Zach LaVine says he’s a ‘bucket-getter,’ believes his scoring ability is NBA ready

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NEW YORK — Zach LaVine has been raising eyebrows in the weeks leading up to Thursday night’s NBA Draft with the incredible leaping displays he’s been putting on while attending individual team workouts. But he feels he has a lot more to offer at the professional level than simply sheer athleticism.

Speaking at the pre-draft media availability in Manhattan on Wednesday, LaVine says that his ability to score the basketball is his most NBA-ready skill.

“I feel like I can get my shot off against anybody,” LaVine told NBCSports.com. “I’m really good from midrange, and I just feel like my game adjusts to the NBA really well. It’s a lot of one-on-one play. If you can go get your shot off and you can make shots — I feel like I’m a bucket-getter.

“If a team needs me to score, I can do that, but if they want me to play the one, I have a good feel for the ball and can be one of their playmakers as well. But also my athleticism, so I know that translates.”

That athleticism makes LaVine feel like he can score by posting up defenders as well, despite a 6’5″, 180-pound frame that many believe will need to increase in bulk for him to succeed at the professional level.

“I feel like I have a really good feel for [playing with my back to the basket],” LaVine said. “I may not be the biggest dude, but against smaller guards, I feel like I can post them up. I feel like I’ve got pretty good footwork. I watch a lot of Kobe and Michael Jordan, and I know I’m not nearly on their level, but I’ve got a little feel for it. My turnaround, I can just jump over people. I can just jump over somebody, so I feel semi-comfortable.”

One thing he doesn’t need to improve upon his is shooting ability from long distances. His proven extended range is one thing scouts agree upon, and it’s an area where LaVine is extremely confident.

“That’s easy,” he said, when asked how he feels about shooting the ball from NBA three-point distance. “That’s the one thing I don’t have to worry about. I’ve been known as someone who has a lot of range on my jumpshot. NBA three-point line is something I definitely don’t have to work on. It’s easy.”

LaVine expects to hear his name called with a pick anywhere from the middle of the lottery to just outside of it. An earlier pick means more guaranteed dollars initially, while a later one could mean going to a better team more ready to win in the immediate future.

LaVine will be happy wherever he’s selected, but is hoping for the best combination of the two possibilities.

“It’s all about situations,” he said. “Some people get lucky, some people got to work through it in their rookie year. Hopefully I’m fortunate enough to go in the correct slot, and the correct spot.”

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.