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Dominant Damian Lillard leads Portland on late-season surge

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Damian Lillard says the Portland Trail Blazers reach out to him before he reaches team milestones, just to give him a heads up.

The only problem? Lillard doesn’t read his emails.

Lillard joked about it after his latest achievement: He surpassed Clifford Robinson on the Blazers’ all-time scoring list, moving into fourth, in Portland’s victory over the Knicks on Tuesday. Lillard, in his sixth NBA season, has 10,433 points.

“The team, I think they send me emails when something’s coming up, but I never check my email,” he said. “I never know unless I happen to see it on Twitter or until after I do it and somebody mentions it.”

Robinson was sure to get Lillard’s attention, sending his sentiments over Twitter.

“Congrats (at)Dame-Lillard! Trust, I know what it takes to put yourself in that position. Keep putting that work in young fella!” Robinson tweeted.

Lillard has certainly been putting in the work over the Blazers’ current winning streak, which has stretched to a season-best eight games. Portland hasn’t won as many consecutive games since 2014 when the team won nine.

The streak has pushed Portland into third place in the Western Conference, a half-game up on New Orleans in a cluster of teams scrambling for playoff position.

Over the course of the streak, which started when the Blazers beat Golden State 123-117 in Portland just before the All-Star break, Lillard has averaged 33.1 points per game.

Lillard had 44 points in that first game against the Warriors, who return to the Moda Center on Friday for a rematch.

“We’ve been on a good run, just playing good basketball on both ends of the floor. Our team has been on a streak, we’ve been really connected,” Lillard said. “It was even before the Golden State game when we got back from that trip and we lost one in Detroit. We had a good stretch and then we lost at home to Utah but then right after that we knocked off Golden State and picked it up.”

Lillard had 37 points in the 111-87 victory Tuesday over the Knicks, including eight 3-pointers.

At that game, and at a few more recently at the Moda Center, fans have taken to chanting “MVP!” when Lillard gets to the free-throw line.

Although Houston’s James Harden is clearly the front-runner for the award, New York coach Jeff Hornacek said Lillard is making a case for himself.

“The guy is playing fantastic. He might be one of those guys you’ve got to start talking about that MVP, too, with the way he’s playing,” Hornacek said.

Lillard has been averaging 26.8 points, 6.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game this season. He made the All-Star team for the third time, scoring 21 points in the annual showcase.

The Lillard-led late-season surge has become something of a trademark for the Blazers. In 2015-16, Portland was 27-27 at the All-Star break but finished the regular season 44-38 and in fifth place in the West. They got past the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the Warriors in the conference semifinals.

Last season, Portland lost three straight games to go into the break at 23-33. Shortly thereafter, an overtime loss at Detroit put the Blazers 11 games under .500.

But the Blazers went 13-3 in March, best in the NBA. Lillard was named the conference’s Player of the Month, averaging 29.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists. Portland made the playoffs for the fourth straight season, but fell in the opening round to the Warriors.

After the Warriors on Friday, the Blazers have 16 games left in this season.

Lillard, known for pointing at his wrist and signaling “Lillard Time” when he hits tough shots late in games, said he feels he’s playing the best stretch of his career. And it’s coming at a good time for the Blazers.

“Damian Lillard is special,” Portland head coach Terry Stotts said. “If it’s not obvious, I’ll say it.”


Stephen Curry out at least three weeks with Grade 2 MCL sprain


The Warriors will have to go the rest of the season and probably the start the playoffs without the guy their offense is built around.

Stephen Curry will be out at least three weeks after suffering a Grade 2 MCL sprain Friday night when JaVale McGee accidentally fell into his knee, the team announced Saturday. It’s about as good of news as could have been hoped for, considering the injury and the timing, that said the team will “re-evaluate” Curry in three weeks, and Grade 2 MCL’s often take a month or more to fully heal.

The playoffs begin in exactly three weeks. Curry could be back around the start of those games or, more likely, will miss part of the postseason depending upon how his recovery goes. The Warriors are essentially locked in as the two seed right now, but in a jumbled West it’s unclear who they will play in the first round and what matchup challenges that presents. The Warriors should be much healthier by then, they will get Draymond Green back from his hip injury on Sunday vs. the Jazz. Kevin Durant is expected later next week. Klay Thompson will be a little after that, but before the playoffs.

Curry, however, is the fuel that turns the Warriors offense into something elite. Curry is averaging 26.3 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 42.4 percent from three this season. The Warriors offense is 14 points per 100 possessions better this season when Curry is on the court.

Kyrie Irving out 3-6 weeks following surgery on his knee

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Kyrie Irving could be back right around the start of the playoffs, somewhere during the first round, or maybe not until the beginning of the second (if the Celtics are still playing).

Irving had his knee surgery Saturday and the timeline for his return is 3-6 weeks, the Celtics announced Saturday. This is the official press release.

Celtics guard Kyrie Irving today underwent a minimally-invasive procedure to remove a tension wire in his left knee. The wire was originally placed as part of the surgical repair of a fractured patella sustained during the 2015 NBA Finals. While removal of the wire should relieve irritation it was causing in Irving’s patellar tendon, the fractured patella has fully healed and Irving’s knee has been found to be completely structurally sound. Irving is expected to return to basketball activities in 3-6 weeks.

When Irving has been off the court this season, the Celtics have been 7.7 points worse per 100 possessions, with an offensive rating of 101, which is right at the bottom of the league. In the last five games, when Irving has been sidelined, the Celtics have gone 3-2 with an offensive rating of 100.4.

The Celtics are all but formally locked in as the two seed in the East.

With no Gordon Hayward or Daniel Theis for these playoffs, no Marcus Smart to start, and now questions about Irving’s availability, the question is how hard should Boston push to get Irving back for this postseason? Irving will push, it’s his nature, but the Celtics need to think bigger picture. Boston is poised to be a force in the East and maybe the team to beat next season, that should not be risked to make a splash this season. How motivated are the Celtics to push Irving for this season’s playoffs with a roster already decimated by injuries?

Doctor working with Kristaps Porzingis: “He’ll be better than ever”

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A disclaimer up front: I’m instantly suspicious of very optimistic people with grandiose claims. It feels like they are selling something, usually a form of snake oil.

Enter Dr. Carlon Colker, who is working with Knicks big man and franchise cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis on his recovery from a torn ACL last season. Porzingis is targeted for a return in the middle of next season (like when the calendar flips to 2019).

Colker has a much more aggressive and optimistic outlook for Porzingis, as he told the New York Post.

“Despite the talk, ‘The sky is falling, he’ll never be the same,’ that’s a bunch of horse s–t,’’ Colker told The Post. “He’ll be better than ever. He’s going to blow people away. If you’re around people who know what they’re doing, it’s not the end of the world. It’s the end of the world if you have the wrong people around you.”

With a doctorate specializing in sports performance, Colker’s job is strengthening Porzingis’ frame — everything but his damaged left knee….

“We have to deal with the ACL aspect in addition to the bigger picture. Rehabbing an ACL is straightforward. The important thing is be mindful of we’re rehabbing an ACL, but start establishing a power base, getting our balance, our flexibility back, working in conjunction with what the guys are doing on the ACL front. We’re bulking him up and giving him more muscle mass and strength, working on his upper body, doing a lot of hamstring work.”

Colker is part of an aggressive faction regarding ACL timetables. While the Knicks likely won’t let Porzingis play until around Christmas (the 10-month mark) at the earliest, Colker says he’ll have him ready for opening night.

Did anyone actually say the sky was falling?

Much of this makes a lot of sense — strengthening Porzingis’ base matters (it’s what has helped turn Rudy Gobert into a defensive force, the Jazz staff focused on his base, core, and hips). Functional training that strengthens muscles around the ACL matters. And with time, Porzingis can be back to what he was before and better.

The faster timeline… I’m not sold.

There’s a lot of data here. We’ve seen the recovery curve for a lot of NBA players with torn ACLs — and all of them are working with elite trainers, both with teams and personal ones. It takes 10 months or so to get back on the court, and usually another few months (at least) before the player really trusts the leg and starts to play with the same intensity and abandon.

For the Knicks, hopefully when Porzingis does get back on the court next season — whatever the date — he is close to his old self. The league is better with him in it.

Also, hopefully, there will be a coaching system in place in Madison Square Garden to maximize KP’s talents when he does return.

Former Kings players DeMarcus Cousins, Matt Barnes reach out to pay for funeral of Stephon Clark

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Whatever Kings fans thought of DeMarcus Cousins on the court — it was a divisive topic with changing opinions over time — he was fully committed to the city of Sacramento. He was all in.

Still is, despite playing for New Orleans. Cousins and another former King, Matt Barnes (a Sacramento native), have reached out to the family of Stephon Clark — the unarmed young black man shot by Sacramento police in his grandmother’s backyard a week ago — and offered to pay for the funeral, reports Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.

It is a generous gesture. The family had set up a gofundme page and has raised enough to pay for the funeral expenses through it as well.

Clark’s shooting has sparked protests throughout Sacramento, including blocking entrance to a Kings game on Thursday night. According to reports and the Sacramento PD’s own account, the shooting occurred when police were looking for a car burglary suspect and officers had tracked the suspect through yards, then confronted Clark in the backyard of his grandmother’s house, where he lived. Police allegedly thought he was armed and shot him 20 times, but he was holding only a cellphone.

The shooting has sparked reactions around the nation and from NBA players, including Barnes.

Steve Kerr and David West of the Golden State Warriors had these comments, via Logan Murdock of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I was very proud of how the Kings handled it, the way the NBA handled it,” Kerr said Friday. “I thought they did everything they could…

“The main sentiment, though, is horror and sadness for the family involved and there’s not much else to say,” Kerr said.

“You want to go through this song and dance again?” West asked. “I’m done. I stopped. I don’t have the optimism anymore.”

“We’ve been dealing with these issues for hundreds of years and so they continue.” West continued. “We won’t look at real solutions so these things continue to happen.”