Damian Lillard’s 36 spoil LaMarcus Aldridge’s return as Blazers top Spurs

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 36 points and the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the San Antonio Spurs 110-106 on Wednesday night, spoiling LaMarcus Aldridge‘s return from a health scare.

C.J. McCollum added 26 points for the Trail Blazers, who were coming off a 23-point loss in New Orleans on Tuesday.

Aldridge had 19 points and seven rebounds after missing two games with a minor heart arrhythmia. He was cleared Wednesday morning and does not have any playing restrictions.

Kawhi Leonard had 34 points to lead San Antonio (52-15), which had won 11 of 12 entering the game but fell one game behind Golden State for the league’s best record.

Trailing 104-97 with 1:45 remaining, San Antonio closed within two points as Aldridge scored five consecutive points on a layup and a powerful dunk that led to a three-point play. After Leonard missed a short runner, McCollum made a pair of free throws to end the Spurs’ streak and give Portland a 106-102 lead.

Patty Mills then hit a 3-pointer from the right corner off a feed from Leonard, but Lillard made four straight free throws to seal the victory for the Trail Blazers.

Aldridge finished 9 for 24 from the field and played 32 minutes. He made his first two attempts, a 17-foot jumper and a 21-footer, drawing loud cheers from the sold-out crowd.

San Antonio raced to a 14-7 lead, but Portland went on an 11-2 run to quiet the crowd and keep the game within seven points throughout.

Leonard finished 12 for 21 from the field, including consecutive dunks, in scoring 30-plus points for the 25th time this season. The 6-foot-7 forward first sprinted in from the free-throw line for a one-handed stuff against Noah Vonleh and then spun under the basket for a dunk against the 7-foot Jusuf Nurkic.

Portland closed the third quarter on a 9-3 run in taking an 82-80 lead to set up their fourth-quarter heroics.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Lillard has scored 30 points in six of 11 games since returning from the All-Star break. … Portland was without F Ed Davis (left shoulder), C Festus Ezeli (left knee) and F Evan Turner (right hand). … Nurkic had 16 points after scoring just two against New Orleans on Tuesday. … The Blazers improved to 7-4 when Lillard, McCollum, Vonleh and Nurkic and Maurice Harkless start. … Portland is 80-83 against San Antonio overall after snapping a five-game skid against the Spurs.

Spurs: Aldridge has scored 1,000 points for a 10th straight season, joining LeBron James and Dwyane Wade as the only active players with that streak. … G Tony Parker missed his fourth straight game with back stiffness. The 34-year-old has missed 16 games this season after sitting out 10 games last year. … Leonard has scored in double figures in 94 straight games dating to Jan. 14, 2016.

 

Kevin Porter Jr. a possible lottery pick heading into 2019 NBA draft

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Kevin Porter Jr. missed more than a quarter of his freshman season at USC due to injury. He missed another couple games due to suspension. When he played, he usually came off the bench. He’s only 18.

But Porter has already shown enough to impress NBA teams.

Porter, via Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

“I will be declaring for the 2019 NBA draft and I will be signing with Roc Nation Sports,” Porter told ESPN.

Porter has a wide possible range in the first round, because there’s a massive gap between his ceiling and floor. But it shouldn’t take too long for a team to bet on his upside.

A 6-foot-6 shooting guard with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, Porter has a special combination of shiftiness and power with the ball in his hands. He can attack the rim and finish above it. He can also pull up for jumpers.

I don’t trust his 41% 3-point shooting at USC. That came on only 68 attempts, and he made just 52% of his free throws (though that was also on an unreliably small sample, just 46 attempts). But his stroke looks compact and smooth.

Porter can be an impressive passer. Right now, that’s more so making quick and correct standstill reads than distributing while driving.

If he improves his handle, that could really tie together all his skills.

Porter forces too many bad shots. He’s not attentive enough defensively. There are questions about his maturity.

But if he pans out at the next level, he could be awesome.

Report: LaMarcus Aldridge won’t face punishment for hitting Gary Harris in nuts (video)

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Late in the Nuggets’ Game 2 win over the Spurs, LaMarcus Aldridge whacked Gary Harris in the nuts.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

It surely helped that Denver coach Michael Malone defended Aldridge.

Malone, via Mike Singer of The Denver Post:

“If there was a windup, if there was something that looked really deliberate, that’d be different, but from what I saw, and I didn’t spend much time looking at it, obviously who cares what I think?” Malone said. “It all comes down to what the NBA thinks. In watching it, obviously Gary was unfortunately the recipient of that accidental blow but I didn’t see it as something that was premeditated or done with the intent to hurt Gary.”

It also helps that Aldridge doesn’t have a reputation for dirty plays.

But this is what I can’t get totally past: If Aldridge intended to take a cheap shot, how would it have looked any different?

Ben Simmons on Jared Dudley’s assessment: ‘It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon’ (video)

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Ben Simmons keyed the 76ers’ historic offensive turnaround from Game 1 to Game 2 against the Nets. He pushed the pace, attacked and created good shots for himself and teammates.

Brooklyn forward Jared Dudley explained Simmons’ improvement.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Simmons:

It’s coming from Jared Dudley. C’mon.

Simmons’ dismissive tone makes this bigger than merely his words do. There’s definitely animosity brewing between these teams.

But this “beef” will get only as large as Simmons makes it.

He is great in transition and average in the halfcourt. Dudley’s remark wasn’t an insult. It was a scouting report.

Keeping Simmons out of transition is far easier than done. That’s part of what makes Simmons a star. He frequently creates up-tempo opportunities.

Players can’t be defined by a list of strengths and weaknesses. How often those strengths and weaknesses affect the game is important.

Simmons often makes his strengths count.

There are still questions about just how often he can do that against the best defenses, especially deep into the playoffs. His poor shooting is a liability in the halfcourt.

For now, he’ll create plenty of fastbreaks against the Nets. Simmons is a good enough player to set the style against that defense. He’s better than Dudley, who’s just a role player.

But Dudley is also a smart player. And he’s spot-on here.

Potential top-10 pick De’Andre Hunter, potential first-rounder Ty Jerome leaving Virginia for NBA draft

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De'Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome just led Virginia to a national championship.

Now, they’re trying to parlay that title into success at the next level.

Hunter and Jerome declared for the 2019 NBA drat with the intent to stay in it, Virginia announced.

Hunter will probably be a top-10, maybe even top-five, pick.

At 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and a strong base and impressive lateral mobility, the forward has excellent defensive versatility. He’s steady on and off the ball. I question whether he’ll lock up the better athletes he’ll more regularly face in the NBA, but his defensive floor is quite high.

He’s also a good 3-point shooter, though his slow release limits the number of attempts he can get up. Otherwise, Hunter lacks the explosiveness and ball-handling to become a traditional star.

Maybe he’ll be an excellent 3-and-D role player. In this weak-looking draft, that possibility is enough to make him coveted.

Jerome also lacks the burst to possess high upside, but that’s more understandable late in the first round, where he’s projected. The 6-foot-5 guard is a good outside shooter with a knack for getting open. He has plenty of distributing ability for a secondary playmaker but isn’t enough of a threat to create for himself to run an offense through him.

He’s limited defensively, but he has a decent knack for when to gamble when there’s good help – like Hunter – behind him.