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Five Takeaways from NBA Thursday: Trade deadline version (plus Clippers beat Spurs)

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NBA basketball was back on Thursday night with three games. But that’s not what anybody is talking about, not on trade deadline Thursday. So here are five takeaways from Thursday, mostly talking trades. Because we love trades.

1) Trade deadline comes and goes, but the balance of power at the top of NBA doesn’t change. Nothing happened Thursday to make the Golden State Warriors turn their heads. Or even the San Antonio Spurs. There were trades Thursday involving two of the four contenders for an NBA title this season — plus the Clippers making a move to try to get into that category — but at the end of the day, the balance of power had not shifted. Nothing changed. The Cavaliers added a little depth to their front line, a shooter in Channing Frye that gives coach Tyronn Lue some bench matchup options, but that’s it. Oklahoma City added Randy Foye to their “we can do this by committee” system at the two guard spot. The Clippers upgraded at the three spot with the erratic Jeff Green (plus there is some addition by subtraction with Lance Stephenson gone to what is now an interesting Memphis locker room).

All of those are moves on the periphery, at best they make those teams marginally better. Golden State is the defending champion and playing better than they did a season ago and nobody made a move that in any way challenged them as the team to beat. The Spurs didn’t make a move either, and I still see them as the clear second-best team in the league. The Cavaliers will get their shot at one of them in the Finals, but they still seem a step back. It was a fun day of trades, but at the top nothing changed.

2) No big name moved at the trade deadline, but wait for this summer. Dwight Howard didn’t change teams because nobody would offer the Houston Rockets much for him. Same with New Orleans trying to trade Ryan Anderson. The Clippers gauged the trade market for Blake Griffin, the Cavaliers did the same with Kevin Love, and while neither team had serious plans to move those two stars in February there was a method to the madness.

This summer is when the big names will be on the move. While everyone will be talking about whether Kevin Durant will bolt Oklahoma City, other moves are coming. With the rising salary cap (thanks to the flood of money from the new NBA television deal) every team is going to have some cap space and a majority will have enough for a max contract. That means teams will have big money to throw at free agents, and can make trades without matching salaries. So free agents  — Al Horford, DeMar DeRozan, Dwyane Wade, Nicolas Batum — will have options (even if they don’t want to leave their current teams). And GMs who may want to trade name players — potentially Brook Lopez from Brooklyn (now that they finally have a GM), Love, Griffin, others — will have options. What this trade deadline did was set up a summer where we will see some significant moves.

3) By the way, there was an NBA game and the Clippers kept winning (and DeAndre Jordan kept dunking). There was actual basketball in the NBA on Thursday night. The marquee game of the night was the Clippers hosting the Spurs — and Los Angeles didn’t miss a step from where they left off on a run before the All-Star break. That starts with Chris Paul shredding defenses — including on Thursday the NBA’s best one to the tune of 28 points and 12 assists. While the Clipper offense is making plays, quietly they have had the best defensive numbers in the NBA through their last 10 games (allowing 96.5 points per 100 possessions), and if they defend like that they become much more dangerous in the playoffs. Not that anyone should read anything about the playoffs out of this game (no Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs, for one thing), but the Clippers are playing well. And still throwing lobs to DeAndre Jordan for monster slams.

4) Biggest trade deadline winner was Detroit. Who made out best at the trade deadline? Stan Van Gundy and the Detroit Pistons. This may not vault them into the playoffs this season (although they are just half a game back of faltering Chicago for the eight seed) but it’s what they did to set themselves up for the future. The Pistons traded for Tobias Harris on Tuesday, and then on Thursday added Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton. Motiejunas is a bit of a gamble because of his health, but he’d be a great fit.

Think about the Pistons lineup. Andre Drummond is an All-Star at the center spot, and he has good pick-and-roll chemistry with Reggie Jackson at the point. Now around them on the wings are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson, Marcus Morris and Marcus Thornton — that’s a lot of long, athletic guys who can shoot the ball, run the floor, and switch everything on defense. And they are all 26 or younger (the average age is 23). This is a team that is going to develop and could be very good in a couple of years.

5) The playoff push at the bottom of East is now most interesting race in NBA. There are just 3.5 games separating the four seed Atlanta Hawks from the current the nine-seed (and out of the playoffs) Detroit Pistons. Then there are the Washington Wizards just two games back of the Pistons. It’s a tight race for the playoffs already, but what makes it even more interesting is to see who made trade deadline deals in the East — the nine seed Pistons were big winners, the seven seed Hornets added Courtney Lee (to replace the injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and those 10-seed Wizards upgraded with Markieff Morris (who can be a great fit for them if he chooses to play hard and not be a disruptive force). Meanwhile, Chicago (eighth seed), Miami (fifth), and Indiana (sixth) all stood pat at the deadline. Now the teams that made moves have a burst of energy and are going to make a run at pushing the teams above them out of the playoff picture. What teams make the playoffs in the East — and what the seedings will be in the middle of the pack — will be the best race in the NBA down the stretch.

Donovan Mitchell scores 25, Rudy Gobert has 22 and key late block, Jazz rally past Mavs

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Rudy Gobert had 22 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks to propel the surging Utah Jazz to a 112-107 come-from-behind victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.

Donovan Mitchell scored 25 points and Bojan Bogdanovic added 23 for the Jazz, who have won 14 of their last 15 games.

Luka Doncic scored 25 points for the Mavericks, who have dropped two of three after winning four straight. Doncic managed only two points in the final quarter.

Seth Curry added 19 points for Dallas.

Gobert’s three-point play — a dunk and a free throw — gave the Jazz their first lead since the first half at 96-95. The Mavericks responded with a 3 by Curry and two free throws from Delon Wright.

Gobert broke a 104-all tie with a tip-in, and after Tim Hardaway Jr. and Royce O’Neale exchanged 3-pointers, Gobert blocked what looked like an easy layup for Wright.

Mitchell made a pair of free throws, and then Gobert rebounded Doncic’s missed 3-pointer and was fouled. He made one of two free throws for the final margin.

The Mavericks raced to a 32-19 lead behind Doncic’s playmaking and shooting. The Jazz later scored 12 consecutive points and took a brief 37-36 lead on Georges Niang’s 3-pointer.

Kristaps Porzingis scored 15 points and Hardaway and Wright each chipped in 11 for Dallas.

Portland’s struggles do not have Damian Lillard pushing for trade, “I can weather the storm”

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Damian Lillard isn’t going anywhere.

The Trail Blazers are 19-27, sitting as the unexpected 11 seed in the West, and there calls from some quarters of the Pacific Northwest for Portland to do something drastic to try and salvage the season. Too often, those calls are followed by “what if Lillard decides this isn’t working and pushes for a trade?”

It’s not going down that way. Not according to Lillard.

In a league where it’s become commonplace for superstars to use their leverage — either to get traded or to force the team to make bold moves they want — Lillard remains loyal and trusts the front office in Portland. He realizes what this season has become for the Trail Blazers and he wants the franchise to think about next season, not desperation moves to save this one. Here is what he told Jason Quick of The Athletic.

“That don’t have nothing to do with my commitment to the team,” Lillard said. “I mean, it’s not like we are going to do something that is going to take us to the championship at this point. I think it’s more important for us to protect the assets we have, the guys who are going to be here and who are going to help us going forward. I don’t think it makes sense to sacrifice that just to make a desperate play.

“It’s been a tough season, but the season is not over. We can make something of this season as we are, but it’s not worth, you know, saying ‘OK, let’s force something and go do something that at the end of the day doesn’t make sense.’ But that has nothing to do with my commitment. I said it after last game (Golden State): I feel like I can find a way. I can weather the storm. I can go through hard times.”

He also has made clear he isn’t going to push GM Neil Olshay to make specific trades.

Lillard is averaging 28.3 points and 7.6 assists per game, he scored 108 points in his last two games, and he’s playing at an All-NBA level again. He remains one of the game’s top guards and a player the Trail Blazers can build a contender around. His five-year max contract extension doesn’t kick in until next season.

Portland’s challenge is this: Lillard is 29 and in his prime. If they are going to win a title with him that has to happen sooner rather than later. Portland should not make desperation moves to salvage this season — getting Jusuf Nurkic back in the next few weeks could turn things around without a trade — but even looking ahead: If they are fully healthy next season are they on the level of the Lakers or Clippers? To my eyes, no. Then the question becomes what needs to be done to get there? If it’s time for something bold, should they test the trade market for CJ McCollum?

The Trail Blazers have some big questions to answer after this season.

The thing they don’t need to worry about is Lillard.

 

 

Dion Waiters debuts, nearly keys Heat comeback vs. Clippers (video)

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Dion Waiters‘ season entering Friday:

  • Suspensions: Three
  • Instagram posts offensive to the Heat: Two
  • Games played: Zero

However, due to a rash of injuries on the Heat, Waiters finally escaped the doghouse and actually played against the Clippers last night.

He played a little in the first half then started the fourth quarter with Miami down 16. In the final minute, Waiters even twice blocked Lou Williams on the same possession then made a 3-pointer on the other end to cut L.A.’s lead to three.

But the Clippers held on for a 122-117 victory.

Waiters finished with 14 points, including 4-of-9 3-point shooting, in 18 minutes.

Kings demote Buddy Hield, start Bogdan Bogdanovic

Buddy Hield
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Even for a franchise accustomed to misery, the Kings hit this season’s rock bottom Wednesday. Sacramento lost by 22 to the Pistons, who were missing Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown. It was the Kings’ sixth straight loss.

So, Sacramento made a big change last night – starting Bogdan Bogdanovic over Buddy Hield at shooting guard.

The adjustment worked beautifully. The Kings beat the Bulls, 98-81. The starting lineup outscored Chicago by seven points. Hield scored 21 points, shooting 2-for-3 on 2-pointers and 5-for-9 on 3-pointers, and grabbed eight rebounds.

Not every game will be against the lowly Bulls. But it’s not as if Sacramento had been beating anyone.

Kings coach Luke Walton, via James Ham of NBC Sports California:

“There’s nothing permanent with it, it’s not a punishment to Buddy at all,” Walton added. “Buddy’s been great and we expect him to be great for us tonight. But we’ve got to keep looking for something that works for us.”

“He’ll be fine,” Walton said. “Buddy’s a professional and he knows how we feel about him. Again, this is not a punishment towards him, we’re just looking at trying to mix some things up, try to give ourselves a little juice and find a way to win a game in this stretch that we’re in right now.”

Hield, via Ham:

“You’ve got to come in, be ready and when coach call your number, go out there and hoop,” Hield told Grant Napear on the NBC Sports California telecast following the Kings’ 98-81 win.

“Today I was just locked in and more confident,” Hield said. “I’m just trying to be myself and do what I do best, which is score the basketball.”

Hield has underperformed this season, sometimes leading to tension. Good for him playing hard last night, and Walton was probably wise to downplay the move.

But a team benching a highly paid cornerstone is a big deal.

In order to balance lineups, teams don’t always start their five best players. But the best players usually start, because teams want to play their best players more. It’s generally better to spread that greater playing time over the full 48 minutes than a compressed period that begins several minutes into the game.

Last night, Sacramento treated Hield like a true reserve. He played just 23 minutes, down from 34 per game as a starter.

Maybe Hield will regain his confidence off the bench, return to the starting lineup and continue his momentum. That’d be great for the Kings, though it’d also maintain complications with Bogdanovic headed into restricted free agency this summer.

Sacramento has two talented shooting guards. That’s fine with Bogdanovic still on his first (though relatively high-paying) contract. It becomes more complicated when Bogdanovic receives his raise. The Kings might eventually have to choose between the two.

If nothing else, this lineup change shows not to take Hield’s once-exalted status in Sacramento for granted.