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Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers

PORTLAND — There’s an old adage that the first home game after an extended road trip is one of the hardest games to win in the NBA. While that might often be the case, it luckily didn’t play out that way for the Trail Blazers.

In their return to Portland after a four-game road trip, the Trail Blazers dispatched the Phoenix Suns 118-111 in front of a crowd of 18,604 Tuesday night at the Moda Center.

With the win, the Trail Blazers improve to 23-21 overall and 11-10 at home this season. The win also ends Portland’s three-game losing streak, extends their home winning streak to four games and is their sixth straight win versus the Suns.

While Portland looked like the better team in Tuesday’s contest from the jump, making their first eight shots overall and five of their first seven three-point attempts, the Suns were up for the challenge, shooting 57 percent behind 13 first-quarter points from Devin Booker. Between Booker’s shooting and 10 fastbreak points, the Suns were able to go into the second quarter trailing by just five.

But the Trail Blazers were able to get some separation in the second quarter thanks to seemingly nonstop barrage from three. Portland would outscore Phoenix by 10 in the quarter and shot better than 50 percent from both the field and three in the first half to take a 66-51 lead into the intermission.

And when the Trail Blazers started the second half by scoring the first eight points, which, along with the final six points that they scored in the second quarter, turned into a 14-0 run that gave the home team a 74-51 lead early in the third quarter. That lead would extend to as many as 27 before the Trail Blazers took a 92-72 advantage into the fourth quarter.

“I thought the second quarter we really gave ourselves some cushion, locked in on the defensive end and our ball movement, it continued,” said Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. “Going into the half, you always talk about how big the first five minutes of the third quarter is when you have a team down and I thought this was one of our best coming out of the half and being able to keep a team down, going into the fourth up 20.”

The Suns did what NBA teams often do in the fourth quarter of what looked like a blowout by taking advantage of Terry Stotts’ attempt to rest his starters, but the Trail Blazers were able to hit just enough shots and duck just enough Devin Booker three-pointers to come away with the seven-point victory.

“It’s a shame that the five or six minutes in the fourth quarter kind of put a damper on what was a really good game for us,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “We did a lot of good things. Offensively, we shared the ball, set good screens. Defensively, in the second and third quarter, we were very good. Disappointed I had to put basically the starters back in the game, but they held on to it.”


The Trail Blazers were led by Damian Lillard, who went 11-of-19 from the field and 4-of-8 from three for 31 ppints to go with seven assists, five rebounds and a steal in 36 minutes.

CJ McCollum went 9-of-18 from the field and 6-of-10 from three for 27 points, three rebounds, two assists, and three steals in 36 minutes. Four of Al-Farouq Aminu’s five made shots came from three, with the forward finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes.

Evan Turner added 12 points in 27 minutes and Shabazz Napier came off the bench to finish with 11 points, six assists and three rebounds in 20 minutes.

Suns guard Devin Booker led all scorers with 43 points on 14-of-29 shooting from the field, 5-of-12 shooting from three and 10-of-10 shooting from the free throw line. Troy Daniels came off the bench to score 18, with all of those points come from three.

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In the perfect ironic twist in the narrative of the Orlando Magic’s tragic turn, Marcin Gortat said he wants to come back home.

“I would love to join the team for maybe two or three months, or maybe half a season at least,” Gortat told Josh Robbins, my Orlando Sentinel colleague, last week.

Oh, mercy. Is it too early yet to start drinking if you are a Magic fan?

Gortat’s absence is one of those connect-the-dots reasons the Magic are missing from this year’s playoff conversation, and have been since the 2012 season.

In case you are too squeamish to look, the Magic have 12 victories, second-worst in the NBA, and have lost seven in a row. They have no trade assets of great value, especially with Nikola Vucevic out indefinitely after surgery in his left hand, and are cruising down that potluck lottery road again.

Which takes us back to December 2010. For those in need of a quick history primer, the Magic — and former general manager Otis Smith, in particular — blew up the roster late that month.

It was a multi-layered implosion: Rashard Lewis went to the Washington Wizards for Gilbert Arenas. The Magic also sent Vince Carter, Gortat, Mickael Pietrus, a 2011 first-round pick and cash considerations to the Phoenix Suns in return for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark.

The Magic were in full-on championship mode back then and also cognizant of keeping a certain player named Dwight Howard in town. So they blew up a good team in the hopes of making it a great one.

“We had to do something,” then Magic president and CEO Bob Vander Weide told me at the time.

It was something, all right. Something very bad.

The Magic got a nice run early on and tricked folks like me into thinking this was a cool deal. In retrospect, it was horrible, and the franchise has never recovered.

Turkoglu and Richardson weren’t very good, but the real hot mess was Arenas (aka “Agent Zero”). He showed flashes of his All-Star form, but that was a mirage.

Some folks called Arenas “mercurial.” That was just a nice way of saying he was a train wreck, including a 50-game suspension in March 2010 for waving a gun in front of Wizards teammate Javaris Crittenton. But Smith had a close relationship with Arenas and pushed for the deal because of the bromance.

Ravaged by knee injuries — hey, it would have been nice to kick the tires before making the trade! — Arenas averaged eight points per game with a 40.6 shooting percentage.

The Magic waived Arenas the following December, using the amnesty provision allowing a team a one-time option to waive a player’s remaining contract from the salary cap and luxury tax.

The team still owed Arenas roughly $62 million on the final three years of his contract. Arenas and the Magic agreed to stretch out the payments, and the free money kept coming until 2015.

On the flip-side, Gortat has turned into a hard-nosed grinder at center for Phoenix and now Washington. He is a stat-stuffer both in points and rebounds, averaging as high as 15.4 and 10.4 in those categories.

Had the Magic not had itchy fingers, they could have survived the eventual defection of Howard and plugged Gortat into a lineup with Carter, Lewis, Ryan Anderson, Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick.

That’s a solid playoff team with huge upside, and one that would have been stronger assuming the Magic still get Vucevic in the deal for Howard.

Oh, and coach Stan Van Gundy wouldn’t have been kicked to the curb either in all the dysfunctional chaos.

I know we’re all playing Monday Morning Point Guard here, or however you want to label it. But it remains a devastating twist in the depressing plot lines that have developed for this franchise since that time.

Gortat never wanted to leave. Even if he eventually comes back, it’s like chasing ghosts.

Things have been spooky around here since you left, Mr. Gortat. You’ve been warned.

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The New Orleans Pelicans are signing guard DeAndre Liggins to a 10-day contract, league sources told ESPN.

The Pelicans are using an injury exception, awarded by the NBA, to acquire Liggins.

Liggins flew into Memphis on Tuesday night, and will sign his contract and be available for the Pelicans’ game against Memphis on Wednesday night, league sources said.

Milwaukee waived Liggins on Sunday.

Liggins played 31 games and averaged 15 minutes for the Bucks. In games in which Liggins played 18 minutes or more, Milwaukee was 10-1. Liggins will earn $89,109 on the contract.

Liggins was a Kentucky teammate with two Pelicans, center DeMarcus Cousins and guard Darius Miller.

Liggins, 31, impacted the Bucks with a defensive intensity that often proved disruptive on the floor. New Orleans will be the seventh NBA team for Liggins in his career, including stops with Orlando, Oklahoma City, Miami, Cleveland and Dallas since he was drafted out of Kentucky in 2011.

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Miami Heat

Miami Heat

For all the chatter surrounding the Cavaliers, Celtics, Wizards and Raptors this season, few have mentioned the Heat as possible contenders in the Eastern Conference.

While the Heat may not have a lineup filled with superstars, they earned their fourth straight win Sunday by outlasting the Jazz 103-102 at home, vaulting to fifth in the East.

Miami had six players reach double-figure scoring in the win, led by Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson’s 16 points apiece. Hassan Whiteside and Josh Richardson added 14 points apiece, and Kelly Olynyk chipped in with 12 points.

The Heat (22-17) are void of any real weakness defensively, and have started putting up more explosive offensive numbers. Dragic remains one of the more underrated floor generals in the NBA, and James Johnson, a starter on most teams, came off the bench Sunday to score 13 points with 11 rebounds.

Sensational rookie Donovan Mitchell led Utah with a game-high 27 points, but the rest of the team struggled to convert. Point guard Ricky Rubio scored just four points on 0-for-6 shooting.

The Heat might just fly under the radar all the way to a deep postseason run.

Stud of the Night

Playing without Damian Lillard, a late scratch before Sunday’s clash with a calf injury, Portland found a balanced scoring attack to beat the Spurs 111-110 at home. Maurice Harkless was a huge contributor off the bench, scoring 19 points off 7-of-10 shooting in just 24 minutes of action. Harkless also added five rebounds and two key blocks.

Duds of the Night

Russell Westbrook’s supporting cast: The reigning league MVP recorded his 14th triple-double of the season, scoring 26 points with 11 assists and 10 rebounds. However, the Thunder still lost 114-100 to the lowly Suns. Carmelo Anthony and Paul George shot a combined 11 of 28 from the field, and the bench managed just 21 points.

Speaking of bad bench play:


Lakers forward Brandon Ingram gets it done on both ends of the court:

Ingram scored 20 points to help the Lakers defeat the Hawks.

Cavaliers (26-13) at Timberwolves (25-16) 8:00 p.m. ET — Minnesota, winners in eight of its last 11 games, host the Cavaliers, who have lost four of their last six games. Cleveland has endured a roller-coaster season, but things are starting to fall into place. The young Timberwolves are starting to gel on both ends of the court, making them potential playoff sleepers as they continue to mesh.

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It’s not time for the Los Angeles Clippers to trade star big man DeAndre Jordan…at least not yet.

DeAndre Jordan has been one of the hottest names in the NBA trade rumor mill early on this season. Due to the Los Angeles Clippers’ rough start, his name has come up often in rumors. Despite all the buzz surrounding Jordan, the Clippers should not trade their star center just yet.

It has been yet another rough season for the Clippers from an injury perspective. Blake Griffin once again missed a chunk of games due to an injury, but is back on the court. L.A. has also seen Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic, Danilo Gallinari and Austin Rivers struggle with nagging injuries.

Even with all of the injury woes, the Clippers have won six of their last seven games and are back in playoff contention with a 17-19 record.

They may not have had the start that they were hoping for, but that was to be expected even before the injury bug bit. Chris Paul was traded in the offseason, which was going to take some time to get used to. It seems that the team is finally jelling and ready to play to its full potential.

Jordan has been a big part of the Clippers’ success in recent weeks and has had a solid season overall. He has averaged 11.1 points per game to go along with 15.1 rebounds and over a block per game. His scoring average hasn’t been as high as some would like, but the defensive impact he makes overall is too great to lose.
Why the Clippers shouldn’t trade Jordan

Trading Jordan would impact the Clippers negatively in many areas. Rebounding would take a major dive, while the rim protection would become nearly nonexistent.

Jordan has been one of the league’s elite rim protectors throughout his career, averaging 1.8 blocks per game throughout his 10 seasons in Los Angeles. Even this season, despite the low block average, Jordan has been able to alter shots and bail out the perimeter defenders when their man has gotten past them.

Doc Rivers may not have the strong championship contender from the start he had in years past with Paul, Griffin and Jordan forming a Big Three, but the Clippers are finding their groove. Breaking up the core would immediately ruin any chance at a postseason run down the stretch.

L.A. has put together a very talented roster even with the loss of Paul. It was able to bring in talented rotation players like Lou Williams, Milos Teodosic, Sam Dekker and Gallinari. They may not have “star power” like Paul had, but the team as a whole has the potential to be very deadly in the postseason if they can remain healthy.

If the Clippers were to trade Jordan, it would signal a rebuild in Los Angeles. That is something that Griffin, who signed a massive five-year, $173 million contract in the offseason, might not want to stick around to be a part of. Making Griffin unhappy by trading Jordan isn’t a road that the Clippers want to go down at this point.
What is the alternative?

Quite simply, the Clippers must keep their core intact and ride out the rest of the season. If they are unable to continue playing quality basketball over the next few weeks, perhaps Rivers should explore the trade market for Jordan right before the trade deadline.

Giving up on the season this early would be a big mistake for Los Angeles. They are currently the No. 9 seed in the Western Conference and are just 2.5 games out of fifth place in the standings.

Jordan is a very important piece of the Clippers’ core, both now and for the future. Hanging onto him and seeing what the remainder of the season has in store would be the wise move, even if he does opt out of the final year of his contract to hit unrestricted free agency this summer.

Los Angeles must hold onto Jordan. The rumors may be flying, but the Clippers should not pull the trigger on a trade just yet.v

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Golden State Warriors

Golden State Warriors

The 50-40-90 club is an exclusive club for only the best and well-rounded shooters in NBA history. In our base ten society, these established benchmarks are an extremely arbitrary but fun way to determine who the most efficient scorers are.

The definition is simple: shoot at least 50% from the field, 40% from 3-point range, and 90% from the free throw line, and as long as you meet the minimum number of required shots, you’re in the club. It’s a difficult feat to accomplish because not only must a player be an amazing shooter to hit that rate of 3-pointers and free throws, they must be well-rounded enough as a scorer to be well above average in efficiency to cross the 50% field goal percentage threshold.

In recent years, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry have accomplished it once. Steve Nash accomplished it four times! The only other active player to come close is Jose Calderon, who would’ve passed the thresholds if he had hit two more of his field goal attempts in 2008.

This year, three Warriors are closing in on the benchmarks. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant are three of the best shooters and scorers in the league, and the fact that teammates might achieve this distinction is ridiculous.

Steph Curry is perhaps the most likely to make the 50-40-90 club (again!). He is currently shooting 48.5% from the field, 40.3% from three, and 93.4% from the line. After struggling with his three point shot early in the season, he bumped his three point rate up almost two percentage points in the Warriors’ win against Memphis on December 30th. All he has to do is shoot a little better from the field.

Kevin Durant is almost there as well. He’s shooting 50.2% from the field, 39.5% from three, and 89.1% from the line. While I do predict his field goal percentage to stay above 50%, he’s rarely shot 40% from three and 90% from the line in his career. If the Warriors’ offense returns to its early season levels, he’ll make it.

Klay Thompson is the only Warrior completely safe on 3-point percentage, hitting 45.0% of his threes. But his 48.4% from the field and 88.5% from the line will be tough for him to improve on, considering those are his career highs. Still, a strong finish to the season can easily push him over the edge.

The 50-40-90 mark is probably antiquated, and definitely a little meaningless. But it reveals how historically great Curry, Thompson, and Durant are, and how lucky Warriors fans are to have them all in their primes.

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Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks

Rick Carlisle used words like “engine” and “goose bumps” and he wasn’t talking about J.J. Barea’s 20 points or Dirk Nowitzki fine all-around game or Maxi Kleber’s blocks and energy.

All of that helped contribute to the Mavericks’ surprising 98-93 victory over the Eastern Conference leading Toronto Raptors Tuesday night.

But none of it was what the Mavericks viewed as the two essential keys for the win – or for any other victories they hope to come up with in the future.

Rookie Dennis Smith Jr. came out with the kind of force that Carlisle and Maverick fans should fall in love with – and demand to see on a regular basis.

His fellow starter in the backcourt, Wesley Matthews? All he did was limit Toronto’s high-scoring DeMar DeRozan to eight points and 3-of-16 shooting. What kind of challenge is that?

Consider that DeRozan earlier in the day have been named Eastern Conference player of the week and that he had averaged 31 points over the Raptors’ last five games – all victories.

Against the Mavericks? He never got rolling, and Matthews was the player spending most of the time guarding Toronto’s all-star.

“Wes has an iron will to make it as hard as possible on these great players and it took a lot out of him,” Carlisle said. “He expends so much energy defensively that his shooting was out of rhythm. But he understood the importance of keeping DeRozan at some kind of reasonable number. You don’t beat this team without a guy like Matthews to make it hard on DeRozan.”

And as for Smith? The rookie had missed six games with a hip/groin injury and the Mavericks went 1-5. In the seven games before he went out, they were 4-3. They are 2-2 since he returned to the lineup.

Detect a correlation?

And the job he did at the start of Tuesday’s game set a tone that the Mavericks had no choice but to follow.

“Smith was in a constant attacking mode,” Carlisle said. “He pushed himself to a level tonight that gave our team goose bumps to watch. And it’s hard. It’s so much work and requires so much energy and will. But tonight convinced me that this kid is going to be a great player.

“Those two guys were the engines to the win.”

Smith and Matthews won’t get any respect from fans if all they look at is their statistical line. They combined to shoot 5-of-23 from the field.

But there is far more to this game than putting the ball in the basket.

Matthews in particular has had a hard time getting respect from Maverick fans, judging from the email boxes and online chats that allow fans a chance to vent.

But his shooting numbers (38 percent from 3-point range) are virtually the same as they were in Portland his last few seasons, and he was a fan favorite there. Here? Not so much. Whether it’s the team’s record or his contract or whatever, he understands it.

“It’s their constitutional right to feel however they want to feel about me,” Matthews said. “It’s my constitutional right to really not give a damn. I don’t really care about the negativity. I know I’ve gotten some. But I give my all to this team, to this organization – on the court, off the court, whether my shot is falling or not.”

And Matthews also knows that Smith is a major cornerstone for the future of this franchise. A game like Tuesday showed why. Smith helped control the game with his fearless attacks to the rim.

“He got the wheels going and that’s what he has to do,” Matthews said. “When you have a talent like that, you have to utilize it. There’s no sense in having a Ferrari and driving slow.”

Said Smith: “It’s about being fearless, go in and take the hits. That’s what I’m supposed to do – attack, whether they are there or not. I talked to coach about getting back to doing what I do. And when I’m attacking early it sets everybody else for easy shots. It gets everybody into a rhythm. And I think it makes them play harder.”

Smith also said he had a “perfect” statistical line.

“We won the game,” he said. “I did what he (Carlisle) wants me to do. I got back to it tonight.”

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Welcome to Buzz City Beat, a daily roundup of the best articles from around the internet surrounding the Charlotte Hornets.

Despite dealing with a dislocated finger, Dwight Howard had one of his best games of the season and led his side to victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. In this edition of Buzz City Beat, we look at what the next step is for the Charlotte Hornets, how Kemba Walker continues to excel with a non-contender and the Greensboro Swarm losing to the Lakeland Magic.
What is the Charlotte Hornets’ next step? (

Still, it’s not clear what Plan B in Charlotte is. Unlike fellow 11-win teams like the Kings, Suns, and Lakers, the Hornets don’t have a plethora of promising young players they can focus on developing with things going south.

It’s unclear what the best move is for Charlotte going forward. They will have to choose between either re-tooling or completely rebuilding by tanking. Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that changes are needed as what they are doing now isn’t working. With Rich Cho in the final year of his deal, the Hornets will probably look to re-tool by improving their current squad in an attempt to make a playoff push int he second half of the season.

Although, if they continue to struggle for long enough, tanking might look more appealing and a rebuild may be their only option. If Charlotte is still near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, their best bet is to cut salary and acquire draft picks/young talent. We’ll have to wait and see what the Hornets’ plan of attack is for the remainder of the season because right now, they don’t have a clear Plan B. What do you think the team should do?
Kemba continues to excel in relative obscurity (

Walker isn’t the first, nor the last, legitimate NBA star to languish in anonymity, which comes with the territory when dealing with a sub-.500 team in a market that does not generate national interest on its own. Still, it has to be emphasized, that Walker isn’t the problem in Charlotte, nor is there any real optimism for a future without him should he choose to leave in free agency at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 season.

No matter how bad the Hornets have been over the past few years, Walker has always been a constant positive for the team. Despite all of his individual success, the all-star point guard has yet to win a playoff series in his two trips to the postseason. Kemba’s 3-8 record in only 11 playoff games can largely be attributed to the teams around him rather than his individual play.

If Walker played on a team that was consistently in the playoffs or at least was in a bigger market, he would not only get more recognition but also be one of the more popular players in the league. Whether it be in Charlotte or not, hopefully, Kemba can play on a contender one day. In order to increase their chances of keeping Walker long-term, the Hornets will need to prove that they can build a winning team around him over the next couple years.
Greensboro falls to Lakeland despite 31 points from Goodwin (

The Greensboro Swarm (7-12) and Lakeland Magic (13-5) went back-and-forth but it was the Magic’s 8-0 run to close the game that sealed a, 106-102, Swarm defeat. Lakeland has won seven straight games.

Just when it looked like the Swarm were about to turn their season around, they are only 2-3 in their last five. Greensboro still has three games left before the new year and if they can win all three, they could move into the top-8 in the Eastern Conference. If Archie Goodwin continues to play well, this team could be in line for more wins going forward.

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Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks have made plenty of their fans want to puke this season.

Well, this time one finally did.

A woman attending the Hawks-Heat game at Philips Arena Monday night was caught by cameras throwing up directly behind the Hawks’ bench.

The poor woman appeared ready to lose her dinner before making a feeble last-ditch effort by covering her mouth with a closed fist — but alas, it was to no avail.

In her defense, if you had to watch an entire Hawks game you may get a little queasy too, as Atlanta currently has an NBA-worst 7-23 record.

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TORONTO — As good as the Toronto Raptors are — and make no mistake, this team is very good — it’s performances like Sunday’s against the Sacramento Kings that will always give even the most glass-half-full optimists pause and add more fuel to the naysayers’ ever-burning bonfire.

Toronto looks like everything that should garner more high-profile U.S national attention. This is a team that features two all-stars and, coming into Sunday’s game, was the third best team in the league according to net rating (just behind the likes of championship-favourites Golden State and Houston).

So they’re awesome, right?

Well, when you allow a lottery-bound Kings club to hang 63 points on you while shooting 61.9 per cent from the field at halftime it’s hard to really justify that statement with any sort of emphatic fervour.

Despite those alarming numbers, the Raptors did get their act together in the third quarter and clamped down on the Kings, holding them to 14 points in the frame, riding the momentum of a 12-4 run to end the third to a convincing 108-93 victory.

“We picked it up aggressively — very aggressively,” said DeMar DeRozan, who finished with a game-high 21 points, of the Raptors’ second-half turnaround. “Especially the bench. I think I was in there with a couple of guys off the bench and they came in with high energy, got their hands on the basketball, got out in transition.”

The second unit was indeed key on Sunday for Toronto’s fortunes as the combination of Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet helped helped the Raptors hold Sacramento to just 30.8 per cent shooting in the entire second half.

“I just think we got more locked into the game plan, understanding what they were trying to do,” Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry said. “We just did a better job of being focused on what we needed to do, changed a few things at the half and fixed the coverages a little.”