PBT’s Tuesday night NBA winners/losers: Welcome back Damian Lillard, we missed you

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Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while reading about Game of Thrones’ Mountain

source:  Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. Welcome back Damian Lillard, we missed you. If you hadn’t heard, Lillard was off to an ugly start this season, shooting just 26.8 percent and just 31.8 percent from three (where over half his shots were coming from). The old Lillard showed up on Tuesday night with the Cavaliers in town. He had a game-high 27 points on 13 shots, he hit 5-of-10 from three (he was just 1-of-3 inside the arc), and he was attacking getting to the line 10 times. Lillard also dished out seven assists and pulled down six boards. Lillard led a Blazers team that brought it against a rather passive and unimpressive Cavaliers team (after a hot start, anyway) — Robin Lopez exploited Anderson Varejao all night. This was the kind of quality win the Blazers needed after a rough first week, and they really needed Lillard back. They got it.

source:  LeBron James. Guys have off nights, it happens. And LeBron certainly had an off night, he’s not going to shoot 1-of-6 in the paint often. What is more troubling is seeming passivity from the best player in the world — he was 0-of-4 in second half, while Dion Waiters had nine shots (hitting three), Kyrie Irving had 10 (hitting two), and even Tristan Thompson had five shots off the bench (hitting two). Coach David Blatt tried to cover LeBron and say as a team they need to do a better job of getting him shots. That’s true. And LeBron can be unselfish to a fault, plus he’s a guy trying to fill on holes on the team (the versatility of his game lets him do that). But come on, this is the best player in the league and he has to be more aggressive, demand the ball and be willing to just take over at times. The Heat didn’t really find their groove until Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh sacrificed their game to let LeBron be the focal point. The Cavaliers aren’t there yet mentally and it shows. And that’s not even getting into the defensive issues….

source:  Gerald Green. He came off the bench and sparked the Suns with 26 points on 19 shots, as Phoenix flexed its offensive muscle against the Lakers’ “defense” and picked up a nice road win. But that’s not why Gerald Green is listed here as a winner, it’s for this, the dunk of the night.

source:  Houston Rockets. And the train keeps a rollin’ all night long… the Rockets improve to 5-0 with their best win of the season, knocking off a quality Miami team 108-91. James Harden was just one rebound short of a triple double (25 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds) while Dwight Howard had 26 points (on 16 shots) an 10 rebounds. Trevor Ariza hit three keys three late to spark an 18-5 run and seal the win. Tip your hat to them, the Rockets are playing well.

source:  Byron Scott. So how’s that Game 7 intensity coming? The Lakers are 0-5 now and the man seems to use the words “better defense” 100 times a day, but the simple fact is the Lakers defense this season is 9.5 points per 100 possessions worse than last season under Mike D’Antoni (hat tip Zach Harper for that). Yes, it’s small sample size theater so far this season, but still this is ugly. His words aren’t cutting it. Here’s the thing that isn’t discussed much in LA: Scott’s Cavaliers teams were bottom five in defense and when Mike Brown (much ridiculed by Lakers fans) came in the next year Cleveland’s defense improved 1.7 points per 100 possessions, jumping them up fairly close to the league average. Scott’s teams haven’t defended for years, and looking at this roster it’s hard to see where he’s going to suddenly coax good defense out of it.

Vanessa Bryant suing helicopter company after crash that killed Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, Vanessa Bryant and Gianna Bryant
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Ever since Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant died in a helicopter crash last month, we’ve been seeking answers about what went wrong during the flight piloted by Ara Zobayan. After all, Kobe Bryant had made helicopter rides such a normal part of his life.

Now, Vanessa Bryant – Kobe’s wife and Gianna’s mother – is suing the company that operated the helicopter for wrongful death.

Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times:

The complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holding Corp. alleged that pilot Ara Zobayan, who also died in the crash, failed “to use ordinary care in piloting the subject aircraft” and was “negligent.”

“Defendant Island Express Helicopters’ breach of its duty and negligence caused the injuries and damages complained of herein and Plaintiffs’ deceased, Kobe Bryant, was killed as a direct result of the negligent conduct of Zobayan for which Defendant Island Express Helicopters is vicariously liable in all respects,” the lawsuit said.

Report: Ben Simmons back injury “isn’t a day-to-day thing”

(Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the back injury for Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Ben Simmons “isn’t a day-to-day thing”.

Simmons missed the Sixers first game following the All-Star break on Thursday. He then left Saturday’s game in Milwaukee after playing just 4:44.

Over the weekend, Philadelphia ruled Simmons out for Monday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks and said he would undergo further evaluation. Per Wojnarowski’s report, that evaluation is ongoing and a course of treatment is yet to be decided upon.

Expect Philadelphia to lean on Raul Neto, Alec Burks and Shake Milton as primary ballhandlers while Simmons is out. None possess the size and skill combination of Simmons, but all have had moments throughout their careers. Neto drew the start in place of Simmons on Thursday. Burks was acquired at the trade deadline to give the team much-needed bench depth. Milton has flashed at time in his second season, after beginning his NBA career on a Two-Way contract.

Philadelphia loses Simmons while in a battle with the Miami Heat for homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The fifth-place 76ers are 1.5 games behind the Heat for the fourth seed, and two games ahead of the sixth-place Indiana Pacers.

Pacers: Jeremy Lamb suffers torn ACL, torn meniscus, fracture

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Kobe Bryant making two free throws after tearing his Achilles was one of the greatest moments of his legendary career.

On a day Bryant was honored, we learned Pacers guard Jeremy Lamb made a similarly gutsy pair of free throws during Indiana’s loss to the Raptors yesterday.

Pacers release:

During the second quarter of the Pacers game at Toronto on Sunday, Indiana Pacers forward Jeremy Lamb sustained a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, a torn lateral meniscus and a lateral femoral condylar fracture.

He will undergo surgery on a date to be determined. He will be out the remainder of the season. Any further updates will be provided after surgery.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Lamb misses all of next season. This is just a devastating set of calamities.

At least Lamb has a guaranteed $10.5 million salary each of the next two seasons.

Indiana (sixth place, 33-24) will have an even tougher time winning a playoff series now. The Pacers could challenge in the first round, but they’ll almost certainly be significant underdogs.

They have depth at shooting guard, for what that’s worth. Victor Oladipo just returned. Justin Holiday is a solid reserve. Finding his lane at point guard, Malcolm Brogdon can move off the ball when T.J. McConnell or Aaron Holiday plays point guard.

Michael Jordan braces for return of ‘Crying Jordan’ meme after Kobe Bryant eulogy (video)

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The NBA just held All-Star Weekend in Chicago, where Michael Jordan starred for years with the Bulls. Jordan wasn’t a visible part of the festivities, though. He just prefers to remain out of the spotlight.

Yet, Jordan spoke at Kobe Bryant’s memorial service today. That’s how important Bryant – whom Jordan described as a younger brother – was to Jordan.

Jordan even addressed the elephant in the room – that he was reproducing the “Crying Jordan” meme. Thank goodness for another laugh amid the tears.