Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Rumor: Trail Blazers may look to trade for center to help lagging defense


Portland has the second worst defense in the NBA as you read this, allowing 108.3 points per 100 possessions (to answer your question, Sacramento is worse). Opponents are getting 32.3 shots per game within five feet of the rim and are hitting 56.2 percent of them, and those teams are getting a lot and making a lot of shots in the 5-10 foot range.

Portland has a great offense with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum (and maybe someday Evan Turner will learn to mesh with them), but the defense is an issue. Effort is at the heart of it, but Zach Lowe of ESPN laid out the likelihood that Portland could make a trade before the deadline to get a big.

Portland looks ripe for a trade. Neil Olshey, the team’s one-step-ahead GM, chased Hassan Whiteside in free agency, and has a well-documented fondness for old-school low-post brutes like Brook Lopez, Greg Monroe, Nikola Vucevic and others. (It’s tempting to pitch a (Allen) Crabbe/Lopez swap since the Nets lavished Crabbe with a massive offer sheet, but Brooklyn cannot acquire Crabbe until the offseason — at least under current league rules.)

Portland has long been my favorite Vucevic landing spot, though the Magic should probably just stop taking Olshey’s calls after gifting him Harkless for nothing. Just about everyone is overstocked with centers. Portland might call Denver about Jusuf Nurkic, and it wouldn’t stun me if they expressed some interest in Tyson Chandler — even though Chandler is a decade older than some core Blazers, with two years left on a bloated contract….

Someone should be trying to steal Kosta Koufos from the Kings. As for another popular suggestion, let’s just say the league doesn’t quite know what to make of Nerlens Noel.

That’s a lot of speculation, but Lowe isn’t one to throw random speculation out there, you can bet there is substance to it. The idea also has the force of logic.

Portland needs to do something if they want to take a step forward off last season’s advance to the second round of the playoffs. Evan Turner has not been the answer (his role as a third shot creator when Lillard/McCollum are blitzed in the playoffs still makes a little sense on paper, but during the season the fit has been awkward).

Report: Rockets make push to sign Donatas Motiejunas, see Thanksgiving as deadline

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Donatas Motiejunas, on paper, should be the kind of big man who thrives in Mike D’Antoni’s offense. Two seasons ago he shot 36.8 percent from three and you have to respect him from the midrange, if teams scramble in transition and he is guarded by a much smaller guy he can make them pay in the post, and defense isn’t a huge focus. He could be a nice reserve big in Houston.

He’s also a restricted free agent coming off a season where he played in just 37 games due to back issues that led to surgery. How much do you pay a man like that?

The Rockets have their number, and it’s around the league average at $7 million (more with incentives). Other teams with cap space have not even stepped in with an offer sheet to force the Rockets to choose. Motiejunas and his agent think he deserves much more, let the Rockets $4.4 million qualifying offer expire, and are sitting out the season to this point. The Rockets have made a push to sign him this month, but see today (Nov. 23) as the deadline due to the trade deadline, something Marc Stein of ESPN reported on a while ago.

Nov. 23 is the date of particular significance, sparked by the fact Motiejunas can’t be traded this season if he’s signed after that date, which could possibly lower his value with potential outside suitors as well….

Sources told ESPN on Friday that the Rockets’ latest offer is a multiyear deal that starts at $7 million annually, with attainable incentives that could take it to $8 million.

The Rockets are presently unwilling to fully guarantee more than the first season in a new contract, sources say, in a nod to the back injury that scuttled Houston’s trade with Detroit in February that briefly made Motiejunas a Piston until the deal was voided due to a failed physical.

For the record, there are teams out there with the cap space to come in and make a larger offer that would force Houston to match or let Motiejunas walk — Philadelphia, Denver, Brooklyn, Utah, Phoenix and Minnesota. However, none of those landing spots make much sense (for example, the Sixers and Nuggets don’t need another big to cram into their already crowded frontcourt rotations). If it’s about the money, Motiejunas isn’t going to play overseas where he would get less than a third of what Houston already has on the table.

Restricted free agency can suck for players who feel undervalued. Motiejunas clearly believes he is worth more. But he’s also a guy in a profession where he has a limited number of years he can earn ridiculously large paychecks, and right now he is missing those checks on this principle. We’ll see if that changes by the end of the day.

Watch Nuggets’ rookie Jamal Murray drop 24 on Chicago


Denver coach Mike Malone is bringing along rookie guard Jamal Murray like he should: Bring him in off the bench, don’t ask too much of him as a playmaker yet, let the youngster get a feel for the NBA game.

Tuesday night he looked like his feel was just fine — 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting, and he was the Nuggets’ second-quarter spark on their way to a win. Check out his shot chart.

Murray shot chart

This doesn’t change the big picture yet; Murray isn’t starting or closing games for Denver. But with performances like this and a growing comfort level, he’s going to get more and more responsibility soon enough. You can see him with a very big role for the Nuggets in the not too distant future.

Watch Russell Westbrook throw down tomahawk dunk on Lakers


Russell Westbrook tried to do his part Tuesday night: 34 points (on 13-of-30 shooting), 13 assists, and eight rebounds. He was attacking and making plays, and that includes the monster tomahawk dunk you see above. If nothing else, Westbrook is going to give the fans a highlight.

But once again, it wasn’t enough for OKC. Nick Young hit a late three and the Lakers beat the Thunder 111-109. The Lakers are a good offensive team, and the Thunder defense has been an issue.

Three things we learned Tuesday: Kristaps Porzingis is the future and present with Knicks

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Here are the three things we learned Tuesday night, which as a bonus maybe should have included the Pelicans going into Atlanta and getting a win — New Orleans has played much better since Jrue Holiday returned. But we’ll save that for another day now.

1) Knicks future is Kristaps Porzingis — and he looks more like the present every day, too.
It was a play Knicks fans have seen countless time over the years: It’s the fourth quarter of a close game, the ball swings to Carmelo Anthony on the wing, and the ball movement stops as he takes his time sizing up how he’s going to attack in isolation.

Except for this time, you could hear the audible groans in Madison Square Garden. The fans knew that Kristaps Porzingis was on his way to a 31-point night and was moving well off the ball (plus getting half his shots via the pick-and-roll). They saw the up-and-under shots from Derrick Rose at the rim and knew he was feeling it on the night. The fans knew ‘Melo in isolation was not the answer — he had dominated the ball at times in the third and was 2-of-9 shooting in the quarter. Those fans eventually got enough of what they wanted, including an isolation step-back dagger by Rose (who was fantastic in the fourth), to give the Knicks the 107-103 win over Portland. It was Porzingis and Rose that accounted for 17 of the Knicks 26 points in the fourth, while Anthony went scoreless in the quarter.

The Knicks are now a .500 basketball team (7-7) and looking like a team that is figuring things out. The biggest key is on defense — they were the worst defensive team in the NBA at the start of the season, but they have been middle of the pack the past couple weeks statistically. Against a dangerous Portland offense, the Knicks held the Blazers to a respectable point per possession (100.5 points per 100 possessions, with the Blazers shooting 6-of-22 from three, to be specific). New York is making strides.

On the other end, the Knicks are finding the rotations that work. Against Portland, in just under 9 minutes that Anthony was at the four and Porzingis was at the five, the Knicks were +7. It’s a small sample size, but it continues a trend over the past couple weeks where that combo has been the Knicks’ best front court. The primary lineup with ‘Melo and Porzingis as the bigs Tuesday night — with Rose, Courtney Lee, and the surprising Mindaugas Kuzminskas — had an offensive rating of 123.1 (points per 100 possessions) and were outscoring the Trail Blazers by 42.4 per 100 (small sample size, but still).

Anthony is still a key part of the Knicks, but this is evolving into Porzingis’ team. Fast. With Rose playing a larger and larger role. This is becoming the kind of team where the ball doesn’t stick in isolation. And it’s one that can make the playoffs.

2) Lakers keep winning, Nick Young keeps making plays — even ones that weren’t intended for him.
There is no bigger surprise in the NBA this season than Nick Young. As Baxter Holmes of ESPN and I discussed in the latest PBT podcast, he is hustling on defense and may be the Lakers’ most consistent perimeter defender. Which is “the Joker beats Robin to death” kind of shocking. Young has been an unrepentant gunner on offense since his days at USC, and he’s treated defense like it was a Drew League game. But this season it has been different.

And on offense, Young is hitting game-winning shots — even when the pass wasn’t to him. Watch the three he knocks down to beat the Thunder Tuesday: Brandon Ingram gets the ball, drives, and when Victor Oladipo rotates over Ingram makes the right pass to Lou Williams — except Young steps in front and steals it. Then he knocks down an awkward looking three.

It may not be how Luke Walton drew it up, but the Lakers will take it — this is a win over an OKC team with a top-five player in Russell Westbrook (34 points on 13-of-30 shooting) that is considered a likely playoff team. The Lakers are looking like they could be one, too, although the coming home-and-home with the Warriors will be tough.

3) Did we just see a Jamal Murray breakout game? The biggest upset of the night may have been Denver knocking off the Bulls (it was probably New Orleans going to Atlanta and getting the win, but Denver got an upset, too). Rookie Jamal Murray was a big part of that — 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting off the bench, with six rebounds tossed in as well. This is the shot chart of a man having a good night.

Murray shot chart

Watch the buckets for yourself.

Murray isn’t jumping into the Denver starting lineup yet, and Mike Malone didn’t have him on the floor to close out the game, but the rookie is starting to find his footing in the league. He’s for real, and the Nets have another quality piece to the puzzle.