Rajon Rondo may be teetering on the Team USA bubble

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team_usa_rondo_rose.jpgRajon Rondo’s DNP against Spain on Sunday could be read a number of ways. For my part, I naturally assumed that Rondo — who had started for Team USA up to that point and remains the team’s top perimeter defender and most natural playmaker — was held out in an act of gamesmanship by Mike Krzyzewski. Rondo seems to have read the situation a bit differently.

From Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com:

Somebody is going to get cut from Team USA after Wednesday night’s exhibition game against Greece, and Rajon Rondo has no illusions about where he stands. “I
think I’m on the bubble,” Rondo said Tuesday. “Just looking at the
obvious — I got a DNP last game. That pretty much speaks for itself.”

After losing his job as the starting point guard to Derrick Rose
last weekend in Madrid, Rondo’s stock has fallen to the point where it
now appears he is third on the point guard depth chart behind Rose and Russell Westbrook.

…”It’s not so much what Rajon has to show, it’s what our team needs.
We’ve found a good lineup, and the international game is so different
from the NBA game, you can ask any of these guys,” Krzyzewski said.
“Part of it is to make sure that we try not to have two non-shooters
out on the court, and there’s the physicality, too.”

Sheridan also notes that Krzyzewski seemed to indicate that Stephen Curry’s roster spot is not in jeopardy. That would leave the presumed bubble list to include Rondo, Eric Gordon, Russell Westbrook, and possibly Danny Granger and Kevin Love, as well. After all, if Rondo’s DNP against Spain is significant, why wouldn’t Granger and Love (who also didn’t play on Sunday) be safe?

Rondo certainly has his limitations (particularly on this roster, which is already saturated with guards), but his defensive value should have put him a step above Russell Westbrook. That clearly hasn’t happened, and Rondo’s turnovers and lack of a shooting stroke are no doubt to blame. K wisely bemoans having too many non-shooters on the floor at once, which isn’t just one of those quirky FIBA problems, but a very real quandary on just about every level of basketball.

Lithuania packed the paint against Team USA, and putting Rondo on the floor empowers other opponents to do the same. Tyson Chandler isn’t going to launch jumpers. Andre Iguodala and Lamar Odom are far too inconsistent from outside to be counted on. The number of reliable shooters on the roster is already a bit thin, which could make cutting Rondo — and saving Gordon or Granger, for example, in the process — an understandable move.

I just don’t think it’s the right one. It’s clear that regardless of which player has the honor of being the final cut, Team USA will struggle at times offensively. That makes the Americans’ pressure defense even more important; not only does their defensive philosophy hide the limited supply of bigs on Team USA’s bench, but also it also creates more offense to compensate for those aforementioned struggles. That’s where Rondo is an unquestionable boon. Maybe he is a bit careless with his passes and a bit wild with his jumper, but Team USA can live with both of those things as long as he steps up defensively.

Rondo doesn’t need to play alongside Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook. He just needs to play. 

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.