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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.