Lillard scores 34, leads 3-point barrage to lift Trail Blazers past Nuggets

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DENVER — What had Damian Lillard so excited wasn’t his 34 points or 13 assists or how he led Portland’s 3-point barrage that sparked the Trail Blazers’ win over the undermanned Denver Nuggets in their playoff opener Saturday night.

It was holding NBA MVP front-runner Nikola Jokic to a single assist. That’s something no opponent had done all year against the Nuggets superstar center who averaged a career-best 8.3 assists this season.

“It was huge,” Lillard said after Portland’s 123-109 victory. “We know when they’re at their best, he’s setting the table, he’s dominating the game as a playmaker and he’s scoring and he’s kind of having his way.

“A guy as good as he is, an MVP candidate — the MVP in my opinion — you know that he’s going to play well,” Lillard added. “You know he’s going to do what he does but you got to try to take something away.”

Jokic matched Lillard’s scoring output, but wasn’t nearly the same facilitator.

“I couldn’t get the other guys involved,” Jokic lamented. “They made me work for it on every possession.”

The Blazers hit 19 of 40 shots from beyond the arc, and Lillard, sporting silver sneakers that were a fitting choice for his sterling performance, had five of them.

Subs Carmelo Anthony and Anfernee Simons added four each as the Blazers outscored Denver by 24 points from beyond the arc.

“To be honest, I think we could’ve shot the ball even better,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

They were plenty good on this night.

“I talked about it quite a lot during the week, can we guard the 3-point line?” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Too many breakdowns.”

CJ McCollum added 21 points and Anthony scored 18 in his first playoff game against the team that drafted him 18 years ago.

Anthony, who forced his way out of Denver a decade ago, learned in the locker room afterward that this marked his first win as a visitor at Ball Arena, which used to be called the Pepsi Center.

“Great time to make it happen,” Anthony said.

Michael Porter Jr. chipped in 25 points for Denver but was just 1-for-10 from long range, and Aaron Gordon added 16 points.

Game 2 in the series is Monday night.

Anthony provided an early spark for Portland with 12 points in the first quarter.

“He gave us the boost that we needed,” Stotts said.

And the boos that fueled ’Melo.

“This will always be a special place for me regardless of the boos,” Anthony said.

It was Lillard who took over after halftime, scoring 15 points in the third quarter when he sparked a 32-13 run by the Blazers that turned a nine-point deficit into a 96-86 lead.

“For the last week, this is all I’ve been thinking about,” Lillard said. “We’ve had a whole week to prepare for this and get ready for Game 1. We prepared hard. I wanted to win the game. I want to win the series.”

Jamal Murray returned from L.A., where he’s been rehabbing from his ACL surgery, to cheer on his Nuggets teammates.

“Jamal’s a leader of this team whether he is playing or not,” Malone said. “He can’t score a point for us, but he can provide a lot of other things.”

After shooting baskets before the game, Murray took the mic and addressed the crowd before tip-off.

“Man, I wish I was hooping,” he said as he fired up the crowd at the Nuggets’ first home playoff game since May 12, 2019, when they lost Game 7 of their second-round series to Portland.

Also out for the Nuggets were Will Barton (hamstring) and PJ Dozier (hip).

LeBron, other NBA players react to Kyrie Irving trade to Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks v Brooklyn Nets
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Is there going to be a football game of some kind next weekend? You’d never know the way the NBA trade deadline can dominate the headlines.

Kyrie Irving is getting traded to the Mavericks, which has blown up the NBA world — Dallas looks like a threat in the West, and there is a countdown clock over Kevin Durant‘s time in Brooklyn. It wasn’t just fans and pundits stunned by the news, NBA players past and present took to Twitter and social media to react and give their thoughts on the Irving trade. Starting with LeBron James and one of the guys in the trade.

Nets reportedly trade Kyrie Irving to Mavericks for Dinwiddie, Finney-Smith, picks

Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets
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Dallas desperately needed a second star and shot creator to go next to Luka Dončić.

They got one — Mark Cuban has always been willing to take risks to win. The question about how long this can last comes later.

The Nets are trading Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, their unprotected 2029 first-round pick their 2027 and 2029 second-round picks, according to multiple reports.

Irving is reportedly “ecstatic” to make the move to Dallas (the hard questions about a future contract will wait until after the season).

Irving reportedly will land in Dallas Monday, take the standard post-trade physical, and could be available for the Mavericks on Wednesday against the Clippers.

Brooklyn had several suitors to choose from but wanted in return players it could slot in around Kevin Durant now (or, once he is healthy and returns) so they could still have a puncher’s chance to win the East. Dinwiddie gives Brooklyn a point guard and shot creator who can play some off the ball — and he returns to Brooklyn, where he made a name for himself in the league. Finney-Smith is a coveted two-way wing who can step in right now. Plus, the Nets add some potentially valuable picks down the line.

That offer gave the Nets more win-now possibilities than they got out of the Lakers’ offer (two future first-rounders and Russell Westbrook) or what the Suns and Clippers put in the mix.

There are questions for Dallas, but ones they believe they can answer — elite talents figure out a way to make it work on the court. Off the court, it helps that both coach Jason Kidd and former Nike executive turned Mavericks GM Nico Harrison have strong relationships with Irving. That’s a start.

The pairing of Dončić and Irving should lead to games and stretches where they look brilliant, but the question is not the highs but the lows — how deep and how prolonged will those be? Irving works well off the ball (as he has done with Durant and LeBron James) and should be able to play off Dončić. However, can Dončić play well off the ball when Irving is hot? Do the Mavericks — with Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood, Maxi Kleber, Reggie Bullock and the rest — have enough around their two stars to be a serious threat in the West? Off the court, can the very different personalities of Irving and Dončić mesh, or at least work well enough not to be a distraction?

The biggest question: Do Cuban and the Mavericks really want to re-sign Irving for the four-years, $198.5 million he demands at the end of the season? There are reports that Dallas (like every other front office in the league, including Brooklyn) is hesitant to do a long-term deal with Irving that gives him that kind of guaranteed money.

But that is a concern for the future — Dallas got its second star. It has vaulted itself into the upper echelons of the Western Conference and positioned itself to contend.

Reports: Stephen Curry out ‘weeks’ with leg injury, Warriors hope for return after All-Star Break

Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors
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This is bad news for the Warriors. How bad depends on how the word “weeks” is ultimately defined.

Stephen Curry has torn ligaments in his leg — in the shin area just below the knee — and while the team does not have an official timeline he will be out “weeks” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

“Weeks” is a vague word, and for the Warriors the difference in Curry being out three weeks (with one of those being the All-Star Break) versus him being out six to eight weeks could be the difference in how long a playoff run the Warriors have.

The Warriors are hoping for a Curry return just after the All-Star break, reports Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

Of short-term concern, this has Curry out for the All-Star Game where the fans voted him a starter. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will bump one of the reserves up to a starting spot — likely Ja Morant, who was third in fan voting — and name an injury replacement for the team. The top candidates are Devin Booker (if he returns from injury this week as expected), De'Aaron Fox or Anthony Edwards.

Longer term, the Warriors can’t afford to be without Curry for an extended period.

Curry is averaging 27.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists a game, and the Warriors outscore opponents by 5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court and get outscored by 5.4 when he is off. With the team one game above .500 and struggling to avoid the play-in, an extended absence for Curry is trouble for a Warriors team that has never found its footing this season.

 

Nets reportedly going to sit Kyrie Irving until he is traded

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This time it looks like it’s going to happen, the Brooklyn Nets will trade Kyrie Irving (unlike this summer).

Just don’t expect to see Irving on the court for Brooklyn until he’s moved, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

That is at one time a combination of smart, the only real call to make, the Nets wanting to look like they have control over the situation because Irving’s camp already leaked that he was going to sit out the rest of the season if not traded.

Irving did not play Saturday night when the Nets went down by 20 in the first quarter but rallied behind 44 points from Cam Thomas to get a much-needed win.

Four primary suitors have stepped up for Irving: The Lakers (considered Irving’s preferred destination), Suns, Mavericks and Clippers. The question is what do the Nets want back in a trade? If, as most around the league expect, the goal is to remain in the championship picture around Kevin Durant, Brooklyn will prize quality players and depth over draft picks. That’s bad news for the Lakers (the core of their offer is two future first-round picks plus Russell Westbrook) and good for the team down the hall, the Clippers can offer good players — John Wall, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, plus young players such as Terance Mann — plus a pick if they need it.

The question for teams: Irving wants a max contract after this summer, similar to the four-year, $198.5 million fully guaranteed extension the Nets would not offer after Irving had 10 weeks or so of not being disruptive and focusing on basketball. Around the league, front offices are very hesitant to get into the Irving business for that long (most thought he would never get more than a two-year offer). Are the four teams above desperate enough for a bold move that ownership would sign off on four years with Irving? Will any of them? Or, like this summer, will Irving find the market not to his liking?

It’s going to be interesting until the Feb. 9 trade deadline.