CJ McCollum

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5 Up, 5 Down: Joel Embiid has been fully processed

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5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA as it stands on alternating Monday mornings.

There is lots to be interested in as this young season records its first 20 games. Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t as good as we thought they’d be and the Boston Celtics are … mystifying. But so too have a slate of injuries muddled the middle of the pack in the Western Conference and that’s before we get to any of the fun stuff like demanding trades on social media.

Yes, the 2017-18 NBA season has already been exciting and as we touch base for our first edition of 5 Up, 5 Down it’s time to reflect back on some of the best and worst things that have gone on this season.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

5 Up

Tony Parker is back (and the Spurs are still 3rd)

Tony Parker officially announced that he’s coming back to an NBA floor, which is heartening for San Antonio fans. He’s been out since last year with a quad injury, and the team is still somehow in 3rd place. The West is chocked full of injuries this year, so adding back a player — even a waning one like Parker — will always help.

The Pistons are … good?

It’s never fun to fault runs like the one going on in Detroit because of sample size. We’re now a quarter of the way through the season so it’s time to say it: I think the Pistons are good. Put it this way — if I told you before the season started that Charlotte would be twice as many games back as Detroit to start December, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that the Hornets weren’t even a playoff team in this scenario.

Joel Embiid is fully processed

Everybody loves this cat, and they should given how good he’s been this year coupled with the success of the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s played in 16 out of 18 games and maintained his staggering advanced numbers from last year. If he stays on the court and the Sixers make the playoffs, I assume Sam Hinkie will parachute from the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center during lineups for the first postseason game. Plus, his social media game has only grown stronger.

The NBA supports Colin Kaepernick

At least some folks do. LeBron James has been supportive of the former NFL quarterback turned civil rights activist and charitable donor. So too has Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy. We didn’t get anthem protests like we anticipated to start the year in the NBA, but it appears players and coaches still aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

The one and done could finally be on its way out

This rule hurts players and has the appearance of mitigating risk for NBA teams in the draft while propagating an amateur system that doesn’t pay fair value for labor. I’m still not 100% convinced the league’s own risk protection doesn’t also flip some franchises out of top players by forcing them to abstain from the league and pushing them to subsequent drafts. Many one-and-done players don’t pan out in either case, so I’m not sure the rule is having its intended effect anyway. Let’s go already.

5 Down

Kawhi Leonard is still out

It’s always good when your Hall of Fame, seen-it-all-coach says he’s never seen an injury like yours, right? Tony Parker coming back before Leonard feels like some kind of ominous signal that I’m too afraid to broach this early in the year. At least San Antonio fans can clutch their, uh, 19 championship rings for comfort while they wait.

The Blazers keep winning by accident

Washington certainly did their part to stink up the joint on Saturday, but Portland beat both the Nets and Wizards this weekend sort of by mistake. This came despite late game missed FTs, dumb fouls, and slow offensive possessions in the final two minutes. CJ McCollum — good in a panic, apparently — is Portland’s saving grace this year. The Blazers 3-1 record on the road this trip is asking for a regression to the mean. The Blazers offense needs to figure it out.

We need to restart this season and set injuries to OFF

Wrap your star player in bubble wrap and stick him in a downtown penthouse loft filled to the brim with packing peanuts. Even that might not work, he might chafe his skin on the styrofoam and be out 4-6 weeks. Paul Millsap, the aforementioned Leonard, Gordon Hayward, Patrick Beverley, Mike Conley — just about every team has suffered an injury to a key player. The middle of the West is a mess because of it, although the upside might be that March becomes even more interesting than usual as a bunch of .500 teams try to fight their way back with healthy stars.

Derrick Rose might be donezo

This is sad if only from an empathy perspective. Imagine having won the 2011 NBA MVP only to spend the next six years deep in the bowels of a training center with nothing but a bosu ball and a physical therapist named Clint to keep you company (in this scenario I also assume Clint won’t stop talking to you about the benefits of ketosis). That’s basically been Rose’s life after multiple injuries, and him taking time away from the Cavaliers is a major bummer.

Free Jahlil Okafor

The basketball fan in me wants to scream about what the Sixers are waiting for because I’d like to see Greg Monroe Okafor play actual basketball. Of course, Philadelphia is just trying to do their best Bill Belichick impression here and wait out the market to get their top return. It’s hard to imagine how interest on Okafor hasn’t already bottomed out by now, so maybe the whole thing has backfired and the Colangelos are up a creek. They apparently have lowered the asking price, so maybe we get this trade sooner rather than later. In any case, I can’t wait to see Okafor in a Nets uniform. He’s going to look great.

Watch Damian Lillard hit the game-winner over the Lakers (VIDEO)

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It was closer than it should have been in a poor defensive contest, but fans in Portland tonight are humming after a game-winning shot by Damian Lillard with 0.7 seconds left gave the Trail Blazers the win over the Los Angeles Lakers, 113-110.

Portland started by giving up a game-tying 3-pointer to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with 16 seconds left. That shot came on a simple pindown to the near corner with Blazers guard CJ McCollum trailing and failing to close out on LA’s guard.

That made it 110-110 with a quarter minute to go and with only one player that could take the final shot: Lillard.

Via Twitter:

Lillard calmly dribbled up the floor and let time run out as LA’s Brandon Ingram prepared to guard him. Lillard, who was always going to take the step-back 3-pointer, released with just 2.6 seconds left on the clock.

The crowd at the Moda Center went nuts, and the shot gave Portland the 3-point win they so desperately needed.

The Trail Blazers are in trouble, even if they played Thursday’s game without Al-Farouq Aminu due to a right leg injury. They look bad on defense, and can’t afford any injuries. To go along with that, they’ve played discombobulated on offense and Jusuf Nurkic is only just starting to come around on that side of the ball.

The win is a nice feather in their cap, and fans in Oregon will be hoping this is the start of a little run heading into the holidays.

Draymond Green, Bradley Beal avoid suspension for fight, earn fines

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There was an assumption that significant suspensions could be handed out for members of the Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards after Draymond Green and Bradley Beal got into an altercation this week. According to the NBA, only Markieff Morris and Carrick Felix will be suspended for a game apiece for their involvement in the scrum and for leaving the bench.

That means Beal and Green will be fined $50,000 and $25,000 respectively. Washington’s Kelly Oubre will also be fined $15,000.

The fight broke out during a rebound attempt underneath the basket on Friday when Beal and Green got tied up together. Beal appeared to be the initializer, and the two mostly just aggressively hugged until the officials separated them.

That didn’t stop several teammates from rushing to their aid, including Oubre, who accidentally punched John Wall in the back of the head. Meanwhile, Morris came off the bench in street clothes and was knee deep underneath the stanchion.

Via Twitter:

This is the second such instance this season of a player losing a game due to leaving the bench. Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum was suspended for the first game of the season after leaving the bench during a stoppage of play in a preseason game.

That didn’t make a lot of sense to those around the NBA, and neither did Green’s fine to Warriors coach Steve Kerr. When asked about the $25,000 Green would need to fork over to the league, Kerr had this to say:

So to reiterate: leaving the bench during an altercation is a suspension. Getting into a fight where you are locked up and fall down is just a cash penalty. Student loan money. By my math, it’s something like 5.7 minutes of gameplay for Beal and 3.75 minutes for Green.

Nothing to see here. Go back to your seats.

These teams play again on Wednesday, February 28.

Blake Griffin hits game-winning 3-pointer to douse Blazers (VIDEO)

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The final two minutes of Thursday night’s game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers had it all: a dislocated finger, a reversed blocking call, and a game-winning shot by Blake Griffin.

Portland took the lead with 43 seconds left on a sweet CJ McCollum floater from the right baseline. On the ensuing Clippers possession, LA missed a 3-pointer but recovered the ball for another attempt. That lead to an Austin Rivers drive down the lane, originally stopped by a blocking charge against Damian Lillard.

Much to the horror of folks in the Moda Center, Rivers appeared to not only have the opportunity to hit clutch free throws, but a dislocated finger as well.

Luckily, team doctors were there to pop his thumb back in place:

Officials went to the replay booth to check on the play and wound up reversing the call. Instead of a blocking foul, Lillard was awarded the charge against Rivers.

After Portland inbounded in the ball, McCollum was sent to the line with just under six seconds to go. Having a shaky night already, McCollum missed the first of two free throws, leaving the door open for LA.

That’s when this happened:

It was a gutsy win for the Clippers on a night in which they dominated Portland’s big men. Ed Davis and Jusuf Nurkic seemed to struggle all game, either with foul trouble or on the glass. Still, it was a close game and the Clippers grabbing the win at the end, gutting the fans in Rip City.

DeMarcus Cousins, Kristaps Porzingis, six All-Stars to play in NBA Africa Game

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NEW YORK (AP) — DeMarcus Cousins of the New Orleans Pelicans, Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors and Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks will play for Team World in the NBA Africa Game.

Dirk Nowitzki and Kemba Walker had already been chosen as captains for Team World. The squad includes Portland’s CJ McCollum, Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Boston’s Jaylen Brown, Denver’s Wilson Chandler, New York’s Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa, who most recently played with Phoenix.

The rosters were announced Thursday for the second game featuring players born in Africa and second-generation African players against a team from the rest of the world. It will be played Aug. 5 in Johannesburg.

Team Africa, captained by Luol Deng and Thabo Sefolosha, will be rounded out by Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder, Orlando’s Bismack Biyombo, Houston’s Clint Capela, Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng, Toronto’s Serge Ibaka, Luc Mbah a Moute, most recently with the Clippers, Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay and Dallas’ Salah Mejri. Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, from Cameroon, is on the roster but won’t play because he is recovering from injury.

The game will be played in support of UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and SOS Children’s Villages South Africa.