Damian Lillard first in line as Team USA injury replacement

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Team USA began building its World Cup roster with a player pool full of All-NBA talent, but steadily, the squad lost much of that star power.

Blake Griffin withdrew. So did Kevin Love. Paul George got hurt. Kevin Durant pulled out, too.

And Damian Lillard got cut.

Unlike with Griffin, Love, George and Durant, Team USA made the call to drop Lillard. For whatever reason, Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski didn’t deem Lillard worthy.

But the door isn’t completely shut on the Trail Blazers guard who made the All-NBA third team last season.

Chris Haynes of CSN Northwest:

Prior to being left off of the final 12-man roster last week, the Portland Trail Blazers’ All-Star point guard was informed that there could be a possibility he’d be added to the roster if one of their players, in particular Derrick Rose who has been dealing with knee soreness, were unable or opted not to continue the journey, a league source told CSNNW.com.

Lillard expressed to Jerry Colangelo, director of USA Basketball, his desire to be a part of Team USA in Spain and said he would rejoin the team if his services are indeed needed, the source said.

“It’s something we did discuss with Damian,” Colangelo confirmed to CSNNW.com via telephone. “We’ll see what happens.”

There isn’t much time left to add Lillard. Teams must submit final rosters tomorrow, and Rose insists he’s healthy. What will change between now and tomorrow?

Because the Americans – with Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Mason Plumlee and Andre Drummond – went deeper at center than most expected, Lillard could even fill-in if a big man gets hurt. The roster balance would just tilt more toward the perimeter. Cousins dealt with an injury earlier in the summer, but he says he’s fine, and Krzyzewski seems to agree. Again, it’s difficult to see a last-minute change here either.

The odds seem extremely stacked against Lillard going to Spain, but I guess it’s nice for him to know he was No. 13. That’s some level of appreciation, and it might make him more willing to try out for the 2016 Olympic team rather than become disgruntled with the process.

Russell Westbrook on Rockets laughing at Andre Roberson missing free throws: ‘Probably the guys that don’t play’

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The Rockets bench made a big production when an intentionally fouled Andre Roberson kept missing free throws in the Thunder’s Game 4 loss to the Rockets yesterday.

Russell Westbrook stuck up for his teammate.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Westbrook:

I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it at all. Probably the guys that don’t play, probably over there the ones laughing, if I had to guess.

Good guess. It appears Montrezl Harrell and Bobby Brown – whose only playing time this series came late in Houston’s blowout Game 1 win – led the jeers.

But the most important thing for the Thunder is Roberson making his free throws. They need him on the court to defend James Harden, which exposes him to hacking. If Westbrook deflecting attention onto the Rockets’ benchwarmers helps Roberson at the line, great. But if not, the Rockets will keep having reasons to laugh.

Magic Johnson winks at bringing Paul George to Lakers

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Paul George-to-the-Lakers rumors have swirled for a while.

New Lakers president Magic Johnson will only fuel them.

Asked how he’d interact with the Pacers star to avoid tampering if they ran into each other, Johnson said on Jimmy Kimmel Live:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

In explaining how he’d avoid tampering, Johnson probably tampered. Accidental tampering appears to be his specialty.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement says team employees can’t permissibly “induce, persuade, or attempt to entice, induce or persuade, any Player who is under contract to, or whose exclusive negotiating rights are held by, any other Member of the Association to enter into negotiations for or relating to his services or negotiate or contract for such services.” But the league arbitrarily enforces tampering, so who knows whether he’ll be punished?

Johnson almost certainly could have gotten away with the hypothetical conversation he laid out. But going on television and describing it — even as fantasy, even not directly to George — could constitute tampering in itself,

If Johnson helps attract George to Los Angeles, it’d well be worth it. At least he’s trying something.

Report: Austin Rivers returning for Clippers-Jazz Game 5

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There have been bigger injuries in the Clippers-Jazz first-round series: Blake Griffin‘s toe, Rudy Gobert‘s knee and Gordon Hayward‘s stomach.

But Clippers guard Austin Rivers has yet to play due to a strained hamstring.

It sounds as if that will change tomorrow.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This is neither as big a deal as the Clippers will make it out to be nor as meaningless as Rivers’ many detractors will claim.

The 6-foot-4 Rivers will provide an important defensive upgrade on the perimeter. The Clippers haven’t successfully hidden Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton, allowing Utah too many quality looks. Here how the Jazz have shot when defended by each, per NBA.com:

  • Crawford: 18-of-36 (50%), including 7-of-17 on 3-pointers (41%)
  • Felton: 13-of-24 (54%), including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers (63%)

Rivers needn’t be great to help behind Chris Paul and J.J. Redick.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.