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LeBron James dunks way to 26, but Lakers have long way to go, drop opener in Portland

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The Portland Trail Blazers know who they are and what they want to do — they return mostly the same core players, led by All-Stars Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, still running Terry Stotts offense as they have for years.

The Lakers have LeBron James who scored 26 and grabbed a dozen boards… and a lot of other new faces. Too many of whom are not a threat from three and all of whom are still getting to know each other.

In LeBron’s Lakers’ debut, continuity and shooting won out.

Throughout much of the night, and especially when things tightened up late, Portland knew what it wanted to do and executed — it was Lillard time, he finished the game with a team-high 28 points. In contrast, too often the Lakers looked disorganized, particularly on defense. Their offense felt clumsy in the half court, with LeBron working to get guys involved more than just take over.

The Trail Blazers won the fourth quarter 35-28 and with it the game, 128-119, much to the delight of a raucous Portland crowd.

The Lakers are now 0-1 in the LeBron era. It’s just one game, but it showed that the Lakers have a long way to go to get to be the team they want to be this season — and it also showed the potential of what they can be.

“We had some good, we had some bad, which is to be expected in game one,” LeBron said after the loss. “I liked our fight to get back into the game when we were down double digits, I liked the way we competed at times, I liked the way we shared the ball at times as well.”

These new-look Lakers did what Luke Walton had promised — they ran, they attacked the rim scoring a ridiculous 70 points in the paint, and they moved the ball. The Lakers had 17 fast break points in the first half, this is a team that averaged 17.5 fast break points a game last season (LA finished with 34).

And Los Angeles dunked. LeBron got in on the fun and was throwing it down.

That, alone, does not win games.

The Lakers shot just 7-of-30 from three, missing a lot of quality looks from the corner and going 0-of-7 from there. Maybe in other games those start to fall, but concerns about the lack of shooting with the Lakers go back to how Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka constructed the roster, and that looked like a real issue on opening night.

LeBron also struggled to connect passes to teammates, he finished with six assists but turned the ball over on 18.8 percent of his possessions on the night. In the halfcourt, he let Rajon Rondo run the shot often (he had  13 points and 11 assists and was a +11 in 32 minutes, it was a good night for him).

“We had some turnovers, which I expected, just trying to get a feel for one another,” LeBron said. “We can do a better job.”

Portland, on the other hand, knocked down the kind of shots they struggled to hit against the Pelicans in the playoffs last April — they were 13-of-37 from three (35.1 percent). The surprise came from Nik Stauskas, who was 5-of-8 from three on his way to 24 points on the night.

Los Angles moved well off the ball and when LeBron got the rock at the elbow he found a lot of cutters. However, when Rajon Rondo or Lance Stephenson was initiating the offense, the Blazers laid back and took away passing lanes, daring the Lakers to shoot.

Some of the Laker youth showed promise — Josh Hart had 20 points and was 3-of-5 from three, Brandon Ingram had 16 points and Kyle Kuzma 15. However, they are still adapting to playing with LeBron, they often struggled from three, and like the entire team, they were up and down on the night.

There were flashes when the Lakers were running when you saw how dangerous this Lakers team can be with a roster full of unselfish playmakers — the Lakers ran on 24.2 percent of their possessions and they scored 1.71 points per possession on those.

But they are not yet the team they need to be — and on the road, against a Portland team that knows exactly who it is, that is not enough. Welcome to the Western Conference, LeBron, there are a lot of teams like Portland out there.

Kevin Love says he expects to return “sometime after the new year”

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Not that it really matters because this season is a lost cause anyway, but Kevin Love is going to be out longer than expected.

Love had surgery on an injured big toe on his left foot on Nov. 2 and the team said he could be back in six weeks, which would be mid-December. Love went on ESPN’s The Jump Tuesday and said expect it to be longer than that, more like January sometime.

“There’s just no telling at this time with the weight-bearing injury what it is going to be like moving forward, but I expect to be back sometime after the new year,” he said.

Love, who was expected to be the focal point of the Cavaliers’ offense, has played in just four games this season.

There has been a lot of speculation about Love as a trade chip but don’t expect anything serious along those lines until next summer. And maybe a year or two after that. Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension that kicks in next season, and considering Love’s injury history and the apparent slight decline in his play, good luck finding a team that wants to pay him $30 million a season for four seasons. Maybe, if Love comes back and looks like a force again, some team that strikes out next summer in free agency could get desperate and be open to a trade. But don’t bet on it.

Love is going to be in Cleveland for a while. Just not on the court until 2019.

Wizards players, coach try to play down last week’s practice blow up, say they’ve moved on

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It’s no secret the 5-11 Washington Wizards are a dumpster fire. A train wreck. The “Sherlock Gnomes” of 2018 movies. It’s so bad that GM Ernie Grunfeld is finally, belatedly, looking into breaking up the core.

It came to a head at a practice last week, one where everyone yelled at everyone, Bradley Beal told Grunfeld he’d been dealing with “this s*** for seven years” and John Wall dropped an F-bomb on coach Scott Brooks. Tuesday, before taking on a hot Clippers’ team, the Wizards tried to downplay everything and say they have moved on, as noted in the video above from NBC Sports Washington.

“I said some things that I regret,” Brooks said. “Our players said some things that they regret. And right after the practice, I had a conversation to hash things out, and everything was good. And then some of our players had some conversations, and they hashed things out, and everything was good.”

Everything was good… until the Wizards stepped on the court and lost a couple more games in a row. Things are clearly not good, but the team is trying to move on as best as it can.

“You see that we’re not winning. Everyone is frustrated. At the end of the day, we have to be able to communicate with each other so we can learn from it and try to build on things together,” Porter said. “That’s the only way we can start winning games, to rally with each other instead of against each other.”

That sounds good, we’ll see if they can execute it.

Dwyane Wade returns to Miami Heat after birth of child

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade is back with the Miami Heat after missing nearly two weeks for the birth of his daughter.

Wade went through Miami’s gameday shootaround and will play Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets. He said his wife and their daughter are doing well, which allowed him to feel comfortable to resume his season.

“I’m going to obviously miss them,” Wade said. “It was tough leaving my little girl and my wife, but I’ve got to get back to work and I’ll see them again soon.”

Wade was away from the team for about two weeks because of the birth of his daughter. Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union-Wade welcomed Kaavia James Union Wade into the world on Nov. 7. Wade had been in Los Angeles with them since then, and flew back to Miami on Monday.

His return is most certainly welcome in Miami. The Heat went 2-5 in his time away, falling to 6-10 this season. They’ll play Tuesday without guards Goran Dragic (knee), Tyler Johnson (hamstring) and Dion Waiters (ankle recovery from last season).

“There’s a human element to this business and to the game and it is the most important thing,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The connection, your spirit, your emotions, everybody getting on the same page, and just seeing Dwyane back here with the guys there was a tangible boost in the energy today in the shootaround.”

Wade is Miami’s third-leading scorer this season at 14.3 points per game. He was in his best stretch of the season when he got the call that his daughter was coming a few weeks earlier than planned.

He said he felt the frustration level his team was going through during their current slide, and he tried to keep in touch via texts and phone calls. Wade kept up conditioning while in Los Angeles, but knows it’ll take a little time to get back to the level of a few weeks ago.

“I was so excited for my daughter to come, but I was like, ‘Baby, you know, your dad was playing in a rhythm. You could have waited a little while,'” Wade said. “I was just getting my legs under me, but great things happened to make me miss time, and now I’m back.”

The baby was born via a surrogate, which is one of the reasons why Wade felt taking a brief paternity leave was necessary.

Parents of surrogate-carried babies are told the first few days after the birth are critical to forging deep bonds with their child. Lots of skin-to-skin contact and talking to the baby helps with the bonding.

So Wade needed time, and the Heat supported the plan.

“So much of this league is mood of the team and confidence,” Heat guard Josh Richardson said. “With him back, we’re definitely a lot more confident moving forward.”

Union-Wade – who revealed she had nine miscarriages in her 2017 book “We’re Going to Need More Wine” – has taken time off work to bond with the new arrival. She’s been filming an upcoming project in Los Angeles, and when she’s back on the set, Kaavia James will be close by.

“She was working right up until we got the call,” Wade said. “When she goes back, my daughter will be going back to the set with her. Her trailer is fit for everything, the baby’s safety, everything. So our baby will be there with her when she’s at work.”

Wade strongly considered retirement during the offseason because of the baby’s arrival, not making the decision to return until just before training camp in September. He questioned whether it was fair to his wife and their family to still be playing and traveling while raising a baby.

He also wondered if he could handle being away from his daughter for long stretches.

“We went through a lot to get here,” Wade said. “My family had to come first right now.”

 

Kevin Durant fined $25,000 for telling fan to “shut the f*** up”

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The percentage of players who would like to tell a courtside fan to “shut the f*** up” would be close to 100.

However, there are 25,000 reasons players don’t do that. Kevin Durant found out the hard way. During the Warriors loss in Dallas Monday, Durant was being heckled by fans along the baseline calling him “cupcake” (an old Russell Westbrook insult) and it got under KD’s skin enough that he told the fans to “watch the f****** game and shut the f*** up.”

The league office, it turns out, does not like it’s players talking to fans that way — at least when it’s caught on video — so Durant was fined $25,000 on Tuesday.

Fans taunting players with the hopes of catching a reaction on video is a growing trend in recent years around the NBA, and so far the league’s response to that has been to remind fans around the court they can be removed for what they are saying (with a postcard note on each seat).

Personally, if you choose to engage a player that way during a game, he has the right to fire back and say whatever he wants. If you want to get in the NBA trash talk game, you have to be able to take it, not just dish it. Those are not the ground rules, however, so KD gets a fine.