The Extra Pass: Talking Blazers, Clippers, coaching with Bill and Luke Walton

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Portland Trail Blazers fans are not fair weathered. They have stuck with the franchise through some dark times. Now they are being rewarded — with LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard leading the way, Portland fans are getting to witness some of the best, most entertaining basketball Rip City has seen in more than a decade.

Consider Trail Blazer legend and Hall of Famer Bill Walton one of those happy fans.

The big red head is around the game again, having gotten past the back issues that literally had him on the floor for years, and through it all  his passion for the game never died — and it is still infectious.

As is his love for Portland and his plaid-pants wearing coach Dr. Jack Ramsey, who coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA title with Walton as the star.

“There’s nothing like pride,” Bill Walton told ProBasketballTalk. “I played my best basketball ever for the Portland Trail Blazers…

“So many memories, all the guys I’m still really close to. Whenever you’re part of something special, you always come back to the relationships, the personalities…

“(Coach Dr.) Jack Ramsey, he made me the best player that I ever was. His ability to take me to destinations and in directions I never even really thought were possible it was incredible. And what he did, his vision for putting the team together, we were incredibly lucky in that we had guys like Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins, Johnny Davis, Bob Gross.

“And we had the Blazer maniacs. Oh my gosh did they ever make it fun…”

The elder Walton and his son Luke have teamed up with Teleflora for their NBA “Send & Score” Sweepstakes — send Valentines day flowers and you and earn a chance to win a VIP trip to attend an NBA Playoff game, NBA gear and more.

Bill thinks there could be ample opportunities to attend Clippers playoff games this season — that’s another team he played for, both when they were in San Diego and when they first move to Los Angeles.

“It’s so fantastic,” Bill said of the Clippers run of success. “I’m just so thrilled for Ralph Lawler, Mr. Clipper, the voice of the Clippers. What a great friend, Ralph has taught me so much. It’s just been incredible to see what Blake Griffin and Doc Rivers, and Chris Paul… It’s great to see what’s happening with the Clippers because the fans are so deserving and have been waiting for so long.”

What do the Clippers need to get over the top in a brutal West?

“I think trading for Doc Rivers in the off-season was big because he’s a championship coach,” said Luke, who is now an assistant coach for the D-Fenders of the D-League plus is a studio analyst for the Lakers. “He knows what it takes, he will put the confidence in the players come playoff time. Just with another year of going through the playoffs like they did last year, I think they automatically get better off that. And I think Doc could have been that missing piece to take them over the top.”

“It’s all about culture,” Bill added. “There’s never been a great player, a great team, a great organization without a great leader. Doc Rivers has proven to be that championship leader to get the guys to sacrifice for the team, because you’re never going to get it done on the big scale. If you want to score and you want to be the champion and if you want to make it all happen, you have to get guys willing to sacrifice.”

Both of the Waltons played for some of the greatest coaches the game has ever seen — Bill played for six Hall of Fame coaches from John Wooden at UCLA through Ramsey and others, while Luke was with Lute Olsen at Arizona and Phil Jackson in the NBA.

Those experiences mean both think coaching is key to really winning in the NBA.

“I think it’s huge,” Luke said. “The NBA is full of the best players in the world, so what coach can get those guys to play hard, to play together, to play for each other, that’s what really makes a good coach a great coach. And I think Doc Rivers is one of those guys.”

“It’s all about the love that from a somebody who can make guys believe there is a bigger picture here,” Bill added.

He’s not a coach, but Bill’s cup is still overflowing with the love of the game. It’s just great to have him back around the game, talking hoops. And Portland.

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Pacers 89, Hawks 85: The first half of this was tight, but a lot of the Hawks’ success was fueled by the 14 Pacers turnovers before the break. After the break the Pacers locked down the Hawks — Atlanta shot 30 percent in the third — plus Indy the pace took care of the ball (five second half turnovers), and with that pulled away. David West had nine of this 22 in the third, and Paul George added 18. Mike Scott had 11 of his team-high 15 in the fourth, but it wasn’t near enough. By the way, Lance Stephenson took a nasty third quarter fall and did not return, however it does not appear to be serious. Which is good news.

Timberwolves 109, Lakers 99: So the return of Steve Nash to the lineup did not help the Lakers’ defense. Who knew? This is 15 consecutive games the Lakers have given up 100 or more and Minnesota put their foot on the gas early with 38 points in the first quarter, led by 14 from Kevin Martin (who had 31 for the game). Minny led by 25 in the second quarter and while a couple times in the fourth the Lakers got it to single digits this was never in doubt. Kevin Love had 31 points and 17 rebounds, Ricky Rubio dished out 17 assists. It was good to see Nash back on the court and he dished out nine assists plus hit three of six shots in 24 minutes. Steve Blake returned also and played 32 minutes, had zero points and ruptured an eardrum (but will continue traveling with the team).

Bulls 101, Suns 92: Chicago was able to do what Indiana wasn’t — grind down to the Suns and put their offense in quicksand. At least for a half, but it was enough. The Bulls played good transition defense, they guarded the arc well (the Suns were just 8-of-28 from three) and they scored efficiently enough to remove a lot of running opportunities for Phoenix. The Bulls did a lot of that damage in the first half, but when the Suns came out on a 13-4 run early in the second it felt like they could sprint past Chicago. They didn’t thanks to strong quarters from Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy, then D.J Augustin had 9 points off the bench in the fourth quarter as the Bulls answered every Suns run. Goran Dragic had 24 points to lead the Suns.

Bobcats 91, Warriors 75: Golden State’s offense hasn’t been as good as you’d expect this season and of late it’s been a mess — in their last five games the Warriors are shooting below 40 percent as a team. That reached a new low against a strong Bobcats defense Tuesday, with Golden State scoring just 75 points on 32 percent shooting. Stephen Curry was 1-of-7 from three, David Lee 3-of-13 overall. Al Jefferson was a beast inside with 30 points on the night to lead Charlotte.

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.