Portland’s come-from-behind win leaves it one victory from second round

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As a fan of entertaining basketball (if not defense), I don’t want this series to end — Portland and Houston are evenly matched and an interesting contrast in styles that leads to thrilling games. Rockets GM Daryl Morey on twitter called this game four games in this series “coin flips.”

Yet it all could end Wednesday.

For three quarters Sunday Houston was an offensive force — they shot 52.6 percent overall and hit 9-of-19 from three, they put up 84 points, and everything Chandler Parsons threw up went in (11-of-15 shooting in the first three). The Rockets led the way pretty much in the entire way as Portland just did . They seemed in control.

But in the third the LaMarcus Aldridge got it going with 13 points — despite Omer Asik and a parade of longer defenders on him h. Then Damian Lillard ended the quarter with a three. Suddenly it was just a five-point game going into the fourth and the fans in Portland were into it and loud.

In the fourth quarter the Blazers got stops — Portland shot 36.8 percent, Dwight Howard and James Harden combined to shot 5-of-12. Portland wasn’t an offensive juggernaut but thanks to 8 points from Nicolas Batum (who was “guarded” by Harden) it was a tied game and we had overtime. Again.

There Batum kept scoring (5 points) and Portland hit four of the five shots they took. Houston made some shots too, but the Blazers were hitting their shots and their free throws.

When the final buzzer eventually sounded it was 123-120 Portland.

The Trail Blazers have a 3-1 lead and a can put the series away with a win Wednesday in Houston.

Portland did it with balance — LaMarcus Aldridge’s 29 points led the way (he was 6-of-11 from the midrange, killing the Rockets from there) but four Blazers had 20 or more: Damian Lillard had 23 points and 8 assists, Wesley Matthews scored 21 points, and Nicolas Batum added 25.

The Rockets had 28 points from James Harden (his most efficient outing of the playoffs taking just 21 shots), 26 from Chandler Parsons and 23 from Dwight Howard (who also had 14 rebounds). Those three made plays late in the fourth quarter, when Portland had taken the lead — Houston got stops on three straight possessions thanks to a couple blocks from Howard. They just couldn’t get stops consistently all night.

Their big story again was Troy Daniels, the rookie out o VCU who spent most of the season in the D-League — he had 17 points and was 4-of-5 from deep. He is playing well enough that he’s gotten under Mo Williams’ skin.

But it wasn’t enough to save the Rockets.

Now Houston has its backs against the wall as they keep learning the hard lessons of the playoffs — about working together as a team, about doing the little things — that if they don’t master by Wednesday could be the end of their season.

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.