NBA

Can Cavaliers adjust after playing Eastern Conference patsies?

Can Cavaliers adjust after playing Eastern Conference patsies?

For weeks now, the Cleveland Cavaliers have gobbled up the creampuffs of the Eastern Conference. And frankly, none of those teams has prepared the Cavs for what they are going to be facing in the NBA Finals.

The Golden State Warriors are going to be a big upgrade on offense and defense from the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors. And I'm not sure that all that rest the Cleveland players have gotten along the way, after quick series sweeps, will make up for the caliber of competition they have faced.

This is going to be a real chore for them. Can Cleveland win? Of course -- if it finds a way to defend the Warriors without having to remove its best offensive players from the floor. Can the Cavs guard Golden State with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on the floor? Possibly. But the Warrors' ball and player movement is a going to be a real challenge for the slower Cleveland defenders.

Can the Cavs score with Golden State? Yes, I think so -- particularly if they can consistenty get the ball to LeBron James at the low post, where nobody in basketball has had much luck defending him. The Warriors "lineup of death" small-ball group would have some trouble if the Cavs counter with a lineup featuring LeBron at center, surrounded by their outside shooters. Speaking of which, can Channing Frye continue his torrid outside shooting? That's a big thing.

So is Kevin Love's defense. The Warriors will surely attack him in the pick and roll and in isolation. If he can hande his assignments and stay on the floor, he can have a big impact. And who, by the way, is going to guard Klay Thompson?

Which reminds me, can you believe that two kids who grew up in the swanky suburb of Lake Oswego, sons of former NBA players and former teammates in Little League baseball, are squaring off in the NBA Finals?

I'm going to say the Warriors are going to win this thing in seven games. And it should be a classic.

 

Pat Connaughton caught up in Cameo drama

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Pat Connaughton caught up in Cameo drama

Former Trail Blazers guard and current member of the Milwaukee Bucks Pat Connaughton issued an apology on Twitter Sunday after a video message he posted to Cameo, which included anti-police sentiment.

For those who aren't familiar with Cameo, it is an online service that allows fans to purchase personalized video greetings from high-profile personalities, which includes athletes from across all sports, including the NBA.  The personalities charge different rates for their greetings; Connaughton's sells for $75. Athletes are then given a script to read from the customer and that video is sent to the purchaser, but is also viewable on the Cameo website. 

Connaughton recorded the message paid for by a customer named "Team For Blue Line."

His message goes as follows: 

Hey thin blue line, have a great holiday season. We only back you when you come to the Fiserv. We don't take much overall pride in the blue. Remember Brad, yeah, it was us. Have a blessed holiday once again. Sincerely, the team.

The Facebook page 'Support Our Blue' originally posted the Cameo video, which has since been deleted. 

Connaughton issued a public apology on Twitter Sunday in response to the Cameo video.

"I am very sorry for the Cameo video I taped the other day. I have always supported the police 100 percent, I have several relatives who are police officers, and am grateful to all of the officers who protect us everyday. Based off how the app works, the script I read was provided to me by a Cameo customer and I recorded the message without doing my due diligence to find out what it meant. While someone with obvious bad intentions was behind this request, I should have first researched what I was being asked to read. I deeply apologize."

Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry retweeted Connaughton's apology.

When asked about the incident by local media Sunday morning, Lasry said the team was aware of the video and looking into it.

The issue at hand appears to be a running spat between Lasry and the Support the Blue Facebook page after Lasry publicly came out in support of Colin Kaepernick, which Support the Blue perceived as anti-police. 

Connaughton unfortunately got caught up in the feud and has owned up to his involvement. 

The Trail Blazers host the Bucks on January 11th.

Former Blazer Al-Farouq Aminu out indefinitely

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Former Blazer Al-Farouq Aminu out indefinitely

Former Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu will miss considerable time after it was revealed he has a torn meniscus. 

More from Woj: 

In 18 games this season, Aminu is averaging 4.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists in roughly 21 minutes a game. 

 

Blazers finding their footing ahead of extended homestand

Blazers finding their footing ahead of extended homestand

There was a sense of optimism floating out of the Trail Blazers locker room on Wednesday night. Not the defiant and perhaps misplaced optimism of a team on a losing skid saying the right things while playing the wrong way.

This wasn’t hope by default. It was a genuine confidence emanating from a team that maybe -- maybe -- has found its footing, and could be heading in the right direction after drawn out of early season stumbles.

Carmelo Anthony made his home debut in Wednesday’s 136-119 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. All five Blazers starters scored in double figures for just the second time this season, and also the second game in a row. The Blazers blitzed a lesser team from the opening tip and won going away, a rare occurrence in the team’s 7-12 start to the season.

The optimism in the locker room wasn't necessarily new, but for the first time perhaps all season it didn't feel forced.

“I think we’re just realizing winning is not easy,” Damian Lillard said. “Early in the season we came and I think we just kinda expected things to happen. We didn’t have the swagger, and the attitude, and the mentality of a winning team for 48 minutes at least. I think the last few games we’ve had that. We haven’t played the top teams in the league, but it’s the style we’ve been able to play. It’s sustainable and it’s something that can work against every team. I think that’s a great start.”

Portland has won two straight against Chicago (6-13) and Oklahoma City (6-11), both of which are headed for the lottery. But even against weaker competition the Blazers look sharper and Anthony has undeniably been a catalyst. He had 25 points and eight rebounds in the win at Chicago and had 19 points against Oklahoma City.

His presence clearly makes things easier for the rest of the Blazers roster. Hassan Whiteside has more space to maneuver with four shooters in the starting lineup and Lillard and CJ McCollum have another option to shoulder some of the scoring load. The Melo effect has helped the back half of the rotation, too. Kent Bazemore has been recast as a bench spark plug instead of needed secondary scorer, Anfernee Simons has a much more reasonable role as the third option on a second unit with McCollum and Anthony, while Nassir Little’s role as high energy wrecking ball has been reduced from 25 minute-a-night cameo down to ten or 12. Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja, who have both struggled mightily, have been pushed out of the rotation altogether.

Anthony has changed the tenor of the locker room and the feel of the team on the court, and now the Blazers have an opportunity in front of them to scramble back into the playoff picture after their brutal start to the season. Eleven of their next 15 games are at home, including seven home games against teams that are currently under .500 and two meetings with the 8-8 Suns. That stretch starts with Friday's home game against Chicago, which Portland just throttled 117-94 on Monday.

December is a prove-it month for the Blazers. If they are still several games in the red in January, the good vibes that followed Wednesday victory will be long gone. The Blazers have a chance to rescue their season over the next 15 games, and they are finally starting to look like a team that might be able to actually do that.

“Knowing that we’re coming home and that we’re playing better,” Damian Lillard said. “I think it’s on everybody’s mind like okay, it’s a great opportunity for us to kind of get ourselves back into it and take care of our home floor. Even though we haven’t been great at home, at some point it has to turn because our work has continued, we’ve been positive, we continue to believe in ourselves. So, I think we’re starting to turn that corner.”

Morning After: Everything you may have missed from the Blazers loss to the Cavs

Morning After: Everything you may have missed from the Blazers loss to the Cavs

Damian Lillard returned to the lineup to play his first game with Carmelo Anthony, but even the face of the franchise couldn't help stop the Blazers losing streak. 

Hassan Whiteside was ruled out prior to tipoff, and his absence was seen in the box score. Cleveland outrebounded Portland 51-38, with many of those being offensive rebounds leading to second-chance points. 

Jordan Clarkson sparked the Cavs off the bench, scoring a season high-28 points while shooting six for six from beyond the arc. 

On the Blazers side, Lillard scored a team-high 23 points in his return and nearly willed the team to a late comeback, but it wasn't meant to be. 

Portland falls to the Cavs, 110-104, dropping its fourth game in a row. 

QUOTABLES: 

Coach Stotts on where the Blazers stand:

Look at the record. That kind of explains it. 

CJ McCollum on the message to fans, staying the course:

Real fans will still be fans and those that ain't won't. We're not losing on purpose. We'd like to win too. 

Damian Lillard on facing adversity:

You all probably don't want to hear it, but there's such a long way to go... I think our team understands that there are certain things we're not doing well enough to win games. But we really do believe, as a group. that this is going to turn around. 

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Portland needs to stay patient, or rather, stay Melo

Portland needs to stay patient, or rather, stay Melo

Things are rough for the Blazers right now. A team that went to the Western Conference Finals last season and has championship aspirations this season, finds itself in the bottom of the standings. 

At 5-11, the Blazers are nowhere near where they envisioned they would be at his point. Portland was sitting on a fastball, but the NBA gods threw a knee-buckling curve. 

In last night's loss to the Bucks, the Blazers starting five consisted of CJ McCollum, Gary Trent, Jr., Rodney Hood, Carmelo Anthony, and Anthony Tolliver. 

Two of those guys were thought of as fringe rotation players before the season, while another wasn't even on an NBA roster until earlier this week.  Times are tough. 

However, the Blazers need to stay the course.  They need to stay patient. They need to stay Melo. 

Carmelo Anthony has played just two games with the Blazers, but has shown that he can be a reliable playmaker when Portland needs him to be.  In short, he offered a jolt of life to a team that felt like it was about to flatline. 

Against the Bucks, Anthony dropped 18 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. He hit a couple of big shots, and his energy trickled down to the rest of the squad. The injury-riddled Blazers came together and managed to give one of the best teams in the league a run for their money. 

If there were such a thing, this one would be categorized as a "good loss." Beyond the box score, it gave fans hope. This team doesn't intend to go down. But if they do, they're going down swinging. It's just the Blazers' way. 

Portland has a stretch of four games coming up where they play the Cavaliers, Thunder, and two games against the Bulls. All three of those teams sit far below .500 and can offer the Blazers a chance to right the ship. 

Damian Lillard (PROBABLE) will likely make his return on Saturday against the Cavs, and so might Hassan Whiteside. A starting five of Lillard, McCollum. Hood, Anthony, and Whiteside is far different than the team we saw in Milwaukee. For what feels like the first time in a long time, it feels like a lineup you can have confidence in getting the win.

Going 4-0 on this stretch would mean being just two-games below .500 heading into December, a month where you play 14 games, 10 of them at home. 

By the time you hit January, you start realistically looking at the window opening for the return of Jusuf Nurkic. That alone makes the season start to feel a little brighter. 

The point is, the Blazers are not in panic mode, so the fans shouldn't be either. At the beginning of this article, I typed that this team "has championship aspirations." Has, not had. Because they still have confidence they can turn this around. Everyone just needs to stay Melo. 

How could you, Ian????

How could you, Ian????

Ian Karmel was the chosen one of Rip City... or least he was supposed to be. He rocked his Portland Trail Blazers colors at every turn. In a sea of purple and gold, he could easily be spotted wearing this throwback Jerome Kersey jersey. He was the first son of Rip City. A flag bearer for celebrity fans across the country. 

That all changed on Wednesday.

Sure, the dance moves were sweet, but the heartbreak was sour. 

During a timeout of the Lakers game, Karmel, along with three other celebrities we have never heard of, took the court with the Lakers Girls.

 

The sight of Karmel turning on his hometown team was a tough pill to swallow. How could you, Ian? You betrayed your people... or did he?

Karmel took to Twitter after the game to set the record straight.

To be fair, the stunt was all for Karmel's new television show "Game On" featuring James Corden, Keegan-Michael Key, Venus Williams, Rob Gronkowski, and Bobby Lee.

According to CBS, "Game On"  is "Equal parts comedy and game show, the genre-busting GAME ON! pits two teams of three, including captains Williams and Gronkowski with comedians Lee and Karmel and a rotating mix of sports stars, comedians, and celebrities, against one another."

So don't worry fans, it was all just an elaborate stunt. The Karmel flag is firmly planted in the ground of Rip City. 

 

 

Kings lose De'Aaron Fox to ankle sprain, OUT vs. Trail Blazers

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Kings lose De'Aaron Fox to ankle sprain, OUT vs. Trail Blazers

When the Sacramento Kings suit up against the Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday night at Golden 1 Center, they will be without their starting point guard De'Aaron Fox. 

An MRI conducted Monday afternoon confirmed that Fox sustained a left ankle sprain at the end of practice on Monday. According to Jason Jones of The Athletic, it is a Grade 3 sprain.

The Kings announced he will be re-evaluated in 3-4 weeks. 

Entering his third year in the NBA, Fox has accrued averages of 18.2 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists, and 0.8 steals in nine games this season.

The Kings are winners of three of their last four games, and had an offensive rating of 118.4, which led the NBA during that stretch. 

With Fox out of the lineup, the Kings will look to Cory Joseph and Yogi Ferrell to handle the load of ball-handling responsibilities. 

The Kings will also be without second-year forward Marvin Bagley III, who sustained a broken thumb during the Kings’ season opener back on October 23rd. 

How the NBA explains away all of those missed traveling calls

How the NBA explains away all of those missed traveling calls

The NBA has decided it is going to attempt to clarify its traveling rules very soon but the rules haven’t changed – the league is just going to attempt to further explain a rule that seems to be different than what’s called a travel at all other levels of basketball.

At the heart of the matter is what the league calls “the gather” – the time when a player finishes his dribble and begins a drive to the basket. The NBA allows players to gather the ball before its referees begin to count that player’s steps. The result is a situation like this, which appears to everybody who has ever played the game as a flagrant travel – but isn’t by NBA rule.

The league’s long and lean players are taking advantage of this rule, of course. They move so fast that very often humans can’t really ascertain in real time when the “gather” ends and the dribble should begin. Combine that with the league’s desire to keep its game moving and not clutter it with too many whistles and you get some uncalled travels. And then, of course, there’s the James Harden step-back move, which has become controversial because he certainly appears to be traveling before shooting.

My personal definition has always had to do with keeping track of a player’s pivot foot. As you shoot or pass, you’re allowed to lift that foot and as long as it doesn’t hit the ground before you unload the ball. That’s not traveling, at any level of basketball. It’s why young players are taught to jump stop – land on both feet at the same time – so that they can use either foot as their pivot foot.

Beyond that -- in spite of the NBA’s explanation of its “gather” – it’s still a mystery to me in the NBA. It’s so difficult to find that “gather” that I’ve given up. And I’m sticking to the opinion I’ve had since 2009, when I first heard about this gather thing – it’s just something the NBA made up to justify some of its players taking an extra step.

Why is Gregg Popovich escaping criticism for Team USA failure?

Why is Gregg Popovich escaping criticism for Team USA failure?

The U.S. men’s basketball team dropped its second straight game at the FIBA championships and the excuses are flying.

Of course, the No. 1 alibi is that we didn’t send our best players. And that’s true. The best of the NBA would rather wait for a chance at an Olympic medal than waste a summer chasing a championship that didn’t even find its way to network television in this country. And I don’t blame them.

But it’s not as if we didn’t send very good players to China for this tournament. Only Mason Plumlee on this roster was not an NBA starter and there was a projected NBA payroll of $265 million for these guys.

Sorry, but no other team over there could feature talent of that magnitude.

So let me take a different path of trying to explain this problem. For one thing, doesn’t it seem that very few of our international teams have enough outside shooting to take advantage of the international three-point line? For years, other countries have sagged off in some form of zone defense as our teams struggled to make outside shots and couldn’t execute zone-breakers that some high-school teams can handle.

Yes, I think the selection process has been flawed for a long time, still enamored with spectacular dunkers and drivers, rather than pure shooters – even if they aren’t among the league’s high-priced endorsers.

And one other thing, how does Gregg Popovich escape unscathed? Why is there never any criticism of how he handled the team’s preparation or roster? Apparently Pop the Great is above all that.

He certainly couldn’t find many answers with this team, other than using smaller and smaller lineups. I don’t think Team USA was prepared for the situation. And that usually falls on the coach, doesn’t it?