C.J. McCollum

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Trail Blazers: Al-Farouq Aminu out 2-3 weeks

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The Trail Blazers were absolutely right to dump highly paid Allen Crabbe on Brooklyn while they had the chance.

But they were also going to miss Crabbe’s frontcourt floor-spacing complementing Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

Thankfully for Portland, starting power forward Al-Farouq Aminu has stepped up. Aminu has taken half shots this season from beyond the arc and made 43% of them (13-of-30). He also has played solid defense for a team trying to make strides on that end.

But now the Trail Blazers will miss Aminu, too.

Jason Quick of CSN Northwest:

Noah Vonleh, who just returned from his own injury, started in Portland’s win over the Lakers last night. He doesn’t nearly provide the floor balance Aminu does.

Caleb Swanigan and Zach Collins could also get bigger roles off the bench, but they’re playing like the rookies they are – Swanigan one who’s experiencing up and downs, Collins one who’s in completely over his head. They should get better with experience, but Portland might have to put more on their plates than desirable.

In what’s shaping up to be a stiff competition for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference, Aminu’s absence could loom large.

Three Things to Know: DeMarcus Cousins drops 41, gets his revenge on Kings

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) DeMarcus Cousins returns to Sacramento, drops 41,gets his revenge. DeMarcus Cousins may wonder why he was so loyal to Sacramento , but he was reminded exactly why Thursday night — Kings’ fans. When Cousins was introduced pregame he got an ovation so loud it drowned out the boos from some of the fans (those boos were louder as he started to score more through the game). He was loved in Sacramento. And most fans understand you can’t blame a guy who had six coaches in seven years — plus two owners and three GMs — for being frustrated about the direction of the team.

The problems with Cousins in Sacramento were a two-way street, he was a headache to management and coaches as well, but on Thursday night in his homecoming Cousins reminded them why they worked so hard to keep him — he is a force of nature. Cousins had 41 points on just 25 shots, plus pulled down 23 boards in the game, and 14 of those points were in the fourth quarter when the Pelicans came back to win 114-106. Cousins got his revenge.

The Kings were hot early, racing out to a 25-6 lead over the Anthony Davis-less Pelicans. This was a game where the Kings’ future was on display — De’Aaron Fox had 14 points and 5 assists off the bench (it’s time to start him in a three-guard lineup), Buddy Hield had 12 as did Willie Cauley-Stein, and Skal Labissiere added 11. The Kings spread the scoring around with seven guys in double figures, and the team put up 70 points in the first half.

However, young teams are inconsistent ones and that big Sacramento lead faded in the third quarter, as the Kings shot 32 percent for the quarter. Jrue Holiday’s play also picked up — the Pelican point guard had 11 of his 20 points in the quarter, plus he dished out 7 assists on the night. Jameer Nelson gave the Pelicans some solid minutes as well in reserve and had 19 points.

In the end, the team with the dominant player won (as often happens in basketball). Cousins has averaged 33 points and 14.2 rebounds a game this season, looking a little lighter and more mobile than in previous years. He reminded Kings fans what they were missing, while those same fans saw their young team show both promise and remind them there is a long way to go this season.

2) Best ending of the season: Blake Griffin drains three at buzzer to beat Portland. Sorry Trail Blazers fans because I know this one stings, but this was the most dramatic ending to a game we have seen this season.

Portland had taken a one-point lead on a sweet C.J. McCollum floater with 43 seconds left. The Clippers came down, then after a missed three and offensive board, they had a possession where DeAndre Jordan got the ball with room to drive the paint from the mid-post, but instead he kicked it out to an open Danilo Gallinari at the top of the arc who decided not to shoot and dished it to Austin Rivers on the left wing — and if you give Rivers a chance to shoot he takes it. Rivers drove, earned a blocking call in the paint, and got his shot blocked and a finger gruesomely dislocated in the process. But while the cameras focused on his pain, the referees reviewed the blocking call they had made against Damian Lillard on the play and reversed it — charging on Rivers.

Portland inbounded the ball and McCollum was quickly fouled, but he only made one of two free throws, making it a two-point game and opening the door for this to happen.

 

Game. Set. Match.

Griffin is shooting 43 percent from three this season, and he has been fantastic.

The Clippers are 4-0 on the young season with wins over Utah and Portland. It’s a long season and they have to stay healthy, but this is a pretty good team Doc Rivers is coaching in Los Angeles.

3) Giannis Antetokounmpo puts up numbers but Celtics walk away with win. This is how hot Giannis Antetokounmpo has been the first week of the season — Boston can say they (mostly Al Horford) did a good job holding him to 28 points and 10 rebounds. Antetokounmpo was 10-of-21 shooting, and he had 13 shots in the paint to nine outside of it (before this game 81 percent of his shots had come in the paint).

It was fun to see the Bucks return to the MECCA for one game, although this game probably reminded older Bucks fans of a lot of games in that arena — a loss. There was the championship year in that building back in 1971, but there were some rough years that followed as well.

While Kyrie Irving had 16 of his 24 points in the first half, then made some key plays down the stretch, the Celtics really won this game with a 10-0 run by their bench early in the fourth that gave them some cushion. Horford, in addition to a strong defensive night, led the Celtics with 27 points. The Celtics were the more aggressive team, they got to the free throw line eight more times than the Bucks, and that got them the 96-89 win. That’s three straight wins for Boston, if you’re tracking these things.

NBA Three Things to Know: Blake Griffin can still dunk, Clippers are legit

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Clippers ace first real test, silence Jazz. And if you think Blake Griffin doesn’t dunk anymore… The Clippers came into Tuesday night 2-0, and we all shrugged because they had beaten the Lakers and the Suns. It was little more than extended training camp. Blake Griffin had looked like a maestro running the Clipper offense, Patrick Beverley talked a lot, but how do we judge that against two of the worst defensive teams in the league?

Tuesday night the Clippers owned a good Jazz team in the second half, and Griffin dropped 22 points with nine rebounds and 6 assists — given their first test the Clippers aced it. Griffin set the tone in the first quarter with a throwback dunk over the best defensive big man in the game, Rudy Gobert. Tell me again how Griffin doesn’t dunk anymore.

Griffin has always been an underrated passer, but he has added a legit three-point shot to his arsenal this season, shooting 44 percent from beyond the arc so far. More importantly, he is now their best playmaker and they need him for Doc Rivers pass-and-cut offense to be effective — against Utah it was clear how much the Clippers missed Milos Teodosic to create with the second unit (Lou Williams was off and just 3-of-10 shooting, he has to lead that second unit now). Griffin has been at his peak to start the season, and he’s getting some help — DeAndre Jordan had 11 points and 18 rebounds outplaying Gobert, Patrick Beverley had 19 points and was 4-of-7 from three, and Austin Rivers added 16 against Utah.

Three games in, the Clippers also have the best defense in the NBA, allowing just 86.1 points per 100 possessions. We’re going to take a wait-and-see on how good the defense really is — the Lakers, Suns, and Jazz are not exactly offensive powerhouses — but it’s a promising start.

From the opening of training camp the question with the Clippers was not “do they have talent?” because they had plenty, the real question was “can they keep that talent on the court?” There are a lot of guys with long injury histories on this team, starting with Griffin. When healthy, however, this is a good Clippers team. Very good.

2) Anthony Davis gives everyone a scare, but MRI is clean and he is day-to-day.
That sound you hear is GM Dell Demps, coach Alvin Gentry, and the entire city of New Orleans exhaling.

Just five minutes into Tuesday night’s game against Portland, Anthony Davis left it with a sore knee. He had banged it in knee-to-knee contact with Damian Lillard, then we saw it buckle a little in a position battle with Maurice Harkless, and we were worried — Davis has been his usual, brilliant self to start the season and the basketball gods have already robbed us of enough talent to start the season. They can’t have Davis, too.

They won’t. An MRI came back negative and Davis is considered day-to-day. Without him on the court DeMarcus Cousins took over scoring 39 points and grabbing 13 boards, and keeping it close. However, Portland closed the game on a 9-0 run, and with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combining for 24 points in the fourth quarter it was too much for New Orleans to match. Portland got the 103-93 win, and the Pelicans fall to 1-3 to start the season (the Blazers are 3-1).

3) LeBron James takes over as Cavaliers point guard, he can play that, too. Isaiah Thomas will not step on the court in a Cavaliers uniform until 2018. Derrick Rose is out with a tweaked ankle. That left Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue with a choice: Start Jose Calderon or LeBron James at the point?

Is that even a question? Actually, it was when Lue started Calderon against Orlando, and Cleveland lost. Lesson learned. LeBron played the point Tuesday and was his MVP-level self: 34 points on 20 shots, 4-of-6 from three, and he racked up 13 assists.

Kevin Love had 10 of his 20 points on the night in the fourth quarter, and the Cavaliers moved past a game Bulls team for the 119-112 win.

This was also the game where J.R. Smith moved back into the starting lineup, but he stumbled shooting 1-of-8 from the floor in this one (he had missed shootaround with a sore back). Dwyane Wade was 5-of-7 off the bench and boosted a Cavs bench that could use it, scoring 11 points. Tristan Thompson also slid into the starting lineup for the Cavaliers in this one, but that was more about Robin Lopez being at center for Chicago and Lue wanting to match up. The Cavaliers are versatile and veteran enough to make all these changes and just keep on winning.

It also helps to have LeBron James.

Former Cavs’ GM David Griffin on drafting Anthony Bennett No. 1: “You f–k up sometimes”

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“This is a SHOCKER. Nobody had this.”

That is what I wrote in our instant draft analysis back in 2013 when the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Anthony Bennett No. 1. Bennett was considered a lottery pick by most teams, but teams had him more in the 7-13 range. Out of UNLV, Bennett was an athletic guy with a lot of questions. It wasn’t a great draft, but the Cavaliers took Bennett in front of Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter, Nerlens Noel, C.J. McCollum, and Ben McLemore, to name a few. We all know what happened from there, Bennett played just 151 games across four NBA seasons and is already out of the league (he was in training camp with the Suns this year but was released). He is the poster child of a draft bust.

Former Cavs’ GM David Griffin — who was the No. 2 guy behind Chris Grant back in 2013 in Cleveland — owns up to the mistake in Jason Lloyd of The Athletic’s new book  The Blueprint: LeBron James, Cleveland’s Deliverance and the Making of the Modern NBA. An excerpt is up at the Athletic.

So when the Cavs front office sat down before the draft to cast their vote on who to take, the final tally was 9-1 in favor of Bennett. The one vote against taking him? Chris Grant…

“The issue with Anthony was, and we had no way of knowing it at the time, the kid had no desire to overcome adversity whatsoever. As soon as it was hard, he was out,” Griffin explained to Lloyd. “His whole life, he rolled out of bed bigger, better, and more talented than everybody else. As soon as it was hard, it was over. And I was the one on campus at UNLV. I’m the one who got sold the bill of goods and I bought it hook, line, and sinker. You f–k up sometimes. But I feel bad Chris took it for that, because Chris was the one guy who wasn’t sure.”

Talking to people around a draftable player and getting a sense of their drive and work ethic is one of the most important — and most challenging — parts of being a GM. Just like for students in school or the rest of us in everyday life, grit and determination matter more than talent. The greatest have both — Michael Jordan personifies it, but from Bill Russell through LeBron James everyone in the pantheon has both — but there are a lot of guys in the NBA now who have some talent and a lot of grit, and were willing to put in the work needed to become an NBA player. J.J. Redick had the shooting skills in college, but he reshaped his body and his game to become a quality NBA two guard, and he’s just one of many examples.

Not knowing Bennett lacked grit is on the Cavaliers’ staff, but it’s always hard to predict. Projecting the future of any 19-year-old at anything is next to impossible, and that doesn’t change if you’re doing the research before making a multi-million dollar investment. He might have put in the work in college, but things changed.

(Hat Tip Bleacher Report)

Trail Blazers beat Suns by 48, biggest season-opening rout in NBA history

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Any controversy over C.J. McCollum‘s suspension for the season-opener should be put to rest. The Trail Blazers fared fine without him.

More than fine.

Portland beat the Suns, 124-76, Wednesday. The 48-point margin is the largest ever in a season opener, even as the Trail Blazers let a 58-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle.

Here are the most lopsided season-openers in NBA history (openers for both teams appearing twice):

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The 48-point defeat is also the Suns’ worst lost in franchise history, topping a 44-point loss to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1988. It could be a long year in Phoenix.