It’s Groundhog Day for Portland as Spurs dominate again, lead series 3-0

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Bill Murray had an infinite number of days in the movie Groundhog Day to repeat the same experiences, learn his lessons and win over Andie MacDowell.

The Trail Blazers are running out of time to learn their lessons — one more game and their season ends.

This series feels like Groundhog Day for Trail Blazers fans. Just like in Games 1 and 2, the San Antonio Spurs took an early lead, exploited the fact nobody on Portland can guard Tony Parker (29 points and 6 assists), had Tiago Splitter stifle LaMarcus Aldridge (9-of-23 shooting for 21 points), blew the game open in the second quarter and coasted in to a 118-103 win.

San Antonio now leads the series 3-0. The only question left is if the series ends Monday night in Portland or next Wednesday night back in San Antonio.

You can really just pick any area and the Spurs dominated Game 3 (and the series):

• Bench scoring. Through three games this series the San Antonio bench has outscored Portland’s 140-43. That gives Gregg Popovich matchup options Portland and Terry Stotts just does not have.

• Tony Parker. He continues to just carve up the Trail Blazers defense, getting into the paint and with that breaking down all things Portland. Why are we all so slow to call him the best point guard in the game? (I’m guilty of it.)

• Portland’s defense. We knew it wasn’t all that great — they have some good individual defenders, but to beat the Spurs you have to play as a unit, you have to be a defense on a string. The Blazers are not. The Spurs are moving the ball to uncontested shots all too easily (60 percent of their shots were not contested in Game 3, according to the NBA’s Sports VU camera data).

• Tiago Splitter. He draws the Aldridge assignment and just corrals the Blazers’ All-Star. Which allows the other defenders to stay home on their men. Which leads to the next note…

• Limiting Damian Lillard from three. He was 0-of-6 in this game. For most of the series the Spurs have sat on all the Blazers shooters, but in Game 3 Nicolas Batum (4-of-7 from three, 20 points) and Wes Mathews (4-of-10 from three, 22 points) got loose a little. Still, the Blazers need Lillard to go off to really be effective.

We could go on, but I think the point is clear.

Tim Duncan had 19 points and helped slam the door when the Blazers tried to make a second half run. Kawhi Leonard seems to be everywhere. Boris Diaw, Manu Ginobili, everyone is playing well for San Antonio.

This is simply a case where not only are the Spurs the better team they are terrible matchup for the Blazers. San Antonio was not sharp against Dallas in the first round (give the Mavs some credit there) but since Game 7 of that series they have been the best team in the playoffs.

Portland had a great season, made big leaps. Now they are seeing what the next level they need to reach is. They are learning some lessons the hard way.

The Spurs have taught a lot of teams those lessons during the past 15 years.

Danny Green: Kawhi Leonard told me he wants to stay with Spurs

AP Photo/Eric Gay
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The Spurs are reportedly worried Kawhi Leonard‘s camp wants to get him to the Lakers, Clippers, Knicks or 76ers.

Leonard hasn’t said much himself – except apparently to San Antonio teammate Danny Green

Get Up on ESPN:

Green:

I talk to him here and there, check up on him, see how he’s doing.

I think he wants to be in San Antonio. He’s let me know that. He’s let me know verbally he wanted to be there. So, we’ll see what happens.

Green has tried playing peacemaker throughout this saga – going as far as denying tension that clearly exists. He’s not the most reliable source.

And even if Leonard explicitly told Green he wants to remain in San Antonio, I’m not sure Leonard is confrontational enough to tell Green he wanted out, even if he did.

Those caveats acknowledged, this could be a huge revelation.

If Leonard wants to stay with the Spurs, the next step is meeting with them, mending their relationship and convincing them he deserves a super-max extension (which projects to be worth $219 million over five years). No matter how Leonard feels about San Antonio right now, if the Spurs don’t trust investing so much in him, that could lead to a fractured relationship and his exit.

So, there’s still a lot to sort out. But Green saying this means something.

LeBron James flips elimination-game game on its head

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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His Cavaliers down 3-2 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, how does LeBron James assess his situation?

"I don’t enjoy being in the position where it’s you lose and go home," LeBron said before Game 6 tonight in Cleveland.

He might not enjoy this position, but he’s pretty good in it.

Since he first reached the playoffs in 2006, other teams have won 26% of their elimination games. LeBron’s teams have won 57% of theirs.

Of course, LeBron hasn’t gone 12-9 in elimination games just because he’s lucky. He has willed his team off the mat numerous times.

LeBron has scored 40 points and/or had a triple-double in six straight elimination games, winning five of them. His line in his last elimination game before that streak? Just 32 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

A full history of LeBron’s elimination games:

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Rockets played with fire with Chris Paul, got burned

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Chris Paul played 79 minutes in three days.

Prior to Games 4 and 5 of these Western Conference finals, he hadn’t done that in more than two years. He hadn’t done it without both games going to overtime in more than three years.

The Rockets leaned heavily on the 33-year-old Paul, and they’ll pay the price.

Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow. Given how quickly Houston ruled out Paul with a strained hamstring, he seems unlikely to play in a potential Game 7 Monday.

Injuries are somewhat – but not completely – random. Players are more susceptible when worn down. After missing the close of the 2016 postseason, Paul missed 45 games the last two regular seasons. He has accumulated a lot of mileage in his 13-year career.

Yet, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni drastically shortened his rotation, anyway. Not only did Paul play big minutes in this series, he shouldered a huge load. He took the reins of the offense at times, allowing James Harden to conserve energy for defense, while maintaining his own strong-two way play. That’s never easy, especially in these high-intensity games.

This was the risk.

We can feel bad for Paul and his predicament. We can also acknowledge Houston got this far by gambling on Paul’s health.

That’s not to say it was a bad bet. This is what you save him for, the biggest playoff series of his career and maybe one of the last before he exits his prime. The Rockets would have been far worse off to this point resting Paul extensively and protecting him. Even with such a heavy workload, an injury was never fait accompli. And Houston got plenty from Paul before he went down. He was instrumental to wins in Game 4 and Game 5 that gave the Rockets a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Now, they just must hope that’s enough of a head-start into a world of playing without Paul.

Chris Paul out for Rockets-Warriors Game 6

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The Rockets bought themselves margin for error by earning home-court advantage and taking a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.

They’ll need it.

Chris Paul will miss Game 6 against the Warriors tomorrow with a strained hamstring.

Rockets release:

The Houston Rockets announced today that guard Chris Paul will miss Saturday’s game at Golden State with a right hamstring strain that occurred during the fourth quarter of last night’s game against the Warriors. He will be re-evaluated after the team returns to Houston.

Golden State was already heavily favored at home. This will tilt the odds even further in its favor.

But the Rockets aren’t completely incapable without Paul. They went 15-9 without him this season. James Harden and Eric Gordon can assume extra playmaking duty.

Still, this is a massive loss. When Harden is overburdened offensively, his defense suffers. Gordon is already playing a lot of minutes, so greater responsibility will come in role, not playing time. To fill Paul’s minutes, Mike D’Antoni will have to expand a rotation he had masterfully tightened. Gerald Green could play more. Luc Mbah a Moute could return to the rotation.

A Game 7 looks increasingly likely. Will Paul return for that? The 2018 NBA title might hinge on that question.

Given how quickly the Rockets announced Paul would miss Game 6, there isn’t much reason for optimism about Paul’s availability three days from now, either.