Otto Porter Jr., the un-sexy prospect

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WASHINGTON — If the NBA Draft were dating, Otto Porter Jr. is the one all fathers would approve of. Dad never objects to the guy labeled “safe.” On Thursday, we’ll found out which team covets reliable over risk.

The Georgetown forward can do just about everything on the basketball court. Based on league chatter, that versatility apparently excites no one. That’s not to say the unanimous Big East Player of the Year lacks desirability among pundits and teams picking in slots one through six. It’s just not apparently in a lusty sort of way.

Draft Express:

“Porter appears to be one of the more safe picks in this year’s draft.”

SI.com’s Andy Glocker:

“Otto Porter may be the surest thing in the draft”

NBA scout on Porter:

“I think he’s the safest pick in the draft.”

The 6-foot-8 sophomore’s instinct-rich game with a significant defensive component and nary a trace of jock ego warms the heart, especially by those that catch his act repeatedly.

There just isn’t a high-rising component, though Porter’s 36-inch vertical more than gets the job done.

There just isn’t a textbook shooting stroke, though he improved his 3-point accuracy from 23 percent as a freshman to 42 last season.

There just isn’t any aspect of Porter’s game that is dynamic, at least not in a posterizing sort of way. However, there are no glaring weaknesses, no sense of wasted potential. That’s why his college coach uttered a one-word answer when queried about what kind of questions NBA teams are asking about his guy.

“None,” said a matter-of-fact John Thompson III after a brief pause to realize that oddity of what he was to say considering the million dollar stakes.

Thompson continued: “I’m biased, but I also think I’m right. I think he’s the most complete player in the draft at both ends of the court, the most ready player in the draft. I think people have seen that, he’s displayed that over the last couple of years.”

Indeed, teams know what they get if they draft Porter, as opposed to 7-foot-1 Alex Len, who both wowed and waned last season at Maryland. As opposed to UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, who offers an abundance of offensive weaponry, but often showed little interest in stopping opponents from using theirs. As opposed to Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, who is a shot-blocking savant but a point-producing novice with already two major knee injuries in his young career.

That’s why with Porter, who led the Hoyas in scoring (16.2), rebounds (7.5), steals (1.8) and 3-point shooting, everyone loves same variation of that “s” word.

ESPN’s Chad Ford on the Wizards’ possible debate at No. 3:

“Do they go with more of a sure thing (Porter) or gamble on the guy with more upside in (UNLV’s Anthony) Bennett?”

Thompson believes a certain “c” word is what makes Porter a potential gem.

“A word that is perhaps used too often, but applies — he’s coachable,” Thompson said. “I’ve told several teams, just figure out what you want him to do if you take him and tell him. Tell him what you want him to be able to do and he’ll be able to do it.”

Geez, where’s the fun, the drama with that?

Perhaps Porter’s closest draft doppelganger is the four inches shorter Victor Oladipo. Like the Indiana guard, Porter entered college under the national radar, is a defensive-minded player who made dramatic offensive strides this past season from long range. Of course, everyone fawns for Oladipo and his 42-inch vertical to the point where even his missed dunks are legendary.

Based purely on positional need, Porter is an obvious fit for the No.1 picking and small forward lacking Cleveland Cavaliers. Some reports have suggested Porter is atop Cleveland’s draft board. According to one source, the Cavs “want to take Porter,” but wanting and doing are not the same. Nary a highly cited mock draft has this scenario unfolding.

Most often projected to the Wizards, Porter recently worked out for the NBA team that plays in the same Verizon Center where Georgetown’s low-key leader starred last season. Washington could use a player capable of defending multiple positions who always seems one step ahead of the play as a passer and when it comes to anticipating tosses from others.

It’s just that on the surface that type of player doesn’t make for part of a desired “Big 3.” The Wizards may have an opportunity to snag a coveted building block center (Len, Noel) or add a potentially dynamic scorer (Bennett) for an offense that tied for last in that category.

Sheridan Sports:

“His ceiling may not be as high as UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, but Porter projects as a much safer pick.”

Oh, if you’re wondering why there are no quotes in here from Otto Porter Jr. himself, let’s just say talking about his own game is not one of the unassuming Missourian’s strengths. Then again, in this kingly era, a player not into self-promotion sounds very appealing. So does his parental-approved game.

Russell Westbrook outduels Damian Lillard, Thunder pick up win to get back in series

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook called his play in Game 2 “unacceptable.”

It was more than acceptable in Game 3. He had 33 points and 11 assists and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Portland Trail Blazers 120-108 on Friday night to cut their series deficit to 2-1.

Paul George added 22 points, Jerami Grant had 18 and Dennis Schroder 17 for the Thunder. They will host Game 4 on Sunday night.

Damian Lillard scored 32 points, but he had just three in the fourth quarter after scoring 25 in the third.

C.J. McCollum had 21 and Enes Kanter added 19.

Oklahoma City closed the second quarter on a 10-1 run to take a 49-39 lead. Lillard was held to four points on 2 -or-6 shooting and the Trail Blazers shot 37.5% in the half.

George hit a 3-pointer, was fouled and made the free throw in the opening minutes of the second half to push Oklahoma City’s lead to 55-43. Westbrook backed down Lillard, hit a bank shot and was fouled. Westbrook brought out his “rock the baby” celebration, then made the free throw to put Oklahoma City up by 15.

Lillard scored 23 points the rest of the quarter to help cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 86-82 at the end of the period. McCollum hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 89 early in the fourth.

Oklahoma City regained control, then kept it. Westbrook’s jumper with just over two minutes remaining put the Thunder up 10.

 

Celtics beat Pacers 104-96 to take 3-0 series lead

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jaylen Brown scored 23 points and Kyrie Irving added 19 to help the Boston Celtics beat the Indiana Pacers 104-96 on Friday night for a 3-0 lead in the first-round series.

The Celtics can close out the Eastern Conference series Sunday in Indianapolis.

Irving also had 10 assists and five rebounds.

Tyreke Evans matched his career playoff high with 19 points for the Pacers. Bojan Bogdanovic had 15, not enough to prevent Indiana from losing its sixth straight to Boston in the regular season and playoff.

Indiana desperately needed a win to avoid facing its second sweep in three years, but Boston started fast and closed it with a 10-4 spurt late in the fourth quarter.

And once again, Boston’s defense turned the game by allowing just 12 points in the third quarter.

It’s been that kind of series for Indiana, which erased a 15-point first half deficit to take a 61-59 halftime lead. Myles Turner opened the third with a 3-pointer to make it a five-point game.

But Boston charged back with eight straight points to retake the lead, closed the quarter on a 9-2 run to make it 80-73 and pulled away late.

The Celtics took control quickly by going 8 of 10 on 3s in the first quarter to build a 37-22 lead.

Evans finally got the Pacers righted with 12 second-quarter points including bookend 3s to start and finish the 17-3 spurt that allowed Indiana to tie it at 52. The Pacers closed the half on a 9-2 run to take the lead.

 

Pascal Siakam scores 30, leads Raptors past Magic for 2-1 series lead

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Toronto Raptors think Pascal Siakam should be selected the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

He was their MVP on Friday night.

And the East’s No. 2 seed has the home-court edge back again.

Siakam had 30 points and 11 rebounds, hitting a floater with 1:33 left to help snuff out a big Orlando rally and the Raptors held off the Magic 98-93 to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series.

“He’s unbelievable,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “He’s the most improved basketball player in the NBA this year and he’s only going to get better.”

Siakam was 13 for 20 from the floor and the Raptors held Orlando to 36% shooting.

“It’s just taking what a defense gives us and going with it,” Siakam said.

Kawhi Leonard — battling illness this week — had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Danny Green had 13 points and Lowry finished with 12 points and 10 assists, plus ran down a huge offensive rebound with about 15 seconds left to extend a critical possession and spoil Orlando’s first home playoff game since 2012.

“It was really what I thought it was going to be tonight,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I really thought this was going to be a tough atmosphere to play in.”

Terrence Ross led Orlando with 24 points, and Nikola Vucevic shook off a slow start to finish with 22 points and 14 rebounds.

Game 4 is Sunday night in Orlando.

“Our turnovers hurt us again,” Vucevic said, lamenting Orlando’s 16 giveaways. “We had too many of those. Empty possessions for us and against a team like that you can’t have that.”

The Raptors trailed 61-60 midway through the third after a brief Orlando spurt, then went on a 16-0 run over the next four minutes to take the lead for good. Siakam and Green were both 3 for 3 during the run, the Magic missed 10 consecutive shots over a span of 6 1/2 minutes and had to play uphill the rest of the way.

That being said, they went down swinging.

Lowry’s 3-pointer with 7:48 left gave Toronto its biggest lead at 86-69. The Magic came flying back, and Ross’ 3-pointer with 41 seconds left got Orlando to 96-93.

Leonard was short with a jumper on the next possession — but the Magic couldn’t control the rebound, Lowry ran it down and Leonard made a pair of free throws with 12.9 seconds remaining to clinch the win.

“Critical,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said.

Orlando, which finished the regular season by winning 13 of its final 14 home games, was 13 of 44 from 3-point range.

Toronto scored the first 10 points — the last five by Siakam, who was a problem from the outset for the Magic — and led by as many as 11 in the first half. The Magic got within 48-45 at the break after Ross beat the clock from midcourt at the buzzer.

The Magic got the lead twice in the second half, once by one point, the other by two points. And both leads lasted exactly 15 seconds, getting taken away on 3-pointers by Siakam and Green.

And now it’s up to Orlando to regroup, the same way Toronto did after dropping Game 1.

“It’s 2-1,” Clifford said. “It’s not like it’s 3-0. It’s 2-1…. Handling disappointment is a huge part of NBA basketball and it’s a bigger part of playoff basketball.”

Watch Orlando’s Terrence Ross drain halfcourt buzzer beater just before half

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Back on their home court, the Orlando Magic are hanging right with the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the 1-1 series.

This helped.

It looked like the Magic would go into halftime down by at least six, and then Terrence Ross did this.

Ross’ name came up a lot just before the trade deadline when other teams thought the Magic would decide to tank and move on from their players who could bring back assets to help the rebuild. The Magic were 10 games below .500 and four games out of the eight seed. Orlando decided instead to push for the postseason, and they made their first playoffs since the Dwight Howard era, climbing all the way to the seven seed. That would not have happened without Ross.

Now they are making the most of their opportunity.