Trail Blazers PG Damian Lillard: “We kind of suck right now”

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The Portland Trail Blazers are 7-6 after a loss to the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, 126-109, a mark that drops them to No. 9 in the Western Conference standings.

That’s not good enough for star guard Damian Lillard. And who can blame him?

Speaking with reporters after the game in Texas, Lillard pointed out what many around the conference have been thinking lately.

After an astonishing 44-38 record in 2015-16, the Trail Blazers have fallen a bit flat this season. They have re-signed Allen Crabbe, Moe Harkless, CJ McCollum, and Meyers Leonard in the last 12 months. Portland GM Neil Olshey also added Evan Turner as his main offseason signing to go with Festus Ezeli, the latter of which has not yet played a game this year.

The experiment has gone poorly.

Turner has looked unsettled on both offense and defense, his strengths seemingly incongruous with coach Terry Stotts’ flow offense.

The same can be said for Crabbe and Harkless, who despite having been in the Blazers system have not yet improved enough to warrant their latest contracts. Leonard, meanwhile, has looked weak as he comes back from shoulder surgery and not ready for heavy lifting down low.

Still, there’s some optimism in the Blazers locker room.

The answer isn’t immediately apparent in Portland. Al-Farouq Aminu is out with a calf injury for three weeks, but has not looked good — especially at the offensive end — compared to last season. The Blazers are one of the poorest rebounding teams in the NBA, and their defensive rating has shot up above 110, their highest as a franchise since 2005-06. Their core is essentially set, and there’s not likely to be a trade suitor for Turner or any other underperforming player.

Lillard is correct: the Blazers do sort of suck. Whether that continues, I’m not so sure. Stotts has been a Coach of the Year candidate in the past, and has spun wheat into gold before.

But Portland needs to figure it out sooner than later, and they’re in a tight spot roster-wise. Any improvement is going to have to come from within as the rest of the Western Conference improves.

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.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.