Damian Lillard, Portland once again show heart, but it’s not enough as Warriors win, advance

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Tip your cap to the Portland Trail Blazers.

We’re talking about a team expected by most (myself included) to win around 25 games after losing LaMarcus Aldridge and three other starters. There was Damian Lillard and… what?

It turned out the “what” was C.J. McCollum, great role players such as Allen Crabbe, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mason Plumlee, and Ed Davis, all orchestrated masterfully by Terry Stotts. This is a team that played with heart, passion, and a belief in itself that carried it to 44 wins and the second round of the NBA playoffs.

It was just not enough against Golden State.

As they have all season Portland put up a fight until the end, but 33 points from Klay Thompson and 29 from Stephen Curry — including 14 in the fourth quarter — was too much and Golden State won 125-121.

The Warriors win the series 4-1 and will wait for the winner of the Oklahoma City/San Antonio series. That series will start either Monday (if the Thunder close it out in Game 6) or next Wednesday.

The Warriors could use that time off to get healthy. In addition to Curry coming off a knee injury, Draymond Green tweaked his ankle in Game 5 (it had to be retaped, but he did return), while Andrew Bogut suffered a right adductor strain and left Game 5 not to return. Now those players will have at least five days to get right.

The Warriors earned that right with the win, but it was not easy.

Whether it was some tired legs, remaining rust, or the Blazers’ switching an aggressive big onto him off the pick-and-roll, Curry was just 3-of-9 shooting for seven points in the first half. It was Thompson carrying the Warriors early, he had 17 first half points on 7-of-8 shooting.

Damian Lillard had 21 first half points, and the Blazers led the entire second quarter, and the Blazers were up five at the half.

Then in the third quarter Thompson brought the Warriors closer, scoring 16 points in the quarter and the Warriors made it a game.

By this time Curry had shaken off his rust and was putting the Blazers bigs that switch on him on skates, which was rough for Ed Davis.

The Blazers would not go quietly, they made a 7-0 run at one point in the fourth, then not long later had a 7-2 run. But none of it was enough once the Warriors got Curry going (14 in the fourth) and the ball started flying around as it does.

For both teams, this was a series to build off of.

For the Blazers, it showed them as a team on the rise with the right chemistry and stars that can thrive under pressure. Get a rim protecting big this summer and some wing defensive help, plus just another year of maturity for their young players, and watch out.

For the Warriors, it’s they were challenged and responded like champions. It felt like a playoff series. It was a nice warmup for the next round, which will be a more difficult test (regardless of which team they face).

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.