Damian Lillard

Damian Lillard, from stopped to surging, takes Portland back toward top


Damian Lillard, prior to an inbound with 0.9 seconds left and the Trail Blazers down two points in a closeout playoff game, stood almost cryptically still.

The Trail Blazers weren’t supposed to be here. They went 33-49 last season, and though they had a solid young core, few thought they could take a major step in only a year. We predicted they’d go .500 and miss the playoffs. An ESPN panel had them 10th in the Western Conference with 39 wins. Yahoo Sports also gave them 39 wins, and Sports Illustrated pegged them 11th in the conference.

Without warning, Lillard took off like a bat out of hell.

The Trail Blazers point guard raced by defenders, received the inbound pass and made a jaw-dropping, buzzer-beating, series-ending, city-inspiring, legacy-defining 3-pointer to give Portland its first playoff win 14 years.

The final score Friday was Trail Blazers 99, Rockets 98 – and the tension of a tight game that was never separated by more than four points for the excruciating final 17 minutes only fueled the celebration afterward.

Lillard ran around a suddenly crowded court and popped his jersey – a gesture The New York Times once said would never reach the NBA because it put too emphasis on the team over the individual. Then, the second-year point guard grabbed the microphone and shouted “Rip Citaaaaayyyyy!!!”

Party on, Portland.

The Trail Blazers and their fans have been through so much – consecutive sweeps by the Lakers, taking the Mavericks to Game 7 before losing, the Jail Blazers, bottoming out at 21-61, drafting Greg Oden, more early playoff exits, losing Brandon Roy, believing they could lose LaMarcus Aldridge – and Lillard’s shot released all their frustration and turned it into jubilation.

Lillard didn’t singlehandedly save the franchise, but he’s breathed life into it like nobody since Roy. First Lillard won Rookie of the Year, and now this. Friday, he finished with 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 6-of-10 on 3-pointers. He’s quickly earned a place in any discussion about the NBA’s most-clutch players.

Aldridge (30 points and 13 rebounds) was nearly as good, but Houston’s two stars nearly outdid Portland’s and sent this series to a Game 7.

James Harden (34 points on 15 shots) lifted the Rockets late, and Dwight Howard (26 points and 11 rebounds) carried them late. Howard scored 13 straight Houston points, accounting for all the team’s scoring in the final 8:50, until Chandler Parsons made a putback that put the Rockets up two with 0.9 seconds remaining.

Before the final inbound, Parsons, perhaps expecting to switch back on a screen, switched with Patrick Beverley (Houston’s top perimeter defender) onto Lillard. Then, Lillard’s sudden burst toward an inbounding Batum created an easy pass and open, though long, shot.

The basket that sent Portland into delirium also began an offseason of scrutiny for the Rockets.

They signed Howard last summer, ratcheting up expectations to championship level. They have two legitimate stars and arguably the NBA’s best role players. Nothing seemed out of reach.

But a reasonable analysis suggests they needed a year for their new players to jell and another offseason to re-stock the roster after trimming the requisite salary to sign Howard. After all, not even LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh won a title their first season with the Heat.

Don’t count on reasonable, though. Howard is the NBA’s easiest scapegoat, and people will line up to criticize him.

Patience is not a virtue in this league. Not in Houston and not in Portland.

No team had gone longer since its last playoff-series win that the Trail Blazers, and the wait was excruciating. And also worth it.

It was only a matter of time until Lillard and his Trail Blazers escaped their malaise, took off and brought Portland to its feet once again.

Hawks retire Dikembe Mutombo’s No. 55

Dikembe Mutombo
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ATLANTA (AP) The Atlanta Hawks retired Dikembe Mutombo’s No. 55 jersey Tuesday night to honor the longtime shot blocker’s Hall of Fame enshrinement.

Mutombo signed as a free agent in 1996 to make Atlanta the second stop on an 18-year career he spent with five other teams.

“I don’t think I ever thought my jersey would be retired,” Mutombo told reporters after his jersey was hung from the arena rafters in a halftime ceremony. “My name will stay forever.”

The 7-foot-2 Mutombo was a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, an eight-time All-Star, and he ranks second on the league’s career blocked shots list and 20th in rebounds.

Through his foundation, Mutombo, 49, built a hospital that has served 140,000 in his native Congo. He twice won the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award and now works for the league as a global ambassador.

Mutombo was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame two months ago.

Warriors make NBA history as first team to start season 16-0

Stephen Curry
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) The defending champion Golden State Warriors set the record for best start in NBA history at 16-0, as Stephen Curry had 24 points and nine assists in a 111-77 rout of the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

With their coach sidelined, the Warriors surpassed the 15-0 starts by the Washington Capitols of 1948-49 and 1993-94 Houston Rockets.

Confetti streamed down when the final buzzer sounded and Golden State’s players barely celebrated.

Kobe Bryant shot 1 of 14 for just four points, matching the worst-shooting performance of his career in a game where he had at least one basket. The Lakers dropped to 2-12 with the second-worst record in the NBA.

Draymond Green added 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists as the Warriors extended their franchise-record home winning streak to 27 games with coach Steve Kerr watching from behind the scenes while recovering from complications following two back surgeries.

Interim Luke Walton is leading the way, and it might have been a little sweeter to set the record against the Lakers franchise he helped win two titles.

Golden State became the sixth team in NBA history to win 20 consecutive regular-season games, a streak dating to last season. The Suns have the next shot at stopping this incredible start when the Warriors visit Phoenix on Friday night.

Curry only had to play 30 minutes, taking a seat for good with 6.5 seconds remaining in the third to huge cheers from a sellout crowd of 19,596 that was really closer to 20,000 with all the standing-room only tickets sold.

Bryant went 1 for 7 from 3-point range in 25 minutes as Los Angeles lost its fourth in a row and eighth in nine.

He also finished 1 for 14 last season against San Antonio, according to STATS.

Klay Thompson had 11 points but missed his first seven shots and, as has been the case in a handful of these wins, the Warriors took a few minutes to get rolling – and then they were off and running.

Golden State missed five of its first six shots before Curry’s 3-pointer from the left wing at 8:28. The Warriors knocked down five of their first 12 from long range to build a 27-9 lead with 1:41 left in the opening period.


Former Warriors shooting guard Jason Richardson couldn’t believe the fortunate timing: Golden State honored him Tuesday and he got to be at Oracle Arena to see his old team make history. He received a framed jersey from Adonal Foyle in a presentation after the first quarter.

“Even though I didn’t retire a Warrior, you guys make me feel like a Warrior for life,” he told the crowd.

Richardson, part of the 2007 “We Believe” team that reached the second round of the playoffs after ending a 12-year drought, has been a big supporter of Green, who took a similar path from Saginaw, Michigan, to Michigan State to Golden State. Green wears Richardson’s No. 23.

“I think Draymond shocked everybody besides himself,” said Richardson, Golden State’s first-round pick taken fifth overall in the 2001 draft.


Los Angeles coach Byron Scott was part of his share of special teams with the Lakers, too. He recalls when they were winning nearly every night.

“I think once it’s all over, you look back and realize how much fun it was,” Scott said. “One thing Riles (Pat Riley) wouldn’t let us do is live on what we did the last night.”


Lakers: The Lakers were outscored 35-17 in the third and have lost eight of 11 at Oracle. … Chasing a loose ball in the first, Bryant slid right into the courtside area by owner Joe Lacob, who gave him a safe sign. … Nick Young borrowed ex-Warriors guard Gilbert Arenas’ black and gold shoes.

Warriors: Golden State has won six straight at home against the Lakers for its longest streak since seven in a row from 1993-95. … The Warriors have scored 100 or more points in 43 consecutive home games, longest since the Nuggets did so in 47 straight from Feb. 1, 1990-Feb. 23, 1991. … Walton confirmed before the game his car was stolen last week in Oakland and he credited authorities apprehending and charging a suspect. “That’s part of life,” he said. “They did a good job.”


Lakers: At Portland on Saturday.

Warriors: At Phoenix on Friday.

Kristaps Porzingis grew up a Kobe fan. Still is one.


When you hear player comparisons for Knicks rookie, the most common is Dirk Nowitzki — a European big with ridiculous shooting range and potential to embarrass anyone.

So did he grow up idolizing Dirk? Not so much.

Rather, like many of his generation, he grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant, he told Mike Francesa of WFAN.

“My favorite player growing up was Kobe. The Lakers were my team and I still love him.”

There is an entire generation of NBA players — and just fans — who would say the same thing.

In the interview, Porzingis laments his missed shots and turnovers, he thinks he can be a lot better. That is exactly what you want out of a rookie. It’s a huge adjustment playing at the NBA level, the speed of the game and IQ is a leap from Europe (or college). Recognizing the challenge is part of it.

There’s a lot to like in Porzingis. He could be special (we don’t know yet, we see only the potential). But idolizing Kobe — and if you understand the work he put in, the passion for the game — can be a good start.

(Hat tip NBA reddit)

Warriors’ interim coach Luke Walton’s car stolen

Luke Walton

If you’re looking for a “when are things going to go wrong for the Warriors” moment, we have one for you. But it may not be what you had hoped for.

Warriors’ interim head coach Luke Walton — the guy on the sidelines for the 15 (soon to be 16) game winning streak — had his car stolen during a crime spree, reports NBCBayArea.com.

One of the cars stolen during an Oakland Hills crime spree belongs to Golden State Warriors coach Luke Walton, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said late Monday.

Walton’s Mercedes Benz was stolen Tuesday by two suspects, who police believe are also responsible for a violent attack on a 75-year-old woman outside her home on Thursday. The suspects also took the woman’s car during the attack, according to police.

Yikes. That’s serious.

I’m sure Steve Kerr has like 14 cars, he can loan one to Walton.