Rudy Fernandez has been given his chance, but has lost his confidence

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nba_fernandez_250.jpgRemember the Rudy Fernandez from the gold medal game in Beijing? The one with 13 points in nine minutes on the court. The one that made you think “Damn, Portland has another one, another great young player.”

That Rudy Fernandez has gone missing. And Portland could really use him, as he is starting in place of the injured Brandon Roy against the Suns (a series that tied up at one game a piece).

That Fernandez was confident, the kind of guy that women chase. But after rewatching all his plays from the first two games of the Suns series, he looks like a player without any belief in himself.

He is 2 of 9 from the floor for the series, 1 of 7 from three.  He has not driven the lane with any authority — all his shots have been jumpers, the closest he has gotten to the rim is a jumper from the elbow (he made that). He has four assists, but they are not things he created. Look at the two from Tuesday. One was a simple drop off to Marcus Camby as he moved through the offense, but the Suns defender dropped off Camby and dared him to hit the 18 footer (he did, the Suns should know better than to give him that shot near the top of the circle). The other was not really an assist, in early offense off a Suns miss Fernandez made an ordinary pass to Batum at the three point line, who held the ball for a second, took a couple dribbles left and when his defender stepped back to slow penetration he hit the pull up three.

Fernandez is playing passive, he is clearly unsure of himself. His issues with the Blazers system and coach Nate McMillan are well documented. He said he was frustrated that he was not getting enough minutes.He has talked about wanting to go back to Europe to play.

Well he’s getting his minutes in the playoffs, but all of that stuff from the past is clearly still impacting his game.

Credit the Suns for part of Fernadez’s struggles, they took Andre Miller out of the game by putting Grant Hill on him, which forced Fernandez into a more point guard role, one he is not suited to. The Suns Jason Richardson talked
about this
in a radio interview with KTAR in Phoenix yesterday.

“We know Andre is not only their playmaker but they rely
on a lot of scoring from him because Brandon Roy is down.  Make sure to
get the ball out of his hands making tougher to ask for anybody else to
get into their offense and then deny him the ball and make somebody else
beat us.  It will be a great scheme and it actually worked last night.”

Part of Fernandez role is to be the feared spot up guy, or a guy coming off screens and getting the shot if open (or making the post pass inside if not). The ultimate goal for the Blazers is to get the ball inside to Camby or LaMarcus Aldridge. But to get the ball inside means someone has to be an outside threat. There has to be balance.

Fernandez is supposed to be that balance. Right now he is not.

ESPN’s John Hollinger talked with Blazers coaches who had some ideas about how to get Fernandez involved.

To an extent, Blazers insiders will tell you that their offense makes it difficult for Fernandez to put up big numbers, and it hides some of his contributions. He’s usually not a primary ball handler, and often his main responsibility is to run a curl to set up a post-up for Aldridge before retreating to the opposite corner. When he does get touches, most often they’re for an immediate post entry to Aldridge — a tricky type of play that he executes as well as or better than anyone else on the team.

That said, the general sentiment before Game 2 was that Fernandez should attack the basket a bit more and not settle to be a jump shooter. This was particularly true given that the Suns were guarding him with Nash, one of their most vulnerable defenders, as he gives up 3 inches to Fernandez and can’t hope to match him in the air. For Fernandez to finish without a field goal in that matchup borders on embarrassing.

Without Roy, the Blazers are going to need Fernandez to step up, to make an offensive contribution and force the Suns to adjust. He has the game to do it.

But his head and his confidence seem to be back in Spain.

Carmelo Anthony talks opportunity, playing role as he starts play in Portland

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Carmelo Anthony has got his chance.

Portland is a team that needs what Anthony can bring to the court, and Anthony needs the Trail Blazers to end his career on his terms.

Saying the whole thing came together in about 48 hours, Anthony talked about joining Portland in a video posted to YouTube called “The Next Chapter.” He said the Blazers have long been on his mind.

“I always kept my eye on Portland. It just didn’t work out at other times, but now it seems like a perfect opportunity. Me and Dame, we’ve been talking for the past couple years, just off and on. CJ has been playing in my Black Ops runs for the past four years. I just look at that opportunity, that team and say, look ‘this is what I can bring to the team, this is where I can help it.’ It will only work if all parties see it the same way.”

One of the things that gave teams pause about welcoming in Anthony was whether he’d accept a role. The Trail Blazers have a pecking order: Damian Lillard is the alpha and CJ McCollum is the No. 2. Anthony is coming off the bench, not being the focal point of the offense. Anthony is saying the right things.

“What happened before is the past, I can’t dwell on that, I learned from that. This happened at a point in time in my life where I do have a lot of clarity and understanding of different situations and just life, and my approach is totally different.”

Anthony could make his debut as soon as tonight when Portland faces the Pelicans. If not, it will be soon.

Then it will not be about words, but actions.

 

Marcus Smart forced to leave Celtics game with with ugly right ankle sprain

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Marcus Smart has been playing through a lot of bumps, bruises, and minor injuries, refusing to take time off as the Celtics are off to a red-hot start to the season.

He will have to sit out a while with this one, however.

Smart went down with a scary non-contact right ankle sprain in the fourth quarter of Boston’s win against Phoenix Monday. It happened with 9:12 to go in the fourth quarter and Smart didn’t return.

The real test with ankles is the next day (when there will be further testing), but there was optimism after the game that the sprain was not that bad, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

“They’ll check it in the morning,” [Boston coach Brad] Stevens told reporters after the game and added, “it doesn’t look too bad.”

In his postgame comments, Smart said he was okay but he had aggravated the “exact same ankle injury I was coming back from.” He added that he “should be fine to play the rest of the road trip.”

Smart’s a competitor who wants to play. Still, with this being the same ankle he has injured twice now the team might be wise to force him to sit for a few games and let his ankle (among other ailments) heal completely and not become a chronic issue all season (there’s still nearly five months of NBA regular season left).

Look for an update from the team later on Tuesday.

Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic is destroying the NBA, setting records — and he’s still 20

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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) Luka Doncic is destroying the NBA, setting records — and he’s still 20. I, for one, welcome our new Luka Doncic overlord.

LeBron James is right, Doncic is a “bad m***** f*****.” Doncic is destroying the Association and he’s not yet old enough to legally buy a drink. Monday night against the Spurs he had arguably his best game yet: a career-high 42-points, plus 11 rebounds and 12 assists.

It’s hard to get a grasp on just how historic a start to the season Doncic is having, but to help here’s the full list of players who have had 40+ point triple-doubles at or before age 20:

LeBron James
Luka Doncic

That’s it. Expand that to age 21 and you can add Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, and Isiah Thomas. That’s some Hall of Fame company Doncic is running with at a young age.

Doncic has six triple-doubles this season, which leads the league. On the season he is averaging 29.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game, all with a ridiculously efficient 61.2 percent true shooting. Those rebounds are the real difference maker, by the way.

It’s far too early to have a serious MVP conversation, but if you do, Doncic has to be a part of it. He’s been that good this season.

Did I mention he’s only 20?

2) Also making history: James Harden. The Beard put up 36 points in 33:06 minutes on the court against Portland, which is actually slightly below his per game average (39.2) but is still its own bit of history.

Russell Westbrook is right about how we view Harden sometimes, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“I think that a lot of people like to normalize greatness when you see it over and over again, but it’s not normal because there’s nobody else that can do it. If it was normal, everybody would do it.”

Westbrook, by the way, had his own big night with a triple-double of 28 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

The Rockets have won eight in a row and are one of the NBA’s hottest teams right now.

3) Paul George sticks a dagger in his former team, Clippers beat Thunder. It looked like the night former Clippers would get revenge on their team: First Danilo Gallinari hit a three to tie the game at 86-86, then Chris Paul made two free throws for an 88-86 Thunder lead.

Then Paul George happened.

Gallinari had a shot at a three to win but it missed, George hit a free throw after being fouled, and the Clippers get out 90-88 with a win. The real Los Angeles star for the night was Montrezl Harrell, who had 28 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.

George saw his minutes jump to 29 in just his third game back from shoulder surgeries (plural, as in both of them) but did not score north of 30 like his first two games as the Thunder defense had more of a focus on him.

Kawhi Leonard missed his third straight game with a bruised knee suffered against the Rockets.

Paul George’s late three proves to be game-winner against Thunder, his former team (VIDEO)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Paul George hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 25 seconds left, lifting the Los Angeles Clippers over the Oklahoma City Thunder 90-88 on Monday night to improve to 8-1 at home.

The Thunder had just tied the game at 86-all on a 3-pointer by former Clipper Danilo Gallinari before Chris Paul made two free throws after being fouled by George for an 88-86 lead.

George’s 3 put the Clippers ahead 89-88.

The Clippers were then called for a foul that was overturned on a challenge by coach Doc Rivers. The Thunder retained possession and Terrance Ferguson inbounded to Gallinari, whose 3-pointer missed.

George made a free throw with 0.3 seconds left to close out the game against the team that traded him to Los Angeles last summer.

The Thunder fell to 0-5 on the road.

Montrezl Harrell had 28 points and 12 rebounds off the bench to lead the Clippers. George finished with 18 points after scoring 30-plus points in his first two games of the season.

Paul scored 22 points, making 10 of 11 free throws, against his former team. Gallinari added 14 points and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, another former Clipper, had 11 points despite five fouls.

The Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard for the third straight game because of a bruised left knee.