Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Damian Lillard drops 44, drops Warriors to second in West

3 Comments

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Kevin Durant drops 50, but Damian Lillard and Trail Blazers get win. The malaise — I’ve been calling it “senioritis” — that the Golden State Warriors have had of late (they have gone 4-4 in their last eight, with their defense falling to the middle of the pack in the league in that stretch) has finally cost them.

The Warriors have fallen to the second seed in the West after a loss Wednesday to the Portland Trail Blazers 123-117, where Damian Lillard went off for 44 points, and Kevin Durant had 50. It was one of the most entertaining fourth quarters of the season to see two of the best scorers in the game go back-and-forth.

Portland needed the win because they are playing for their playoff lives. With the win, the Blazers are now the six seed in the West — just one game up on the nine-seed Clippers and two up on the 10-seed Jazz, who won their 11th straight game Wednesday. The back half of the West is one of the most interesting races to watch for the final 20+ games of the season, just two games separate six seed Portland and 10 seed Utah. Evey win counts.

If the Warriors finish with the two seed, that doesn’t matter to them too much (it would matter more to the Rockets in a likely Western Conference Finals showdown). Steve Kerr has tried to find ways to spark his team of late — such as letting the players coach time-out huddles — but this is a veteran team that has been to three straight Finals and won two. They know when it’s time to flip the switch. After the All-Star break and some time away from each other, expect them to get their focus back. There is nothing wrong with the Warriors, let’s not go there.

2) Celtics fall to Clippers, is it time to worry about Boston’s offense? Here’s a little-discussed fact: While the Boston Celtics have the best defense in the NBA over the course of the season, their offense is bottom 10 in the league (21st). Remove garbage time from the equation (as is done at Cleaning the Glass) and the Celtics move up to 20th in offense, hanging around the likes of the Pistons and Knicks in the rankings. While the Boston offense is pretty good when both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are on the court together (and they will be more in the playoffs), the lack of a secondary playmaker is going to be an issue when teams can really dial in on what the Celtics do during the postseason.

Right now, like the Warriors, the Celtics just look a little mentally tired and in need of a break — Brad Steven’s team is all about effort and execution, and that has not been the same recently. For example, in Wednesday’s loss to the Clippers the Celtics gave up 129 points, the second consecutive game they have given up the most points they have allowed this season. The Celtics have dropped four-of-five, and Steven said after the All-Star break he will consider rotation changes to turn things around with his squad.

The seeming turnaround in Cleveland after the trade deadline provides a little urgency to Boston’s moves. Expect the team to be a little more focused when they get back to work next week.

Let’s give the Clippers some credit here — DeAndre Jordan owned the paint and scored a career-high 30 points, Montrezl Harrell make key plays late, Tobias Harris had 21 points, and the Clippers made good play after good play to get this win. Los Angeles is part of that clump of five teams within two games of each other battling for three playoff spots in the West, and they have a tougher schedule than most the rest of the way out. That makes wins like this — beating a top team in the East on the road — all the more crucial. Fivethirtyeight.com gives the Clippers a 61 percent chance of making the postseason after this win, but it’s going to be close — Cleaning the Glass projects the Clippers, Pelicans, and Nuggets each to have 43 wins when the season ends while the Trail Blazers would have 42 (the Jazz are seen with 45, they have the softest schedule the rest of the way of the group). Every win matters. This was a big one for a Los Angeles team that looks good and deep enough to get into the dance.

3) Isaiah Thomas, Rajon Rondo ejected after getting tangled up. Was this really worthy of an ejection? Maybe the players said something, but it didn’t look that bad.

That said, there is a history of bad blood here — Rondo questioned if Thomas even deserved a tribute video in Boston. On Wednesday night, Rondo was guarding Thomas on an inbound pass — getting in his face — and the two got tangled up. That led to a couple of technicals, but Rondo (and both players) continued talking after being separated, and that was enough to get them tossed.

Still not sure that was ejection worthy.

Lakers coach Luke Walton was ejected later in the first half after storming on the court to protest a call against Kyle Kuzma. That was not enough to spark the Lakers’ defense, which was a mess and the Pelicans got the needed win 139-117.

LeBon James takes over, leads Lakers to NBA Finals with win

Leave a comment

The Denver Nuggets had come back from 3-1 down twice in these playoffs.

The Denver Nuggets had never run into LeBron James.

LeBron dominated this close-out game. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter. He put up a triple-double of 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. Defensively he shut down Jamal Murray (who was slowed due to a bruise on his foot) and made smart plays.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed a guy take over a game the way he did in the fourth quarter tonight, in person,” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said of LeBron.

LeBron did what the Jazz and Clippers had failed to do — he and the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the Nuggets in five games with a 117-107 win.

“He’s had a chip on his shoulder all year long,” Vogel said about LeBron. “Everybody has doubters. To be in the Eastern Conference and get there as much as he had and to come over to the Western Conference, it’s an enormous accomplishment to [reach the Finals] with a third team.”

The Lakers advance to the NBA Finals, which will begin Wednesday (if Miami closes the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday) or Friday (if there is a Game 7 in the East).

LeBron James made history with the win, becoming the third player in NBA history to make it to 10 NBA Finals, joining Sam Jones (11) and Bill Russell (12) of the 1950s-60s Boston Celtics.

The Lakers pulled ahead in the first half of Game 5 because of Nikola Jokic‘s foul trouble — he played just eight minutes in the first half because of it. The Nuggets were +3 in those eight minutes and -13 in the other minutes of the first half, which had Dever down 10 at the break.

The Nuggets fought back in the third quarter, in part thanks to a monster game from Jeremi Grant who had 20 points on the night (tied with Jokic for a team high). Despite a hobbling Murray, the Nuggets did what they had done all playoffs long and refused to fold.

“What more could you ask from a group?” Denver coach Michael Malone said after the loss. “What more commitment, sacrifice, just everything in the last 82 days that our team has gone through. The history that we’ve made. The adversity that we faced and never ran from, embraced it… I couldn’t be more proud.”

Anthony Davis had 27 points for L.A. The Lakers also had role players stepping up. Alex Caruso had 11 points and was 5-of-7 from the floor. Danny Green also scored 11.

However, in the end, it was LeBron James looking like the best player on the planet.

Now he is headed to the Finals with the chance to make history and win a title with three different teams.

 

Lakers’ Anthony Davis ‘good to go’ for Game 5 despite sprained ankle

Anthony Davis
Getty Images
Leave a comment

This was expected, but when the Lakers officially listed Anthony Davis as questionable for Game 5 with a sprained ankle, it raised a few eyebrows.

Davis will play in Game 5 Saturday night, coach Frank Vogel said pregame.

Anthony Davis sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 4, and while he stayed in the game there were questions about how it would respond the next day.

The Lakers are up 3-1 on a Denver team they know will not be easy to close out.

To do that, Los Angeles needs Davis: When AD has been on the court in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers have outscored the Nuggets by 9.4 points per 100 possessions, but when he sits, the Lakers are -21.3 (stats via NBA.com).

The Lakers want to close out in five games to get some added rest. The NBA Finals are expected to start next Wednesday, Sept. 30 (unless one conference finals series goes seven games, then it is likely Friday, Oct. 2). If the Lakers lose Saturday but win Game 6 Monday it would be a short turnaround (as it would be after a Game 7).

Denver, however, has played its best basketball whenever it has faced the prospect of packing its bags and going home.

New York congressman insults Knicks, James Dolan funds opponent

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Things are changing with the Knicks. Leon Rose is in the front office, Tom Thibodeau is the coach, and together they are talking about developing players and having a plan moving forward. It’s a reason for hope…

Then there’s James Dolan.

Max Rose, a Democratic congressman from Staten Island, echoed the voice for a lot of Knicks fans when he said: “I’m a Knicks fan to the day I die, but Dolan’s gotta sell. Right now, this is an absolute disgrace.”

We have seen how Dolan reacts to fans saying he should sell the team. In the case of Rose, he is fundraising for the Republican running against him. It would be easy to say “Dolan is a big President Donald Trump supporter and donates to GOP causes all the time” and this isn’t personal, except Dolan sent out an email to help raise funds for Republican candidate Nicole Malliotakis and the New York Post got a hold of it.

“Max Rose thinks he can make our team and my ownership his political platform,” Dolan wrote in a personal email to friends last week that was obtained by The Post. “I need to let him know that we will not stand for this. The best way to do this is to help his opponent. He is in a tight race for the US Congress in Staten Island. … Please join me in helping Nicole defeat Max Rose for Congress.

“It will help send a strong message to all NY politicians that the Knicks will not be their political ticket to reelection.

That’s personal. Dolan isn’t just asking other people to donate.

A $50,000 check from MSG Sports was cut Tuesday to “The Governing Majority Fund,” a PAC run by former Reps. John Faso and Jeff Denham, Dolan confirmed. The PAC’s mission is to help Republicans take back the House.

Rose represents New York’s 11th District, a solid Republican district until the 2018 midterms when it became one of 30 districts nationally that flipped blue. The GOP is trying to turn a number of those back, including Rose’s district.

Whatever you think of Rose’s politics (he’s a former Army Ranger, which helped him in a more conservative district), what he said about wanting Dolan to sell the franchise is what many Knicks fans are thinking. Dolan just doesn’t like to hear it. Maybe Rose and Thibodeau can turn the Knicks around — they certainly deserve a chance — but the team has struggled since Dolan became the owner and that’s not a coincidence.

Whatever Rose and Knicks fans want, it’s also highly unlikely Dolan sells the team, there are no rumblings about that around the league (and he certainly has had chances).

Former Pelicans GM Dell Demps shifts to become Jazz assistant coach

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Leave a comment

While teams have moved away from anyone in a dual coach/GM role, some people bounce between coach and the front office around the NBA: Steve Kerr was once the Suns’ GM before being the Warriors coach; Sean Marks was on the bench in San Antonio before moving to their front office and eventually the head guy in Brooklyn.

Now Dell Demps is making that move. The former general manager for the New Orleans Pelicans, who was let go a year ago, will be an assistant coach on Quin Synder’s staff in Utah. Demps was the GM of the Spurs G-League team years back and hired Snyder to coach it.

“I was fortunate to work with Dell to begin my career as a head coach in professional basketball and I know he will delve into his role on the bench,” Snyder said in a statement. “He has an incredible work ethic and commitment to his craft. His vast experience both as a player and in front office roles brings a unique perspective that will be invaluable to our team. We’re excited to welcome him to the Jazz.”

“I am absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with Coach Snyder again,” Demps said. “I have always had tremendous respect for Quin and the Jazz organization. I look forward to joining this talented coaching staff and working with our players. My wife Anita and I couldn’t be more excited to make the move to Utah and become a part of a tremendous community.”

Demps was not the only hire by Snyder, who is also bringing former NBA player Keyon Dooling. He played for 13 years in the league and then has worked with the National Basketball Players Association in various roles — most recently as a wellness counselor and mental health advocate — in recent years. Dooling played for two years at Missouri in college, a team coached by Snyder.

“Keyon is a fantastic addition for us on multiple levels and someone I’ve always had tremendous respect for since our time at Missouri where we formed a close bond that has continued throughout the years,” said Snyder. “He’s a natural leader who was a captain on multiple teams in the league and I have no doubt that the way he approached the game as a player will translate to the work he puts in with our roster on the court.”