Austin Rivers

Carmelo Anthony sinks dagger into Houston, Portland gets win

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Damian Lillard scored 21 points and Carmelo Anthony hit a big 3-pointer late to help the Portland Trail Blazers to a 110-102 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night.

The Blazers led by one before Lillard made one of two free throws. Anthony’s three then extended the lead to 107-102 when less than a minute to go.

Lillard raved about the contributions of Anthony, who found a home with the Trail Blazers after spending several months without a team last year following a brief stint with the Rockets.

“I think it’s more disappointing that people are surprised by it,” Lillard said. “He’s a Hall of Famer … he’s a great teammate and that’s what we expect from him.”

Coach Terry Stotts loves how Anthony has evolved to help his team.

“Earlier in his career, the ball would have been in his hands to start with,” Stotts said. “He has assimilated to his role and this team. He loves the game. He loves the camaraderie, he loves being in the NBA.”

Lillard added two free throws and Anthony, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds, made one in the final minute to secure the victory for Portland, which is fighting for a playoff spot.

“We understand what’s on the line and we know what we got to do to to give ourselves a chance in the postseason,” Lillard said. “And that’s what we’re doing.”

James Harden led Houston with 23 points and nine assists on a night he was slowed by foul trouble.

“I couldn’t be as aggressive as I wanted to being in foul trouble,” he said. “But we had a lot of open shots that if we make those those it’s a different ballgame.”

Jeff Green added a season-high 22 points as the Rockets lost for the first time in the bubble after winning their first two games.

The Blazers were up by six midway through the final quarter after CJ McCollum and Lillard made consecutive baskets. But Green scored all Houston’s points in a 7-1 spurt that tied it at 98 a minute later.

McCollum finished with 20 points as the Blazers pulled within 1 1/2 games of eighth-place Memphis.

“Our biggest problem with the whole game is first of all we didn’t come out with a lot of energy, and our defense was pretty slow to start,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said.

The game was tied again later in the fourth when Gary Trent Jr. made a 3-pointer to put Portland up 103-100. A driving layup by Harden cut the lead to one with about 2 minutes to go.

Danuel House made a 3-pointer to get the Rockets within two midway through the third quarter. Lillard then scored all of Portland’s points in a 9-3 run that pushed the lead to 82-74 with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the third.

Lillard had a three-point play and then sank 3s on consecutive possessions to allow the Trail Blazers to build the lead. Harden spent the last five minutes of the third quarter on the bench after picking up his fifth foul on the three-point play by Lillard.

Hassan Whiteside had four points for the Trail Blazers late in the third, but Austin Rivers capped the quarter with a 3-pointer to get Houston within 86-80 to start the fourth.

Report: Rockets guard Austin Rivers leaves bubble for family matter

Rockets guard Austin Rivers
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson, Clippers center Montrezl Harrell and Clippers guard Patrick Beverley have all left the bubble for personal emergencies.

Now, Rockets guard Austin Rivers is also departing Disney World.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Hopefully, everything is alright with Rivers and his family.

This raises the question: Will Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Austin’s father, also leave the bubble? However, Austin and Doc have lived fairly separate lives. Austin leaving doesn’t necessarily mean Doc will.

Austin is a key backup for Houston. The Rockets still have a lot of guards – James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Danuel House, Ben McLemore. But the Rockets also use a lot of guards.

If he returns, Austin must quarantine in his hotel room. The length of his quarantine will depend on whether the NBA excused his absence in advance, whether he’s tested daily for coronavirus while away and, of course, whether he tests negative or positive.

Kyrie Irving, Avery Bradley lead coalition of players questioning restart plan

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Even long-time veterans of the social justice movement — including Black Lives Matter — say it feels different this time. There is a broad-based groundswell of momentum that could lead to important changes in police departments and how they interact with communities of color. There is momentum toward removing some of the systemic racism that has been embedded in our nation for countless generations.

Kyrie Irving, Avery Bradley, and a coalition of NBA players, other athletes, and entertainers, want to discuss where the NBA — specifically an NBA return — fits into those changes.

Irving and Bradley led a call with at least 80 players on it Friday night with a lot of questions about the NBA’s restart, on Monday they released a statement to ESPN. From the story by Adrian Wojnarowski and Malika Andrews.

Irving, Bradley and the coalition of players want to pursue some concerns further with the league, sources said, including: the investment of resources and ideas of all league constituencies — from the commissioner’s office, ownership level, management and the players’ association — in social justice reform.

Among concerns surrounding the league’s return to play after a three-month shutdown in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, sources said the coalition is citing: a surge in positive coronavirus cases in Florida, conditions surrounding the restrictive environment in the bubble, insurance and liabilities for players based on possible illnesses, and injuries in a truncated finish to the season.

The ESPN story contains the full statement from the coalition, which is worth reading in its entirety. Here is just a sampling:

“This is not about individual players, athletes or entertainers. This is about our group of strong men and women uniting for change. We have our respective fields, however, we will not just shut up and play to distract us from what this whole system has been about: Use and Abuse.

“We are all fathers, daughters, leaders and so much more. So what is our BIG picture? We are in this for UNITY and CHANGE!”

Players absoloutly should be asking a lot of questions right now.

There is an ongoing dialogue among players about whether the restart is a distraction to the BLM movement or provides players a bigger platform to make their point, and not everyone agrees. Irving made his feelings known (even if some question his motives), and players such as Dwight Howard, CJ McCollum, and others have said they are not sure players should go to Orlando for the restart. On the other hand, LeBron James has supported going, and a lot of players such as Garrett Temple, Austin Rivers, and others have supported that same idea.

There is no one right answer for all players; it’s a personal decision that weighs social justice, health and safety concerns, and the financial impacts short and long term of not playing. Players can choose not to play and will not be punished, but they also will not be paid.

There is going to be a lot of talk among players in the coming days and weeks, but the time is coming when each man and woman will have to decide for themselves what they want to do. What’s right for one person may not be right for another. Ultimately, that’s how democracy and freedom of choice work, it is by its nature messy and at times uncomfortable. That’s how we know its working.


Dwight Howard: ‘Basketball isn’t needed at this moment’

Lakers center Dwight Howard
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Dwight Howard has all the basketball reasons in the world to want to jump on a plane and head to Orlando to be part of the NBA’s restart of the season. He’s a key big man on a Lakers’ team that is the odds-on favorite to win it all, and a ring would be the cherry on top of his Hall of Fame career.

But Dwight Howard says players should not play right now, there are far more critical things to focus on in society.

Howard was part of Friday night’s 80-player call, led by Kyrie Irving, discussing whether players should be part of the restart. Howard told CNN he thought the NBA should not play right now. Here’s Howard’s statement, via his agent, to CNN.

“I agree with Kyrie (Irving). Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction. Sure it might not distract us the players, but we have resources at hand majority of our community don’t have. And the smallest distraction for them, can start a trickle-down effect that may never stop. Especially with the way the climate is now. I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship. But the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just too beautiful to pass up. What better time than now for us to be focusing on our families?

“This is a rare opportunity that, I believe, we as a community should be taking full advantage of. When have we ever had this amount of time to sit and be with our families? This is where our Unity starts. At home! With Family!! European Colonization stripped us of our rich history, and we have yet to sit down and figure us out. The less distractions, the more we can put into action into rediscovering ourselves. Nations come out of families. Black/African American is not a Nation or Nationality. It’s time Our Families became their own Nations. No Basketball till we get things resolved.”

Howard joins Irving and CJ McCollum as three name players who have come out and said they opposed a restart of games due to the social climate. Others, such as the Clippers’ Lou Williams, have expressed similar concerns.

Howard is teammates with LeBron James, who has championed a return to play and believes players can balance social justice issues and basketball. Other players, such as Austin Rivers, have echoed this idea.

There is not a unified feeling among players about the restart. It is a personal decision for each player. Players do not have to report to Orlando and will not be punished, although they will not be paid for that time.

For players NBC Sports has spoken to in recent days, money also plays a significant factor in this decision. Players would be giving up paychecks from this season (something Howard, Irving, and McCollum can afford to do more easily than the 72% of players who make less than the league average salary). Plus, not playing would lead to a tearing up and renegotiating of the current CBA, and those negotiations during a pandemic would lead to the players certainly getting a smaller share of league revenue in the future.

Some players believe that any financial sacrifices are worth helping the bigger cause. Dwight Howard is firmly in that camp and made it clear he doesn’t think the NBA should return to play.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Pacific Division, Northwest Division and Southeast Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southwest:

Dallas Mavericks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: Seven of Dallas’ protections were easy calls. They’re all players locked up long-term. That left deciding between Tim Hardaway Jr, who has been a starter for the Mavericks but has a player option, and several other useful players.

Ultimately, the Mavs can’t afford to lose Hardaway, who has rediscovered his solid offensive play from his Hawks years. That leaves Justin Jackson and three big men in Dwight Powell (coming off a torn Achilles’) and Boban Marjanovic and Willie-Cauley-Stein (both backups for Dallas). The most likely to be selected player is probably Jackson, but that’s a risk Dallas has to take.

Houston Rockets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: No decision points for the Rockets. Houston is protecting the entirety of their eight-man rotation.

Chris Clemons could make for an interesting expansion pick because his scoring ability at guard. Isaiah Hartenstein has shown some flashes in the G-League as well.

Memphis Grizzlies

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Just how hard the Grizzlies’ protection decision were is a testament to how well their rebuild has gone. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton were all locks. Justise Winslow was just acquired at the trade deadline as the centerpiece of a deal. Tyus Jones is the ideal backup point guard behind Morant, so he stays as well. That left Jonas Valanciunas vs Kyle Anderson for the final protected spot. Valanciunas’ presence allows Jackson to play power forward, so the big man gets the final spot.

Memphis is gambling that Anderson’s slow-mo style of play and $9.5 million salary isn’t what an expansion team is looking for. Jontay Porter is another risk, but he’s got a lengthy injury history of his own. The Grizzlies will hope one of the other three is selected and might be willing to offer a small incentive to make it happen.

New Orleans Pelicans

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: New Orleans’ protections are cut and dry. Every player protected, minus Brandon Ingram, is signed for at least one more season. This includes several players on rookie scale contracts. Ingram will most assuredly be re-signed this summer, so that decision was easy as well.

The only gamble among the unprotected players is Nicolo Melli. He’s become a rotation player for the Pelicans, but he’s not as valuable as the younger players. The other three players are mostly out of the New Orleans’ rotation and not anyone the team will worry about if they are selected.

San Antonio Spurs

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Spurs are banking on keeping DeMar DeRozan this summer. He either opts in or re-signs in San Antonio. LaMarcus Aldridge is an easy decision as well. Dejounte Murray will start his extension this coming season. Everyone else is on their rookie scale contract, minus Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is a restricted free agent that the Spurs hope to retain this offseason.

San Antonio is gambling that the big salaries of Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will keep them from being selected. That exposes Trey Lyles, who has a relatively small guarantee, and young big man Chimezie Metu. The Spurs would like to keep both, but not at the expense of losing a rookie scale player.