Damian Lillard’s 36 spoil LaMarcus Aldridge’s return as Blazers top Spurs

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 36 points and the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the San Antonio Spurs 110-106 on Wednesday night, spoiling LaMarcus Aldridge‘s return from a health scare.

C.J. McCollum added 26 points for the Trail Blazers, who were coming off a 23-point loss in New Orleans on Tuesday.

Aldridge had 19 points and seven rebounds after missing two games with a minor heart arrhythmia. He was cleared Wednesday morning and does not have any playing restrictions.

Kawhi Leonard had 34 points to lead San Antonio (52-15), which had won 11 of 12 entering the game but fell one game behind Golden State for the league’s best record.

Trailing 104-97 with 1:45 remaining, San Antonio closed within two points as Aldridge scored five consecutive points on a layup and a powerful dunk that led to a three-point play. After Leonard missed a short runner, McCollum made a pair of free throws to end the Spurs’ streak and give Portland a 106-102 lead.

Patty Mills then hit a 3-pointer from the right corner off a feed from Leonard, but Lillard made four straight free throws to seal the victory for the Trail Blazers.

Aldridge finished 9 for 24 from the field and played 32 minutes. He made his first two attempts, a 17-foot jumper and a 21-footer, drawing loud cheers from the sold-out crowd.

San Antonio raced to a 14-7 lead, but Portland went on an 11-2 run to quiet the crowd and keep the game within seven points throughout.

Leonard finished 12 for 21 from the field, including consecutive dunks, in scoring 30-plus points for the 25th time this season. The 6-foot-7 forward first sprinted in from the free-throw line for a one-handed stuff against Noah Vonleh and then spun under the basket for a dunk against the 7-foot Jusuf Nurkic.

Portland closed the third quarter on a 9-3 run in taking an 82-80 lead to set up their fourth-quarter heroics.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Lillard has scored 30 points in six of 11 games since returning from the All-Star break. … Portland was without F Ed Davis (left shoulder), C Festus Ezeli (left knee) and F Evan Turner (right hand). … Nurkic had 16 points after scoring just two against New Orleans on Tuesday. … The Blazers improved to 7-4 when Lillard, McCollum, Vonleh and Nurkic and Maurice Harkless start. … Portland is 80-83 against San Antonio overall after snapping a five-game skid against the Spurs.

Spurs: Aldridge has scored 1,000 points for a 10th straight season, joining LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as the only active players with that streak. … G Tony Parker missed his fourth straight game with back stiffness. The 34-year-old has missed 16 games this season after sitting out 10 games last year. … Leonard has scored in double figures in 94 straight games dating to Jan. 14, 2016.

 

Report: Spurs re-signing Pau Gasol to three-year contract

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Even after Pau Gasol opted out, there it nearly certain he’d stay with the Spurs.

Now, a deal is done.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m a little surprised San Antonio guaranteed Gasol’s salary next season. By rule, it must be within 5% of what he’ll earn this year.

The Spurs could have major flexibility to chase free agents next summer, making keeping the books clean a priority. Their only constraints with Gasol this year are paying him up to 120% of his prior salary (which comes out to $18.6 million), the hard cap ($125,266,000) and whatever expense ownership would endure. So, if Gasol were willing to play ball, San Antonio could have paid him a sizable salary this year and far less – the room exception or even the minimum – next year.

Instead, Gasol’s compensation will be more balanced between the seasons. We’ll see how much he’ll earn.

Gasol remains an effective scorer, in part because he increased his range beyond the 3-point arc. He rebounds well in his area, and his length and basketball intelligence make him a passable defender given his other skills. His immobility can be a major defensive liability in certain matchups, though.

He’s also 37, an age where players can drop off quickly – another reason a one-year deal would’ve been preferable. At least the partial guarantee in the third year will help San Antonio.

Report: Kyrie Irving asked Cavaliers to trade him, blindsiding LeBron James

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Kyrie Irving said the Cavaliers were in a “peculiar place.”

We didn’t realize quite how peculiar.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Kyrie Irving is ready to end his run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, as league sources told ESPN that the guard has asked the team to trade him.

The request came last week and was made to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. Irving has expressed that he wants to go play in a situation where he can be a more focal point and no longer wants to play alongside LeBron James, sources said.

James was informed of Irving’s request and was blindsided and disappointed, sources said.

Irving has admitted playing with LeBron has sometimes been rocky. It paid off with a championship in 2016, and I’m sure Irving found the tradeoff worthwhile then.

But the Warriors are so dominant with Kevin Durant. Even a team with LeBron, Irving and Kevin Love is a major underdog. If Irving would prefer to lead a team, it’s much easier to reject a supporting role when it’s so unlikely to culminate in a championship. (It’s also easier with a title already under his belt.)

This shouldn’t quiet the alarms of LeBron leaving next summer. Just because Irving doesn’t want to play with him doesn’t mean LeBron wants to play without Irving. This could push LeBron further out the door.

I also wouldn’t read too much into this signaling LeBron’s intent to stay in Cleveland. Though it’s possible Irving has a read on LeBron’s plan, a trade is the only sure-fire way to escape LeBron – and do it without playing another year with him.

I wouldn’t  tell Irving what would make him happiest. Cleveland is not a premier market, and playing in LeBron’s shadow isn’t always ideal for another star.

But I’m leery of Irving’s ability to lead a successful team. The Cavs stunk before LeBron returned and have stunk when he sits and Irving plays. Irving’s shortcomings – defense, distributing – become more pronounced as his team’s best player.

Maybe Irving is up for the challenge. He clearly wants it.

Then again, Cleveland doesn’t have to grant him the ability to try. He’s locked up for two more years. He can request, but not force, a trade.

This is a difficult time for the Cavaliers, who need visionary leadership. Their general manager has his hands full.

Oh, right.

NBA: Cleveland won’t get 2020 or 2021 All-Star game unless arena renovation begins by Sept. 15

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Cavaliers CEO Len Komoroski said Cleveland had been promised an NBA All-Star game if it upgraded its basketball arena.

The city committed taxpayer money to arena upgrades.

So, the Cavaliers are hosting an All-Star game?

Not so fast.

A group has opposed the city spending taxpayer money on arena so the billionaire who profits off the arena doesn’t have to pay for upgrades himself. That money could better serve a wider section of Clevelanders, and the group has tied up the plan in court.

Now, NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum wrote in a letter that Cleveland might not get an All-Star game.

Kevin Cleps of Crain’s Cleveland Business:

The letter was included in a 276-page summary that was filed with the Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday, July 20.

In the letter to Gilbert, Tatum confirms that the NBA has received the sports commission’s bid packet to host the All-Star Game in Cleveland, and says the league will be awarding the 2020 and ’21 events in the near future.

But, he adds, the league “will not be able to consider Cleveland as the host city for NBA All-Star 2020 or 2021 unless construction of The Q’s ‘Transformation’ project begins on or before September 15, 2017.”

Tatum says that the NBA has “already delayed the awarding” of those showcase events to “accommodate Cleveland, and unfortunately we cannot ask the other NBA cities that have held these dates open to wait any longer.”

The NBA is dangling a carrot in front of Cleveland, urging the local government to spend taxpayer money on the billion-dollar business’ arena. It might work. It often does. But Cleveland will be fine without an All-Star game, the economic effects of which are often exaggerated.

As Sept. 15 nears, it appears increasingly likely other cities will get the next couple All-Star games to be assigned. Still, there’s a chance the Cavaliers prevail in court in time.

J.J. Redick: Clippers lost joy

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J.J. Redick and the Clippers seemed done with each other before free agency even began.

Redick – who signed a one-year, $23 million contract with the 76ers – gave Uninterrupted a behind-the-scenes look into his free agency. In the above video, he revealed plenty about his situation in L.A.:

It’s s—y to say this, but I think I’ve had a loss of joy. I look at our team and how we play, and it’s just there’s no joy in it. That bothers me.

On June 29th at about 10 p.m., I got a call from Lawrence Frank from the Clippers. I jokingly call it my breakup call. He just told me they weren’t going to offer me a contract. I wasn’t going to be back.

There’s plenty of blame to go around.

Blame Chris Paul for not relenting enough in his grating perfectionism and being petty. Blame Blake Griffin for being aloof about weight of his actions. Blame Paul and Griffin for waiting too long to get serious about bonding. Blame Doc Rivers for bringing in Austin Rivers and inviting accusations of nepotism. Blame Doc Rivers for too long setting a tone of whining.

Blame a tough Western Conference and injury for keeping a team with championship aspirations from never advancing past the second round. Blame familiarity, which bred contempt over several years with the same core.

Whomever or whatever you blame, the outcome seems tough to dispute: The Clippers looked joyless by the end of their run. Redick saying it only confirms the perception.

I’m curious whether he’ll find more joy in Philadelphia. A new situation will be refreshing, and the 76ers – young and talented – are hungry. Expectations are low after years of tanking, so even modest gains will be celebrated. But they’re also worse than the Clippers were, and losing more often will be an adjustment.

To get a better idea where Redick is coming from as he begins in Philadelphia, I recommend watching the video in full. It’s quite illuminating.