LaMarcus Aldridge’s Trail Blazers claw back for Game 1 win over Houston Rockets

22 Comments

LaMarcus Aldridge shot just 33 percent with Omer Asik guarding him during the regular season, giving the Rockets a potential answer to a player who scorched them for 26.8 points and 15.5 rebounds per game. In Game 1 of the Trail Blazers’ first-round series against Houston on Sunday, Aldridge immediately went to work trying prove the backup center couldn’t stop him when they matched up in the first quarter.

Aldridge gained no ground on a post-up and settled for a turnaround jumper. Point Asik.

Aldridge made it anyway. Point Aldridge.

On Portland’s next possession, Aldridge rolled to the basket and finish at the rim despite absorbing a hard bump from Asik. Point Aldridge – and, more importantly, message sent.

The favored Rockets couldn’t knock out the Trail Blazers in a 122-120 Portland win. Three hours and 21 minutes after tipoff – and 35 hours and 24 minutes after an exciting opening weekend of the NBA playoffs began – Portland finally ended a thrilling overtime game by forcing a missed James Harden jumper.

The Rockets led by 13 points in the fourth quarter, 11 points with four minutes left in regulation and six points with four minutes left in overtime. But the Trail Blazers showed their resiliency in Houston.

To come back late in regulation, Portland repeatedly intentionally fouled Dwight Howard. After he missed four straight free throws, Houston pulled him.

Often overlooked in hack-a-whomever strategies is how it affects the fouling team’s offense. Even when the opponent misses his free throws, that usually gives them a chance to set their defense. Though I don’t know exact numbers, I’m fairly confident scoring gets much harder after sending someone to the free-throw line.

But by forcing Howard out of the game, the Trail Blazers bettered their offense. They shot 10-for-10 in the paint with him on the bench.

Damian Lillard – who scored 31 points, becoming the first Trail Blazer to score 30 in his playoff debut – especially got where he wanted during the closing stretch.

Soon enough, momentum completely shifted. Lillard made a game-tying 3-pointer with 29 second left. After Harden hit two free throws, Aldridge’s tip-in with two seconds left sent the game to overtime.

That just gave us a little longer to appreciate Aldridge’s incredible performance. Aldridge – who shot 3-for-15 from beyond the arc during the regular season – even made a 3-pointer in the extra period.

He finished with 46 points – a Portland franchise playoff record and most by anyone in a postseason game in three years – and 18 rebounds. The last two players to hit those marks in a playoff game, Howard and Hakeem Olajuwon, watched Aldridge join their ranks in person.

Howard, whose signing in Houston coincided with the Rockets hiring Olajuwon to tutor the team’s centers, was no slouch himself. He had 27 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks for his new team.

On the other hand, his All-Star teammate, struggled. Harden shot just 8-for-28 and didn’t going at all until the second half, when Houston shot its first free throw. Although Harden scored 27 points, they came inefficiently, and his defense was problematic throughout the game.

At least he was left standing to take the final shot, though.

Robin Lopez, Aldridge, Patrick Beverley and Howard all fouled out in overtime. In a physically and mentally exhausting game, it seemed players lost their wits a bit. Aldridge’s final foul was particular maddening. He set an unnecessary (especially with five fouls) screen in the backcourt to free Lillard off the ball and got a little too physical.

The Trail Blazers and Rockets have two days off before Game 2, and after this one, it seems they’ll need every minute to recuperate – and then maybe all 48 minutes (plus maybe more) to determine another winner.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

Associated Press
2 Comments

Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.

Report: Re-signing Nerlens Noel Mavericks’ top off-season priority

2 Comments

This is a Mark Cuban owned team, you don’t think the Mavericks are going to make a serious run at a free agent come July 1? Pelicans’ point guard Jrue Holiday has long been known to be a target, but there will be others.

But keeping their new core together, including restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, is the top priority, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rumors like this are out there in part from Dallas to hope to chill the market for Noel. While he could be a defensive force who provides some scoring around the rim, with Noel’s injury history they may be able to get him at less than max money — because if he’s at the max the Mavericks are flirting with the luxury tax (and Cuban isn’t going to want to pay the tax for a borderline playoff team at best).

What Dallas fears is what Brooklyn did last season to Allen Crabbe in Portland and Tyler Johnson in Miami — some team to come in with a max or near-max offer sheet that drives up the price. Dallas will match, they will keep the young core together, it just gets more expensive.

Next season in Dallas will be a deserved big farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the focus, but behind him Dallas will try to be building for the future. They made the trade deadline move to make sure Noel is a part of that, the only question now is how much it costs them.

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

6 Comments

Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.

Sacramento Kings waive guard Arron Afflalo

1 Comment

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings have waived guard Arron Afflalo one year after signing him as a free agent.

The Kings cut ties with Afflalo on Friday before his entire $12.5 million contract for 2017-18 would become guaranteed. Afflalo will get $1.5 million instead.

Afflalo averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds in 61 games this past season for Sacramento. He has averaged 11.3 points per game in his 10-year career.