Blazers have no answers for Denver as Nuggets take 3-2 series lead

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It seemed like the answer for the Portland Trail Blazers was fairly straightforward. They needed to find a way to release pressure from the Denver Nuggets’ sideline traps, and get a few offensive rebounds.

On Tuesday night, Denver didn’t allow the visiting Blazers to do either.

The Nuggets jumped out to an early lead, and Portland’s defense wasn’t as sharp as they should have been coming off an embarrassing loss on their home court just a couple of days earlier. A team that was once led by its steely leader, neither Damian Lillard nor his teammates on the Blazers roster appeared as though they had psyched themselves up for Tuesday’s contest back in the Mile High City.

As a result, the Trail Blazers scored 25 points in the first quarter and descended from there. Despite trailing at the half, 65-47, Portland recorded a low of 18 points in the third quarter, the entire time their stars not able to get out of the traps Denver laid for them in Game 4.

That, and Portland just would not box out.

Nikola Jokic, who led all scorers with 25 points, also grabbed 19 rebounds to go along with six assists. Denver out-rebounded the Blazers, 62-44, and again it appeared that Portland simply couldn’t grab anything inside of eight feet. Just as had been the case in the prior games, the Blazers didn’t seem to be able to grab a basketball as much as they would tip it until a Nugget eventually got their hands on it. Much of that was due to Jokic and his stature.

It was impressive stat line for the Denver center, but the real star of the game for the Nuggets was Paul Millsap. The veteran NBA forward has put on a bit of a show against the Blazers in the second round, a renaissance of contested turn around jumpers that has glided gently into the net. Millsap finished with 24 points and eight rebounds, going 2-of-3 from 3-point range.

The play of Jokic and Millsap allowed for the slow start of Jamal Murray, who had 34 points in Game 4. Murray finished with 18 points, nine rebounds, and five assists, but was integral in helping to build the lead the Nuggets eventually used to coast to victory.

Denver beat the Blazers, 124-98, in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead back to Portland on Thursday.

Now the question is what we can we expect from here?

The Nuggets should feel confident in the way they played so far, not just with how their coaching staff has adjusted to Portland but also in the fortitude of their young players. After an uneven series with the San Antonio Spurs in round one, it wasn’t clear if Denver was going to be able to withstand a barrage from an opponent like Portland.

The fact that the Nuggets have come from down 2-1 to take a series lead is a testament to their character

For the Blazers, suddenly the series has become a question of faith. Several key players, including Evan Turner and even Lillard, have had minimal impact recently compared to their regular season. With as much as I’ve watched this team this year, and having seen every minute of this playoff series, it’s not really clear why the Blazers are playing so poorly.

Yes, the Nuggets have confidence. But Portland is also playing remarkably poorly — missing open shots, clanging 3-pointers they would normally make, and getting into volleyball contests with Jokic rather than putting a body on him as a means to stop the rebounding onslaught.

That’s without mentioning that Lillard has looked uncharacteristically timid. He even shot 40 percent from the free-throw line in Game 5. Lillard is one of the best free-throw shooters in the game, but his odd jitters from the charity stripe from the end of Game 4 continued into Tuesday night. Portland’s star point guard scored 22 points but went 2-of-9 from the 3-point line.

Equally disappointing for Portland was the contribution it got from three of its starters in Al-Farouq Aminu, Enes Kanter, and Moe Harkless. They combined for 15 points on 25 percent shooting.

The series heads back to Moda Center on the east bank of the Willamette river on Thursday. Michael Malone has made better coaching adaptations then Terry Stotts over the past couple of games, and the Blazers suddenly look like a team that can no longer rely on either of its most valuable assets in Lillard or its bench.

The Nuggets have a chance to close out the series and head to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2008-09. For Portland, Thursday will be a chance to prove to themselves they’re still the team they were all season long.

Or at least, the team they were at the end of April.

Report: Timberwolves offered Andrew Wiggins to Nets in sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell

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Rumors have swirled about D'Angelo Russell signing with the Timberwolves in free agency this summer.

The huge question: How would capped-out Minnesota make that happen?

Darren Wolfson of SKOR North:

I am told there was some dialogue with Brooklyn to see if the Nets would have some interest in a sign-and-trade, Wiggins for D’Angelo Russell. I don’t sense those talks got even a smidge off the ground. I mean, the Nets are not taking on that contract.

Andrew Wiggins (four years, $122,242,800 remaining) might have the NBA’s worst contract. It’ll be hard to find any team that wants him. Brooklyn – which looks like favorites to land Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant – certainly isn’t using its cap space on Wiggins.

Maybe the Timberwolves have other ideas for getting Russell. This one obviously would’ve favored Minnesota. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

But if this was the Timberwolves’ plan, we can put the Russell-Minnesota rumors to bed.

Rudy Gobert says he’ll relinquish DPOY to little girl playing adorably intense defense (video)

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I’ve been looking all day for an excuse to post this video on a site called ProBasketballTalk.

Jazz center Rudy Gobertwho just won Defensive Player of the Year – provided it.

Gobert:

Everyone frets about young basketball players emulating Stephen Curry. But Patrick Beverley apparently also has influence.

Report: Knicks considering offering DeMarcus Cousins big one-year contract if they miss on stars

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The Knicks will reportedly roll over their cap space if they don’t sign Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard this summer.

Of course, New York must still field a team for 2019-20. After six straight losing seasons – including a franchise-worst 17-65 this season – the Knicks might even want to be somewhat competitive.

A candidate to fill the roster: DeMarcus Cousins.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

If the Knicks are intent keeping cap space clear for 2020 (when the free-agent class looks weak) if they strike out this year, Cousins could make sense. His shot-creation skills would raise their floor. He was a star not long ago.

But leg injuries have sidetracked Cousins’ career. He’ll turn 29 before the season. It’s not certain he’ll ever return to form.

For that reason, Cousins might prioritize multi-year offers with more total compensation, even if the annual average salary is lower. He can’t assume he’ll stay healthy and productive next season and that huge offers will follow in 2020.

Of course, Cousins might not get those multi-year offers this summer. That’s why a one-year deal in New York could work for him. It’d be another chance to improve his stock, much like his season with the Warriors was supposed to provide.

I doubt either the Knicks or Cousins want this. New York prefers better players. Cousins surely desires a larger long-term deal. But they might have to settle for each other.

Kevin Durant reportedly sells home in California, rumored to have bought one in New York

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Kevin Durant‘s company moved its office to New York. He could follow, to the Nets or Knicks, in free agency.

Maybe he’s already on the way?

Neal J. Leitereg of the Los Angeles Times:

Kevin Durant has wrapped up some business in Malibu, selling his oceanfront home on Broad Beach for $12.15 million.

Accounting for real estate commissions and other fees, the sale comes out as a bit of a wash for the 10-time all-star. He bought the place last year for $12.05 million, The Times previously reported in April.

Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report:

sources familiar with Durant’s off-court business say Durant has since purchased a new home in New York and moved his belongings there.

Many NBA players spend their offseasons in Southern California. I’m not sure what to make of Durant selling his house there. This isn’t Durant selling his condo in San Francisco, where the Warriors will open a new arena next season.

Buying a place in New York would be more significant, but a player buying a house in a city where he could sign is a classic rumor. It often gets spread whether or not it’s true. I’m skeptical of the sourcing here.

But if Durant no longer plans to play in California, it could make more sense to sell his Malibu home. Of course, he could buy another house near Los Angeles. We just know he sold this specific place on Broad Beach. We can’t extrapolate with certainty.

And Durant could buy a house in New York for the offseason. He might want to be closer to his company in the summer. That doesn’t mean he’ll play for New York or Brooklyn.

So, I’d nudge the odds of Durant leaving Golden State for the Nets or Knicks slightly higher based on this information. But I wouldn’t overreact to it.