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Report: Portland buyer at trade deadline, first-round pick ‘in play’

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The Portland Trail Blazers are good: Damian Lillard is having another All-NBA level season, C.J. McCollum is a high-quality scorer, and Jusuf Nurkic has stepped up his game of late. At 32-20, Portland would have home court in the first round of the playoffs if they started today.

But are the Blazers a real playoff threat? When teams start trapping Lillard and McCollum, can Portland counter and make teams pay?

The questions about them in the playoffs have the Blazers as potential buyers at the trade deadline, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN.

Portland stands a potential buyer — an under-the-radar really good team with questions about its postseason viability. The Trail Blazers have put their first-round pick in play, per sources around the league. They have investigated Otto Porter‘s availability. Taurean Prince makes some sense; he’s up for an extension this summer, and the Hawks have made him available, sources say. As a free agent non-destination, the Blazers value players whose rights they can control.

But the Hawks are asking a lot so far — a young player and a pick — and haven’t gotten much traction on Prince trades, sources say.

Another off-the-beaten path name from Orlando: Evan Fournier — a wing who could give Portland or some other team some shooting and playmaking. He has two years and $34 million left on his contract; if the Magic aren’t thrilled with that deal, they could suss out his value.

Porter would be a great fit with Portland, but there is a sense the Wizards are not going to be sellers at the deadline (Washington is the 10 seed in the East, 2.5 games out of the playoffs, and they want to make a postseason push).

The problem is Portland is already $7.9 million into the luxury tax this season and are poised to be a tax payer again next season — they also want to move off salary. To improve a team and lower the tax bill (by sending out bad contracts) comes at a high cost, and a first-round pick alone is not enough.

The challenge at the trade deadline this season is there are a lot more buyers than sellers, which dampens the market. While the buzz focuses around possible Anthony Davis and Mike Conley trades, there will be smaller deals that get done, maybe just not that many of them this year. But the Trail Blazers are one team that could pull a trade off, keep an eye on them.

NBA Power Rankings: Bucks, Pacers, Raptors are top three

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The East remains a caste system — very good teams at the top, including the top three in this ranking and five of the top 10 — but after that it drops off a cliff. In the West the Warriors keep coasting and after that things are tight and hard to predict.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (26-10, last week No. 1). Giannis Antetokounmpo is shooting just 28.5% outside the restricted area this season, which sounds like a problem except nobody can stop him from getting to the rim — 59.4% of his shots come in the restricted area. Just ask Jon Leuer (see the clip below). The Bucks have the best net rating in the NBA and are on a four-game winning streak, the questions of their legitimacy will be answered in the postseason but the Bucks look like a contender. They’ve got an interesting test Saturday night against Toronto.

Pacers small icon 2. Pacers (25-12, LW 4). Guess which team has the second-best net rating in the NBA on the season? Yup, the Pacers. Indiana has won five in a row and in that stretch have had a ridiculously good offense (117.1 points per 100, better than the Harden-led Rockets) and a top-four defense. You can argue the Pacers have had their good start this season against an easier schedule (third softest in the NBA so far) but that’s about to change, starting with a five-game road trip through the East starting Friday night in Chicago.

Raptors small icon 3. Raptors (28-11, LW 2). The Raptors are 7-4 in their last 11, which is impressive considering they have been without either Kyle Lowry or Kawhi Leonard for each of those games. As much as they miss Lowry (the offense is 16 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court) the injury to Jonas Valanciunas has hurt the bench and the rebounding of the Raptors and cost them games of late. Thursday night Kawhi Leonard returns to San Antonio to take on the Spurs and fans there will not exactly greet him warmly after he forced his way out of town.

Warriors small icon 4. Warriors (25-13, LW 3). Golden State remains inconsistent, and the big question remains “when do we start to worry about that?” Steve Kerr should worry about it, although he wouldn’t say it publicly, but do we really think they are not just going to flip the switch? It’s too early to actually worry. It was good to see Klay Thompson break out of his shooting slump with a 32-point game against Portland, when told his right hand how much me missed it.

Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (24-11, LW 5).. The Nuggets enter 2019 as the top seed in the West, which for a team that missed playoffs by one game each of the last two seasons is a big step forward. Nikola Jokic is playing at an All-NBA level as a center, but it’s Jamal Murray breaking out as a consistent scoring threat that has propelled the Nuggets to the top of the West. Denver is 2-2 in a stretch of 7-of-11 away from home. They got the win over the Knicks in spite of Mason Plume’s “help” on defense.

Rockets small icon 6. Rockets (21-15, LW 8). It’s hard to get your head around just how well James Harden has played the past few weeks. He’s had at least 35 points and five assists in eight straight games, breaking an NBA record held by Oscar Robertson. He has scored more than 400 points in a 10-game span, becoming the third player in the last 30 years to do that (Kobe and Jordan). Harden has hit at least five threes in seven straight games, the only other person to do that is Stephen Curry. Houston has won 10-of-11 and become a playoff team again because Harden has been transcendent.

Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (23-13, LW 9). While Paul George has put up the better numbers this season, Russell Westbrook still has 10 triple-doubles this season — that’s five straight years he’s had double digits in triple-doubles, only Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson have done that. Westbrook’s numbers, however, is not the best sign the Thunder may be the second best team in the West at the end of the season. Consider this from John Schuhmann of NBA.com: Only one of the Thunder’s 13 losses hasn’t been within 5 points in the last 5 minutes. Meaning they have been in every lost game but one, no other team has less than three of these “non-clutch” losses.

Sixers small icon 8. 76ers (24-14, LW 7). The NBA Draft can be as much about fit as talent. Philly’s Landry Shamet is the perfect example: Sure, the rookie out of Wichita State is talented, but more importantly is he is a shooter and the Sixers need that, so his role just continues to grow. The Sixers are 2-2 on a tough five-game road trip, the good news is after the trip they have six games in a row against teams below .500.

Spurs small icon 9. Spurs (21-17, LW 12). San Antonio went 11-5 in December with the best offense in the NBA, scoring 116.6 points per 100 possessions for the month. The Spurs defense was also top 10 in December. In recent games they have beaten the Nuggets (splitting a home-and-home), the Clippers, and the Celtics. Considering the massive roster turnover and injuries this team has had to overcome, it’s time to put Gregg Popovich in the Coach of the Year conversation. Again.

Celtics small icon 10. Celtics (21-15, LW 6). This is not encouraging: The Celtics went 3-3 through a tough stretch of games, and even in the wins they had to come from behind (five in OT vs. the Sixers and 19 to the Grizzlies). More concerning: In their last 10 games the Celtics defense has struggled, they are 20th in the NBA allowing 111,6 per 100 in that stretch (the offense is sixth best in the league in those 10, with Kyrie Irving taking charge and covering up some of the defensive mistakes).

Blazers small icon 11. Trail Blazers (22-16, LW 11). Portland has gone 4-3 in its last seven (including splitting a home-and-home with Golden State) despite it’s offense being the third worst in the NBA in that time. It seems everyone outside of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is struggling with their shot. What has saved the Blazers is a top 10 defense in that stretch, but they need to get the offense right during the upcoming five-game homestand (which starts with tough ones against the Thunder and red-hot Rockets).

Clippers small icon 12. Clippers (21-16, LW 14). Los Angeles has come back to earth some after their hot start, with their defense bottom four in the NBA over their last 10 games. The Clippers are struggling to consistently defend the pick-and-roll. The offense has been up and down as well, but the Clippers can count on one thing — getting to the free throw line. Los Angeles leads the NBA in free throw rate, and average a league best 29.2 free throws a night. That ability to attack and draw fouls has kept them in games.

Lakers small icon 13. Lakers (21-16, LW 10). The Lakers are 1-2 without LeBron James (no timetable on his return, but they are not going to rush him back from that groin injury) but the hope was some of the other Lakers would step up with LeBron out. Brandon Ingram did that against the Kings with his best game of the season — it wasn’t the 21 points and 7 rebounds that impressed as much as his quick decision making. Ingram has tended to stop the ball and survey too much, which doesn’t fit next to LeBron (who is allowed to do that, because he’s LeBron) but against the Kings Ingram was decisive. That’s the Ingram the Lakers need.

Kings small icon 14. Kings (19-18, LW 13). The Kings remain a bottom 10 defensive team this season, and De’Aaron Fox thinks he knows why: “A lot of times we’re giving up straight line drives, myself included, and sometimes it’s just not finishing a possession. We get a good possession on defense, we get a good contest, and then we just give up a rebound. Whether it’s a guard or a big or whatever, we’re giving up rebounds — and that’s when it’s hard. You’ve got to scramble. You give up shots.”

Hornets small icon 15. Hornets (18-18, LW 16). While Charlotte hangs on to a playoff spot in the East, three things hold them back from climbing up the ladder. One is injuries and now Cody Zeller will miss time with a fractured hand. Second, is the often-discussed trouble in close games (they are 5-11 in games within three points in the last three minutes). Third, and less discussed, is the Hornets trouble away from home: the team is 14-7 at the Spectrum Center but 4-11 on the road. Which is trouble because starting Saturday in Denver is a six-game road trip against teams in the West.

Grizzlies small icon 16. Grizzlies (18-18, LW 17). Memphis’ starting lineup — Mike Conley, Garrett Temple, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Marc Gasol — is the third most used five-man lineup in the NBA this season, having played 371 minutes across 34 games. The lineup works because it defends — teams score just 90.3 points per 100 possessions against that group. The Grizzlies don’t score a lot with that group, either, but so long as they keep defending like that they will win enough games to hang around the playoff chase.

Jazz small icon 17. Jazz (18-20, LW 15). Utah is back to playing elite defense. They have been best in the NBA in the last 10 games giving up just a point per possession (and it was below that mark before Kawhi Leonard torched them for 45 on Tuesday). The Jazz offense has been stagnate and pedestrian in those 10 games, but the Jazz are still +8.1 per 100 in the last 10 — and they have a 5-5 record. Utah has the point differential of a team that should be 21-17 this season, they have played the league’s toughest schedule, but they just need to string together some wins to get back in the middle of the playoff mix, and they can’t seem to do it.

Heat small icon 18. Heat (17-18, LW 18). Forced to play point guard because Goran Dragic is out and they don’t have other options, Justise Winslow has stepped up to the challenge: He has averaged 17 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game through his last five, and is +15.8 per game in those. The problem is when he sits the Heat just come apart. Miami has stayed in the East playoff race (they are the 7 seed as I write this) because of a top-10 defense of late that has been a fascinating mix of zone and man-to-man where Hassan Whiteside protecting the rim has been featured.

Mavericks small icon 19. Mavericks (17-20, LW 20). Did you know there are other players on the Mavericks not named Luka Doncic? One of them is Dennis Smith Jr., the second-year guard who has struggled at times to move to more of an off-ball role next to that rookie everyone is talking about. One question for the second half of this season in Dallas is if Smith can play with Doncic in that role, or if he should be traded (he’ll be available at the deadline but reportedly with a high price, the more likely move, if he’s traded, is in the summer).

20. Timberwolves (17-20, LW 21). There are a lot of positives of late in Minnesota — Karl-Anthony Towns has found his stride and is playing at an All-NBA level again in this last few, Derrick Rose’s resurgence is one of the best stories of the season — but the team is still 3-3 in is last six and just does not look like a playoff team in the deep West. Plus, Andrew Wiggins calling out the home fans doesn’t help. There’s a lot of speculation around the league about what moves the Timberwolves make in the offseason — there’s a sense Tom Thibodeau will be out as coach/GM, which may be why Fred Hoiberg doesn’t take the UCLA job — but nobody knows for sure. This team is better off without the disruptive Jimmy Butler around, but it’s not right, either.

Pistons small icon 21. Pistons (16-19, 19). Detroit has lost 5-of-6, but more concerning is who some of those losses are to: Atlanta, Orlando, and Charlotte. The biggest problem is the offense, which is scoring just 103.8 per 100 in its last 10 games, third worst in the NBA in that stretch. While Blake Griffin is doing all he can, this team lacks secondary playmakers or any other kind of consistent scoring options. Things don’t get easier now as Wednesday night in Memphis starts a run of seven straight games against the deeper Western Conference where wins will be harder to come by.

Nets small icon 22. Nets (17-21, LW 22). The Nets are in the playoff picture in the East (the 9 seed, just half a game out of the playoffs) but have come back to earth a little with a couple straight losses on the road following the 9-of-10 win streak. They remain an offensive force that struggles to get stops consistently, which could be an issue as the Nets have a tough stretch of games coming up for the next couple of weeks (6-of-8 on the road starting Friday in Memphis).

Pelicans small icon 23. Pelicans (17-21, LW 23). The Pelicans struggles to close out games are what is keeping them out of the playoffs (and is one of the biggest differences from last season). New Orleans is 5-11 in games within three points in the final three minutes, the same record as league-worst clutch team Charlotte (last season the Pelicans were 23-16 in those three point clutch games). Elfrid Payton’s return should be a boost to the Pelicans, giving them more depth at the guard spots.

Magic small icon 24. Magic (16-20, LW 24). If Orlando is going to stay in playoff contention in the East — they are just half-a-game out of the eight seed as I write this — they need some more road wins in the next couple of weeks. The Magic are a respectable 6-9 away from home this season and play better defense (slowing the game down) for some reason, but Monday’s loss in Charlotte was the first of six in a row on the road. The other thing they could use? Another Evan Fournier game winner.

Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (11-25, LW 25). Don’t look now, but the Hawks have won 5-of-7 with improved play on both ends of the court. The Hawks have done it with offensive balance, plus Trae Young looking more comfortable both knocking know shots (50% from three on 3.6 attempts per game in his last five) plus dishing out more assists and looking more comfortable running the offense. Monday’s loss to the Pacers was the first of 6-of-7 on the road for the Hawks.

Wizards small icon 26. Wizards (14-23, LW 26). John Wall is out for the season having surgery on his heel, pain that can be (at least partially) to blame for his underwhelming start to the season. Now the question is what do the Wizards do next? The smart basketball answer would be to tank for a good pick (the best way for the capped out team to improve for next season) but will that happen with good talent still on the roster? Will the Wizards still be open to trading Markieff Morris, Otto Porter, or maybe even Bradley Beal (probably not Beal). It’s an unpredictable time in our nation’s capital.

Suns small icon 27. Suns (9-29, LW 27). After showing some competitive fire for a stretch (remember the four-game winning streak?) the Suns have dropped 5-of-6, including all three at the start of a seven-game homestand. The Suns’ offense, led by Devin Booker — 26.4 points and 8.2 assists per game, shooting 40.7% from three in the last five — remains respectable, but they lose because they cannot get stops (allowing 117.5 per 100 in the last six, third worst defense in the NBA in that stretch).

Bulls small icon 28. Bulls (10-27, LW 28). Where has Jim Boyle made a difference as coach? Defense. Since he took over the Bulls are actually the seventh ranked defense in the league, giving up 106.4 per 100 (better than the Celtics or Raptors in that stretch). Of course, the offense is scoring less than a point per possession in that time, so the Bulls are not going to win a lot, but there has been improvement.

Knicks small icon 29. Knicks (9-29, LW 29). Everything looks miserable in New York right now, from a rainy New Year’s Eve in Time Square to the Knicks having lost eight in a row while Enes Kanter complains publicly about not starting. There have been some mild bright spots in the play of rookie Kevin Knox and young guard Emmanuel Mudiay, but this is what it’s like to watch a rebuilding team without its best player for a season due to injury. Stay the course, struggle and let the youth learn hard lessons, get a good draft pick and think about next season and beyond.

Cavaliers small icon 30. Cavaliers (8-29, LW 30). They have rolled the dice signing Patrick McCaw away from the Warriors, but because it’s a non-guaranteed contract it’s not that big a gamble. McCaw showed some promise his rookie season as a wing asked to play a role on a title team, but he wanted more run and responsibility and that wasn’t happening in Golden State. So, McCaw risked his career and now is in Cleveland with a lot to prove.

Watch Magic’s Evan Fournier hit buzzer beater vs. Pistons (VIDEO)

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Even when he’s not having a big game, Evan Fournier is still the Orlando Magic’s best option at the end of games.

Fournier took an inbounds pass outside the 3-point arc, dribbled to the free throw line and shot a floating jumper that dropped through the nets as the buzzer sounded on Orlando’s 109-107 win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday.

“Evan wants the ball at the end, he has courage,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “That was not an easy shot, but if he can get a shot like that, you’re comfortable he’s going to make it.”

D.J. Augustin had 26 points and eight assists, and Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon each scored 22 points to help the Magic win their second straight. Fournier finished with 13.

With the clock winding down, Fournier was the easy call for the potential winning shot attempt. He had a 3-pointer to beat Cleveland at the buzzer earlier this season.

“I really embrace those moments,” Fournier said. “It’s everyone’s dream to have one buzzer beater in the NBA so having two is even better.”

Fournier’s winning basket ended a wild finish in which Detroit wiped out an eight-point deficit in the final three minutes only to lose for the 11th time in their last 14 games.

Luke Kennard scored 16 points to lead the Pistons. Reggie Bullock and Blake Griffin had 15 apiece and Andre Drummond had 14 points and 15 rebounds.

Detroit thought it had pushed the game into overtime when Bullock was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 2.5 seconds to go and made all three free throws to tie the score at 107.

However, the Pistons couldn’t come up with a stop when they needed one.

“Games don’t come down to just one play,” Detroit coach Dwane Casey said. “There were way too many possessions before that when we did things that get you beat. We just have to learn to do the simple things.”

Neither team led by more than six points in the second half until Augustin sparked an 8-0 run with back-to-back 3-pointers and fed Jonathan Isaac for a fastbreak layup that gave Orlando a 95-87 lead with 7:07 left in the game.

Later in the quarter, Augustin stole a rebound from Drummond, drove the lane and whipped a wraparound pass to Vucevic for an uncontested layup that made it 104-95 with 3 1/2 minutes to go.

Detroit rallied quickly. A layup by Reggie Jackson cut the deficit to 105-104 with 8.9 seconds remaining.

Orlando’s Terrence Ross got loose for a breakaway dunk with 5.4 seconds to go but Bullock’s free throws tied it.

Fournier took the inbounds pass and immediately drove into the lane, lofting his shot just before the buzzer sound to give Orlando the win.

TIP-INS

Pistons: Detroit came into the game off a season-worst 37-point loss to Indiana. … Detroit is No. 1 in offensive rebounding advantage over opponents with a plus-110 margin coming in. The Pistons added to that, grabbing 17 rebounds to 10 for the Magic. … Griffin took a nasty fall when he slipped on a wet floor while trying to inbound the ball after a turnover. Griffin lay on the floor for 15 seconds before getting up and continuing play.

Magic: PG D.J. Augustin badly sprained his ankle after stepping on Griffin’s foot with 1:44 left in the game, but stayed in the game. … Orlando came in off as season-best 29-point win over Toronto. … F Jonathon Simmons left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. … The Magic outscored the Pistons 22-8 in points in the paint in the first quarter.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING?

Casey was upset enough with Detroit’s performance in a 125-88 loss at Indiana on Friday to apologize to fans for “one of the worst exhibitions we’ve put on the floor.”

Two days later, he downplayed the impact of the 20-minute team meeting he had with players after the game.

“Nothing came out of the meeting that hasn’t been said before,” Casey said before Sunday’s game. “When you walk across the black lines, if you have your hard hat on and your boots tied, that is what this game is about. We haven’t exemplified that enough consistently and until we do, we’re going to be on a roller coaster.”

UP NEXT

Pistons: Continue a four-game road trip Tuesday night at Milwaukee.

Magic: Start a six-game road trip in Charlotte on Monday night.

More AP NBA: http://www.apnews.com/NBA and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kevin Durant’s 49 points leads Warriors comeback to defeat Magic 116-110

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Ever the perfectionist and competitor, Kevin Durant knows he should have scored well more than 50 points if a few more shots had fallen.

“I’m pretty sure all my teammates felt that way,” the typically efficient Golden State star said.

Durant scored a season-high 49 points, giving Golden State the lead on a three-point play with 1:19 left before hitting a 3-pointer with 22 seconds remaining to send the Warriors past the Orlando Magic, 116-110 on Monday night.

“I still missed 17 shots. I ticked off a 50-piece. I felt like I had some shots that I wish I could have made last game and this game,” Durant said.

“I could be in a better groove I feel like. Just playing a lot of minutes and having the ball in your hands, especially with the way the game is, the flow of the game. Obviously if you can score a little bit, you’re going to score some points in this league.”

Durant topped his 44-point performance two nights earlier with another brilliant outing on both ends, even if he didn’t like shooting 16 for 33. Klay Thompson was his scoring sidekick once more as the two-time defending NBA champions played without injured All-Stars Stephen Curry and Draymond Green.

Thompson hit his sixth 3 of the night to tie it with 1:45 left and finished with 29 points.

The past three games, Durant has scored 125 points and Thompson 91.

“It was hard to stop them. That’s why they’re such great players,” Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic said. “They made shot after shot at the end.”

Durant became the seventh player in Warriors history to post consecutive 40-point games – along with Rick Barry, Wilt Chamberlain, Curry, Antawn Jamison, Purvis Short and Thompson, according to Elias.

Vucevic had 30 points, 12 rebounds and six assists for the Magic, who were coming off a victory at the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

Durant also had nine assists, six rebounds, two steals and two blocks, having taken his defense to another level the past week.

He and Thompson have carried the load as the Warriors won a third straight following a rare four-game losing streak.

Golden State closed the third on a 12-2 run to pull within 83-79 heading into the final 12 minutes. Mo Bamba‘s 3 with 10:35 to go gave the Magic an 88-79 lead before Thompson answered from deep the next two possessions.

Quinn Cook, starting in place of Curry, contributed eight points, six rebounds and four assists as Golden State concluded a four-game homestand by beating the Magic for the 11th straight time – the Warriors’ second-longest active streak against an opponent after 16 wins in a row against Phoenix.

The Warriors shot just 4 for 15 from 3-point range in the first half and fell behind 64-47 at the break. They hope two-time MVP Curry will return at some point during their upcoming five-game road trip. Curry missed his 11th straight game with a strained left groin, while Green sat out a sixth in a row and eighth in all with a sprained right toe.

Evan Fournier made four of his first six shots then missed his final eight for Orlando.

 

Evan Fournier drains game-winning three, Magic beat Cavaliers 103-100

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Evan Fournier is a little overpaid and languishes in some anonymity playing in Orlando, but the man is in the league because he has the most valuable NBA skill:

He can flat-out shoot the rock. Despite his stumbles to start the season with his shot, nobody doubts he can knock it down.

The Cavaliers found that out the hard way with the game on the line Monday night, tied 100-100 with 1.8 seconds left.

Another painful loss for the Cavaliers.

To give credit where it’s due, Aaron Gordon‘s was the best Orlando player on the court by far in this game, scoring 23 (on 15 shots), the final one of those being a clutch corner three to make it a one possession game late.