Associated Press

Three key moments to watch in upcoming Anthony Davis trade drama

2 Comments

Anthony Davis will be traded. Before next season.

Just because it didn’t happen at the trade deadline last week — as Davis, his agent Rich Paul, and the Lakers wished and pushed for — doesn’t mean the Pelicans will keep him into next training camp. New Orleans understands it needs to get as much back for Davis as it can to help jumpstart a rebuild, and the Pelicans believed they could get a better deal this off-season than they could in February.

Now what happens?

First, Davis plays the rest of the season for the Pelicans. He’ll have reduced minutes, likely sitting out back-to-backs, and those things could hurt his All-NBA/post-season awards status a little. However, that’s the only real price — so long as Davis stays healthy. Everyone involved will just hold their breath every time he steps on the court, hoping he avoids injury.

After that, there are three key moments to watch.

1) The NBA Draft Lottery on May 14. There is a potential franchise-changing star at the top of this draft in Duke’s Zion Williamson. After that, there’s a drop off in talent and questions about the guys next on most draft boards — R.J. Barrett (Duke), Ja Morant (Murray State), Nassir Little (North Carolina), Cam Reddish (Duke) — which means the Pelicans may not be wowed by pick No. 3 or No. 5 (unless they fall in love with one of those players).

If the team that wins the draft lottery is potentially willing to deal the pick — we’re looking at you, New York Knicks — the Pelicans will listen. Most likely, especially with the new, flattened out lottery odds, the winner of the lottery will be a team that would keep it (Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta) but the Pelicans are interested to see the lottery outcome and how it could impact the offers coming their way.

2) The Eastern Conference playoffs. So much of July’s free agency could hinge on the taste left in players’ mouths by the postseason. For example, Kawhi Leonard may feel very differently about staying in Toronto if the Raptors make it through to the NBA Finals than if the team is bounced in the second round.

In the Davis saga, this becomes mostly about the Boston Celtics. The Celtics lobbied the Pelicans to wait, not to trade Davis at the deadline, to give them a chance to get in on the bidding and fulfill GM Danny Ainge’s dream scenario of pairing Davis with Kyrie Irving. Talk to front office people/scouts around the league and they believe almost to a man the Celtics can put together the best offer the Pelicans will see. (Some Lakers’ fans push back on this idea every time I write it, I will tell you what I’ve heard from sources in the league: Jayson Tatum is higher rated because of his potential than any Laker youngster, the Memphis pick is not only more valuable than any Laker pick it could be the second-best asset offered to New Orleans, and most have Jaylen Brown right in the mix with the Lakers Lonzo Ball/Brandon Ingram/Kyle Kuzma core.)

However, Ainge’s dream of pairing Irving with Davis only works if Irving stays and re-signs with Boston this summer. Ainge is confident it will happen, but he’s on an island with that one. The Celtics have played like individuals, Irving has called out his young teammates for not sacrificing enough of their games (while he has sacrificed almost nothing in terms of shots and usage rate), and rumors persist around the league that Irving wants to join Kevin Durant in New York. If Irving leaves the Celtics the calculus changes for Ainge — he probably can’t put Tatum in any offer. And that makes it difficult to put together a clear best offer.

Bottom line: If Irving is frustrated and disgruntled and wants out of Boston, the Lakers and everyone else are in the game. (And everyone else could now include the Los Angeles Clippers, who can put together a package based around Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lou Williams, plus a bunch of first round picks, including the Miami 2021 unprotected pick. That might tempt New Orleans.)

3) Can the Lakers make a trade to get back in the Davis game? Will they need to? From the day it was leaked Davis had asked for a trade out of New Orleans, sources with an understanding of the Pelicans’ thinking told me the Pelicans were not going to rush the process. They would be patient. One part of it was they liked the idea of multiple bidders getting involved. Another part was they didn’t want to feel pushed and bullied into a trade.

Another aspect was the Pelicans were not that high on the Lakers’ young players — they were good, but not as good as the Pelicans wanted.

After the season ends for the Lakers, they may quietly explore a trade that could send some of those young players out to bring back someone the Pelicans’ value more highly. Who is that? Likely someone we don’t know is available. However, if there is a mystery “team X” that highly values Ball or Ingram, and a pick gets thrown in the trade, it works for our mystery team. If the Lakers can add a couple better first-round picks it might help, too.

And it might not matter.

The Pelicans are going to do what they believe is best for the franchise this summer — and that could mean changing general managers, bringing in a new front office for Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and the front office to negotiate with. What that new front office is looking to get back in a trade, and how they value certain players, could vary from the people the Lakers have been negotiating with so far.

Which means there’s just a lot of uncertainty around the coming Anthony Davis trade.

We’re all just trying to read the tea leaves. Which is why we’ll be watching these three areas closely.

Damian Lillard outduels Russell Westbrook again, Blazers go up 3-1

Getty
3 Comments

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Damian Lillard scored 15 of his 24 points in the third quarter, and the Portland Trail Blazers held Russell Westbrook without a basket in the second half in beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-98 on Sunday night to take a 3-1 lead in their series.

Lillard had another big third quarter after scoring 25 points in the period in a Game 3 loss Friday. In this game, the All-Star point guard was 5 of 7 in the third to help Portland take control for good.

Lillard made his first basket with 1:14 left in the first half after missing his first six shots, but he still had seven assists before the break.

“We’ve kind of come to expect it,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “He manages the game. He senses the moment when we need him to do different things. He’s an ultimate competitor. He is going to give it his all.”

C.J. McCollum scored 27 points, Al-Farouq Aminu had 19 points and nine rebounds and Maurice Harkless added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Trail Blazers. Portland can close out the series Tuesday at home.

Paul George had 32 points and 10 rebounds for Oklahoma City. Dennis Schroder added 17 points.

Westbrook scored 14 points on 5-for-21 shooting. He missed his final 10 shots and was 0 for 7 for one point in the second half.

George missed most of the second quarter with three fouls, but the Thunder hung tough and led for much of the period. Lillard hit a 3-pointer in the final minute of the first half to give Portland the lead, then Aminu hit a 3 with 3.9 seconds left as the Trail Blazers took a 50-46 edge into the break.

“I thought in the first half, we weathered the storm a little bit with Paul picking up fouls,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “We didn’t close the half very well and gave them momentum going into the locker room.”

Lillard hit deep back-to-back 3s 27 seconds apart to give Portland a 66-54 lead. The Trail Blazers stretched the lead to 19 in the third quarter before the Thunder closed the gap. George hit a 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds to cut Portland’s lead to 79-68.

A 3-pointer by Schroder cut Portland’s lead to 97-87 with 3:35 remaining, but the Trail Blazers maintained control.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Lillard was just 2 of 8 in the first half and scored seven points. … Made 22 of 23 free throws. … Outrebounded the Thunder 41-38.

Thunder: Donovan was called for a technical in the first quarter for a no-call against Steven Adams. … Shot 37.5 percent from the field. … Westbrook had nine rebounds and seven assists.

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kawhi Leonard scores 34 as Raptors take 3-1 lead over Magic

Getty
Leave a comment

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Kawhi Leonard missed the NBA playoffs last season, in multiple ways.

He wasn’t playing the games.

He wasn’t feeling the games, either.

That’s not a problem this season for the 2014 NBA Finals MVP. Healthy and happy, Leonard has the Toronto Raptors one win away from the second round. He scored 34 points and the Raptors beat the Orlando Magic 107-85 on Sunday night to take a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round series.

“You just want to be out there on the floor, with your teammates and just feel that team spirit and chemistry, just trying to focus on one goal,” said Leonard, who was out for almost all of last season, his last with San Antonio before an offseason trade to Toronto. “That’s something I was missing, just being out, sitting out. That’s why it’s a blessing this year just to be able to play and be on the floor, regardless of what the outcome is.”

Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell each scored 16 for the Raptors, who can advance with a home win in Game 5 on Tuesday. Toronto has now won three consecutive postseason games, only the third time that’s happened in franchise history.

Aaron Gordon scored 25 for the Magic, making his first seven shots of the second half. Evan Fournier scored 19 and Nikola Vucevic added 11 for the Magic, who committed 17 turnovers that became 21 Toronto points.

“We’re better than what we’ve shown,” Gordon said.

And now the Magic’s season is squarely on the brink. There have been 11 teams to successfully rally from a 3-1 series deficit in a best-of-seven NBA series, and of those, only three pulled it off by winning a Game 7 on the road.

So it’s not impossible – just highly improbable.

“Our guys have fought hard all year,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said.

He liked the fight on Sunday, too.

Leonard just always had the better counterpunch.

He made 12 of 20 shots, added six rebounds and scored his 34 points in 35 minutes. He was in total control on both ends, and the Raptors shot 53 percent – a franchise record for a road playoff game. Serge Ibaka scored 13 and Kyle Lowry had nine assists for the Raptors.

“Road wins are the best, especially in the playoffs,” Leonard said. “And obviously, we all know the job isn’t done yet.”

A flurry at the end of the first half, led by Leonard and Siakam, put Toronto up by double digits and the margin stayed there the rest of the way.

Vucevic missed from close range – the Magic argued that Leonard was guilty of goaltending, the referees disagreed – with about 2:45 left in the half, a disputed play that could have gotten Orlando within seven.

Instead, the Magic went into the break down by 16.

Toronto closed the half on an 11-1 run, with Leonard scoring the first five and Siakam hitting a pair of 3s for the final six. The last of those 3s by Siakam came with 4.5 seconds left, and the Raptors headed into intermission with a 58-42 cushion.

“These series, and the games in the series, are a lot about imposing your will on a team,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.

Whenever Orlando flashed some hope in the third quarter, Leonard immediately snuffed it out.

A dunk by Gordon cut the lead to 13? Leonard made a 3.

A 3-pointer by Fournier to get within 12? Leonard made a pullup.

A stepback by Gordon to get within 12 again? Leonard split defenders, absorbed contact and laid the ball in to start a three-point play.”

“He’s a Finals MVP,” Gordon said. “He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. That’s what they pay the man for, to come down here and be Kawhi Leonard.”

And before long, there was no more doubt about the outcome. Magic fans started leaving midway through the fourth quarter. The team’s dancers gathered for a group photo at midcourt not long after the final buzzer, as if they knew the last home game of the season had just ended.

TIP-INS

Raptors: Toronto is 28-2 this season (and 16-0 on the road) when leading by at least 10 points at the half. … Leonard’s teams are 60-31 when he plays in the postseason. Among players in this year’s playoffs with at least 60 postseason wins, only Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry – all Golden State Warriors – have a better winning percentage.

Magic: Orlando, which fell behind 11-0 in Game 2 and 10-0 in Game 3, started Game 4 on a 7-0 run. The Magic started 6 for 6 from the field, and then missed 26 of their next 38 shots – going 1 for 13 from 3-point range during that drought. … Terrence Ross beat the buzzer for the second straight game; it was a midcourt shot to close the first half of Game 2, and this time it was a 35-footer to end the third quarter.

VIRAL MOMENT

Nurse was trending on social media for much of the game, after a fairly nondescript 3-second call on Fred VanVleet with 2:12 left in the opening quarter elicited quite the reaction from him. Nurse stood almost perfectly still on the sideline after the call, his mouth agape for about 15 seconds in some sort of disbelief. “Is that a good thing?” Nurse asked afterward, when told he was a social-media phenomenon.

UNTIMELY

Orlando has dropped three straight, its longest slide since losing four in a row from Jan. 23-29. The Magic have also been held under 100 points in three straight games for the first time since Jan. 6-9.

UP NEXT

Game 5 is Tuesday in Toronto.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kyle Korver: ‘I have never been around a young player like Donovan Mitchell’ (VIDEO)

Getty
1 Comment

Utah Jazz wing Kyle Korver has played with some good point yards in his career. Deron Williams, Allen Iverson, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Jeff Teague, Dennis Schroder… the list is long.

That’s why what Korver said on Sunday impacted so many people.

Speaking to reporters this week, Korver said that he had never seen a young player like Donovan Mitchell take over a team and take responsibility for leadership the way the second-year Jazz player had.

Via Twitter:

Those are some pretty strong words of support by Korver, and Mitchell is going to need them. The Jazz are now down, 3-0, to the Houston Rockets in their first round series.

Draymond Green leaves arena wearing brace on right wrist (PHOTO)

AP
1 Comment

The Golden State Warriors have a 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Clippers in their first-round series. But as it often happens in the playoffs, it appears the Warriors could be starting to get banged up.

After the game on Sunday, Draymond Green was seen wearing a brace on his right hand. NBC Sports Bay Area’s Logan Murdock published a photo after the game of Green sporting his new supporting wrap.

According to Green, it’s nothing to worry about.

Via NBC Sports Bay Area:

The next game in the series isn’t for a couple of days, so Green has a chance to rest up. Still, the idea that Warriors could lose some production value out of one of their most important playoff performers isn’t great.

Hopefully Green will be able to get healthy and the athletic staff will get him some treatment that works so he can play effectively moving forward.