Portland more than snake bit, Spurs defense fuels offense and 2-0 series lead

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The Trail Blazers were snake bit from the start — almost literally. When the Trail Blazers got to the AT&T Center there was a rattlesnake in Thomas Robinson’s locker, causing some grown men to freak out.

It didn’t get a whole lot better when the game tipped off.

Oh, the Trail Blazers hung close for a quarter, but the Spurs scored 41 points in the second quarter — they did it pushing the ball in transition, they did it moving the ball to the open man, they did it knocking down threes.

It was a 19-point game at the half, and when the Spurs took their foot off the gas in the fourth and the Blazers cut the lead to 8, the Spurs responded with an 11-2 run and put it away quickly.

San Antonio went on to win comfortably 114-97. Seven Spurs were in double figures as it was a vintage Spurs team win.

The Spurs are now up 2-0 and in complete control of the series. Portland should make things more interesting heading back to Rip City for Game 3 Saturday night, but it’s nearly impossible to picture them winning 4-of-5 from the Spurs, which is the task before them now.

For the Spurs, it starts on the defensive end — and it’s really starting with Tiago Splitter. As he did with Dirk Nowitzki the series before, Splitter is making life difficult for LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers All-Star power forward finished with 16 points on 6-of-23 shooting, and you can thank Splitter for that.

Being able to single-cover Aldridge lets the Spurs defenders stay home on three-point shooters — the Blazers have gotten fewer good looks from beyond they arc then they want.

That defense from the Spurs leads to a lot of good looks for the Spurs in transition — by design they like to get Tony Parker the ball off a miss and let him push the ball up the court, break down the defense before it gets set and get a good look. That worked well. The Spurs had 17 fast break points in the first half, by the Blazers’ count the Spurs had 32 points in transition plus offensive rebounds — and that’s just the first half.

San Antonio went on an 18-2 run early in the second quarter and the game was basically over from there. The Spurs up were 70-51 at half, having shot 58 percent overall plus knocking down 7-of-10 from three.

For the game Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs with 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting (4-of-4 from three), but this was a team win not an individual one. A balanced win. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili each had 16 points (and both seemed to live in the paint again), Marco Belinelli had 13, Boris Diaw 12, Tim Duncan and Splitter each had 10.

The Blazers were led by Nicolas Batum, who had 21 points. Damian Lillard had 19 points but needed 20 shots to get it, plus he was just 1-of-6 from three. The Spurs are chasing him off the line.

Giver the Blazers credit, they would not just roll over. They made a fourth quarter run, they got some stops and with Splitter resting and Diaw on LaMarcus Aldridge. Quickly the lead was 9, then 8. Then…

Then the Spurs flipped the switch again, went on an 11-2 run and ended it.

The series shifts back to Portland and the fans there are going to be loud. Expect the Blazers to make shots. Expect there to be no snakes anywhere near the locker room.

Also expect that may well not be enough.

Report: NBA not bringing other eight teams to Disney World bubble

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The NBA bringing the “Delete Eight” teams to its Disney World bubble to train as other teams depart?

Like other plans for the Knicks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Hawks, Hornets, Timberwolves and Warriors… it’s not happening.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The NBPA has no interest in that idea, sources said. It’s a non-starter. The inevitable solution for the eight teams left out of Orlando: The NBA and NBPA agreeing upon voluntary workouts in the team facilities, sources said.

The NBPA won’t agree to mandatory reporting for players on the eight teams outside of the restart but will eventually allow it on a voluntary level, sources said.

Bringing those other eight teams to the Disney World bubble was always a ridiculous idea. Why would the NBA jeopardize its highly profitable setup just so some lousy teams could train and maybe hold glorified scrimmages?

Voluntary team workouts are a reasonable allowance. Though it’s difficult to ensure players coming and going from a team facility won’t spread coronavirus, some players are playing basketball in groups, anyway. At their own facilities, teams can at least enforce protocols to increase safety. And players who’d rather be more careful wouldn’t be forced to participate.

There’s no reason to make anything mandatory. These eight teams’ seasons are over.

Suns keep winning, T.J. Warren keeps scoring, Nuggets outlast Jazz in 2OT

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The Suns are unbeatable. T.J Warren is unstoppable. And the NBA is unapologetically fun.

Just another day in the NBA bubble.

Phoenix – already the NBA’s only undefeated team at Disney World – moved to 5-0 in seeding games with a 119-112 win over the Heat.

The Suns are still a half game outside play-in position with a tougher closing stretch than the ninth-place Trail Blazers.* But Phoenix sure is making the race interesting, and Portland isn’t closing the door.

*Both teams still play the 76ers and Mavericks. The Suns also play the Thunder. The Trail Blazers’ last seeding game is against the Nets.

Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Suns should absolutely be encouraged by this stretch. Unlike an early-season surge, when Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio carried big loads, Phoenix’s young players are leading the charge now. Devin Booker scored 35 points tonight. Jevon Carter added 20 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting off the bench. Deandre Ayton (18 points and 12 rebounds) continues to impress. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have steadily contributed at forward.

Expectations are rising for next season.

First, the Suns aren’t ready for this season to end soon.

All the best bubble stories were in Phoenix last season.

Pacers forward T.J. Warren – whom the Suns dumped with a draft-pick sweetener last summer – continued his scoring binge with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Pacers.

Warren could always get buckets. But he has been on another level lately.

The Nuggets (somewhat safely in third place) and Jazz (who might prefer to finish sixth) had few obvious reasons to care about beating each other.

But then the game got going, and both teams’ competitive juices took over.

Donovan Mitchell drove for a layup to force overtime. Nikola Jokic converted inside to force double overtime. Finally, Jamal Murray – who scored 23 points in his first game of the resumption – put Denver up for good with a jumper then 3-pointer in a 134-132 victory.

Bubble games have featured such great energy and competitiveness.

Damian Lillard to Paul George on Instagram: ‘keep switching teams … running from the grind’

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Damian Lillard missed a pair of clutch free throws in the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Clippers today. Patrick Beverley and Paul George let Lillard hear about it. Lillard boasted in his post-game interview about his series-winning shots over Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and George’s Thunder in 2019 (which literally came over George).

Now, the conflict has spilled onto Instagram.

Bleacher Report:

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Dame, PG and Pat Bev went at it in our comments 👀

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George:

And you getting sent home this year 🤣 respect✊

Beverley:

Cancun on 3😂😂😂

Lillard:

keep switching teams … running from the grind . You boys is chumps

George:

@damianlillard respect that too in my stint with my first team I had more success… Dame time running out g

George did lead the Pacers to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, losing to the eventual-champion Heat. Indiana also pushed Miami to Game 6 in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals. George doesn’t get enough credit for those achievements.

Though Lillard’s Trail Blazers peaked in the 2019 Western Conference finals, they got swept by the team that lost in the NBA Finals.

But George forced his way out of Indiana despite that being the only place he could earn a super-max contract. He also re-signed with the Thunder, announcing his plan at a big party thrown by Russell Westbrook, then requested a trade to join Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers only a year later.

Lillard just has different sensibilities. He said he’d stick with the Trail Blazers rather than join a super team. Lillard even talked disparagingly about players who get pressured into bypassing super-max contracts in order to be viewed as a winner elsewhere.

So, this clash makes sense.

Maybe it got too personal for George, who has overcome major injury and returned even better. He surely doesn’t want to be called a chump at this point in his career.

But I disagree with George’s championships-only argument. There is plenty of room for major achievements that fall short of a title – like the Pacers’ deep playoff runs George cited. And Lillard’s series-winning shot last year. George was the casualty on that play. There’s no way around it, and it’s likely still a sore spot. That was a high-profile moment that supersedes missed free throws in a seeding game.

Lillard and George can go back-and-forth about their accomplishments. Both have done plenty in this league. Their individual routes to success show their contrasting values. Neither are wrong. They’re just different.

That’s perfectly fine and – when it leads to spats like this – fun.

Damian Lillard misses clutch FTs, Trail Blazers blow key game against Clippers backups

Damian Lillard vs. Clippers
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The Clippers – maybe wanting to give the Lakers a tougher first-round matchup – showed their lack of interest in beating the Trail Blazers today by sitting Kawhi Leonard. Down five with two minutes left, the Clippers really waved the white flag by closing with a lineup of:

But that group ended the game on a 12-2 run to hand Portland a devastating 122-117 loss.

The Trail Blazers are now just half a game up for ninth in the Western Conference. This further opens the door for the Spurs, Pelicans, Suns and even Kings to make a play-in (and gives the Grizzlies more breathing room for advancing to that stage).

After McGruder hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, Damian Lillard drew a pair of free throws with Portland down one. Lillard is arguably the NBA’s most clutch player, and he had made 89% of his free throws this season. But he missed both – to the particular delight of injured Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Beverley and Lillard have a longstanding personal rivalry. The Clippers also have Paul George.

After the game, Lillard – who hit a series-winning shot against Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and another series-winning shot over George, who was with the Thunder, last year – didn’t mince words.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Lillard:

Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who – I sent him before at the end of a game. Paul George just got sent home by me last year in the playoffs. So, they know. The reason they’re reacting like that is because of what they expect from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. So, I’m not offended by it. If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.

I love Lillard’s ability to remain calm and in control. Kudos for him for finding a way to boast after missing a pair of free throws that effectively cost his team a big game. Really. Lillard’s emotional maturity is an asset.

Expect the Trail Blazers to follow his lead and not further unravel. They can and probably should still be favored to reach the play-in.

But their margin for error definitely just shrunk.