Portland comes from 10 down in fourth quarter to win 99-92, stay alive in series

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With about eight minutes left in the game, it looked like only one team was going to be making the flight back to Memphis. The Grizzlies were up 10 and seemingly in control of Game 4, locking down the Blazers with their defense. This was about to be a sweep.

But Portland raged, raged against the dying of the light.

Portland closed the game on a 29-12 run thanks to a dozen fourth quarter points from Damian Lillard, and the Blazers stayed alive with a 99-92 win at home. Memphis now leads the series 3-1, with Game 5 back in Memphis on Wednesday.

Lillard, freed from the shackles of Mike Conley (who was out following surgery to his fractured face Monday morning, he is not expected to play Wednesday either), was in attack mode. Lillard averaged 18 points a game in the first three but shot just 35.2 percent, not impacting the game the way the Blazers needed. With Conley out that changed — he put up 32 points. Lillard was attacking, shooting 5-of-8 inside eight feet of the rim, but his midrange jumper was falling as well with a little more space (11 of his 23 shots were uncontested).

Portland also got a boost from their bench. C.J. McCollum had 18 points, and Meyers Leonard was tremendous as a stretch five, scoring 13 points and hitting 3-of-3 from three. Leonard’s play pulled Memphis bigs out of the paint and opened things up for Lillard to drive.

The bench contributions were especially huge on a night LaMarcus Aldrige was just 6-of-22 from the floor, and Nicolas Batum was 3-of-13.

With Conley out, Beno Udrih had 13 points, while Nick Calathes added 12 and hit 4-of-5 from three to give the Grizzlies some production from the one spot. But the problems was on the other end — they could not begin to contain Lillard and that sparked the Blazers’ runs.

Memphis once again got off to a fast start, starting out 12-4 to open the game. But this time Portland responded with a 13-2 run of their own to take a small lead. Portland had its best first quarter of the series and was up 27-22 after one. With Leonard spacing the floor and Lillard attacking Portland stretched out the lead to 55-48 at the half.

Then in the third quarter the Grizzlies took charge again, their defense returned, and they won the quarter 27-13. The Trail Blazers started out 5-25 from the field in the second half. Memphis was battling through screens, blowing up Portland’s pick-and-roll game. The result was a lot of  Grizz just fighting through screens and forcing Blazers to go 1-on-1. It worked.

For a while.

Credit Portland for this: They could have just started thinking about tee times for the summer. They didn’t. They fought back.

Can Portland replicate it on the road in Game 5?

Maybe, because it’s tough to imagine Conley is going to play. That said, Memphis was in position to win Game 4 and get the sweep, and at home they are not going to take their foot off Portland’s throat — don’t expect the same defensive slips. It’s going to be much harder for Portland to earn a second win.

But they earned the chance to try.

 

Steve Kerr: ‘Very unlikely’ Warriors will play another regular-season game

Warriors coach Steve Kerr
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NBA owners and players are reportedly united on finishing the season or, as Adrian Wojnarowski put it, “finding a way to be able to crown a champion this season.”

Where does that leave the Warriors, the only team eliminated from the playoff race before coronavirus forced a league-wide stoppage?

Golden State coach Steve Kerr on “The Full 48,” via Ali Thanawalla of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Look, for us, our season is basically over,” Kerr said. “If the league was somehow to start up again, it’s very unlikely we would be playing regular-season games given that they’d be in such a time crunch. Who knows?

“But I’m feeling for all the teams in the fight, in the thick of it for a championship, that are in the playoff race, teams that have put so much into this, and this was obviously a year for us where we were trying to get healthy, trying to develop some young guys. So I’m not concerned about our guys, our team. I feel sorry for the teams that are kind of in limbo right now.”

There’s chatter about resuming play with a play-in tournament and postseason in Las Vegas. The league could be sharing plans internally. Kerr could be proven right. It’s certainly possible Kerr was even already told the Warriors are finished with the regular season.

But I don’t share his prediction.

There’s a lot of money to be made by holding more regular-season games, especially for high-revenue teams like Golden State.

This was a gap year for the Warriors. They’re clearly ready to move on.

But Stephen Curry is healthy again. By the time the hiatus ends, Klay Thompson might be cleared. With other stars on the court, Draymond Green could be more engaged. Though there would be limits on Golden State’s competitiveness, that team would be a draw that could help stuff the league’s coffers.

As Kerr said, there are unprecedented timing issues. Yet, every game is a revenue opportunity. That matters, too.

Florida State forward Patrick Williams declares for NBA draft

Florida State forward Patrick Williams
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Devin Vassell declared for the NBA draft from Florida State.

Now, Patrick Williams is following.

Evan Daniels of 247Sports:

Florida State freshman Patrick Williams is declaring for the NBA Draft and plans to forgo his remaining eligibility, he tells 247Sports.

“I decided to do it because I think my game isn’t NBA ready, but I have the potential to be NBA ready,” Williams explained. “I think with development and support and everything else on that level, I can eventually can be a really good NBA player.”

That’s an interesting self-assessment – one more players should take. Williams has the tools to project as a mid-first-round pick. As he said, he needs to develop. But he can do that while earning an NBA salary rather than being stuck in the NCAA’s cartel system. There’s no good case that college teams develop young players better than NBA teams, anyway.

It’s unclear whether Williams (6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan) will settle in as more for a small forward or power forward. Probably power forward. But if his ball skills develop, he has potential as a small forward, a position in higher demand around the league.

As the NBA has embraced smaller lineups, rim protection – once more of a shared frontcourt responsibility – has increasingly fallen onto centers. Williams would help from either forward spot. He’s an energetic and athletic defender with good timing for blocking shots.

He needs work as a shooter. Williams has shown some ability running pick-and-rolls and creating mid-rangers for himself off the dribble. But he’s not consistent enough, and he’s far too poor of a distributor to have the ball much. His best offense comes when opportunistically taking advantage of his athleticism with cuts and alley-oop finishes.

Still, Williams shows enough flashes of more offensively to be intrigued. His defense is already more developed.

That combination is why he can feel confident about getting drafted high enough to enjoy the spoils of NBA life.

Rumor: Nets will try to trade young talent for third star

Nets Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince
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The Nets have it all on paper.

Stars (Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving). Quality younger players (Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen). Draft picks (net even on future first-rounders).

But Brooklyn’s road from upstart contender has been rocky.

Irving tested the Nets with his moodiness before the season. He also called it “glaring” Brooklyn needed roster upgrades. The Nets fired Kenny Atkinson, who had proven adept at player development but evidently never connected enough with Durant and Irving.

How will Brooklyn take the next step?

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

I believe they’ve telegraphed that they intend to try to use some of their young talent to acquire a third star along Kyrie and Durant. Now, we can get enter a healthy debate here about whether Caris LeVert is that third star, and they may make the decision that he is. But my feel and reading the tea leaves, paying attention to what Sean Marks has said and also being aware of some conversations that they had at the trade deadline, which was some sticking the toe in the water on some things, I think that they are going to swing for the fences whenever the offseason comes.

I also believe the Nets will try to trade for a third star. It’s the natural direction of a team that just signed two stars, and Irving appears antsy.

But I’d also caution: Every team wants another star. Brooklyn engaging teams about their stars before the trade deadline isn’t necessarily telling. It could be easy to overstate the significance of those conversations. It depends on their tenor.

That said, the Nets have expendable assets to make better offers than many other teams.

Dinwiddie hasn’t clicked on the court with Irving in two-point guard lineups. Best with the ball, LeVert is somewhat redundant with Durant and Irving. Allen has been repeatedly slighted in Brooklyn, most recently losing his starting job to DeAndre Jordan (Durant’s and Irving’s friend).

Yet, Dinwiddie, LeVert and Allen are all talented with potential to perform even better elsewhere. That ought to intrigue other teams.

Star trades usually require a disgruntled star. Teams rarely move a star without an internal push, including an approaching free agency. There’s no obvious target right now.

But expect the Nets to be on the prowl.

Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for July/August 2021. Will they include NBA players?

USA Basketball Olympics
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The Tokyo Olympics were postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving questions about NBA players participating.

OlympicTalk:

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have been rescheduled for nearly one year later with the Olympics set for July 23-Aug. 8, 2021.

That’s typically during the NBA offseason, but the NBA is also paused due to the coronavirus. Who knows how the league’s calendar will look when play resumes?

Still, these seem like good dates for getting NBA players into the Olympics. Even if the NBA playoffs are ongoing, eliminated players could participate in the Olympics.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich still plans to coach Team USA. But, one way or another, USA Basketball should rethink its roster strategy.