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Dominant Damian Lillard leads Portland on late-season surge

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Damian Lillard says the Portland Trail Blazers reach out to him before he reaches team milestones, just to give him a heads up.

The only problem? Lillard doesn’t read his emails.

Lillard joked about it after his latest achievement: He surpassed Clifford Robinson on the Blazers’ all-time scoring list, moving into fourth, in Portland’s victory over the Knicks on Tuesday. Lillard, in his sixth NBA season, has 10,433 points.

“The team, I think they send me emails when something’s coming up, but I never check my email,” he said. “I never know unless I happen to see it on Twitter or until after I do it and somebody mentions it.”

Robinson was sure to get Lillard’s attention, sending his sentiments over Twitter.

“Congrats (at)Dame-Lillard! Trust, I know what it takes to put yourself in that position. Keep putting that work in young fella!” Robinson tweeted.

Lillard has certainly been putting in the work over the Blazers’ current winning streak, which has stretched to a season-best eight games. Portland hasn’t won as many consecutive games since 2014 when the team won nine.

The streak has pushed Portland into third place in the Western Conference, a half-game up on New Orleans in a cluster of teams scrambling for playoff position.

Over the course of the streak, which started when the Blazers beat Golden State 123-117 in Portland just before the All-Star break, Lillard has averaged 33.1 points per game.

Lillard had 44 points in that first game against the Warriors, who return to the Moda Center on Friday for a rematch.

“We’ve been on a good run, just playing good basketball on both ends of the floor. Our team has been on a streak, we’ve been really connected,” Lillard said. “It was even before the Golden State game when we got back from that trip and we lost one in Detroit. We had a good stretch and then we lost at home to Utah but then right after that we knocked off Golden State and picked it up.”

Lillard had 37 points in the 111-87 victory Tuesday over the Knicks, including eight 3-pointers.

At that game, and at a few more recently at the Moda Center, fans have taken to chanting “MVP!” when Lillard gets to the free-throw line.

Although Houston’s James Harden is clearly the front-runner for the award, New York coach Jeff Hornacek said Lillard is making a case for himself.

“The guy is playing fantastic. He might be one of those guys you’ve got to start talking about that MVP, too, with the way he’s playing,” Hornacek said.

Lillard has been averaging 26.8 points, 6.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game this season. He made the All-Star team for the third time, scoring 21 points in the annual showcase.

The Lillard-led late-season surge has become something of a trademark for the Blazers. In 2015-16, Portland was 27-27 at the All-Star break but finished the regular season 44-38 and in fifth place in the West. They got past the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs before falling to the Warriors in the conference semifinals.

Last season, Portland lost three straight games to go into the break at 23-33. Shortly thereafter, an overtime loss at Detroit put the Blazers 11 games under .500.

But the Blazers went 13-3 in March, best in the NBA. Lillard was named the conference’s Player of the Month, averaging 29.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 6.0 assists. Portland made the playoffs for the fourth straight season, but fell in the opening round to the Warriors.

After the Warriors on Friday, the Blazers have 16 games left in this season.

Lillard, known for pointing at his wrist and signaling “Lillard Time” when he hits tough shots late in games, said he feels he’s playing the best stretch of his career. And it’s coming at a good time for the Blazers.

“Damian Lillard is special,” Portland head coach Terry Stotts said. “If it’s not obvious, I’ll say it.”

 

Vanessa Bryant sues sheriff over Kobe Bryant helicopter-crash photos

Kobe Bryant crash site
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Vanessa Bryant, the widow of basketball star Kobe Bryant, has filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County sheriff claiming deputies shared unauthorized photos of the crash that killed her husband, their 13-year-old daughter and seven others.

After the Jan. 26 crash, reports surfaced that graphic photos of the victims were being shared. Vanessa Bryant was “shocked and devastated” by the reports, the lawsuit states.

The suit seeks damages for negligence, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The victims died when the helicopter crashed into a hillside in Calabasas, northwest of Los Angeles, during cloudy weather. They were traveling to a youth basketball tournament at Bryant’s sports facility in Thousand Oaks. The National Transportation Safety Board has not concluded what caused the crash on the outskirts of Los Angeles County but said there was no sign of mechanical failure in the Sikorsky S-76. helicopter.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva previously told news media that eight deputies took or shared graphic photos of the scene and he ordered the images deleted. The sheriff said the department has a policy against taking and sharing crime scene photos, but it does not apply to accident scenes.

“That was my No. 1 priority, was to make sure those photos no longer exist,” Villanueva previously told NBC News. “We identified the deputies involved, they came to the station on their own and had admitted they had taken them and they had deleted them. And we’re content that those involved did that.”

Vanessa Bryant’s lawsuit alleges the sheriff’s actions constituted a “cover-up” of the misconduct. The suit claims the photos could still exist.

“Mrs. Bryant feels ill at the thought of strangers gawking at images of her deceased husband and child and she lives in fear that she or her children will one day confront horrific images of their loved ones online,” the lawsuit states.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has not yet signed a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime. The legislation was prompted by the crash photos.

A statement from the sheriff’s department Tuesday incorrectly said such actions are now criminal. The bill has not yet been signed into law.

“Shortly following this tragic crash, Sheriff Villanueva sponsored legislation which now makes it a crime for public safety personnel to take and share non-official pictures of this nature,” the statement said. “Due to the pending litigation, we are unable to offer further comment.”

Vanessa Bryant’s attorney, Gary C. Robb, declined to comment.

The Los Angeles Times first reported the allegations that the graphic photos had been taken and disseminated in February.

Bryant previously filed a claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, in May. The suit was filed Thursday.

Separately, Vanessa Bryant has also filed a lawsuit alleging the helicopter’s pilot, Ara Zobayan, was careless and negligent to fly in the fog and should have aborted the flight.

The brother of the pilot has said in a court filing that Bryant knew the risks of helicopter flying and his survivors aren’t entitled to damages from the pilot’s estate, while the helicopter company, Island Express, says it is not responsible for damages, calling the crash, among other things, “an act of God” and “an unavoidable accident” that was beyond its control.

Chicago Bulls hire Billy Donovan as coach

Billy Donovan coaches Thunder-Bulls
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Billy Donovan left the Thunder despite them offering a new contract. Maybe it wasn’t as much money as he desired to coach a team that could be entering rebuilding. But active head coaches rarely turn down an NBA job unless they know they’ll land on their feet.

Donovan will land on his feet – with the Bulls.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN first broke the story, the Bulls confirmed it soon after.

“We are very pleased to welcome Billy and his family to the Chicago Bulls. The success that he has sustained over the course of his coaching career puts him on a different level,” Chicago head of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas said in a statement. “We feel his ability to help his players reach their potential, both individually and collectively, will mesh well with our roster. Whether as a player or as a coach, he has won everywhere his career has taken him, and we hope that will continue here in Chicago.”

This is a major credibility upgrade for Chicago, which fired Jim Boylen. Donovan is a solid NBA head coach who adapts to his players rather than putting them through extreme measures.

Considering they just hired Arturas Karnisovas as president, the Bulls might have the patience for a rebuild. Donovan will be tasked with overseeing the development of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr. and the No. 4 pick in the upcoming draft. Donovan’s time as a college coach at Florida shows he can help players progress.

But Chicago also frequently faces pressure, especially internally, to win sooner than later. Donovan inherits veterans like LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky. Donovan showed at Oklahoma City he could manage a team with immediate expectations.

Is this group’s long-term future inspiring? No. Is this group’s present inspiring? No.

But Donovan provides a little boost in both areas.

Celtics: Romeo Langford out rest of playoffs after wrist surgery

Celtics guard Romeo Langford
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The Celtics don’t have quite enough dependable players to fill a playoff rotation. So, beyond its core, Boston has juggled deep-bench minutes throughout the postseason.

One of those options – Romeo Langford – will no longer be available.

Celtics release:

Celtics guard Romeo Langford this morning underwent successful surgery to repair the scapholunate ligament in his right wrist. He will miss the remainder of the 2019-20 NBA season.

A rookie, Langford also suffered a right-hand injury last season at Indiana. A pattern? Probably not. But it’s another interruption in the 20-year-old’s development.

For Boston’s playoff hopes, this is a minor setback – one made even smaller by Gordon Hayward returning (and staying). Though more of a forward, Hayward clears the way for Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart to handle more guard minutes, a few of which could have gone to Langford.

Adam Silver: It’s on U.S. government whether American companies, like NBA, operate in China

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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Politicians have repeatedly criticized the NBA for its involvement in China.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver is defending his league.

Sopan Deb of The New York Times:

Senators have power to affect the United State’s foreign policy, including where American companies are permitted to operate. The NBA shouldn’t face unique scrutiny for acting like a business, seeking to maximize profit, within legal parameters.

Silver is generally right: There is value in exposing American values to countries with authoritarian regimes. Basketball can be a good vehicle for doing so. Those connections can inspire change for the better.

But the league has repeatedly failed to uphold American values it espouses in its dealings in China. That warrants criticism and leaves Silver’s response quite lacking.