Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Portland wins ‘weird game’ to tie series with Denver

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) In weird game Denver can’t buy a bucket, Portland escapes with a win to tie series 1-1. Nikola Jokic summed it up well:

“It was a weird game for us. They didn’t even play that good, to be honest. They can play better than that. Weird game, weird day.”

Weird in that Denver just could not buy a bucket. Not just weird in the Nuggets shooting 6-of-29 (20.7 percent) from three and going 0-of-10 in the second quarter. Rather, weird as in Denver grabbing 23 offensive rebounds (38.6 percent of their missed shots) but shooting just 6-of-17 on chip-shot putback attempts. Weird in that Nuggets guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris were 2-of-13 from three and combined to shoot 33.3 percent overall on the night. Weird in that the Nuggets shot 14-of-45 (31.1 percent) on uncontested shots (via NBA.com). Weird in that Portland had an offensive rating of just 102.1 for the game, but that was enough to have them comfortably ahead most of the night as Denver scored less than a point per possession.

Weird, physical, whatever you want to call it, the Trail Blazers will take it. Portland was the more aggressive team, earned the 97-90 win and evened the series at 1-1 heading back to Portland for Game 3.

The game certainly was physical. Nobody got that worse than Denver’s Torry Craig, who suffered a “nasal contusion” when diving for a loose rebound and his face hit the back of teammate Monte Morris’ leg. Craig returned to play with a mask (something he had fitted back in the preseason), and he ended up on the ground late in the game, which sparked a confrontation (see item two).

It was a weird game in that Portland’s Enes Kanter may have had a better game than Nikola Jokic. At least he did in terms of what their respective teams need out of them. Jokic had 16 points on 7-of-17 shooting, he had seven assists (he assisted on 38.9 percent of his teammate’s buckets when on the court, still an impressive percentage), but would have had a lot more if guys had just made shots. Jokic was still making passes like this.

Kanter had 15 points on 10-of-15 shooting and played solid, physical defense down low with Jokic. Kanter came into these playoffs with the Billy Donovan “can’t play Kanter” reputation because of his pick-and-roll defense and what happened to him in previous playoffs, but give the man credit, he has stepped up and performed well in the absence of Jusuf Nurkic this postseason.

CJ McCollum had 20 points for Portland, even if it took 20 shots to get there.

This game felt like a one-off for the series. There were adjustments, but both teams struggled just to make shots they usually hit that it’s tough to tell what worked and what didn’t. Denver needs to attack earlier when the threes aren’t falling, but aside that this was more about missed opportunities than anything else.

Portland does not care. It’s a win. The series is tied and the Trail Blazers are heading home.

2) Late game scuffle could lead to suspensions for Nuggets, Trail Blazers. With 43.5 seconds remaining in Game 2, Damian Lillard sank a free throw that put Portland up seven. That’s when a weird game had it’s “fight.”

Denver called a time out after the free throw, but before that was really heard players started to move back down to the end of the court. Nikola Jokic shoves Enes Kanter, who is off-balance and collides with the already-injured Torrey Craig and knocks the masked man down. Then Jamal Murray and Gary Harris confront Kanter for knocking down Craig and there is a typical NBA “fight” at mid-court with a lot of pushing and posing but no actual punches.

Portland’s Evan Turner sprinted from the bench area to get in the scuffle. Denver’s Jarred Vanderbilt (who made contact with Kanter) and Trey Lyles also left the bench area (and to a lesser extent Brandon Goodwin, Juan Hernangomez, Isaiah Thomas, and Thomas Welsh did as well), but the incident was closer to the Nugget bench and play had been stopped.

The NBA rule is clear: Leave a bench during a fight and the player gets a one-game suspension.

However, there had been a timeout called, and when that happens players often leave the bench to greet teammates coming off the court. Plus, there was no game action.

Will the league suspend players, or just fine them saying there was a time out in the action? My guess is the latter, nobody misses time, but the league is unpredictable on these matters.

There is more riding on this for Portland because the only player who came off the bench for either team that is in the playoff rotation is Turner. His loss would be felt if he misses a game, especially if Maurice Harkless remains out with the ankle sprain he suffered back in the first quarter.

3) Minnesota finds its man in Gersson Rosas to head up their basketball operations. The Timberwolves did things backwards: owner Glen Taylor wanted to keep coach Ryan Saunders and general manager Scott Layden, but wanted to hire their new boss. Whoever was going to head basketball operations in Minnesota was not going to get to hire his own team under him, he was inheriting one.

That person is Gersson Rosas, the right-hand man to Daryl Morey in Houston, according to multiple reports out of Minnesota.

This is a milestone. Rosas will be the first Latino to lead a basketball operations department in the NBA (Rosas was born in Bogata, Columbia). Rosas has earned his shot.

Rosas technically has been a GM before. He was hired by Dallas back in 2013 for that role, but walked away from it three months later. Rosas thought he would have decision-making power in Dallas, but the hammer still belonged to Mavs president Donnie Nelson (not to mention owner Mark Cuban).

This time Rosas has the hammer… and a lot of work to do.

On the bright side, the Timberwolves have an elite center and franchise cornerstone in Karl-Anthony Towns. That level of player is the hardest to get, and Towns seemed to connect with Saunders as coach (now Saunders just needs to get Towns to play consistent defense.

Building an elite team around Towns will be the challenge. Mostly because of a couple anchor contracts — Andrew Wiggins (four years, $122 million remaining), Gorgui Dieng (two years, $33.5 million remaining). Minnesota also has to pay Jeff Teague $19 million next season after he opted in, although at least he contributes a lot on the court. Those guys, however, make it very difficult to maneuver under the cap and bring in more talent.

There are other assets. Robert Covington was mostly hurt after coming over from Philly in a trade but he can be the kind of wing defender the Timberwolves need. Josh Okogie showed promise as a rookie, and they have Dario Saric, who is a solid rotation player and developing. If Teague plays well and everyone stays healthy this could be a playoff team next season. That would be a start.

But Rosas has a lot of work ahead of him to take advantage of Towns’ prime.

Luol Deng retiring by signing with Bulls

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Luol Deng will be remembered for being the subject of then-Hawks general manager Danny Ferry’s racist statement and signing an exorbitant contract with the Lakers.

It’s a shame.

Deng was a very good player on some strong Bulls teams. He’s returning to Chicago to say goodbye.

Bulls:

Deng’s prime was cut short by health issues. He played hard in big minutes with Chicago, including deep playoff runs, and was never the same after leaving there.

But he made an All-Rookie first team then had eight more good seasons with the Bulls. He made two All-Star games, providing steady defense and nice complementary offense. We only remember Deng as leaving something on the table because he entered the NBA as a teenager and it feels like someone still so young should have continued to thrive.

As he began to decline, Chicago traded him to the mess that was the post-LeBron James Cavaliers. Then, Deng left for the post-LeBron Heat. Deng had some good moments in Miami, but his body was continuing to break down.

The four-year, $72 million contract in Los Angeles followed. He just couldn’t play effectively anymore. That wasn’t his fault. Blame should fall onto Mitch Kupchak and his crumbling regime for signing Deng to that deal. The Lakers bought out and stretched Deng, who will collect paychecks from them through 2022.

He spent last season with the Timberwolves, barely playing. At 34, he’ll return to the Bulls for what’s surely an unguaranteed contract then waiver.

Deng played 15 years in the NBA. His prime last eight years and peaked at All-Star status. Don’t dwell on the woulda/coulda/shoulda. Appreciate what’s in front of you.

That’s a fulfilling career.

Most NBA GMs pick Clippers or Bucks to win 2020 NBA title in annual survey, Lakers third

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The top of our 50 best players in 5 years list:

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

2. Anthony Davis

3. Luka Doncic

Apparently, NBA general managers hold similar views. Though they answered a slightly different question in their annual survey on NBA.com, the polled general managers had the same top three:

If you were starting a franchise today and could sign any player in the NBA, who would it be?

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee — 86%

2. Anthony Davis, L.A. Lakers — 7%

Luka Doncic, Dallas — 7%

Antetokounmpo won this category last year, but with just 30% of votes. An MVP season will certainly spark consensus.

The Bucks forward is the first player to claim a majority of votes in this category since Anthony Davis in 2015. Davis’ reign was short-lived. Karl-Anthony Towns claimed the top spot the following two years (though with just a plurality of votes).

Other interesting results:

Which team will win the 2020 NBA Finals?

1. LA Clippers — 46%

2. Milwaukee Bucks — 36%

3. Los Angeles Lakers — 11%

Also receiving votes: Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers

I’d favor the Clippers (though not over the field) followed by the Lakers. But the Bucks have an easier path from the East. They also don’t engender the resentment the Lakers do.

Who will win the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year?

1. Zion Williamson, New Orleans — 68%

2. Ja Morant, Memphis — 29%

3. Darius Garland, Cleveland — 4%

Which rookie will be the best player in five years?

1. Zion Williamson, New Orleans — 68%

2. Ja Morant, Memphis — 18%

3. Cameron Reddish, Atlanta — 7%

Also receiving votes: Jarrett Culver, Minnesota; Darius Garland, Cleveland

Will Zion Williamson win Rookie of the Year? Will he have the best career of this rookie class (which is essentially what the second question asks)? Neither are locks against the field. But I don’t understand naming another rookie ahead of the generationally athletic and productive No. 1 pick.

Yet, a full third of responding NBA general managers did just that. Wild!

I’m guessing (hoping?) some just wanted to give a contrarian take. Show me the general manager who’d actually trade Williamson for Morant, Reddish, Culver or Garland.

Who is the best head coach in the NBA?

1. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio — 55%

2. Erik Spoelstra, Miami — 17%

3. Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee — 10%

4. Steve Kerr, Golden State — 7%

Also receiving votes: Steve Clifford, Orlando; Doc Rivers, LA Clippers; Quin Snyder, Utah

There’s nothing crazy about these results… except last year’s leader – Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who received 47% of the vote – got no votes this year. That’s a steep drop, especially for a category that isn’t even about performance this season. The best coach probably doesn’t fluctuate that much annually.

Only perception did, which says something about how long to hold onto these survey results.

Buddy Hield calls Kings’ extension offer ‘insult’: ‘Name one big free agent that came to Sacramento’

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Buddy Hield hinted about leaving the Kings in free agency next summer if they don’t sign him to a contract extension by Monday’s deadline.

He and Sacramento remain apart in negotiations. The Kings have reportedly offered $90 million over four years. Hield reportedly wants $110 million over four years.

So, Hield is intensifying his rhetoric.

Hield, via James Ham of NBC Sports California:

“I just know where my value is at, and I’m not going to budge for nobody,” Hield said. “I work hard. I come in here every day and I do my job.”

“It’s not frustrated, I’m just speaking to my heart,” Hield said. “I feel like people get mixed up with being frustrated. I’m just speaking what I believe and what I think. Like I said, there are 30 teams out there. If they don’t want to give me what I think I deserve, some team will give it to me. They’ll have the ability to match, or they’ll have the ability to let me go.”

“The goal is to be here,” Hield told a larger contingent of media. “I love Sacramento, but if they don’t want me here, if they don’t feel like I’m part of the core. … I like respect and loyalty, and I feel like I’m part of the group that’s getting the team back to where it needs to be.”

“Name one big free agent that came to Sacramento,” Hield said in the scrum. “I’ve been here three years trying to grow the program, grow the organization, and I feel like I could be rewarded close to that. But that’s just me. That’s my gut feeling.”

Hield, via Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee:

“I see it like an insult,” Hield said. “I feel like I’m worth more than that. If you say I’m your guy and you want to build around me, I just need you to show it. Actions speak louder than words. If you’re just talking and not showing nothing, I’m not going to respect it. I love playing here. I want to be here. This is my home. I’m trying to buy a house here, but everything is on stall mode because I don’t know if they’ll really commit to me.”

“I don’t know if things are going to get done,” Hield said while standing in front of his locker with more than a dozen reporters gathered around and three team staffers hovering nearby. “If it don’t get done, me and my team will look for something else — probably another home. Until then, we’ll see if they really want me here.

Chris Webber re-signed with the Kings in 2001, when he was the biggest free agent on the market. But that was back when they were good. They’ve been in a long rut since.

Sacramento appears on the verge of breaking through now. That’ll make the team more attractive to free agents.

Of course, Hield is a big part of the Kings’ rise. They might fear disrupting chemistry if he’s unhappy without an extension. He’s clearly trying to prey on that potential concern. That’s his leverage.

But Sacramento has far more leverage. Without an extension, Hield would be a restricted free agent, the Kings able to match any offer he signs. He can’t unilaterally leave next summer.

Hield could accept the $6,484,851 qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent in 2021. But that will be a stronger free-agent class, and Hield will be 28 then. That’d be quite risky.

The Kings also have another good young shooting guard in Bojan Bogdanovic. That gives them even more leverage with Hield.

There’s just not much Hield can do now except make waves through the media. So, that’s what he’s doing.

If he doesn’t get an extension, will it get worse? Sacramento should be wary of that. However, there’s also a chance the perceived slight motivates Hield into even better play. That’d be the Kings’ gain, because – again – they can still pay him next summer with no risk of losing him until 2021 at the very earliest (and that’s only if Hield is willing to take an unprecedentedly risky route with the qualifying offer).

There’s still plenty of time for Hield and Sacramento find common ground. He’ll likely keep applying pressure until a deal is reached or the extension deadline passes.

Did JaVale McGee feign injury to set up open dunk? (video)

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I’m extremely reluctant to accuse anyone of faking an injury, but…

1. It’s JaVale McGee, who has a history of antics.

2. There’s no obvious cause of an injury.

3. McGee recovered incredibly quickly.

If he weren’t actually hurt, this was an illegal play by McGee. Healthy offensive players can’t run off the court like that. The penalty is loss of ball, but I don’t envy officials who had to determine whether the injury was real.

It’s also inconclusive whether McGee established himself in-bounds before catching the pass it. It’s close.

Another debatable point if McGee did this deliberately: Did he waste a clever play in the preseason? Even a sharp defender, Draymond Green, understandably lost track of McGee once McGee limped off. Or was the preseason the only time to have fun like this?

What is clear: The Lakers had another nifty play in their exhibition win over the Warriors last night. LeBron James switched hands mid-air to throw a kickout pass to a wide-open Danny Green: