Blazers lock OKC down on defense to take 2-0 lead

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Damian Lillard could not be stopped. CJ McCollum could not be stopped. Moe Harkless could not be stopped. Most of the Portland Trail Blazers bench could not be stopped. Now, after a Blazers win in Game 2, 114-94, we’re left wondering if the Oklahoma City offense can get going enough to avoid a third consecutive loss down 2-0.

As things got going Tuesday night in Portland, it was looking like it could be a more competitive matchup with Paul George saying his shoulder was feeling much better. George was more confident, and in fact, the Thunder led in the first quarter.

But things quickly went downhill from there.

Portland tied it with a McCollum 3-pointer just as time expired heading into halftime. That seemed to spark the Blazers, who came out hot on both sides of the ball in the third quarter.

Portland put the clamps on the defensive side of the ball to start the third, allowing just 21 points and then 19 points in fourth quarter.

Naturally, things got a little testy as the game wore on. Double technicals were issued to Zach Collins and Markieff Morris earlier in the game, and Lillard and Steven Adams got to jaw jacking after the Thunder big man laid the Blazers guard out on a screen.

This is how it’s gone between the Thunder and Portland this year. Technical fouls have been issued, guys have been in each other’s faces, and emotions have run high. For Blazers fans, Tuesday night’s game was not just a show of their depth, but their willingness to not back down from a fight.

Honestly? It was impressive.

After covering this team for the better part of this decade, it has always been a question whether Blazers good meter out there play when opponents toughened up on them. This version of Portland has played more as a team, but the Thunder are dishing out the shots needed to Test the mettle of the Blazers role players.

Oklahoma City, despite their offensive inequities, pushed the Blazers rotational players to the limit in Game 2. Portland’s best asset all season long outside of Lillard has been its depth, and although guys like Seth Curry, Meyers Leonard, Evan Turner, and Zach Collins didn’t pop on the box score, their impact was immeasurable.

Like we talked about after Game 1, the Thunder appear to be in trouble. It started with the uneasiness of George’s shoulder. Now with George feeling and playing better, OKC continues to look out matched. And although the Oklahoma City star was more efficient and confident in Game 2, Harkless again got an early block on George.

In short, things don’t look great for the Thunder.

So where does the series go from here? The Blazers took care of business at home at Moda, and things move to Oklahoma City. Still, there is some real questions about whether the Thunder can muster up enough offense to beat this Blazers team.

OKC is shooting just 16.4 percent combined from 3-point range during the series. The Thunder have three times more turnovers than made threes in this series, and it’s not immediately clear where they will be able to make that up.

George leads the team with more than double the made 3-pointers than the next closest teammate in Dennis Schroder. The problem is that George is shooting just 27 percent from deep, and his teammates aren’t helping.

Meanwhile Portland has been outstanding from the 3-point range, shooting 42 percent for the series. Lillard and McCollum combined to go 7-of-15 on Tuesday, and at one point Lillard was daring Westbrook to shoot. After one deep made three over the former MVP, Lillard turned to the crowd and said, “Bombs away!”

In Game 2 it was obvious that Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan had a decided to use pace to disrupt Portland’s defense, running on every made basket. It threw the Blazers off, but only for a quarter. The Thunder are going to need a strategy more dynamic than that as they try to beat the Blazers back at Chesapeake for Game 3 on Friday.

For a team with a player who likes to barrel through opponents, the Oklahoma City Thunder found out on Tuesday night that the Blazers aren’t likely to pull back on the reins when they get some momentum going. Lillard looks unstoppable, McCollum was on fire, and Portland’s bench survived every gutpunch.

The Thunder are playing right into Portland’s plan, and they’re flailing as they head home down two games in the first round.

First five picks of 2018 NBA draft make All-Rookie first team

AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez
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Remember the first five picks of last year’s draft?

1. Suns: Deandre Ayton

2. Kings: Marvin Bagley

3. Hawks (to Mavericks): Luka Doncic

4. Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr.

5. Mavericks (to Hawks): Trae Young

A year later, and those same five players comprise the All-Rookie first team.

Here’s the full voting (first-place votes, second-place votes and voting points in parentheses):

First team

Luka Doncic, DAL (100-0-200)

Trae Young, ATL (100-0-200)

Deandre Ayton, PHO (95-5-195)

Jaren Jackson Jr., MEM (60-39-159)

Marvin Bagley III, SAC (56-44-156)

Second team

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LAC (40-58-138)

Collin Sexton, CLE (39-54-132)

Landry Shamet, LAC (3-79-85)

Mitchell Robinson, NYK (3-71-77)

Kevin Huerter, ATL (1-43-45)

Also receiving votes: Mikal Bridges, PHO (1-29-31); Kevin Knox, NYK (0-22-22); Josh Okogie, MIN (1-10-12); Jalen Brunson, DAL (0-10-10); Allonzo Trier, NYK (0-10-10); Rodions Kurucs, BRK (0-9-9); Wendell Carter Jr., CHI (0-7-7); Miles Bridges, CHA (1-4-6); Bruce Brown, DET (0-2-2); Harry Giles III, SAC (0-2-2); Mo Bamba, ORL (0-1-1); Aaron Holiday, IND (0-1-1)

This is only the second time the top five picks all made the ensuing All-Rookie first team. The other: 1994-85, when the top five picks were:

1. Rockets: Hakeem Olajuwon

2. Trail Blazers: Sam Bowie

3. Bulls: Michael Jordan

4. Mavericks: Sam Perkins

5. 76ers: Charles Barkley

I don’t think voters erred by favoring bigger-name players this year. I had the same first-team picks.

My only quibble: I would’ve put Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson on the first team over Kevin Huerter and Collin Sexton. Sexton made incredible strides during the season, but focusing on that obscures his awful start in what I think should be a full-season assessment. His box plus-minus (-5.2) is the worst ever for an All-Rookie teamer since Adam Morrison in 2007 (-5.5).

But if Sexton continues on the track he showed within the season, nobody will view him as another bust.

This is an impressive rookie class, led by Doncic. This will be the first of many honors for several of these players.

Adam Silver: LeBron James leaving East hurts TV ratings, NBA could start West Coast games earlier

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The NBA’s TV ratings are down this season.

Asked about that, NBA commissioner Adam Silver cited LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers for the Lakers.

Silver on Today:

Face it, LeBron is one of the biggest stars in the world, and he also played in the East.

And so, the reason I look a little bit tired is a lot of our games are in the West, and it’s late at night. And I recognize most people choose to go to sleep at a reasonable time. And so, from a rating standpoint, not having LeBron in the playoffs, not having him in the East, has clearly impacted ratings.

Fifty percent of television households in this country are in the Eastern time zone. And so if your West Coast games start at 10:30 at night in the East, you’re invariably going to lose a lot of viewers around 11, 11:30. I mean, you can just chart it. You see how many television households turn off around 11:15, 11:30 at night, just because people have to get up for work in the morning.

I mean, it is something we can address. We’re talking about it. I mean, it would obviously be less convenient to those fans on the West Coast if we played even earlier. I mean, just think about people getting to those arenas after work if you start a game at 6 p.m. local time in the West. It’s not the most convenient thing. It’s not as convenient for a television watcher on the West coast, either. But when you look at the league from a national standpoint, it may make sense to play a little bit earlier in the West. And that’s something we’re going to talk to our teams about this summer.

There is no single reason ratings are down. As Silver also said, people – especially young people – watch less television through conventional methods.

Of course, the league still wants to maximize viewers in this new media landscape.

Determining start times is a delicate balance between appeasing home fans, road fans and a national audience. There’s no easy answer.

But this is why I’m against seeding the playoffs 1-16. That’d create more inter-time-zone games, not just in the playoffs but also in the regular season. The whole point of 1-16 seeding is increasing fairness in competition, which would be achieved only through balancing the regular-season schedule. Right now, teams play 52 games against their own conference and 30 against the other conference. A balanced schedule would mean more East Coast teams with late-starting games out West and more West Coast teams with early-starting games out East. That doesn’t serve fans of those teams.

So, the league should avoid those cross-time-zone games as much as reasonably possible.

Yet, some must still occur. The NBA is also trying to appeal to a national audience. So, every game has a cross-time-zone element.

People are concentrated in the Eastern time zone. That’s also where 13 of 30 NBA teams are located. And the league office.

No wonder people out West are the ones who might have to adjust.

David Griffin on possibility of keeping Anthony Davis: ‘We can be Oklahoma City with Paul George’

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New Pelicans lead executive David Griffin wants to sell Anthony Davis on staying in new Orleans.

Even with the Pelicans landing the No. 1 pick and ability to draft Zion Williamson, Davis reportedly still wants to be traded.

But New Orleans doesn’t have to acquiesce. No matter what Davis wants, he’s still under contract next season. The Pelicans can keep him and spend the season trying to convince him to re-sign in the summer of 2020.

Griffin, via Zach Lowe of ESPN:

“We can be Oklahoma City with Paul George,” he said. “We can hold onto [Davis] and let him see what we really are. [Winning the lottery] changes how quickly he can buy into it. It gets us closer. Every day, maybe he believes a little more. As much as elite talent likes to play with elite talent, I can’t imagine any elite player in his prime looking at our situation and saying to himself, ‘There’s a better grouping to play for’ than ours.”

George had his eyes on the Lakers when the Thunder traded for him in 2017. But he enjoyed his time in Oklahoma City and re-signed.

The big difference between George and Davis: Davis requested a trade from the team trying to keep him. George didn’t.

In fact, George didn’t even request a trade at all. George merely told the Pacers he wouldn’t re-sign the following year. Obviously, he knew that made them more likely to deal him. But he was content playing out the the final year of his contract in Indiana or anywhere else.

Davis told New Orleans he wanted out. He’s not coming to a new team, let alone with an open mind.

Still, the Pelicans have changed significantly since Davis’ trade request. Griffin and Williamson significantly improve the the franchise’s outlook. Depending what offers he receives for Davis, Griffin keeping the superstar and attempting to change his mind throughout the season could make sense. New Orleans can always deal Davis before the trade deadline if it’s not working, though trading him later likely lowers the return.

Of course, Griffin could have no intention of keeping an unhappy Davis. Saying he might only increases Griffin’s leverage in trade negotiations.

But if they truly want to keep Davis and pitch him throughout the season, the Pelicans are facing a much steeper hill than the Thunder had with George.

Report: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers expected to sign super-max extension

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Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers entered this postseason with an opportunity to prove themselves to each other. Portland had gotten swept in the first round the last two years, including a devastating sweep as the No. 3 seed last season. Lillard would be eligible this offseason for a super-max extension that projects to be worth $193 million over four years.

Everyone feels good now.

Lillard hit one of the biggest shots ever, and the Trail Blazers advanced to their first conference finals in 19 years. Both sides want to continue their partnership.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers are expected to come to terms over the summer on a four-year, $191 million supermax contract extension, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Lillard is under contract two more seasons. So, his extension would take effect in 2021, when it’s exact value would be determined. I project it at $193 million over four years.

As an All-NBA lock this year, Lillard will be eligible to sign a super-max extension this offseason or next. If he waits until 2020, he could sign a five-year extension. That deal would carry the same terms as the four-year extension for the first four years but would add a fifth year worth a projected $57 million – bringing the total projected value to $250 million. But there’s no guarantee Portland will offer the megadeal next year.

Already, this is a real risk for the Trail Blazers.

It’s probably one they must take. Lillard is an excellent player who does so much to set the team’s culture.

But paying someone projected salaries of $43 million, $46 million, $50 million and $53 million from ages 31-34? Nearly no player can assure he’ll warrant that. Build a winner around a single player earning so much is quite difficult. Portland’s ownership situation after the death of Paul Allen, who frequently paid the luxury tax, only adds to the uncertainty.

This could be a litmus test for the designated-veteran-player-extension rule altogether. If it doesn’t work with Damian Lillard – who exudes so many traits you want in a superstar – who will it work with?