News, notes from Summer League Tuesday: Okafor vs. Porzingis was matchup of the night

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LAS VEGAS — Tuesday was the final day of the round-robin play at the NBA Las Vegas Summer League, which only matters if you care who wins the game. And let’s be honest, not many people do (even the teams, up until the title game). To paraphrase Drew Carey from “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” Summer League is where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.

Still, there were interesting things to see and take note of before the tournament play portion of Summer League begins. Here are things we saw in Las Vegas. (Notes are from Kurt Helin and Sean Highkin.)

• Maybe the most entertaining matchup on Tuesday: The Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis matched up against the Sixers’ Jahlil Okafor. As you would expect the stronger and more polished Okafor won the matchup — he had 18 points on 18 shots — but Porzingis had a couple blocks and a quality shot over Okafor.

“He’s a five man, I’m a four man, so it was a bit of a mismatch,” Porzingis said. “He’s really strong, he’s really good player. Very skilled with the ball, so he’s hard to defend. I just tried in the second half to play more aggressively (fronting him), trying to keep him from receiving the ball. But it’s really hard to stop a player like that.”

Against other Knicks Summer League bigs Okafor seemed to have his way. He just gets to where he wants to be on the court and has an array of moves and shots. He was able to muscle to the rim and score on Porzingis too, but he also had shots blocked and altered — the length of Porzingis bothered Okafor a little.

“I think you could see early on Jahlil is a bigger, stronger player but as the game went on I thought Kristaps made the adjustment and used his activity level and his length and impacted him,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said.

“(Okafor) is a big strong guy, doesn’t mind using his body, any time you’re going to go against length you’ve got to attack the body first, and that’s just a teaching lesson for him right now,” Sixers Summer League coach Lloyd Pierce said. “He’s got great footwork, he’s able to spin out, it’s just creating that initial separation rather than playing to a shot blocker’s strength.”

This is not a matchup the Knicks will want much in the future, but Knicks fans had to love the fight in Porzingis. There’s some real potential here. (KH)

• On another note, Pierce was happy with Okafor’s defense through the summer, although that is still a learning process.

“(Defensively) I thought he’s done a great job,” Pierce said. “He’s never been a big-time shot blocker, the way we’re going to try to use him is to keep him between the ball and the basket, make them score over his size, his length.” (KH)

• Noah Vonleh has been impressive in the Blazers’ first three Summer League games. He’s shown off his athleticism, ballhandling skills and three-point range, which give him an intriguing skillset for a big man. He had 20 points and 8 rebounds in Portland’s 79-75 loss to San Antonio on Tuesday. (SH)

• The more I see Jerian Grant play, the more I like his game. He attacks the paint off the dribble, has fantastic court vision and gets the right guy the rock. He can finish inside and hit some jumpers. Knicks’ coach Derek Fisher was talking about him as a guy who could see a lot of minutes when the season starts if he improves at taking care of the ball.

“We really enjoy having his playmaking out there, his vision, his comfort level with handling the basketball,” Fisher said. “That’s one of the things that really excited us when we drafted him at the number we did (No. 19, a trade with the Wizards) because of that ability. To play the guard in our system, both guards need to be able to make plays, and Jerian gives us a little versatility that way, where he and Langston (Galloway) can play together, he can play with Jose (Calderon), a lot of different combinations we can put out there.” (KH)

• Another Knick playing well in Vegas is Maurice Ndour. If you’re not familiar (and a lot of people weren’t) he’s a power forward/center from Senegal, played his college ball at Ohio (not State), and he went undrafted. But when the Knicks needed buckets late in a close game against the Sixers he had six straight points. He’s got good footwork, hustles on defense and uses his length to be disruptive, he can score in around the basket, and he plays with constant energy.

The problem? The Knicks may not have a roster spot to give him — they have a pretty packed roster, and that includes along the front line.

“I don’t know if there’s any more he can do,” Fisher said of Ndour making the Knicks roster. “I think he’s doing everything that’s at least in his control to be a guy that — whether it’s our team, hopefully so, but there are 29 other teams — he’s giving teams a look that he can play at this level and be pretty good at it.”

Ndour is going to be playing in the NBA this fall. Somewhere. (KH)

• One guy who again looks good in  Summer League — T.J. Warren of the Phoenix Suns. It’s not hard to see why, he thrives in transition, in chaotic games, and that is the definition of Summer League ball. He had 16 points on 13 shots for the Suns on Tuesday. (KH)

• Dallas big man Jeremy Tyler had 15 points and 10 boards, he had a good day out there. (KH)

 

Referee bumps into waitress, tray of drinks spilled on court during Blazers game

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Katy Stevens has been a courtside server at Trail Blazers games for more than a decade — but this year has been unlike any other.

Back in December, LeBron James knocked her over, then helped her back up.

Then on Friday night, veteran referee Tony Brown backed into her and spilled an entire tray of drinks onto the court.

Let me say, as a guy who waited tables/bartended through college and a little while after — that job is hard. Katy is earning her money, and I felt terrible for her. I was not alone, as NBC Sports Northwest noted.

It was a rough night all the way around in the Moda Center. Portland, without Damian Lillard due to a groin injury, fell to the Pelicans 128-115 in a contest between two teams trying to catch Memphis for the final seed in the West (and the Grizzlies lost to the Lakers Friday).

Watch LeBron James score 32; Anthony Davis’ big second half lift Lakers past Grizzlies

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James scored 32 points, Anthony Davis recovered from an early injury scare to get 28 points and 13 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Lakers returned from the All-Star break with a 117-105 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.

Avery Bradley added 14 points for the Western Conference-leading Lakers, who finished strong after blowing most of their 25-point lead accumulated in a superb first half. Davis had 14 points and seven rebounds in the fourth quarter as Los Angeles improved to 42-12 with its fourth straight win since Feb. 6.

Josh Jackson scored a season-high 20 points for the Grizzlies, who have lost back-to-back games in California after heading into the All-Star break with eight wins in 10. Ja Morant added 17 points as Memphis dropped to 0-2 on its four-game West Coast trip, which matches its longest road stretch of the season.

Davis departed less than two minutes after the opening tip when he bruised his right calf on an opponent’s knee. The All-Star went to the locker room and missed the rest of the first quarter, but returned early in the second before scoring 24 points in the second half.

Although James, Davis and Dwight Howard were busy in Chicago over the break, the Lakers returned with impressive defensive focus across the roster. Los Angeles held Memphis to 15-for-38 shooting and forced 11 turnovers in the first half to jump to a 19-point lead.

The Grizzlies trimmed the lead to four points early in the fourth quarter with a prolonged surge. The Lakers hung on with a series of big plays, including a jaw-dropping rebound dunk by Alex Caruso off a missed free throw by Davis with 6:16 to play.

James clinched it with a driving layup followed by a gorgeous fadeaway jumper with 1:12 left. Davis then hit his second 3-pointer in the final minute.

The Lakers improved to 3-0 against the Grizzlies this season. They meet again in Memphis on Feb. 29.

 

Pilot in Kobe Bryant helicopter crash had FAA reprimand for flying in reduced visibility

Image courtesy Kurt Helin
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The pilot of a helicopter that crashed into a Southern California hillside, killing Kobe Bryant and eight others, was reprimanded five years ago for flying without permission into airspace while he had reduced visibility, according to a Federal Aviation Administration enforcement record.

Ara Zobayan was counseled by an FAA investigator after he violated FAA rules by crossing into busy airspace near Los Angeles International Airport on May 11, 2015, according to the record, which was first reported Friday by the Los Angeles Times.

The record doesn’t indicate whether Zobayan was carrying any passengers at the time.

Zobayan, 50, died Jan. 26 when his helicopter plunged at high speed into a hillside in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles. Zobayan had been trying to climb above a cloud layer when the aircraft banked left and plunged 1,200 feet (366 meters) at high speed. There has been speculation that the pilot became disoriented in the foggy weather. The crash remains under investigation.

The crash also killed Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, along with six others. The victims will be honored at a Feb. 24 public memorial at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

At the time, Zaboyan was chief pilot for the charter service Island Express Helicopters Inc.

He was flying for the same company during the 2015 incident.

According to the FAA report, Zobayan’s helicopter was near the Hawthorne, California, airport and heading north when he asked the LAX tower for permission to cross LAX airspace. Zobayan was told that weather conditions didn’t meet the minimum for pilots using visual flight rules — that is, flying by sight.

Zaboyan was asked whether he could maintain “VFR conditions.”

Zaboyan replied that he could “maintain special VFR” — meaning he sought permission to fly by sight in less-than-optimal visibility.

When air traffic control denied the request and told him to stay clear of the area, Zobayan replied that he could “maintain VRF” but during the conversation, the helicopter entered the airspace, according to the record.

Zobayan contacted authorities and his company after the incident and was cooperative. But an FAA investigator faulted him for failing to properly plan and review current weather at LAX, which would have allowed him time to communicate earlier with the tower in order to receive clearance, according to the record.

The report said Zobayan “admitted his error, took responsibility for his action, and was willing to take any other necessary steps toward compliance.”

“There are no indications that this is a repeated incident and there are no signs that this incident is a trend with Mr. Zobayan,” the report said.

Zobayan was counseled “on operating in Class B airspace, special VFR weather minimums, proper planning, reviewing weather, and anticipating required action,” the report said. “He was cooperative and receptive to the counseling.”

Island Express Helicopters Inc, reported that it conducted additional ground and flight training with Zaboyan.

Veteran helicopter pilots were divided over the severity of the FAA violation, the Times reported.

“I don’t know a single pilot out there who hasn’t violated a rule,” Shawn Coyle said. “If that’s the only violation he’s ever had then I would say he’s pretty safe.”

But former Island Express pilot Kurt Deetz said entering LAX airspace without approval can be dangerous because of the possible presence of commercial jets. He also questioned Zaboyan’s communication with air traffic controllers.

“You can’t request special VFR and then they deny you and you say, ‘Oh wait a minute, actually I’m VFR’, ” he told the Times. “That’s not how it works. It shows that perhaps his understanding of special VFR as opposed to VFR was cloudy.”

Watch Zion Williamson score 25, lead Pelicans to crucial win vs. Trail Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Zion Williamson had 25 points for his seventh straight game with at least 20 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 128-115 on Friday night.

The No. 1 draft pick was playing in just his 11th game after a right knee injury sidelined him for the first half of the season.

The Pelicans, who led by as many as 22 points, have won four of their last five games.

The Blazers, who have lost three straight, were without Damian Lillard, who is expected to miss three or more games because of a groin injury that occurred in Memphis last week. It kept Lillard out of the All-Star Game and the 3-point contest last weekend.

Lillard is averaging a career-high 29.5 points and 7.8 assists per game. His absence hurts the Blazers, who went into the game 3.5 games back of Memphis for eighth in the Western Conference standings.

And it’s not just Lillard: Portland had only nine players available for the game.

CJ McCollum took over as point guard and finished with 27 points and 10 assists. Hassan Whiteside added 19 points and 12 rebounds.

The Pelicans were among four teams, along with the Blazers, fighting for those last playoff berths with just a third of the season left. Coach Alvin Gentry said he’s treating the last 27 games like a college season.

“We want to play to get into a tournament. We want a high seed. Those are the things that we’ve talked about. Obviously, we have to play good basketball,” Gentry said.

The Pelicans also won the previous three meetings this season with Portland. Earlier this month in New Orleans, Williamson had 31 points and nine rebounds in a 138-117 victory over the Blazers.

Williamson, who played just one season at Duke before going pro, went into the game against the Blazers averaging 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds.

His streak of games with 20-plus points is the longest among NBA rookies this season. And he was the first player since Michael Jordan to have 20 or more in eight of his first 10 NBA games.

Lonzo Ball’s 3-pointer put the Pelicans up 29-17 in the opening quarter. But the Blazers closed within 40-38 early in the second on Whiteside’s dunk. It was as close as Portland could get, and Williamson’s dunk gave New Orleans a 54-46 lead.

Williamson’s layup pushed the Pelicans’ advantage to 65-50 and New Orleans led 73-63 going into halftime. He led all players with 19 points.

Consecutive jumpers from Carmelo Anthony and Whiteside’s dunk pulled Portland within 80-75 in the third quarter. The Pelicans pulled away with a 12-0 run to head to the fourth with 102-83 lead.

Portland closed the gap a bit in the fourth when back-to-back 3-pointers from Trevor Ariza and McCollum got the Blazers within 114-105. Jrue Holiday‘s 3 and Ball’s layup extended New Orleans’ lead again and fans at the Moda Center headed for the exits.

Holiday finished with 20 points and nine assists.