a driving layup to set up Booker’s 3-pointer from the wing.

The teams traded misses before Anthony took the inbounds pass after a timeout and launched a 3 that spun around the rim before falling out to give the Knicks their 13th loss in 16 games.

Anthony scored 12 points in the third quarter, which ended in a 90-all tie. The Knicks eventually opened a 103-98 lead, their largest of the game, but couldn’t hold on as Jeff Hornacek fell to 0-2 against the team he previously coached.

Anthony led all scorers at the half with 19 points, but Booker paced Phoenix with 15 and the Suns took a 61-55 lead into the locker room.

TIP-INS

Suns: Coach Earl Watson praised Tucker’s defensive ability. “The thing about defense is there’s no perfect technique. It’s all on intensity, passion, toughness and a lot of heart. He plays with that every time he touches the court. He’s one of our best players. To me, he’s the most underrated defender in our league, especially on isolations.” … Derrick Jones Jr. was inactive.

Knicks: Hornacek reflected on the first half of the season. “It’s been an interesting year, I’d say. It was a tough beginning with Derrick Rose missing a bunch early, part of putting in the offense and getting a new group of guys together as familiarity and he wasn’t able to be there for a big part of that so we were trying to win those first few games on the fly, Joakim with his hamstring early. There have been some distractions that we’ve had to keep the guys kind of together, the losing, minor injuries here and there. Overall, I think the guys have done a pretty good job of staying together. We still look at it when we have all our guys we still have a good chance.”

LINE THEM UP

New York went back to its original starting lineup of Joakim Noah, Porzingis, Anthony, Lee and Rose for the first time since Jan. 12 against the 76ers.

CELEBRITY ROW

Actor Hugh Jackman and Trevor Noah, host of “The Daily Show” sat courtside during the game.

UP NEXT

Suns: Visit Toronto on Sunday.

Knicks: Visit Indiana on Monday.

Lakers G D’Angelo Russell out 1-2 weeks with knee sprain, calf strain

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 14:  D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on against the Brooklyn Nets in the second half at Barclays Center on December 14, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell will be sidelined for one to two weeks with a mildly sprained right knee and a strained right calf.

The Lakers announced the diagnosis on Saturday night after their point guard had an MRI exam. He will be re-evaluated in one week.

Russell was hurt on the second possession of the Lakers’ victory over Indiana on Friday. His leg slipped while making a cut around teammate Julius Randle‘s screen, and he nearly did the splits while falling.

Russell is averaging 14.3 points, 4.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds during the second NBA season for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft. A sore left knee kept him out for 12 games earlier in the season.

The Lakers open a road trip at Dallas on Sunday.

Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum carry Portland to OT win over Celtics (VIDEO)

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BOSTON (AP) Damian Lillard had a three-point play with 47 seconds left in overtime and finished with 28 points to lift the Portland Trail Blazers to a 127-123 victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night, snapping their four-game losing streak.

CJ McCollum scored 35 points to lead Portland, which lost in the closing seconds in Philadelphia on Friday night. Lillard added seven assists.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 41 points, his 14th time this season with 30 or more points. Marcus Smart and Al Horford each scored 17 for the Celtics, who have lost two straight after winning 13 of 16.