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Three Things We Learned Tuesday: Utah crushes San Antonio? Is it the end of the world?

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It’s still very early in the NBA season — we’re still watching small sample size theater — but we are starting to learn some things. Here is what we learned on Sunday while thinking that a Game 7 of the World Series is going to be fun (and all those 3-1 blown lead jokes Cleveland fans made after the NBA Finals don’t seem as funny to them now)… 

1) Break up the Jazz — Utah beats San Antonio easily. In San Antonio. The outcome seemed preordained. We were in double-digits of consecutive Utah losses in San Antonio. Gordon Hayward was out. Boris Diaw sat for rest. Derrick Favors only played the first half. This game lined up to be a blowout. And it was.

Utah blew out San Antonio. The Jazz pulled away in the fourth for a 106-91 win.

George Hill is the only guy on the Jazz creating shots right now, and he did that to the tune of eight straight points in the fourth when the game was decided — he was phenomenal. Has been all season, carrying a heavy load. He was a force off the pick-and-roll with 22 points on 13 shots in this one, and he was attacking the rim or shooting threes, not settling in the midrange. You can see that in his shot cart — three midrange shots compared to 10 threes or shots at the rim.

Hill shotcart

Pacers fans had to watch this, having seen the way Jeff Teague has stumbled out of the gate this season, and think “what the hell?” Frank Vogel rarely gave Hill the chance to play this way,  but Hill has skills and brings it on both ends.

Utah is going to be a playoff team if they don’t dig too big a hole before they get healthy (and that could mean no Alec Burks for a couple of months). This win bringing them to 2-2 on the season is huge in that chase.

2) Sixers trade Jerami Grant to Thunder for Ersan Ilyasova and a pick — and it’s pretty even. We have our first trade of the season, and while I don’t love it for Philadelphia, the fact they got this pick makes this a wash for me in the long term. Short term, I don’t love it for Philly. I get it, the Sixers need shooting, and Ilyasova does that far, far better than Grant right now. It gives Philly a healthy body up front. Plus Ilyasova is on an expiring contract.

But if it was just the player swap I wouldn’t have liked the deal for Philly. Grant is just 22, incredibly athletic, on a very affordable contract and could develop into something. The Thunder are good at development, and OKC is looking for long guys who can play the three and four (they lost one of those this summer if you hadn’t heard). I like the move for the Thunder, Ilyasova was not part of their future, Grant may not be but they have a chance to find out. The pick is what saves it for the Sixers — a first-round pick top 20 protected in 2020 or 2021, and if the Sixers don’t get the pick those years it becomes two second round picks (2022 and 2023). That’s a long-time off, but if they don’t see Grant as part of the future it’s a decent return for a guy they got in the second round.

3) DeMarcus Cousins had 13 points but picked up all six fouls in the fourth quarter. You read that right, DeMarcus Cousins had zero fouls through three quarters of the Kings game in Miami, then picked up all six and fouled out in the fourth quarter — thereby missing overtime in the eventual OT loss to the Heat. Cousins was livid — and he had a right to be. It’s tempting to blame Cousins’ demeanor, but he handled it fairly well. Some of those calls should have been no-calls, some others were borderline calls that could go either way and went against Cousins. Coach Dave Joerger said after the game he had watched the fouls and said they were “unbelievable” and said “I don’t know…” then trailed off trying to avoid getting a fine. He then added that with physical players like Cousins, they are difficult to officiate.

Here is the one where Cousins fouls out:

The Miami broadcasters like the call, but of course they do they are wearing Heat goggles. This could have gone either way, but it’s not a bad call, Cousins does get his left arm on the inside of Whiteside and hooks him, but he doesn’t extend and push. The thing is, Cousins never gets that call from the refs. Several of the rest were much worse calls, this one was legit. Cousins has the rep with refs and does not get the benefit of the doubt, and it cost him here. (Although the Kings could still have won if Rudy Gay didn’t airball a potential game winner.)

But Cousins did have a brilliant block of Whiteside earlier in the game.

Watch LeBron James pass Kobe Bryant for third on the all-time scoring list

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LeBron James just passed a Laker legend.

Kobe Bryant may be No. 1 in the hearts of Lakers fans, but he is now No. 4 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list after LeBron James passed him with a layup with 7:23 left in the third quarter. The basket gave LeBron 33,644 points.

LeBron got a massive ovation from the Philly fans for his accomplishment.

Kobe Bryant Tweeted his congratulations.

LeBron now has Karl Malone (second) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ahead of him on the scoring list. Kareem was on SiriusXM NBA Radio this past week with Frank Isola and Brendan Haywood and said LeBron could pass him if he’s focused.

“I think it is up to LeBron. If he wants to do it, he’ll do it. He has the talent. He has the opportunity. So it’s just up to him as to how he wants to end his career. I certainly cannot be upset about it. The reason that they keep these records is so that we learn how we are improving. And we learn how to teach the game, taking note of the accomplishments of the great players. So, hey, it’s a natural progression. I don’t have any problem with it.”

Another report Wizards shooting down all trade talk around Davis Bertans

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Washington GM Tommy Shepard has been clear and not changed his position: he had no intention of trading Davis Bertans.

Instead, the plan is to re-sign the sharpshooting 6’10” power forward this summer. Bertans — who averages 15.3 points and 4.6 rebounds while shooting 42.6 percent from three on 8.7 attempts per game — would fit well as a floor spacer on a John Wall/Bradley Beal team looking to make noise in the playoffs next season.

That has not stopped teams from looking at the Wizards situation, then calling to see if they can land Bertans in a deadline trade — a floor-spacing big could help teams such as Denver and Boston. However, those teams are still getting hung up on according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated.

Inquiries to Washington have gone nowhere; several executives tell SI.com that the Wizards wouldn’t even discuss a deal. Some teams, though, are holding out hope Washington will make Bertans available before the trade deadline.

Shepard and Washington are making a bet Bertans wants to stay in Washington, he is an unrestricted free agent this summer. If Washington gets the sense Bertans wants out this summer, they need to trade him now and get something in return. If they believe he wants to return, then they need to get owner Ted Leonsis to open up the checkbook. After this breakout season, and at a position of need for a lot of teams around the league, Bertans likely will get offers at or above $17 million a season, and Washington might need to overpay a little to keep him.

Washington’s plan — as evidenced by words and actions — is not to rebuild but to get healthy and make a run up the East standings next season. They have Beal (playing at an All-NBA level this season), they get Wall back (he has looked good in practice of late), and from there they re-sign Bertans, count on growth from rookie Rui Hachimura, and put together a roster of role players who can win games in the East. 

Debate amongst yourselves if that is the smart direction to go, it’s clearly the one the Wizards have chosen.

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.