Sunday night winners and losers: Boogie wonderland

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It’s a make or miss league. With that comes the simple fact every night in the NBA there are winners and there are losers.

In this new column at PBT, five nights a week we will lay out the nights winners and losers in NBA action for you — not just the teams and on the scoreboard, but in every facet of the game. No better time to start than on an interesting opening night.

source:  DeMarcus Cousins and the surprisingly entertaining Kings. Fresh off a win over the Trail Blazers, the Kings were impressive again in a road win against the Clippers. Cousins was dominant, with 34 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and three blocks, and Rudy Gay had another excellent game. But most impressive of all was the job Darren Collison did on Chris Paul defensively. The West is too deep for Sacramento to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs, but they’re starting to look like a basketball team for the first time in several years, which is good to see.

source:  Miami’s big two. The Heat are the only undefeated team left in the Eastern Conference, picking up a 107-102 win over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. We knew they would be playing with a chip on their shoulders, but there have been plenty of questions about the health of Dwyane Wade and the readiness of Chris Bosh to step into the role of first option. So far, so good on both fronts. Bosh has been phenomenal since the start of the season, and finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists. Wade was terrific too, logging 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting, 11 rebounds, seven assists and two blocks against Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas. Time will tell whether he can stay on the floor, but Heat fans have to be encouraged by the post-LeBron era so far.

source:  Damian Lillard. The Blazers have a lot of things to blame for their 95-90 loss to the Warriors, with late-game turnovers chief among them. But Lillard has been terrible. He shot 1-for-7 from three-point range on Sunday and 4-for-18 from the field overall. He’s missing a lot of shots he normally makes, so you have to think the stroke will come back eventually and this is just some early-season rust. The Blazers need Lillard to be the player he was last year if they hope to take the next step as playoff contenders.

source:  Carmelo Anthony. Melo’s 28 points helped the Knicks to a 96-93 win over the Hornets, but it wasn’t just his numbers. He made the two game-clinching plays down the stretch. He hit a contested jump shot with just over a minute to go that broke a 93-93 tie and gave New York the lead for good. Then, he secured the rebound with less than a second to go when Kemba Walker missed a jumper, sealing the win.

source:  The Raptors at the foul line. As a team, Toronto missed 15 free throws on Sunday, going just 24-for-39 from the line. Lou Williams missed both of his free throws near the beginning of the quarter, and Kyle Lowry missed two of three with 1:49 remaining. Lowry missed six foul shots on the night and DeMar DeRozan missed five.

Kevin Porter Jr. a possible lottery pick heading into 2019 NBA draft

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Kevin Porter Jr. missed more than a quarter of his freshman season at USC due to injury. He missed another couple games due to suspension. When he played, he usually came off the bench. He’s only 18.

But Porter has already shown enough to impress NBA teams.

Porter, via Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

“I will be declaring for the 2019 NBA draft and I will be signing with Roc Nation Sports,” Porter told ESPN.

Porter has a wide possible range in the first round, because there’s a massive gap between his ceiling and floor. But it shouldn’t take too long for a team to bet on his upside.

A 6-foot-6 shooting guard with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, Porter has a special combination of shiftiness and power with the ball in his hands. He can attack the rim and finish above it. He can also pull up for jumpers.

I don’t trust his 41% 3-point shooting at USC. That came on only 68 attempts, and he made just 52% of his free throws (though that was also on an unreliably small sample, just 46 attempts). But his stroke looks compact and smooth.

Porter can be an impressive passer. Right now, that’s more so making quick and correct standstill reads than distributing while driving.

If he improves his handle, that could really tie together all his skills.

Porter forces too many bad shots. He’s not attentive enough defensively. There are questions about his maturity.

But if he pans out at the next level, he could be awesome.

Report: LaMarcus Aldridge won’t face punishment for hitting Gary Harris in nuts (video)

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Late in the Nuggets’ Game 2 win over the Spurs, LaMarcus Aldridge whacked Gary Harris in the nuts.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

It surely helped that Denver coach Michael Malone defended Aldridge.

Malone, via Mike Singer of The Denver Post:

“If there was a windup, if there was something that looked really deliberate, that’d be different, but from what I saw, and I didn’t spend much time looking at it, obviously who cares what I think?” Malone said. “It all comes down to what the NBA thinks. In watching it, obviously Gary was unfortunately the recipient of that accidental blow but I didn’t see it as something that was premeditated or done with the intent to hurt Gary.”

It also helps that Aldridge doesn’t have a reputation for dirty plays.

But this is what I can’t get totally past: If Aldridge intended to take a cheap shot, how would it have looked any different?

Ben Simmons on Jared Dudley’s assessment: ‘It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon’ (video)

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Ben Simmons keyed the 76ers’ historic offensive turnaround from Game 1 to Game 2 against the Nets. He pushed the pace, attacked and created good shots for himself and teammates.

Brooklyn forward Jared Dudley explained Simmons’ improvement.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Simmons:

It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon.

Simmons’ dismissive tone makes this bigger than merely his words do. There’s definitely animosity brewing between these teams.

But this “beef” will get only as large as Simmons makes it.

He is great in transition and average in the halfcourt. Dudley’s remark wasn’t an insult. It was a scouting report.

Keeping Simmons out of transition is far easier than done. That’s part of what makes Simmons a star. He frequently creates up-tempo opportunities.

Players can’t be defined by a list of strengths and weaknesses. How often those strengths and weaknesses affect the game is important.

Simmons often makes his strengths count.

There are still questions about just how often he can do that against the best defenses, especially deep into the playoffs. His poor shooting is a liability in the halfcourt.

For now, he’ll create plenty of fastbreaks against the Nets. Simmons is a good enough player to set the style against that defense. He’s better than Dudley, who’s just a role player.

But Dudley is also a smart player. And he’s spot-on here.

Potential top-10 pick De’Andre Hunter, potential first-rounder Ty Jerome leaving Virginia for NBA draft

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De'Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome just led Virginia to a national championship.

Now, they’re trying to parlay that title into success at the next level.

Hunter and Jerome declared for the 2019 NBA drat with the intent to stay in it, Virginia announced.

Hunter will probably be a top-10, maybe even top-five, pick.

At 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a strong base and impressive lateral mobility, the forward has excellent defensive versatility. He’s steady on and off the ball. I question whether he’ll lock up the better athletes he’ll more regularly face in the NBA, but his defensive floor is quite high.

He’s also a good 3-point shooter, though his slow release limits the number of attempts he can get up. Otherwise, Hunter lacks the explosiveness and ball-handling to become a traditional star.

Maybe he’ll be an excellent 3-and-D role player. In this weak-looking draft, that possibility is enough to make him coveted.

Jerome also lacks the burst to possess high upside, but that’s more understandable late in the first round, where he’s projected. The 6-foot-5 guard is a good outside shooter with a knack for getting open. He has plenty of distributing ability for a secondary playmaker but isn’t enough of a threat to create for himself to run an offense through him.

He’s limited defensively, but he has a decent knack for when to gamble when there’s good help – like Hunter – behind him.