Now that four of five starters are gone, the Portland Trail Blazers are unequivocally Damian Lillard’s team. He’s signed a five-year, $120 million extension that keeps him in Rip City until the 2021 season, and he’s now the longest-tenured Blazer, going into his fourth NBA season. When LaMarcus Aldridge left last week to sign with the Spurs, there was talk that the four-time All-Star power forward resented Lillard’s visibility as the face of the franchise. But Lillard said on Saturday that there are no hard feelings between them, and they’re on good terms:
From Yahoo’s Marc Spears:
Aldridge told Lillard he was leaving Portland before his final decision to sign with San Antonio became public.
“We basically exchanged texts about how much admiration we have for each other,” said Lillard, who signed a five-year, $120 million extension with the Blazers this week. “That change wasn’t about me. I did express that I wanted him to be back. I told him I respected his decision. I respected that he told me before the news broke and I saw it on TV.”
Was there anything more that Lillard or the Blazers could have done to keep Aldridge?
“I’m not sure there is,” Lillard said. “I think he needed a change and wanted to go some place where he felt he had a better chance to win.”
It’s hard to knock Aldridge’s decision. Going to San Antonio clearly wasn’t about the money, since the Blazers had the ability to offer him an extra year and around $30 million more than any other team. Aldridge wanted to be closer to his family in Texas, and he wanted to go where he had the best chance of winning. It’s hard to find a better organization to that end than the Spurs.
Lillard’s new-look Blazers will be young and full of upside, but they probably won’t win very many games next season.
MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points and 13 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks surged to a 24-point lead in the second quarter in a 133-86 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.
The 47-point loss was the Thunder’s worst of the season.
Chris Paul scored 18 points for Oklahoma City.
Both teams were without their second-leading scorers. Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton was a late scratch with a sore neck. An ankle injury kept Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari out.
The Bucks had won four in a row and the Thunder had won five straight.
The Bucks built their second-quarter lead behind 14 second-quarter points from Antetokounmpo, seven from Donte DiVincenzo, who started in place of Middleton, and back-to-back 3-pointers from Wesley Matthews.
A key moment occurred late in the second period.
With Milwaukee leading, 54-43, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer got a technical foul after approaching a referee during a timeout with 3:43 left in the quarter. That was moments after Eric Bledsoe was called for a charging foul that irked Budenholzer. After that, the Bucks went on a 17-4 run and led 71-47 at halftime.
Milwaukee outrebounded Oklahoma City, 67-36.
The Bucks made a season-high 21 3-pointers. The Thunder were 6 for 35 on 3-pointers.
There is some meat to the James Harden/Giannis Antetokounmpo beef.
Harden was pissed Antetokounmpo won Most Valuable Player over him last year and vented about it. When it came to this year’s All-Star Game, captian Antetokounmpo drafted Kemba Walker over Harden while joking he wanted someone who’d pass. After his team lost the All-Star Game, Antetokounmpo said his team’s strategy was to get the ball to whomever Harden was guarding and attack.
Harden ramped up the skirmish of words Friday when speaking to Rachel Nichols of ESPN, saying:
“I wish I could just run, run and was 7-feet and run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill.”
Antetokounmpo decided to let it die when ESPN asked pregame about what Harden said.
“I’m not the type of guy to take stabs at somebody. … I’m just trying to do my job which is win games and go back home to my family. At the end of the day, if that’s what he believes that’s what he believes. I can’t say anything about it. I’ve just got to keep being focused.”
If you’re circling dates on your calendar, March 25 is what you’re looking for, the day the Bucks host the Rockets.
Harden should believe he is the best player in the game — you don’t get to be where he is without that level of confidence. Antetokounmpo should believe the same thing about himself. We could say the same things about LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and a host of others. It’s part of what makes them great, and not a surprise.
If the MVP thing is eating at Harden he might not like this season’s outcome any better. While I haven’t done a poll, most voters I’ve spoken to have The Beard third behind Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. There’s still more than six weeks of basketball before votes are cast — and the Rockets as a team are surging — but right now, the Greek Freak looks like a repeat winner from what I am hearing.
Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta talks big about his devotion to winning.
But when Houston had a chance to turn a loss into a victory by protesting due to an uncounted James Harden dunk, Fertitta balked.
Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:
“That’s my basketball people who got mad at ’em. Honestly, I don’t think we should have filed the protest because honestly we blew the 22-point lead. But if something is important to my players and basketball ops people, I give them a lot of leeway.”
I wonder whether Fertitta would have publicly shared his stance if the protest succeeded. I also wonder whether how supported Fertitta’s basketball employees feel considering he’s publicly revealing that he wasn’t on their side.
But this is actually one of the more encouraging stories of Fertitta’s ownership. He allowed room for debate. He listened to the other side. He posted the $10,000 protest fee.
It didn’t pay off this time, but that’s how good owners operate.
Before they committed fully, Houston signed free agent Jeff Green to a 10-day contract. They just wanted to make sure the veteran forward was a fit in their small-ball system.
It turns out, he was a perfect fit.
Through four games, playing a little more than 19 minutes a game, Green averaged 9.8 points a game on a ridiculous 89.6 true shooting percentage. That’s not sustainable (he’s shooting 61.5 percent from three), but it was enough for the Rockets to sign Green for the remainder of the season, something the team announced Friday.
Green, at 6’8″, played on the wing most of his career. However, with the Rockets he backs up P.J. Tucker at center.
Green started the season a member of the Utah Jazz, but the fit there was not as clean. While he averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances, the Jazz ultimately waived him to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker.
This contract only runs through the end of this season, but the Rockets could re-sign Green for next season, if the sides agree this summer. For now, the focus is on the Rockets’ hot streak and building on that as the league moves toward the postseason.