Damian Lillard leads Blazers to win over shorthanded Knicks

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The Knicks limped into Portland on Thursday, and were forced to give it a go against the Blazers without their two All-Stars. The result was pretty much what you would have expected.

New York was dropped by the Blazers 105-90, thanks to a stellar 26 point, 10 rebound performance from Damian Lillard, the runaway candidate to take home Rookie of the Year honors this season.

Carmelo Anthony missed this one after testing his knee in Denver, before flying back to New York to have it drained. He’s considered questionable for Sunday against the Clippers, as is Tyson Chandler, who also sat this one out with what was being called a left knee contusion.

With New York’s main offensive option sidelined, the bulk of the scoring landed on the shoulders of J.R. Smith, who led all scorers with 33 points. Most of the damage he did was in the fourth quarter, however, while trying to drag his team back from a 16-point deficit. And actually, he came pretty close.

Smith had 18 points in the final period, and scored 11 straight for his team to bring the Knicks to within four with just under eight minutes remaining.

That’s all the fight New York could muster, as Portland immediately responded with a 15-2 run to regain control, and push the lead to as many as 17 before the game was through.

Raymond Felton returned to Portland for the first time since suffering through a brutal season with the Blazers last year, one that ended with the fans and local media essentially scapegoating him for everything that went wrong a season ago.

Felton was greeted with more boos than Anthony received in Denver the night before, and finished with an ineffective 11 points on 4-12 shooting in 29 minutes of action.

This game was about Lillard, and how he once again showed an ability beyond his years to step up as a leader for his team. He finished 11-18 from the field, but knocked down all seven of his attempts inside the three-point arc. If you want to nitpick, 11 of his shot attempts came from three-point distance, as did all seven of his misses on the night.

But the ones he made were huge, including two in the fourth that pushed the Blazers’ lead back to nine, and then up to 15 as Portland began to close the Knicks out.

The patience will come to Lillard as he matures in his career, and the threes relatively early in the shot clock may be a function of the lack of a variety of other options on this Blazers team as currently constructed — and, it’s possible those shots might even be endorsed by the team’s coaching staff.

On the Knicks side, they know what they have when all of their pieces are in place. Without Anthony and Chandler, however, New York is decidedly below average.

Pistons hire Ed Stefanski to advise owner on searches for general manager and coach, with Dwane Casey reportedly top target

AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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After interviewing Kiki VanDeWeghe, Ed Stefanski, Gersson Rosas, Trajan Langdon, Brent Barry and Shane Battier, the Pistons picked Stefanski… to help pick the head of basketball operations.

Pistons release:

Detroit Pistons Owner Tom Gores announced today the hiring of Ed Stefanski as a senior executive reporting directly to Mr. Gores with responsibility for helping reshape the team’s basketball operations infrastructure and strategy. In this new role, Mr. Stefanski will assist in the searches now underway for a new head coach and new head of basketball operations; conduct a broad review of the existing structure in which the two jobs were previously combined;  recommend enhancements and improvements to that structure; and act as a long-term strategic adviser to Mr. Gores and the Pistons’ ownership team. His contract has a three-year term.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Pistons’ top target in the coaching search is former Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey, according to league sources.

Gores loves his consultants. He hired former Knicks and Jazz president Dave Checketts as an advisor shortly after buying the Pistons in 2011. That led to keeping Joe Dumars as president of basketball operations for three more, nearly doomed-to-fail, years. When Gores set out to replace Dumars in 2014, the Pistons trumpeted their use of search firm Korn/Ferry. On the recommendation of Korn/Ferry, Gores hired Stan Van Gundy as president-coach.

Now, with Van Gundy out and Detroit untangling those roles, Gores has turned to Stefanski.

Stefanski ran the 76ers from 2007-10, and he worked for the Grizzlies the last few years. Maybe his many years of experience will help in the latest general-manager search.

But then what?

Once the Pistons hire a general manager, what will Stefanski do? How will Gores distribute power so the new general manager and Stefanski aren’t stepping on each other’s toes or, worse, undercutting each other?

Locking in on Casey before hiring a general manager also seems like a mistake. Casey is a good coach and would be a good hire based on his acumen. But that should be the next general’s call. Forcing a coach onto a general manager usually goes poorly – though there might be a selection bias, because the type of team that does that usually has wider problems, too.

Which, yeah.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue on Kyle Korver’s playing time: Brad Stevens ‘threw us for a loop’ by not playing Semi Ojeleye

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James is obviously the Cavaliers’ best player. Cleveland’s second-best player? Usually Kevin Love, but Kyle Korver has made a case lately.

So, how did Korver play just 19 minutes, including none in the first quarter, in the Cavs’ Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night? That was his playoff low, besides Game 1 against the Pacers, when he was still recovering from injury.

Blame Boston coach Brad Stevens removing Semi Ojeleye from his rotation.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue:

Well, initially, he’s been putting [Semi] Ojeleye in, so that’s been kind of Kyle’s matchup when he comes in the game. He didn’t play him tonight, so it kind of threw us for a loop.

This won’t slow the talk of Stevens being a genius. He neutralized one of Cleveland’s best players simply by not using a limited rookie.

Still, Lue’s strategy held some merit. Korver is a defensive liability, but Ojeleye’s offensive limitations make it hard to take advantage. Ojeleye’s biggest strength, his physical strength, is of limited utility in trying to stick tight to Korver on the perimeter.

In Games 1-4, Cavaliers with Korver on and…

Ojeleye on:

  • Offensive rating: 111.9
  • Defensive rating: 102.1
  • Net rating: +9.9

Ojeleye off:

  • Offensive rating: 97.0
  • Defensive rating: 109.5
  • Net rating: -12.5

That said, Korver is too good to plant on the bench. Other perimeter options – J.R. Smith, George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and Jeff Green (who actually played fine last night) – are just so unreliable. Lue shouldn’t just wait for the perfect matchup to use Korver.

But will Lue get it, anyway?

Stevens:

We believe in Semi and we think he’s a big, huge part of our team. It would not be a shock if he plays a ton for us in Game 6.

Lue better develop a plan for using Korver in Game 6 Friday, with contingencies based on Stevens using or not using Ojeleye. I wouldn’t trust Stevens’ declaration one bit, and Lue doesn’t want to get thrown for a loop again.

PBT Extra: Rockets showed defense, resilience, can Warriors show same in Game 5?

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Game 4 was an epic game, and the Houston Rockets proved they are a serious threat to knock the Warriors off the top of the mountain. They took Golden State’s big punch to start the game (a 12-0 run) and Stephen Curry haymaker in the third, cranked up their defense, got a great game from Chris Paul, and evened the series at 2-2.

Heading back to Houston, we can expect more of the same out of the Rockets Thursday night — they know a win in Game 5 puts them in a very dominant position in the series.

The question is, do the Warriors have another gear? That’s one of the topics I get into in this PBT Extra. For a few seasons now, the Warriors have been able to play lockdown defense and hit tough shots in the clutch, with Kevin Durant making them especially hard to stop, but in Game 4 when it got tight they looked tired and slow. Houston’s ball pressure threw Golden State off its game, and fatigue had set in for the Warriors. Can they not only go on big runs but slow down Chris Paul, James Harden and the Rockets’ attack?

Thursday night is going to be interesting.

LeBron James recalls six turnovers with striking precision (video)

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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LeBron James showed off his memory after the Cavaliers’ Game 1 loss to the Celtics, detailing every play of the beginning of the fourth quarter:

He was at it again after Cleveland’s Game 5 loss to the Celtics last night.

Asked about his six turnovers, LeBron perfectly described six turnovers:

The turnover LeBron very noticeably said went off Jeff Green‘s hands was actually assigned to Green. So, that meant LeBron omitted one of his own:

Still, this was incredibly impressive. It was also maybe a little passive-aggressive, the way LeBron notes the ball going off Green’s and J.R. Smith‘s hands.

So, it was quintessential LeBron.