The Blazers continue to give it the ol’ college try despite losing half their team to injury (including their coach splitting an ACL- seriously, what did Portland do to the Fates?). Granted, sometimes the ol’ college try is interpreted literally, clanging mid-range jumpers and lacking a consistent defensive force inside, but you know what we mean. Last night they continued that effort, staying in a close game with the Thunder all the way until the final quarter, at which point Jeff Harden and Kevin Durant took over, the Blazers had no one to score with, and the hometown crowd fell into a disappointed lull. Long before then, though, Blazers coach Nate McMillan considered his squad to be starting in an energy deficit. And in the midst of a frustrated press conference following a frustrating loss in a frustrating season, McMillan finally turned on an ally, everyone’s ally, the energy drink Red Bull. From Oregon Live’s transcript of McMIllan’s postgame comments:
“I thought before the game we looked like we were a little flat. I saw a lot of cans of Red Bull up to guys mouths and (it) looked like we crashed. Seriously. We were flat from the start. I was hoping that the (new starting) unit that I put out there would give us some spark (but) we got off to a slow start. So we weren’t sharp at all.”
Taken in context, McMillan was just spouting off randomly to show how meaningless trying to identify the culprit is. The All-Star break could not come at a better time for the Blazers.
That said, Coach McMillan has no right to attack the tasty beverage that is Red Bull. Sure, you can go that route, laud the upside of Monster and 5-Hour Energy, but eventually, you have to dance with the one that brung you. And for all its inconsistencies, Red Bull has been there for the Blazers before Greg Oden, and it will be there after. Lashing out shows a lack of leadership, and advertising slogans. It gives you wings, coach. Duh.
In all seriousness, McMillan struggled early in the season integrating Andre Miller, dealing with Greg Oden’s growing pains, finding enough touches, and then injury after injury hit, and McMillan actually improved. His best work has been with a ragtag group of leftovers, and for that he deserves to be commended. It’s a shame that talent is such a determining factor in this league, because two of its better coaches, McMIllan and Houston’s Rick Adelman, face a daunting future simply because the succubus of injury have swept into their villages and plucked away their players to Suitland.
Either way, I’d expect a healthier pre-game assortment for the Blazers next game. Perhaps some V-8, or some mango juice.
Three Things to Know: Trae Young is legit, people. Just ask the Cavaliers.
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) Luka who? Trae Young blows up with 35 points, 11 assists. Fun bit of trivia courtesy Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated: Since 2000, name the two rookies who have put up at least 35 points and 10 assists in a game. Answer: Stephen Curry and LeBron James.
Now, add Atlanta’s Trae Young to the list. He dropped 35 points and 11 assists on the Cavaliers to get the Hawks a win (and Lloyd Pierce his first W as an NBA coach).
After a “meh” game against the Knicks to open the season then a solid one against the Grizzlies, Young lit up the Cavaliers (and torched their rookie point guard Colin Sexton). Young has shown an impressive catch-and-shoot touch already, but Sunday night he showed off what a threat he can be using the pick-and-roll. Young used his impressive handles to create space for his shot, or to get into the lane and then create for others. More than just scoring, he’s showing an ability to command the game, which is impressive for a one-and-done rookie.
It’s early, and Young is going to have a lot more ups and downs his rookie season, but this was a promising outing. Young and the Hawks have a soft opening to the season on the schedule and it will give him a chance to gain some confidence early.
Next up is the rookie showdown with Dallas and one Luka Doncic (the guy he will forever be linked to because of the draft night trade, fair or not). They won’t be matched up on one another, and it’s too early to draw genuine comparisons, but it’s worth watching.
2) Russell Westbrook is back, put up a near triple-double, and even that couldn’t get the Thunder a win. Everyone tuned into this game expecting one thing: Iman Shumpert to go off and score 26 points and leading the Kings to a win. Am I right?
Westbrook, in his first game back since having surgery to clean up his knee in the offseason, scored 32 points, and 12 rebounds and eight assists, and shot 13-of-23 overall — a very Westbrook night. While there were a few moments of rust, he looked like vintage Westbrook.
OKC still lost, at home, to the Kings, 131-120.
The Thunder are off to a 0-3 start and there are two key reasons why. One is that they cannot knock down threes — they were 9-of-39 against the Kings (23.1 percent) and on the season are shooting 23.9 percent from deep (worst in the NBA). They are taking more threes than a season ago (36.3 a game, top 10 in attempts in the league) but the shots just aren’t falling. The Thunder were not a prolific three-point shooting team last season, but they hit 35.4 percent and their shooting should improve this season.
The second, and larger, issue is their defense has been average, and at times awful. They struggled to slow the Kings, who put up 34 points in three of the four quarters, and on the season the Thunder are allowing 110.5 points per 100 possessions, which is middle of the pack in the league (for a team expected to be top 10 like last season). They really miss Andre Roberson on that end of the floor, and he’s likely not back until December.
It’s far too early to say either of those stats are trends — the Thunder should have one of the better defenses in the league by the end of the season — but they are off to a slow start, and it’s costing them wins, which in the deep West is not ideal.
On the other side of the ball — the Kings have looked solid this young season. The kids are alright. They played Utah tight in the season opener, fell to the Pelicans and now have beaten the Thunder. De’Aaron Fox is averaging 20.3 points and 7.7 assists per game, Willie Cauley-Stein is playing for that contract averaging 18.7 points and 7 rebounds a game, Buddy Hield is knocking down shots, Marvin Bagley is finding his way, and Shumpert went off against the Thunder. The young core in Sacramento is taking a step forward this season, and it’s something to watch.
Adam Silver has been lighter on punishment of players for these incidents than his predecessor David Stern, and that continued here. Ingram’s four games — costing him $158,817 in salary — is the longest the league has handed out for fighting since 2012 (Metta World Peace), but if the league wanted to send a message that throwing punches is verboten, they needed to come in with a heavier hand. Especially considering we are not out of the first week of the season.
The Lakers get hit harder by this — while we get to see more Lonzo Ball they don’t have the depth to replace Rondo and Ingram easily, and their games are harder (Spurs, improving Suns, then the hot Nuggets).
Physical fights with actual punches are rare in the NBA, but when they happen I’m not sold this was near enough of a deterrent. We’ll see if this situation was a one-off or if we see more of these incidents.
Mike D’Antoni on Chris Paul suspension: ‘What is he supposed to do?’ (VIDEO)
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni took exception to Paul’s suspension, saying that he thought it was “not equitable” that Paul had to face suspension.
The NBA determined that Rondo indeed did spit in Paul’s face, or at least in the direction of him, directly preceding Paul’s eye poke on Rondo. That kicked things off into full force, and it devolved from there.
“At least they didn’t suspend Boris Diaw again,” Mike D’Antoni strongly disagrees with the decision handed down by the league suspending Chris Paul for two games. pic.twitter.com/nATdU8XVgy
All the suspensions were fairly weak. Ingram got just four games for his initial instigation and giant, loping punch toward Paul. Rondo received three games for spitting on Paul and landing punches. Paul received two games for punching Rondo.
It’s unlikely that anybody was going to be happy with the result of the discipline just because of the bad blood involved. However, the league made comment about the suspension afterward, with the NBA’s Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Kiki VanDeWeghe taking to television later on Sunday.
The NBA’s Executive VP of Basketball Operations, Kiki VanDeWeghe joins #GameTime to discuss how the league determined suspensions for players involved in Saturday's Lakers/Rockets altercation pic.twitter.com/mX5tvd64YB
VanDeWeghe’s explanations don’t satisfy me, and they certainly wouldn’t if I were a Rockets fan. Guys going chest-to-chest and having tensions rise as one thing. Spitting at somebody is another. It’s a level of actionable disrespect that directly influenced and raised tensions during the incident.
Ingram looked childish for shoving James Harden, but his punch came after Rondo got Paul wound up by spitting on him. It’s hard for me to understand how Rondo didn’t get a matching sentence with Ingram at the very least.
For reference, Carmelo Anthony was suspended for 15 games in 2006 after he clocked a player on the New York Knicks during a fight as a member of the Denver Nuggets. Given that precedence, something approaching double digits for both Ingram and Rondo seems like it would have been more appropriate.
Juancho Hernangómez bats game-clinching block to beat Warriors (VIDEO)
That was good recognition by Juancho to crash down on Jones. The risk was leaving Kevin Durant open, lot of guys wouldn’t have done that. But he saw that Steph had his head down and basically an impossible angle out to Durant, and crashed down for the game-winning block. pic.twitter.com/TtS1nKoAVC
Lowry and DeRozan are best friends, and their budding romance has been a sentimental point for fans in Toronto and abroad.
But life goes on, and the Raptors again are one of the teams expected to challenge for an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. That hasn’t kept Lowry from doing the same handshake routine he used to do with DeRozan before games this season.
The only difference? DeRozan isn’t there to help dap up Lowry.