LaMarcus Aldridge

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.

Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan becomes bona fide star just in time for Toronto All-Star Game

Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan (10) celebrates scoring during his team's 101-81 win over Miami Heat during an NBA basketball game in Toronto on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – DeMar DeRozan admits he’s a terrible planner.

“Don’t ask me, are we going to go to dinner next week and what time?” the Raptors wing said. “Because I don’t know. You’ve got to ask me an hour before. … A hour before I’m hungry, I decide.”

That blind spot makes it easier for DeRozan to focus on the task at hand, especially with so much – Sunday’s All-Star game in Toronto, an opportunity for playoff redemption and a max contract in free agency – ahead of him.

DeRozan, already an All-Star and two-time 20-point-per-game scorer, is having his best season by a decent margin. His Raptors are 35-17 and looking increasingly capable of challenging the Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference title many already handed Cleveland.

And it’s because DeRozan never got too comfortable with what he already accomplished nor too caught up in what he could accomplish. Calling himself the “most mellowest person,” DeRozan just tries to stay in the moment.

Toronto coach Dwane Casey credited DeRozan for working on one aspect of his game each offseason, including “just handling the ball in the post and not throwing it in the fourth row” when they first worked together. But saying DeRozan polished only one skill since last year would be selling him far too short.

DeRozan has transformed his offensive game, becoming more effective than ever.

Start with his ability to get to the basket. That had long been a strength, but DeRozan has taken it to another level this year. He ranks seconds in the NBA in drives per game (11.6):

image

And third in free-throw attempts per game(8.3):

image

How does someone so mellow find the aggression to play a style that generates so much contact?

“I grew up different from a lot of people,” said DeRozan, a Compton native. “I grew up in an aggressive area. I had an aggressive lifetime for a long time. I just felt like, I’ve seen a lot of stuff and did a lot of stuff at a young age that make you mellow now, but once you grow up in that aggressive nature, it’s just always going to stick with you.”

DeRozan said he found a difference balance in his life at USC, where he spent only one year, as he hilariously told teammate Kyle Lowry.

DeRozan’s one year in college helped make him the No. 9 pick in the 2009 NBA draft, but he entered the league with one glaring deficiency: outside shooting. DeRozan made just six three pointers at USC – and even fewer, four and five, his first two NBA seasons.

Still not quite to league average, DeRozan has at least become a credible threat beyond the arc this season, shooting a career-high 33.7%:

image

These shots at the rim and from beyond the arc are coming at the expense of long 2s. After peaking at 36.5% three years ago and remaining a far-too-high 33.8% last year, DeRozan is taking just 24.4% of his shots between 16 feet and the 3-point arc:

image

For someone who declared just last year, “I don’t care about analytics at all. I could give a hell about them,” his game has sure become more analytically friendly.

The previous two years, DeRozan had the second-lowest true shooting percentage among 20-point scorers – ahead of only Kobe Bryant last season and LaMarcus Aldridge the season prior. Now, DeRozan’s true shooting percentage (54.8) is above league average for the first time since his rookie year, which – not coincidentally – was the only time his usage percentage fell below league average.

There’s a tradeoff between volume and efficiency, and DeRozan was on the wrong end of it. He was increasing his scoring by taking more bad shots.

His improved efficiency hasn’t come with shifting the shooting burden to less-capable teammates, either. DeRozan’s usage percentage (29.7) is a career high and ranks above Carmelo Anthony‘s, Kevin Durant‘s and John Wall‘s.

The turnaround is all the more stunning considering how limited DeRozan looked as an inefficient gunner.

A whopping 74.5% of his long 2s were assisted in 2010-11. That number fell 47.5% last season, which look more ridiculous if not for the great height from which it fell. For perspective, Isaiah Thomas – another player on both the drives and free-throw attempts leaderboard – has just 34.2% of his long 2s assisted.

image

Essentially, DeRozan was taking too many bad shots – and needed help getting them.

This year, DeRozan looks much more in control with the ball in his hands. Only 26.8% of his long 2s are assisted, not that he’s taking that many shots from that range, anyway.

He’s also using his greater control to dish a career-high 4.7 assists per game. Continuing the trend, it’s a substantive improvement. DeRozan isn’t throwing foolish passes in the hopes of upping his assist numbers. His turnovers remain characteristically low, and his assist-to-turnover ratio is a career best.

DeRozan has looked the part of a star the previous couple years. This season, he has produced like a star, too.

Lowry has watched the process unfold.

“It’s just being comfortable in your own skin,” Lowry said. “He doesn’t worry about what anybody says. He’s going to be comfortable in his own skin at all times.”

Lowry and DeRozan have developed a fun bond in their four seasons together, and it’s special they’ll represent the Raptors together in the Toronto All-Star game.

DeRozan was an All-Star in 2013, when the Raptors became good enough to warrant an All-Star but reserve-voting coaches still seemed bitter at Lowry, a superior player who’d clashed with his coaches when younger. Lowry got his first All-Star appearance last year, fans voting him a starter.

This year, both deserve to be there.

The next step is turning their individual success into team success. Despite holding home-court advantage the last two years, the Raptors were bounced in the first round – by the Nets in 2014 and Wizards in 2015. Toronto hasn’t won a playoff series since 2001, which was also the last time it produced two All-Stars (Vince Carter and Antonio Davis).

With DeRozan playing like a true star, this could be the year the Raptors break the drought.

Individual riches for DeRozan should follow.

He reportedly and logically plans to opt out of a contract that would pay him $10,050,000 next season. The upside? A max deal projected to be worth more than $145 million over five years if he re-signs or $110 million over four years elsewhere.

DeRozan always probably could have pulled at least one max offer in what will be a player-friendly market next summer. But this improvement makes it far more likely he’ll have his pick of max options, and not just from teams as desperate as the Lakers.

Despite not looking ahead often, DeRozan says he has one plan for handling free agency: Calling Lowry.

“I’m putting it on Kyle,” DeRozan said. “I don’t know. I’m going to put in on Kyle when that day comes. So, whatever he says, that’s where I’m going to go.”

So, that means DeRozan will return to the Raptors?

“At the end of the day, I’m his friend first,” said Lowry, who spurned heavy outside interest to re-sign in 2014. “He’s going to make a decision on what’s comfortable for him, and I’m going to support everything he does – just like he did for me.”

That’s very nice, but doesn’t Lowry at least hope that process leads DeRozan back to Toronto?

“At the end of the day, I’m going to support my friend – no matter what it is,” Lowry said.

There was long reason to doubt the relative emptiness of DeRozan’s numbers. But what’s clear: The people around him believe in him.

“He hasn’t reached the ceiling of his game yet,” Casey said, “and that’s the great thing about him, because he is a worker.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo sprints from behind to reject John Wall dunk (video)

Leave a comment

There’s a lot to like about Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Maybe his most impressive ability? How quickly he covers ground.

Report: Brooklyn Nets GM search down to finalists

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25:  The Brooklyn Nets logo adorns center court prior to the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Barclays Center on November 25, 2012 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 Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Brooklyn Nets remain without a general manager. With the trade deadline less than a week away. Meaning simply, when you hear rumors the next week of a blockbuster Nets trade dismiss them, they aren’t going to be doing that because they don’t have anyone in the big chair to make that call.

Someone may be in the big chair before the deadline, however. (Not soon enough to make a significant deadline deal, however.) The Nets are down to a few finalists for the job, reports Chris Broussard at ESPN.

The frontrunners are believed to be two-time executive of the year Bryan Colangelo, Denver Nuggets assistant GM Arturas Karnisovas and San Antonio Spurs assistant GM Sean Marks….

Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov told ESPN.com on Wednesday that his search committee’s first round of interviews is over, and they were in the process of compiling a short list of candidates.

Any of those men can do a good job — if they are given the space by Prokhorov and his people to make moves and rebuild the organization without meddling or pressure to do things quickly. Prokhorov says he wants a quick turnaround for his 14-40 team, but it was his pressure on former GM Billy King to put together an immediate title contender with no regard for the long term that put the Nets in the hole they are in now.

Let’s hope he and his people have learned their lessons and they let the basketball people make the basketball decisions.

Worst dunks in All-Star Dunk Contest history? We got that video.

at Verizon Center on February 5, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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.
Getty Images
1 Comment

The All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest has brought some memorable moments — Dr. J and Michael Jordan gliding through the air, Dwight Howard in a Superman cape, Nate Robinson showing off serious hops, through last season and Zach LaVine re-energizing the event with his athletic throw downs.

But there have been some duds, too — and from some elite dunkers. Here is a highlight mix of the worst, which is almost as much fun as the best. Enjoy, then tune in for hopefully more good than bad from Toronto Saturday night on TNT when LaVine and the dunk contest return.