Kurt Helin

LeBron James put on show in New York with acrobatic layup


Like so many superstars before him, LeBron James saves some of his best performances for the big stage of Madison Square Garden in New York.

He did it again Friday night, dropping 31 points on the Knicks in a 90-84 Cavaliers win. The spin move then acrobatic layup above was probably the signature highlight, but this alley-oop finish wasn’t bad either.

No Kevin Durant? Rack up another triple-double for Russell Westbrook


The Sixers had no answer for Russell Westbrook Friday night. After the game Philly guard Isaiah Canaan said, “Russell is a one-man fast break” — and the Sixers have struggled to stop any quality fast break this season.

With Kevin Durant sidelined it was the Westbrook show again on Saturday night as he dropped another triple-double (his second straight) this time on the Sixers — 21 points, 17 rebounds, 11 assists. Think about that for a second: The Thunder point guard grabbed 17 rebounds (a career high). That’s just a guy playing with passion.

The Thunder won handily 102-85. If felt like shades of last season when Durant was out injured and Westbrook vaulted himself into the MVP conversation with an incredible run. Durant will be out about another week (give or take) but the Thunder schedule in that time is relatively soft, a whole lot of Westbrook may be enough to keep getting them wins.

Randolph’s putback sends Grizzlies past Portland 101-100

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Zach Randolph‘s put-back basket with less than a second left and a season-high 31 points from Marc Gasol led the Memphis Grizzlies to a 101-100 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night.

Portland had a final shot with 0.6 of a second left, but Al-Farouq Aminu‘s 17-footer was short and the Grizzlies snapped a four-game losing streak.

The Trail Blazers lost their fourth straight and haven’t won since a 115-96 victory over Memphis on Nov. 5.

Randolph’s winning basket gave him 15 points for the game. Jeff Green scored 14, while Mike Conley and newcomer Mario Chalmers added 11 points apiece.

C.J. McCollum led Portland with 26 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter. Aminu had 16 and Allen Crabbe finished with 12, converting all five of his shots from the field.

Portland had erased an 11-point Memphis lead in the final 4:03.

Damian Lillard finished with 11 points for Portland, connecting on 5 of 15 shots in the game. The Portland backcourt of Lillard and McCollum were a combined 12 of 29. They entered the game averaging 47.7 points this season.

Aminu’s 3-pointer from the left sideline with 12.5 seconds left gave Portland a 100-99 lead, setting the stage for Randolph’s winner.

But it took several attempts.

Courtney Lee missed a shot in the corner with time running out, Jeff Green’s tip attempt missed and Randolph grabbed the rebound. But Crabbe blocked his shot.

Randolph got it back for the winner and saved the Grizzlies from blowing an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead.

Memphis led 92-81 with about 4 minutes lef,t when the Trail Blazers went on a 16-5 run fueled by eight points from McCollum. Aminu converted a pair of free throws to tie the game at 97 with 36.3 left.

Green answered with a layup, but Aminu’s 3-pointer with 12.5 seconds left gave Portland a 100-99 lead.

In the third quarter, Memphis ran its lead to double digits with a 16-3 spurt to open the second half, capped by Gasol’s 3-pointer for a 69-55 advantage.


Trail Blazers: Portland was without F Meyers Leonard, who injured his left shoulder against the Spurs Wednesday. … Portland has lost eight straight in Memphis, counting regular-season and playoff games. … Lillard’s 11 points marked the first time this season he hasn’t reached 20. … Outrebounded Memphis 43-35, marking the first time this season the Trail Blazers have lost while winning the battle of the boards.

Grizzlies: Avoided their first five-game losing streak since December 2013. … Chalmers, picked up this week in a trade with Miami, saw his first action in Memphis uniform. He got a nice ovation when he entered the game in the first quarter – a tad surprising since Chalmers hit the 3-pointer against the Memphis Tigers to send the 2008 national championship game into overtime, eventually won by Kansas.


Brett Brown playing big lineups, slows down Sixers’ pace

Jahlil Okafor

Brett Brown has pushed the pace in Philly since he got there to coach the team through its rebuild — they were seventh fastest in the NBA last season, the fastest two seasons ago.

But this season, playing an old-school big front line with Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel, things have slowed down. Okafor likes to work in the post, something that is a half-court offense set, and that’s become the primary weapon for Philadelphia. The Sixers are averaging 98.3 possessions a game to start this season, 20th in the NBA. While Brown has preached tempo, the roster doesn’t lend itself to speed, Brown told Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“I have to coach a program based on what I’m given,” Brown said Friday. “You hear me beating my chest all the time about pace, and it’s true. I’m not back-peddling. But there’s a realization where you have to use what you have….

“We could all talk next year and say, you know what, we are just a really big team,” Brown said. “And we need to walk it up and pound it inside and sprinkle shooters around and play in the 80s [points-per-game range]. It doesn’t sound good coming off my tongue. But you are always coaching to what you have, so that’s the challenge.”

He’s right, you can’t fit square pegs into round holes. (Remember the start of the Mike D’Antoni era with the Lakers? He eventually made some adjustments, but that start was a mess as he tried to push his system on a roster it did not fit). It may be bucking the NBA’s small ball trend, but this is the right thing to do. Play to the strengths of your stars.

Sixers’ fans living in the Philadelphia area, if you are a Comcast subscriber, you can catch a live stream of tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, just follow this link and you can watch it anywhere.

Okafor looks like a franchise cornerstone, leading all rookies in scoring at 20.6 points per game. Noel is adding 12.2 points a contest. And don’t forget, next season they will (hopefully) add Joel Embiid to the mix, plus whatever high draft pick they land (or potentially picks, they get the Lakers’ pick if it is fourth or later).

If Brown had quality NBA level guards to run the show and get some buckets in transition, maybe this would be different. They could pick their spots. But right now the Sixers’ guard rotation is not up to the task. Slow it is, but that means Sam Hinkie ultimately needs to add a lot more shooting to the roster to make the spacing work.

C.J. Miles blocks Karl-Anthony Towns at the rim

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No doubt Karl-Anthony Towns has gotten off to a fantastic start his rookie season — 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, with an All-Star level PER of 20.9. He looks like a guy the Timberwolves can build around (along with Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota could be very good in a few years).

But he is still going to have some “welcome to the NBA moments.”

The Pacers’ C.J. Miles provided one on Friday night, shutting down Towns at the rim. There are few easy buckets in the NBA, kid.