Portland is essentially running it back this season with the core of the team that won 49 games and was the three seed last season, then got swept by the Pelicans in the first round. They retained Jusuf Nurkic and made some nice additions — picking up Seth Curry will help — but strapped by bad contracts there were no bold moves.
However, there were rumors of potential bold moves floating around the league — trading Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum and finding another star somewhere. It didn’t happen. Moving bad contracts this summer was particularly hard.
“That would be an honor to be a lifetime Blazer,” Lillard told The Athletic at the NBA 2K launch in New York. “Not a lot of guys get to play for one organization for their entire career. Obviously, I love playing for the Blazers. I love living in the city. I feel like I’ve established a connection with the people and the culture of the city just as much as I’ve done on the basketball court, so that’s important. But, as we know, it’s a business and a lot of times organizations have other plans, and sometimes players change their stance on that. But to be a lifetime Blazer, that would be great. I’m all on board for it.”
Portland fans (most of them, anyway) and the front office would love for that to happen. However, if there is a sense the team is in a real rut, all options will be considered.
The Blazers want to find a way to keep the backcourt of Lillard and C.J. McCollum together while getting the team to take a step forward into elite status. It’s just not that easy to do. Although GM Neil Olshay added some shooting this season, and maybe Zach Collins/Nurkic can take steps forward along the front line, the Blazers are a team in the big middle of the West. They could finish with the three seed again, they could miss the playoffs if a couple of things don’t go their way, or they could finish anywhere in between — there are at least eight teams, maybe 10 (depending on what you think of the Clippers and Mavericks) vying for the six remaining playoff slots in the West. The margin for error is small.
If things don’t go well, or if the Blazers make the playoffs and again get swept out in the first round, trade rumors for Lillard — and moreso for McCollum — will be back with force next summer. No matter how much the Blazers front office or Lillard himself say, he will forever be in Portland.
Luka Doncic had more points, rebounds and assists than Warriors in first quarter
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) Kawhi Leonard, Paul George’s first game together is both sloppy and shows moments of real promise. This was what the Clippers had been waiting for since July, what they had paid a steep price to make a reality and change the course of a franchise.
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard shared an NBA court for the first time and it was…
A bit awkward, like a blind first date. Credit Boston’s active defense for some of that — it’s not a fluke Boston has the seventh-best defense in the league this season and forced 23 turnovers on the night — but through the muck there were moments of real promise. Like the first play of the game, when the Celtics trapped Leonard off an Ivica Zubac pick, Leonard fed Zubac, who quickly found Leonard for a three.
For much of the game, things were not as smooth with those two on the court together — as should be expected. George missed the first 11 games of the season following double shoulder surgery this offseason. Once he returned, Leonard was out three games with a bruised knee. The pair had literally one practice together, and in the full-contact scrimmage to end that day they were on opposing sides.
This marriage going to take time. The Clippers didn’t even explore a Leonard/George pick-and-roll in this game, but you know that’s coming. As Doc Rivers put it postgame:
“We were kind of trying not to get in each other’s way at times, you could feel that…
“We need a lot of work, you can see that… part of that was we were trying to get the ball to guys instead of trying to score.”
With the game on the line in overtime against one of the NBA’s better and hotter teams in Boston, two things that make the Clippers so dangerous were evident.
One is the defense — George and Leonard each made big defensive plays late, including Leonard blocking Marcus Smart’s attempt at a game-winner.
All game long the Clippers length and defense gave Boston — which came into the game with the league’s fourth-best offense — trouble.
Second is Leonard and George have a good team around them — Patrick Beverley was the best Clipper on the floor Wednesday night and the team gave him the game ball afterward. He was intense on defense (as always), had 14 points and 16 boards, and with the Celtics making the choice to trap and double on offense guys were open, and it was Beverley who made Boston pay with the overtime dagger to seal a 107-104 win.
The Clippers, for all their star power, look a lot like Beverley. This is a scrappy, hard-working team with guys who play their roles and bring intensity. Even their stars are that way — George and Leonard are not anointed No. 1 picks where everyone saw their stardom coming, they are lunch pail guys who had talent but came out of smaller colleges and had to work hard to get where they are. Nothing was handed to them, they had to grind it out.
This is why pairing Leonard and George was always going to take a little time to make work. They were always going to have to figure it out.
But when they do…. you can already see why the rest of the league should be worried.
2) Another night, another ridiculous Luka Doncic triple-double. This feels like a nightly thing, and I’m fast running out of ways to praise Luka Doncic, his play, and to remind everyone that he’s just 20 years old and in his second NBA season.
Age doesn’t matter, he’s been so good he’s injected himself into the way-too-early MVP conversation. His latest feat Friday night was a 35-point, 11 assists, 10 rebound triple-double against the hapless Warriors — this time he did it in just 25 minutes on the court.
Doncic scored more points in the first quarter than the Warriors (22-16) and also had more rebounds and assists than the Warriors team. The last guy to do that to any NBA team was Allen Iverson.
Doncic is now averaging a triple-double over his last 10 games: 31.9 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 10.5 assists in that stretch. Here’s the list of other NBA players to average a 30+ point triple-double for 10 games or more: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson. That’s it.
Doncic is special, has willed the Mavericks to a 9-5 record, and has them looking like a playoff team in the West. Lifting up your team to the next level is what MVPs do, and so far in Dallas it’s what Doncic has done.
3) Do you believe in miracles… YES! Ben Simmons hits his first NBA three. That headline may overstate the excitement around Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons on Wednesday. But not by that much. Sixers fans — and coach Brett Brown — has had to wait three seasons, 193 games, and 18 attempts from three clank off the rim, if they hit anything at all. (Those numbers include his playoff stats.) It finally happened:
Ben Simmons has made his first NBA three.
We’ve all seen the videos of Simmons knocking down threes in an empty gym, but that’s the NBA equivalent of dunking on an 8-foot rim at the local elementary school. Not the same thing.
This was Simmons’ first attempt at a three all season — that’s the real concern. To create floor spacing Philly wants and needs, Simmons needs to be much more willing to uncork this shot — he’s got to take a bunch and make enough of them before teams respect him from deep.
This is at least a start. And it feels like a miracle.
There’s a mural in L.A. of Alex Caruso dunking over Harden, Leonard, Doncic
It’s hard to overstate how popular Alex Caruso is in Los Angeles. Seriously. This isn’t just cult status popular, when he enters the game off the bench Staples Center explodes in cheers like LeBron James just fed Anthony Davis for an alley-oop.
This is legit, it’s on the side of SportieLA, a clothing/apparel store on Melrose Ave. in the trendy heart of Los Angeles. Artist Gustavo Zermeño Jr. has done murals in the past for LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and other Los Angeles sports icons such as Vin Scully.
This one plays off a huge Caruso dunk from earlier this month when Dallas’ Maxi Kleber was the victim.
It’s good to be Alex Caruso in Los Angeles right now.
Kawhi Leonard just destroyed Boston’s Daniel Theis on dunk
After the game, Leonard was asked about the dunk and he responded in about the most Kawhi way possible.
Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard goes full monotone to describe blow-by-blow his poster dunk on Daniel Theis and game-sealing block: “What do you want me to say? Patrick threw me the ball, I took two dribbles into the paint and tried to jump high and dunk the basketball.” pic.twitter.com/tKkwC7REmZ