LaMarcus Aldridge, Hawks' Elton Brand

Sunday NBA grades: LaMarcus Aldridge looks good, as to Blazers


Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while telling your wife to be you want to spend $3,000 to live tweet your wedding

source:  LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers. Aldridge returns to the lineup and the struggling Blazers rattle off three straight wins. It’s not a coincidence. Aldridge finished with 28 points (10-of-20 shooting) against the stout front line of Memphis, and he was the fulcrum of the Blazers offense that put up 105 points on the night. He also had a good defensive night. This was a big win for Portland, giving them a game on Golden State (which unexpectedly lost to the Knicks).

source:   D.J. Augustin, Chicago Bulls. With the game on the line Augustin came alive — 15 of his 33 points came in the fourth quarter (he scored more than half of the Bulls 29 in the fourth quarter) as the Bulls held on to beat the Celtics. Augustin’s quickness was on display on the shot that proved to be the game winner with the game tied 96-96. Augustin got the ball out top Joakim Noah came out to set a pick and Augustin took a step toward Noah then used a crossover to go the other way that shook Rajon Rondo just enough for Augustin to have space and he rose up and drained the three.

source:   New York Knicks playoff hopes. The Atlanta Hawks keep presenting the Knicks with chances to catch them (Atlanta lost its sixth straight Sunday) in the stumbling, bumbling Eastern Conference playoff chase. The Knicks finally took advantage of it with a big road win over the Warriors Sunday — the Knicks are now just 1 game back of the Hawks (the Cavaliers are 1.5 back of the Knicks). The Warriors were sloppy Sunday — remove Curry from the mix and the Warriors shot 31 percent and were turnover prone — but the Knicks played good enough defense when they needed to and they got good nights from J.R. Smith (21 points) and Amar’e Stoudemire (15 points, 13 boards, some solid defense) to get the win. The Knicks schedule the rest of the way is tougher than Atanta’s, but so long as the Hawks keep losing the Knicks can have hope.

source:   Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. His season has been this good: He scored 31 against the Jazz and I almost didn’t include him here because that seems almost pedestrian for him. But the fact he put up those numbers on 9-of-13 shooting shows you just how efficient he has been this season. This is his 38th consecutive game with at least 25 points. That’s ridiculous. That’s your MVP.

source:  The Lakers are screwing with other team’s playoff chances, their own lottery odds be damned. While some people forget Kaman has some skills inside and the undersized Suns front line had no chance of stopping him, which is how he ended up with 28 points, 17 rebounds, and six assists. Kendall Marshall and Jodie Meeks played well for LA but the Lakers’ win was mostly the Suns imploding and shooting 38.5 percent overall and 8-of-36 from three (22.2 percent).

Report: David Lee, Tyler Zeller in line to start for Celtics; Jared Sullinger, Jonas Jerebko out of rotation

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 08: David Lee of Boston Celtics attacks during the friendlies of the NBA Global Games 2015 basketball match between Real Madrid and Boston Celtics at Barclaycard Center on October 8, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Brad Stevens has a big challenge this year – sorting the Celtics’ deep roster of similarly able players.

It seems that process is shaking out at power forward and center.

A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

it appears Boston’s first four bigs will be starters David Lee and Tyler Zeller, with Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk off the bench.

That leaves Jonas Jerebko and Jared Sullinger, potentially on the outside looking in as far as the regular rotation is concerned.

Lee is the best passer of the bunch, which could partially explain why he’s starting. Boston’s most likely starting point guard, Marcus Smart, is still growing into the role of the lead ball-handler at the NBA level. Lee and presumptive starting shooting guard Avery Bradley can take some pressure off him.

Olynyk can space the floor for Isaiah Thomas-Johnson pick-and-rolls with the reserves and run pick-and-pops with Thomas himself.

I’m a little surprised Zeller is starting over Johnson, though. The Celtics just signed Johnson to a $12 million salary, and I thought they’d rely on his defense to set a tone early. Like Johnson, Zeller is a quality pick-and-roll finisher who can thrive with Thomas.

This is particularly bad news for Sullinger, who – barring a surprising contract extension – is entering a contract year. It seems those reports of offseason conditioning haven’t yet paid off. Jerebko’s deal also isn’t guaranteed beyond this season, but at least he has already gotten his mid-sized payday. Sullinger is still on his rookie-scale contract.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.