Trail Blazers use second-half charge to get past Pacers 103-93

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Portland Trail Blazers may not need to rely exclusively on their dynamic duo to throw scoring punches any longer.

Their new supporting cast trades jabs pretty well, too, and it could make a real difference to their long-term prospects.

With Damian Lillard struggling Monday and C.J. McCollum scoring just 17 points, the Blazers got 17 points from Zach Collins and the first career double-double from former Purdue star Caleb Swanigan to put away the Indiana Pacers 103-93.

“They’ve been great for us all season. They’ve been keeping us alive all season,” McCollum said, referring to Portland’s bench. “They’re the difference between us being an average team and a really good team.”

It’s a series Portland has dominated.

They’ve won three straight over Indiana and eight of the last nine, largely behind the play of Lillard who had scored at least 33 points in three of his six previous trips to Bankers Life Fieldhouse. And Lillard was coming off back-to-back 40-point games.

This time the All-Star guard missed his first five shots, didn’t score until the final seconds of the first half and wound up with a season-low 16 points on 5 of 13 shooting with one rebound and two assists. McCollum was 7 of 15 with six rebounds and one assist and they combined for three 3-pointers.

In previous seasons, those numbers might have doomed Portland’s chances.

But Swanigan softened up the Pacers with his early flurry and Collins delivered the knockout punch by repeatedly scoring in the fourth quarter to help Portland pull away.

“The second unit came in and played really well,” said Collins, who matched his career high scoring total. “We ran the lead up and didn’t let it go down. In the second half, we did our job.”

The result: Indiana lost its first home game of the season with a lackluster performance.

Victor Oladipo had 21 points, nine rebounds and seven assists while Darren Collison added a season-high 17. Thaddeus Young added 16 points and Myles Turner had 10 points and nine rebounds on a night coach Nate McMillan hoped to see a stronger performance on defense and on the glass.

He wasn’t satisfied with much.

“We’re still working on establishing ourselves as a team, what works for us as a team – defending hard, rebounding the ball,” McMillan said.

The Pacers appeared to be cruising early in the second half when they took a 57-49 lead.

But the Trail Blazers charged back quickly by scoring five straight points, retook the lead during a 10-2 run and extended their 71-69 advantage by starting the fourth quarter on an 8-2 run.

Indiana didn’t get closer than five the rest of the way as Swanigan had 11 points and 10 rebounds, both career bests.

 

Two rights trump one wrong for Pacers

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

If you recall my epically bad assessment of the Pacers’ 2017 offseason and stopped reading this year’s follow-up, I wouldn’t blame you. I gave Indiana an ‘F’ for trading Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis then constructing a roster that appeared doomed to miss the playoffs without landing a high draft pick. Of course, the Pacers had one of the NBA’s very best summers. Oladipo became a star and led Indiana to 48 wins. The Pacers even took the Cavaliers to seven games in their first-round series – the furthest an Eastern Conference team had pushed LeBron James in several years. I learned a lesson in overreacting.

But I once again see Indiana’s offseason as a tale of extremes.

The Pacers had two of the NBA’s best signings and one of its worst.

Evans is coming off a career year with the Grizzlies. Developing into a good 3-point shooter increases his value exponentially due to the off-ball threat. His playmaking will be particularly important in Indiana, as he could punish opponents for trapping Oladipo, a common Cleveland tactic in their playoff series.

O’Quinn is a savvy defender who strikes the right balance between protecting the rim and positioning himself for rebounds. He shoots well from mid-range and has become more comfortable as a passer.

And then there’s McDermott. He’s a very good spot-up shooter, but he’s pretty one-dimensional and a complete defensive liability. The 26-year-old should help this team. But at that cost? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Really, the question looming over the Pacers’ offseason was opportunity cost.

They also guaranteed hefty salaries for Bojan Bogdanovic ($10.5 million) and Darren Collison ($10 million) next season. Could that money have gone to better use? Or would waiving Bogdanovic and Collison and trying to re-sign them for less have just presented too much risk of them leaving?

Could Indiana have done better than Aaron Holiday with the No. 23 pick? He’s relatively established for a rookie after three years at UCLA, but higher-upside options were available.

The Pacers played it safe and emerged with an upgraded version of last year’s breakout squad. The only rotation players lost were Lance Stephenson and Trevor Booker. Evans and O’Quinn should be major upgrades. That makes McDermott just – very expensive – gravy.

Indiana is on track to enter next offseason with a massive amount of flexibility. Oladipo and McDermott are the only players guaranteed more than rookie-scale salaries, though Myles Turner could receive a contract extension this fall.

If the Pacers build on last season as they appear set to, they could be even more appealing to free agents next summer.

Offseason grade: B+

Rumor: Suns may target Patrick Beverley, Cory Joseph, Spencer Dinwiddie for trade

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The Suns want to trade for a point guard, and this summer targeted for some big names (Kemba Walker, Damian Lillard, Terry Rozier) only to strike out.

That doesn’t mean they’re done trying. John Gambadoro of 98.7 FM in Phoenix, who is connected within the Suns, laid out a number more rumors, via the station’s website.

Among targets, the Suns have discussed the Los Angeles Clippers’ Patrick Beverley, Indiana’s Cory Joseph and the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie.

First things first, these are the teams internally that the Suns would like to target, that’s very different from having an actual trade conversation with a team that goes anywhere. This is a wish list for Phoenix (and if I were with the Suns I would leak something like this to show the fans how hard we’re working, even if it wasn’t likely to come to pass).

All three of those guys are players in the final year of their contracts who maybe become available around Christmas or after if their teams struggle to start the season, or other players on their teams make them more expendable. However, all three also would extract a pretty big price to get, then the Suns would have to re-sign them in free agency.

Beverley is in the final year of his $5 million contract (which is not fully guaranteed, but the Clippers aren’t cutting him), and he is coming off microfracture and meniscus surgery on his knee that sidelined him most of last season. He is a guy other teams are watching because if he is healthy, and if the Clippers fall back in the West, they could decide to move more into a rebuild mode and make guys available (that is not a sure thing. However, owner Steve Ballmer is trying to get a new arena constructed in Los Angeles and may not want to lose a lot while going through an approval process with plenty of opposition).

Joseph is in the final year of his $8 million contract, and the Pacers have high hopes of not only making the playoffs but doing some damage there, taking a step forward off last season. With that, they have Darren Collison and rookie Aaron Holiday at the point as well — if Collison can stay healthy and if Holiday can show he is ready to contribute at a backup level now then maybe the Pacers will listen to offers. But those are two big “ifs.”

Dinwiddie is in the final year of a steal of a contract at $1.7 million. The Nets like Dinwiddie a lot and have some real decisions to make about the future of their point guard spot this season, primarily how much do they like D'Angelo Russell and how much are they willing to pay him a year from now as a restricted free agent. Even if the Nets decide they want to spend to keep Russell, they love Dinwiddie and it’s hard to imagine them moving him without a lot coming back their way in the trade.

None of these trades are likely, but it’s something to watch as we slide into the season.

Report: Pacers signing Tyreke Evans to one-year, $12 million contract

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Victor Oladipo‘s takeoff season hit turbulence when the Cavaliers double-teamed the Pacers star in their first-round series. Oladipo shot 7-for-35 in Game 4 and Game 5 losses. Though Oladipo wasn’t used to being trapped to that degree, Indiana also lacked a reliable secondary playmaker to exploit the advantage situation if Oladipo passed ahead.

Enter Tyreke Evans.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Evans was the top unrestricted free agent available. That crown now goes to Isaiah Thomas if you’re swinging for the fences or, if you prefer a safer bet, Luc Mbah a Moute, Wayne Ellington or Brook Lopez.

The Pacers also agreed to terms with Doug McDermott on a three-year, $22 million contract. They eagerly spent their cap space to upgrade a surprising 48-34 win team and still have the $4,449,000 room exception to use.

Taking another step forward could pay off even bigger next summer.

Evans, Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph all have expiring contracts. Oladipo ($21 million salary) and McDermott are the only Indiana players due more than a rookie-scale salary. The Pacers could hit free agency hard again next year.

In the meantime, Evans can play all three perimeter positions, though he’s probably primarily a wing on this team. He might start at small forward, though I suspect Bogdanovic or McDermott will. The Pacers struggled whenever Oladipo sat, and Evans fits as a spark off the bench.

Report: Pacers declining Lance Stephenson’s team option

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We got one last tango between LeBron James and Lance Stephenson.

Now, LeBron and his chief irritant are heading into uncertain offseasons that could result in them no longer matching up in the playoffs.

The Pacers will decline Stephenson’s $4.36 million team option for next season, making him an unrestricted free agent.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Indiana will reportedly guarantee Bojan Bogdanovic‘s $10.5 million salary for next season. Pacers president Kevin Pritchard said the team would keep Darren Collison. I’ll assume that means guaranteeing Collison’s $10 million salary rather than waiving him ($2 million guaranteed) and attempting to re-sign him for less.

If Thaddeus Young opts out and the Pacers waive and stretch Al Jefferson ($4 million guaranteed of $10 million salary), Indiana could have about $33 million in cap space.

That’d go a long way in this market.

Even if Young ($13,764,045 player-option salary) opts in, the Pacers should be a major player in free agency. They’re coming off a surprisingly strong year and positioned to get even better.

After they hunt better wings, they could even bring back Stephenson at a lower salary. He seemingly plays well with only Indiana, but maybe the Pacers have just had enough of him.

If they don’t want to re-sign him at a lower cost, it’s not a certainty he gets an NBA job next season.