Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Damian Lillard scores 17 in final 3:07 to beat OKC

Associated Press

RIP David Bowie. There’s nothing else to say. Here’s what you need to know from a busy Sunday around the Association.

1) Damian Lillard goes off in fourth, Portland beats Oklahoma City. Damian Lillard had a good game up to that point, 14 points on 4-of-12 shooting, nine assists, seven rebounds, but the Thunder were up by eight and seemingly in control of the game. 

Then Lillard went off. He scored 17 points in the final 3:06, including five 3-pointers (all six of his shots were threes). Meanwhile, Kevin Durant didn’t get off a shot, and Russell Westbrook only had one (KD finished with 28 points, Westbrook 25). 

Portland went on a 20-7 run to end the game and got the win 115-110, snapping their three-game losing streak. Lillard finished with 31.

2) Nets owner can’t fire himself, so he fires coach Lionel Hollins and demotes GM Billy King. The Brooklyn Nets were a mess on Saturday and it was hard to think of ways to make it worse short-term. Owner Mikhail Prokhorov found one. He fired coach Lionel Hollins and “reassigned” GM Billy King (whose new duties involve helping find his replacement — if you didn’t trust him with the job, why trust him with helping to replace himself?). Assistant coach Tony Brown takes over as the interim head coach, the GM chair remains vacant (six weeks before the trade deadline). 

Yes, Hollins’ old-school ways were a poor fit for both the current roster and the rebuilding process ahead. And yes, the litany of bad decisions by Billy King mean he was deserving of being let go. But the real blame for the mess that are the Nets right now starts with owner Mikhail Prokhorov. He pushed King to assemble a contender on the fly (so they could open the Barclays Center and compete with the Knicks in the NYC market), but Brooklyn didn’t have a superstar so the plan was destined to fail. The result was lopsided trades for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, among other moves, that stripped the Nets of draft picks and young players. The Nets won one playoff series for all that trouble, are a moribund franchise, and the blame has to start with the owner who set and pushed for the ill-fated direction. The rebuild is going to have to be a slow process because of the lack of picks. I’m not sure John Calipari would want to step into this mess.

3) Kristaps Porzingis is throwing it down, the Knicks are entertaining and winning. The Knicks have become entertaining to watch, and they are racking up wins — two things that before the season we did not expect. Sunday was a perfect example, with Carmelo Anthony scoring 24 but also trusting teammates and dishing out eight assists (the trust of his teammates has grown over recent weeks). Porzingis had 15 points and the dunk of the game. Lance Thomas continued his surprise season with 13 off the bench. The Knicks are a fun team to watch — and their 19 wins this season are two more than they had all of last season. You can see a bright future in New York — and you can see a big time free agent looking at the foundation laid there and thinking “this is where I want to play.”

4) Don’t look now, but the Los Angeles Clippers have won nine in a row. It wasn’t easy or pretty — it took overtime against a Pelicans team playing without Anthony Davis — but the Los Angeles Clippers have won nine in a row. Seven of those with Blake Griffin sidelined. In those nine games, the Clipper offense is scoring 111.2 points per 100 possessions, and they have a net rating of +13 per 100 (second best in that stretch to the Spurs). The Clippers have started to find their groove. Still, this team feels like the Cincinati Bengals to me — they can be as hot as they want in the regular season, it’s getting out of the second round of the playoffs that will be the way they are judged and remembered. But right now, they are as hot as any team in the NBA.

5) Emmanuel Mudiay returns, Nuggets get win. Denver coach Mike Malone didn’t exactly ease Mudiay back into the fold — he played 39 minutes after missing a month. The rookie was understandably rusty (11 points on 15 shots, six assists but four turnovers) but it worked as the Nuggets beat the slumping Hornets 95-92.

It’s good to see Mudiay back on the court because the Nuggets have so many interesting young pieces and we need to see how they all fit together.  Nikola Jokic started at the five for Denver and they ran the offense through him at the elbow (he has six first quarter assists), but behind him they have the young Jusuf Nurkic as well (he is just a physical beast). Both Jokic and Nurkic show promise but also seem rushed (as young players often do) and just need more seasoning. But those two with the growing Mudiay start to form an interesting foundation in Denver for the future.

Watch Trae Young get ejected for launching ball at referee


Trae Young screwed up and he knew it.

“It’s just a play he can’t make,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said via the Associated Press after the game. “I told him that. He knows it.”

With the score tied at 84 in the third quarter, Young had a 3-pointer disallowed and an offensive foul called on him for tripping the Pacers’ Aaron Nesmith. A frustrated Young picked up a technical foul for something he said.

Then walking back to the bench, Young turned and launched the ball at the referee with two hands. It was an instant ejection.


“There wasn’t a single part of him that tried to rationalize what happened,” Snyder said.

Young can expect a fine for this. It also was his 15th technical of the season, one more and he will get an automatic one-game suspension.

The Hawks went on to win 143-130, improving Atlanta to .500 at 37-37 and keeping them solidly as the No. 8 seed in the East.

Report: ‘Strong optimism’ Anthony Edwards could return to Timberwolves Sunday

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves
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What looked so bad when it happened may only cost Anthony Edwards three games.

Edwards rolled his ankle last week but could be back Sunday when the Timberwolves travel to Golden State, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.

Edwards is averaging 24.7 points and 5.9 rebounds a game this season, and he has stepped up to become the team’s primary shot-creator with Karl-Anthony Towns out for much of the season. The Timberwolves have been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when Edwards is off the court this season.

Towns returned to action a couple of games ago, and with Edwards on Sunday it will be the first time since November the Timberwolves will have their entire core on the court — now with Mike Conley at the point. With the Timberwolves tied for the No.7 seed in an incredibly tight West (they are 1.5 games out of sixth but also one game out of missing the postseason entirely) it couldn’t come at a better time. It’s also not much time to develop of fit and chemistry the team will need in the play-in, and maybe the playoffs.

Nets announce Ben Simmons diagnosed with nerve impingement in back, out indefinitely

NBA: FEB 24 Nets at Bulls
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Ben Simmons — who has been in and out of the Nets’ lineup all season and often struggled when on the court — is out indefinitely due to a nerve impingement in his back, the team announced Friday.

A nerve impingement — sometimes called a pinched nerve — is when a bone or other tissue compresses a nerve. Simmons has a history of back issues going back to his time in Philadelphia, and he had a microdiscectomy about a year ago, after he was traded to Brooklyn.

With two weeks and nine games left in the season, logic would suggest Simmons is done for the season. Coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that Simmons has done some individual workouts but nothing with teammates, however, he would not say Simmons is shut down for the season or would not participate in the postseason with Brooklyn.

Simmons had not played since the All-Star break when he got PRP injections to help deal with ongoing knee soreness. When he has played this season offense has been a struggle, he has been hesitant to shoot outside a few feet from the basket and is averaging 6.9 points a game. Vaughn used him mainly as a backup center.

Simmons has two fully guaranteed years and $78 million remaining on his contract after this season. While Nets fans may want Simmons traded, his injury history and that contract will make it very difficult to do so this summer (Brooklyn would have to add so many sweeteners it wouldn’t be worth it).

The Nets have slid to the No.7 seed in the West — part of the play-in — and have a critical game with the Heat on Saturday night.

Frustration rising within Mavericks, ‘We got to fight hard, play harder’


If the postseason started today, the Dallas Mavericks would miss out — not just the playoffs but also the play-in.

The Mavericks fell to the No.11 seed in the West (tied with the Thunder for 10th) after an ugly loss Friday night to a tanking Hornets team playing without LaMelo Ball and on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas is 3-7 with both Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić playing, and with this latest loss fans booed the Mavericks. What was Jason Kidd’s reaction? Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We probably should have been booed in the first quarter,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said…. “The interest level [from players] wasn’t high,” Kidd said. “It was just disappointing.”

That was a little different than Kyrie Irving’s reaction to the boos.

Then there is franchise cornerstone Luka Dončić, who sounded worn down, by the season and the losing in Dallas.

“We got to fight hard, play harder. That’s about it. We got to show we care and it starts with me first. I’ve just got to lead this team, being better, playing harder. It’s on me….

“I think you can see it with me on the court. Sometimes I don’t feel it’s me. I’m just being out there. I used to have really fun, smiling on court, but it’s just been so frustrating for a lot of reasons, not just basketball.”

Dončić would not elaborate on what, outside basketball, has frustrated him.

Look at seeds 5-10 in the West and you see teams that have struggled but have the elite talent and experience to be a postseason threat: The Phoenix Suns (Devin Booker, plus Kevin Durant is expected back next week), the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry and the four-time champions), the Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis and maybe before the season ends LeBron James).

Should the Mavericks be in that class? On paper yes, they have clutch playoff performers of the past in Dončić and Irving, but an energy-less loss to Charlotte showed a team lacking the chemistry and fire right now that teams like the Lakers (beating the Thunder) and Warriors (beating the 76ers) showed on the same night.

The Mavericks feel like less of a playoff threat, especially with their defensive concerns. They don’t have long to turn things around — and get into the postseason.