Paul Pierce leads Wizards to overtime Game 1 win over Raptors

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Paul Pierce ended the Raptors’ postseason run last year with a series-saving blocked shot in Game 7 of the first round matchup while he was a member of the Brooklyn Nets.

A year later, now with the Wizards, he remains the bane of Toronto’s playoff existence.

Pierce finished with a game-high 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting to lead the Wizards to a 93-86 Game 1 victory, one that needed an overtime session to be decided.

Washington’s backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal struggled, shooting just 5-of-18 and 6-of-23 from the field respectively. But Pierce was there when needed, and scored 10 of his points in the second quarter during a critical stretch that turned a seven-point Toronto lead into a four-point Wizards advantage before the halftime intermission.

Washington’s lead grew to as many as 11 points in the third, thanks to its fifth-ranked defense giving Toronto fits. The Raptors shot just 28 percent in the period, and missed all seven of their attempts from three-point distance.

In the fourth, however, Toronto’s bench unit, which we knew would be a factor coming into the series, was able to bring the team back.  Part of it was due to Beal’s insistence on shooting so much when he was clearly having an off day, but the Raptors took advantage. Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez each had eight points in the period, and their production was especially needed once Kyle Lowry fouled out of the game with 2:36 to play.

Wall had a chance to win it in regulation, but dribbled down most of the clock before going one-on-one and missing a pull-up jumper with just tenths of a second left.

In overtime, it was once again Pierce time. He began the scoring for the Wizards in the extra session by hitting a three, and ended it by helping to seal the victory with a couple of free throws. Toronto didn’t score in overtime until there were just 29 seconds left, and only did so because the Wizards had a big enough lead and no longer needed to contest the shots.

Pierce was the focus of the Raptors before the series even began, thanks to remarks he made in an interview leading up to the playoffs. “We haven’t done particularly well against Toronto, but I don’t feel they have the ‘It’ that makes you worried,” he said,

Toronto GM Masai Ujiri responded colorfully in front of fans before Game 1, similar to what he did a season ago before a playoff game against Pierce’s Nets.

There were other reasons Washington was able to get this win; the rebounding advantage, especially on the offensive boards, was massive. And, the Wizards got timely contributions from guys like Kevin Seraphin and Drew Gooden off the bench, which hasn’t been something the team has been able to count on reliably this season.

But had the Raptors paid as much attention to Pierce on the court as they did to comments he made off of it, they may have had a better chance in this one — especially on a day where Wall and Beal, the Wizards’ primary scorers, were so obviously out of sync.

Reggie Miller reports Zion Williamson to return in mid-December

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If you missed this because Reggie Miller’s color commentary makes you reach for the mute button, nobody would blame you. It’s something we all feel the need to do.

However, doing it Thursday night during the Pelicans’ win over the Suns would have caused you to miss Miller doing some actual reporting on the return of Zion Williamson, saying sources tell him the rookie is on track to return in “mid-December.”

If your first reaction is “I trust Reggie Miller’s reporting as much as the Weekly World News” you would generally be correct.

But in this case we may want to listen. First, Miller does talk to GMs, coaches, and front office types. Second, what he says fits the already established timeline for Williamson’s return from knee surgery, which was “around or before Christmas.” This is not breaking news so much as a confirmation of what we already know.

Williamson certainly makes the Pelicans more dynamic, more athletic, plus much more entertaining and watchable. The sooner we get him back on the court, the better for all of us.

Three Things to Know: Has 5-11 Portland fallen too far back to make playoffs?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Have the 5-11 Portland Trail Blazers fallen too far back to make playoffs? We’ve all heard a coach say it: “You can’t win a game in the first quarter, but you can lose it.”

That might apply to the Trail Blazers this season. After losing to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday 137-129, Portland is now 5-11 and the 14 seed in the West, ahead of only the one team possibly more decimated by injuries than themselves (the Warriors). Portland has gone 2-9 in November.

This was a team with Western Conference Finals expectations before the season started, now the question has to be asked:

Has Portland’s slow start to the season dug too big a hole to climb out of and even make the playoffs?

No. But things need to turn around sooner rather than later.

On the positive side, the Trail Blazers may be six games below .500, they are also only three games back of eight-seed Phoenix and the final playoff spot. They also have a point differential that suggests the Blazers should have at least one more win, maybe two, meaning they are a little better than their record indicates. Get Damian Lillard healthy (he missed the last two games with a back issue but is expected to play Saturday against Cleveland), rack up some wins to change the momentum, and make a late push up the standings once Jusuf Nurkic returns (there is no timeline, but whispers say maybe around the All-Star break)..

Portland is not out of it.

Also on the positive side, Portland has got a run of games at home coming up. Also, the franchise has some history on their side: The 2007-08 Trail Blazers started 5-10, but went on a 13-game win streak and eventually finished 41-41 and made the playoffs.

It’s also not going to be easy to turn things around — there are no nights off in the West, no gimme wins (outside maybe Golden State, until they get healthy again). Also, unlike in 2008, 41 wins will not be enough to make the playoffs. It may not be too big to climb out of, but Portland has dug itself a hole to start the season.

One can’t mention Portland’s struggles without talking injuries, particularly along the front line. Nurkic is out, and the Blazers were counting on Zach Collins to step forward into that role, except he is now out months following shoulder surgery. Pau Gasol never got healthy from his foot injury and was waived. Rodney Hood and Skal Labissiere have both missed time with ailments. That has placed a lot on the shoulders of Hassan Whiteside, who has done what he’s always done — stuffed the stat sheet with empty calories, given inconsistent effort, and not set good picks. The injuries up front are why Carmelo Anthony was brought in. Add in a slow start to the season from CJ McCollum (who has turned it around) and Lillard’s injury, and here we are at 5-11.

Portland’s biggest issues are on the defensive end, where they are currently a bottom 10 team. Teams are running a lot on Portland, and while statistically the team has defended well in transition, teams still get too many easy buckets.

Portland was an average defensive team last season, but a top-three offense covered it up. This season we’ve seen how much Nurkic — as a strong pick setter and short-roll option who could facilitate a little — meant to the Blazers offense. Portland is 13th in offensive rating, basically league average. The Portland offense no longer can hide their defensive flaws.

Time has not yet run out on Portland, it’s still early. However, the Blazers need to find some wins. Fast. The first rule of climbing out of a hole is to stop digging.

2) Carmelo Anthony scores 18, but we need to see him next to Lillard; Giannis Antetokounmpo has career-high 15 assists, gets triple-double in win. There were some individual games worth discussing in Milwaukee’s 137-129 win over Portland Thursday.

Carmelo Anthony had 18 points on 6-of-15 shooting, and he looked better than his first game back. You can see what you want in his numbers, he took six midrange shots, but is now also 5-of-8 from three in two games in Portland.

Here’s the reality with Anthony: This is Lillard’s team and he missed the two games ‘Melo played. It’s too early to judge the Anthony gamble in Portland because we have not seen him yet next to the guy whose team this is and who runs the offense. Lillard is expected to return from his back issues Saturday against Cleveland, we need to watch Anthony in that and the next few games, then see how this marriage is working.

This is how good Giannis Antetokounmpo has played this season: He struggled against the Blazers shooting 9-of-27 (1-of-7 from three), looking a little worn having to play 37 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back.

His numbers on the “off” night: 24 points, 19 rebounds, 15 assists.

That would be the first ever 20+ point, 15+ rebound, 15+ assist game in Bucks franchise history — and that history has Oscar Robertson in it. Antetokounmpo looks every bit like an MVP player again to start the season.

Finally, CJ McCollum seems to be out of his slump and had 37 points and 10 assists.

3) J.J. Redick, Brandon Ingram lead New Orleans to win, hand Phoenix it’s third straight loss. Brandon Ingram scored 15 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter Thursday, leading the Pelicans to a 124-121 win on the road. Ingram is a restricted free agent this summer and has been putting up “pay the man his money” numbers this season.

J.J. Redick added 26 and was killing it from three.

After a hot start, the Suns have come back to earth losing three in a row and 4-of-5, and now they head out on the road to take on two teams playing well in Minnesota and Denver.

Carmelo Anthony has 18, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double leads Bucks to win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season and the Milwaukee Bucks beat Carmelo Anthony and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 137-129 on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth straight victory. Antetokounmpo, who also had a triple-double in the season opener, has 16 career triple-doubles. Milwaukee is 14-2 in those games.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points and six assists in the Bucks’ highest-scoring game of the season.

After scoring 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes in his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, Anthony had 10 points in the first half Thursday. The 10-time All-Star finished with 18 points (6-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who were without Hassan Whiteside (hip), Damian Lillard (back), Zach Collins (shoulder) and Jusuf Nurkic (leg).

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 37 points and Skal Labissiere added 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers lost their third straight game and seventh of the last nine against the Bucks, including sixth straight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made their first seven shots, including three 3s, and led 17-6. Milwaukee never trailed.

The Bucks also had their highest first-half total, leading 72-58.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.