Blazers upset bid unravels in the fourth quarter

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Blazers upset bid unravels in the fourth quarter

The Blazers held tough through three quarters with the defending Eastern Conference champion, but it all unraveled in the fourth. The score was tied 91-91 with 11:22 remaining before the Cavs went on a 19-3 run to blow the doors open. Coach Stotts waved the white flag, subbing in the end of his bench with 5:49 remaining and the Blazers looking at an 18-point deficit. The return of Damian Lillard wasn't enough to grab a victory, but the Blazers still played one of their better games of the season (if only for three quarters). 

Final Score: Cavaliers 127 – Blazers 110

Trail Blazers know their year will be defined by the postseason (Part 1 of 3)

Trail Blazers know their year will be defined by the postseason (Part 1 of 3)

This is the first of a three part All-Star Break feature series. Check back Tuesday and Wednesday for parts two and three…

Dikembe Mutombo’s celebration on the floor of the Seattle Center Coliseum remains the iconic image from one of the NBA’s biggest upsets.

After pulling off a stunning first round victory over top-seeded Seattle, the Denver Nuggets center lay on his back underneath the basket, clutching the ball over his head and screaming.

Terry Stotts, who an assistant on that Seattle team, still doesn’t like revisiting that debacle, or the image of an elated Mutombo rolling on his back.

“Look, I’m still upset that we lost to Denver in 1994,” Stotts freely admits two decades later.

The present day Portland Trail Blazers understand their coach’s preference. Fourteen months ago, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and the New Orleans Pelicans emphatically ushered the Blazers out of the playoffs. The Blazers don’t want to revisit that either.

It’s not that they’re refusing to face a painful memory of postseason failure. It’s more that they’ve moved on.

“We haven’t really discussed anything (playoffs related) in detail since preseason,” CJ McCollum says.

The Blazers know their recent playoff history, which includes 10 straight playoff losses while getting swept out of consecutive postseasons. They certainly haven’t forgotten the sweep at the hands of the Pelicans last April, but like Stotts and the '94 playoffs, the New Orleans series isn’t a topic of conversation amongst the Blazers.

“It does nothing for us to just hold on to it like, ‘Oh we’re so motivated,’” Damian Lillard says. “You come back, have a good season and when the postseason comes then you have a better performance. It’s that simple.”

There is no redemption narrative fueling this Blazers team internally, but there is a quiet acceptance that this team and this season will be defined by what happens in the playoffs. No amount of regular season bifurcating would calm Rip City’s collective angst like postseason success.

“We’re at the level where most likely there’s a good chance (our season) will (be defined by the playoffs),” Stotts says. “Like a lot of teams, when you’re in the playoffs every year, then it ends up being defined by the playoffs.”

The Sonics loss in 1994 had all the makings of a legacy defining defeat. Seattle recovered to make the Finals two seasons later, and quickly a 67-win team losing to a No. 8 seed became a footnote and not a headline. There is no greater remedy for postseason agony than a deep playoff run.

The Blazers find themselves at a similar crossroads to that 1994 Sonics squad. Should the team suffer another early playoff exit this spring, there could be an organization wide shake up this offseason. This iteration of the Blazers is on the verge of being remembered more for what it didn’t accomplish than what it did.

It’s a reality many of the players accept even if they don’t agree. Whatever happens in the postseason will define this group good or bad. A potential 50 win season, or another division title and a handful of other individual accolades will quickly get lost if the Blazers find themselves at home once the second round of the playoffs begin.

“Naturally,” Evan Turner says. “This business is what have you done for me lately.”

Is Zach Collins in a sophomore slump?

Is Zach Collins in a sophomore slump?

Much like the Portland Trail Blazers, Zach Collins started the year incredibly hot. As the season got underway in October, the young forward from Gonzaga appeared ready to fill the shoes left by Ed Davis in his second year in the league.

But it feels like Collins has taken a step back since then, and he’s seen his playing time get a little spotty over the past few months. Some of his numbers are down, particularly when it comes to 3-point shooting and plus/minus.

So what’s really happening here? Is Collins experiencing a swoon? The answer lies with a couple key indicators, the first being 3-point shooting.

Compared to the beginning of the season, Collins has struggled from the 3-point line as of late. However, there isn't a real difference in how teams are closing out on him from the arc. He's continued to get shots up from deep, but he's lost some confidence.

From a development standpoint, this isn't a big deal. This is only his second year in the league, and the first where Collins has been expected to be a good 3-point shooter. It's reasonable to think that pressure wore on him a bit.

Still, Collins’ offensive impact hasn’t been as great when he’s not shooting the ball well. In fact, there’s a direct correlation on a monthly basis between his offensive rating and 3-point percentage.

The biggest thing that’s made Collins seem worse this season is his shift in blocks per 100 possessions. As the season started, he felt like a black hole on defense, swatting away more than four shots per 100 possessions.

But that’s trickled down to between 1.5-2 blocks per 100 possessions in recent months, which is a real problem considering that Collins still fouls a considerable amount at 6.6 per 100.

The net result is that Collins appears to be struggling on defense because he’s racking up fouls at the same rate but not coming away with blocks to show for it.

In recent months teams have neutralized Zach a couple different ways. Teams are still putting him in the pick-and-roll, but dribblers are now staying away from him or passing around him.

They've also been marooning him on the 3-point line on defense, stuck to guard smaller 4s and 5s who might shoot from deep. That's made it harder for Collins to help down low, cutting into his chances to rack up blocks.

But does this mean Collins is in a sophomore slump? It's easy to get caught up in his varied playing time and his fouling out, but I'm not so sure the numbers suggest that's the case. 

Collins' percentages at protecting the rim are still very good. He's not seen a dip in defensive field goal percentage inside of six feet despite the reduction in blocks. He’s also a positive defensive box plus/minus player. The reality is that teams got a deeper scouting report on Collins, and started to plan for him as a defender.

Collins has got a lot of good things going for him. He's improved his 3-point average, and he's stopped shooting midrange jumpers. For example, last season Collins shot a whopping 30 percent of his field goals from 16 feet to the 3-point line. This year that number's dwindled to just six percent.

You might call it a sophomore slump, but the reality is that the perception and expectations set for Collins in October may be skewing our view of  how “poorly” he's played recently. He’s a second year big man, and expectations need to be tempered accordingly. I think Collins will get back on track, and I expect to see more progress from him next year.

Rapid Reaction: Highlights from Damian Lillard's 4th All-Star Game

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USATI

Rapid Reaction: Highlights from Damian Lillard's 4th All-Star Game

It was classic exhibition All-Star Game material in Charlotte tonight (read: no defense, lots of threes and some jaw dropping plays) as Team LeBron took on Team Giannis.

Damian Lillard, playing in his fourth All-Star Game, was a member of Team LeBron and saw early action with six minutes in the first quarter. He hit a three pointer and snagged a board and a single assist.

Lillard got some more run in the second quarter and nailed another pair of three pointers include a sweet fadeaway from the left wing and the shot below. 

Lillard saved his best for the third quarter where he hit three DEEP three pointers to help Team LeBron rally back to tie the game. 

In the fourth quarter, Lillard got some key minutes late as Team LeBron pulled away, although he didn't have any standout moments in the quarter. Lillard finished the game with 18 points on 6 of 17 shooting (all from three), with six rebounds and five assists. He also had the best +/- of anyone on Team LeBron at +20 and got the walk-off interview with TNT. 

The game was what it was, but it is the weekend experience that the players enjoy. Check out some of the top moments from Damian's All-Star Weekend as he documented the trip on Twitter.

This was Lillard's 4th All-Star Game appearance. Last year in 2018, he logged just under 21 minutes while scoring a Team Steph high of 21pts (tied with DeMar DeRozan) on 9/14 shooting plus three rebounds and two assists. 

In 2015, Lillard scored 11 points in just under 17 minutes of time for the West and in his first All-Star game in 2014 Lillard scored nine points in just under nine minutes of playing time. 

In non-Blazer news, this might have been the play of the night:

Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum & Terry Stotts weigh in on the impressive James Harden streak

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USATI

Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum & Terry Stotts weigh in on the impressive James Harden streak

It was probably the biggest story of the first half of the NBA season – Houston’s James Harden and his streak of five straight 40-point games and then, his ongoing run of 31 straight 30-point games.

And the most interesting facet of that 40-point streak was that almost none of his baskets came after an assist from a teammate.

The man was playing one-on-one against the whole league for weeks and making it work:

A while back, we had the opportunity after a practice to talk with Portland Coach Terry Stotts and the Trail Blazers’ two highest scorers, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, about Harden’s streak and the idea of basically doing it with one-on-one play -- virtually monopolizing the ball.

Of course, the Rockets were without injured starters Chris Paul and Clint Capela much of that time, too. And there was the feeling by many that Harden’s heroics were the only way Houston could win.

“It’s an amazing stat,” Stotts said. “To have that many points unassisted is obviously an indication of how they’re playing and how they need to play at this point. And it’s a case of good a player he is and how good of a one-on-one player he is.”

Lillard is a big scorer and appreciates the difficulty of scoring at that level for an extended period of time.

“You’ve got to respect it for what he is doing,” Lillard said. “It takes a great player to accomplish what he is doing. To have 20 points in an NBA game is an accomplishment… but to average over 40 or 30, that is crazy.”

McCollum is a terrific one-on-one player himself and knows how hard it is to carry the burden that Harden has carried.

“That’s a skill,” McCollum said. “That’s a skill to be able to create quality shots, create space. And a unique skill to do it essentially every possession.

“He gets to that spot before anybody else.  You’ve got to be in elite shape to dribble the ball as much as he does, come off screens, play at the top of the lane and still get step-backs. He’s special.”

But what about his teammates? A lot of them are relegated to standing around, watching him go one-on-one.

“Depends on the position you play,” McCollum said with a smile. “It would be tough. You have to be able to shoot, obviously. Be able to go a lot of possessions without touching the ball, because he handles the ball and facilitates – decides who scores and when they score.”

But, says McCollum, there’s another side to the coin.

“You also get one-on-one coverage, you have a lot of opportunities to attack angles and gaps because of the amount of attention he draws. He attracts double-teams and triple-teams. Everybody is always aware of where he’s at on the court.
“There’s positives and negatives to playing with everybody but with anybody, but as an NBA player you can figure it out – figure out how to be productive.”

Stotts approached the question of Harden’s teammates from a coach’s point of view.

“The biggest thing is everybody accepts their role and understands that with Chris Paul out and Capela out, that’s what they have to do to win games,” Stotts said.  “I’m sure they’re fine with it.”

Lillard, a player who takes seriously his role with the Trail Blazers as the one responsible for getting his teammates going, had some concern about Houston’s “other” players.

“The other side of it is the people who are playing with him,” Lillard said. “Those are the people you have to ask. When it’s unassisted, the ball is in his hands all the time. NBA players, you know they want to shoot, they want to have the ball and they want to have a chance. 

“You have to respect what’s he’s doing. You can’t take nothing away from him – especially if his teammates are OK with it and they’re winning games.”

A question that begged to be asked is if there are any other NBA players – given the green light to continually go one-on-one for entire games – who could duplicate Harden’s feats.

“Kevin Durant – for sure,” Lillard said. “If KD played that exact same way I think he’d do the exact same thing.”

McCollum chuckled when asked the question.

“Like that?” he asked. “I think I can score a lot but 50 or 60? You’ve got to be elite. There are guys out there who could be productive, but I don’t know if they could be as good as James Harden. He’s very elite in his own right.

“I think there’s some guys out there who can score a lot of points in that situation.”

What about Durant?

“He could do that on any team …  if he wanted to.” McCollum said.

Stotts took his time with his answer about other players being able to hamdle that load Harden is carrying.

“Umm, there are some great players,” he said. “I’d say probably. I’m not going to name names but there are players out there – I don’t know if they’d be that efficient –- but there are players, maybe a handful of players, who’d like to try to see if they could.”

I think we all could agree with that. How about Durant’s chances?

“Durant?” Stotts said. “I think it would have to be a perimeter player. Durant, Steph -- if he got on a roll -- the thing is to be able to do it every night.

“LeBron is probably in that category. Probably some other guys as well. The thing about what James (Harden) is doing is that he’s doing it every night. It’s not a one-night phenomenon.”

And, as far as the 30-point streak is concerned, it’s still climbing.

Damian Lillard does it all at 2019 NBA All-Star Game festivities

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USA Today Images

Damian Lillard does it all at 2019 NBA All-Star Game festivities

The NBA All-Star game isn't until Sunday evening, but Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard has already had quite the schedule in Charlotte. 

From a friendly half court shooting contest with NBA All-Star Captain LeBron James to spending time with Special Olympics athletes at the NBA Cares Special Olympics United Basketball Game, let's take a look at what your Blazers All-Star has been up to. 

Damian Lillard began All-Star Weekend with a run in with the one and only, J.Cole, who will headline the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday. Dame D.O.L.L.A. has been a fan of the rapper since 2008, and has even hinted at a possible collaboration with him in the future. Lillard also served on a panel at the annual Technology Summit to share his perspective on the tech industry and pop culture. 

Up next on the Blazers All-Star's agenda: Lots and lots of one-on-one time with the media. Lillard took the podium on Saturday to talk about why he thinks Portland would be the perfect city for a future All-Star Game, how he's able to have an impact on others through social media and what players' characteristics he wouldn't mind incorporating into his own game. He also chatted with Raptors forward Danny Green, who called dibs on the Portland guard's next album. 

Lillard was chosen as a coach for the 8th Annual NBA Cares Special Olympics United Basketball Game, where he had the opportunity to spend time with 12 Special Olympics athletes from around the world. He shared some photos from the game that kicked off a week of All-Star festivities. 

Team LeBron spent some time practicing ahead of the 2019 NBA All-Star Game. In a post on Twitter, the NBA's official account caught an exchange between Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Lillard. The two players traded half court baskets and man, wouldn't it be amazing to see a LeBron-Lillard shootout in real life. 

Lillard competed in the MTN Dew Three-Point Contest and despite missing many of his shots early on, he came in clutch in his final two racks and hit a buzzer-beater to reach 17 points. He did not advance to the next round. 

Next up on Damian Lillard's list: Taking the floor for #TeamLeBron in the NBA All-Star Game, and hopefully exchanging jersey's with former teammate, LaMarcus Aldridge. Tip off for the 2019 NBA All-Star Game is set for 5:00 p.m. 

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the NBA 3-Point Contest

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USA Today Images

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the NBA 3-Point Contest

Damian Lillard and Seth Curry represented Portland in the NBA 3-Point Contest during All-Star Weekend on Saturday.

While Seth was focused on beating the "other Curry" from behind the arc in his hometown of Charlotte, Lillard, who competed in the competition in 2014, just wanted to beat his Trail Blazers teammate. 

Seth Curry made his 3-Point Contest debut, coming into the competition shooting 46.5 percent from the arc in Portland. Lillard was named an All-Star for the fourth time and is knocking down 2.8 three-pointers per game and 37.1 percent from downtown.

Here's a few quick takeaways from the 3-Point Contest:

Seth vs. Steph didn't exactly live up to the hype: Heading into All-Star Weekend, the talk around the NBA was a Curry brothers shootout. While Seth came in with the league's highest 3-point percentage and even got an endorsement from father Dell Curry in advance of the competition, little bro just couldn't hang in the 3-Point Contest. Seth got going late, knocking down nearly all of the balls in his fifth rack, but only scored 16 points in the first round and did not advance. Meanwhile, Steph Curry cleared the money ball rack to close for 27 points in the first round, the most of all scorers, and advanced to the second round. He ended up making it to the finals, but lost to Nets small forward Joe Harris. 

Prior to the game, Steph told the media that the two brothers had a friendly wager: whoever loses has to buy the Curry family tickets whenever the two play against each other for the rest of their career. Darren Rovell of The Action Network says it could cost Seth as much as $195,000. Bad news for Seth: it's time to pay up. 

Dame can't get out of the first round: Lillard's second attempt at the 3-Point Contest probably didn't go as planned. The Blazers All-Star, who previously scored 18 points in the 3-point shootout in 2014, scored one basket less in his second appearance. He finished with 17 points, one of which was an insane buzzer beater (but did you really expect anything less?) and failed to advance to the second round. 

NBCS Northwest Blazers reporter Jamie Hudson made a good point though: The racks needed to be back a little further. 

Joe Harris won it all: Wait--who? My favorite moment of the 3-Point Contest was NBA Twitter asking who Joe Harris was. Harris, a guard for the Brooklyn Nets, dominated the 3-Point challenge on Saturday night, and now everyone knows who he is. In the first round, he scored 25 points, making his last eight shots and making all five of his money rack shots. In the championship round, he faced off against Curry and upped his scored to 26 with a perfect money ball rack to close out the round. 

Keeping up with the Currys: An All-Star affair

Keeping up with the Currys: An All-Star affair

The royal family is taking over 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend.

Seth Curry and his brother Stephen Curry will be making a return to their hometown of Charlotte this weekend to participate in the NBA 3-Point Contest, making it a celebration of sorts for the Curry family.

Seth, who currently leads the NBA in 3-point percentage, will make his first appearance to the marquee event, while Stephen, a two-time MVP and three-time NBA champion, was named an All-Star this season for the sixth-consecutive year. Their father, Dell Curry, currently serves as an analyst for the Hornets broadcast team and is a two-time 3-point shooting contest participant himself.

While all eyes will be on the Curry brothers this weekend, NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh took notice of a more fascinating trend occurring right now: A wave of second-generation NBA players sweeping the league.

This season alone, there are 27 sons of NBA players, which include Steph and Seth, Klay Thompson, Devin Booker, Andrew Wiggins, among others. This familial phenomenon may seem obvious, but Haberstroh says the latest boom is extraordinary.

Read the latest story from Habertstroh here….

Three-point shootout odds -- Who are you putting your money on?

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NBC Sports Northwest

Three-point shootout odds -- Who are you putting your money on?

The NBA Three-Point Contest format looks a little different this year:

Each player will have 60 seconds to shoot a total of 25 balls (five racks of five balls). Four of the racks have four balls worth one point and the fifth ball is the “money ball” worth two points. The fifth and final rack will be entirely money balls.

The three-best scores from Round 1 will make it to the Championship Round and shoot in order from the lowest score to the highest score of Round 1.

According to FanDuel, these are the money-line odds to win the contest:

-Warriors PG Stephen Curry (+300)

-Suns SG Devin Booker (+400)

-Nets SG/SF Joe Harris (+450)

-Kings SG Buddy Hield (+500)

-Blazers PG/SG Seth Curry (+600)

-Blazers PG Damian Lillard (+800)

Obviously, the Currys battling it out is a fun storyline in itself, but then you add in two Blazers competing against each other, and it makes for a very entertaining three-point contest.  

So, if you’re a Blazers fan and looking to get a bigger return on your investment, go with the two underdogs of Seth and Lillard.

And keep in mind; it was in 2014 that Lillard participated in two NBA All-Star Saturday Night events.

Lillard teamed with Utah's Trey Burke to win the Skills Contest.

He then scored 18 points in the first round of the Three-Point Contest, but was unable to make the Finals. Marco Belinelli scored 19 to advance, and eventually won the shootout over Bradley Beal.

Since the Trail Blazers All-Star point guard already has a Three-Point Contest under his belt and has a little extra motivation going up against the Curry brothers, I think everyone might want to watch out for the underdog, Dame Dolla.

“I’m shooting against the Currys in they hometown... I’m going to win, I’m in there to win,” Lillard said last week after Blazers practice.

To be honest, Lillard should ask the All-Star committee if he can move the ball racks back another three feet or so and then we all know “Logo Lillard” is winning the contest for sure.

Either way, my money is on Lillard and Seth making it to the Championship Round, because that’s a whole lot of money and a whole lot of Rip City – there’s nothing better than that.  

Blazers Outsiders: Kanter will fit in just fine

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USA TODAY

Blazers Outsiders: Kanter will fit in just fine

The Blazers made a splash on the waiver market on Wednesday when they signed former New York Knicks center Enes Kanter to fill the team's final open roster spot. 

Kanter has long been on the Blazers radar, dating back to the summer on 2015 when he signed a four-year, $70 million offer sheet with Portland. Kanter was a restricted free agent at the time and Oklahoma City would match the offer to retain his services. Flash forward to 2019 and Neil Olshey finally got his guy. 

Kanter was waived by the Knicks to help them clear cap space in preparation for a big summer free agent season. Portland was quick to pounce.

Where will Kanter fit in the rotation? Well, the answer is clear: He's the backup center. Coach Stotts has already stated this. Kanter playing that role will have a trickle down to the rest of the rotation. Kanter holds career averages of 11.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, and is having a solid season this year averaging 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds in just 25.6 minutes per game. In fact, his per 36 numbers are nearly identical to Portland's star center Jusuf Nurkic.

Nurkic per 36: 19.8 points, 13.4 rebound, 4.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 2.0 blocks

Kanter per 36: 19.6 point, 14.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.5 blocks

Nurkic has the slight edge in defensive stats, but otherwise they are right on par. The point is the Blazers just got a starting caliber center for pocket change. 

So how does Kanter impact the rotation? Jusuf Nurkic is averaging 27.3 minutes per game, leaving 20.7 minutes at the backup center spot. Coach Stotts has already said Kanter will be the backup center, meaning right off the bat Meyers Leonard and his 14.5 minutes per game are almost certainly gone. This is unfortunate Leonard. He has been having a solid year, but is now the third center on the depth chart. He could still see spot minutes if the Blazers need to stretch the floor, but he will most likely see the DNPs pile up. 

Zach Collins will also probably see his minutes decline. Collins has been playing 18.2 minutes per game, but has been playing both the power forward and center position. Most of his minutes will probably come at the four moving forward, which could be interesting. Stotts has shown he likes to go small and play Jake Layman at the four when Collins is at the five, but Kanter throws a wrench in that. You could see a pairing of both Layman and Kanter or Collins and Kanter, likely meaning Collins could see his minutes cut in half. 

Now, let's say Stotts decides to play Kanter at center and Collins at power forward. This means your likely lineup for the bench unit would be Evan Turner, Rodney Hood, Layman, Collins, and Kanter. This means Seth Curry could be the odd man out. He has already seen his minutes take a hit with Hood's acquisition, and Kanter could impact them even more. Of course, we all know Stotts loves his matchups, so there will be moments we see Curry, but like Leonard, it could be more situational.

Regardless of where Kanter gets his minutes from, he adds a few new wrinkles to the lineup that Stotts can play with. First of all, unlike Collins and Leonard, Kanter's offensive skill set is very similar to Nurkic's. This means Kanter can slide in with the starters if Nurkic is in foul trouble, or roll with the second unit, and the Blazers don't have to change up their offensive approach. This is a big plus for the team, especially when they get in a flow during the game. No need to reset and gear around a big that likes to stay above the arc. Instead, you can keep feeding the paint and rolling like one big unit.

Second, Kanter could also slide in at power forward if needed. Imagine if Stotts rolled out a lineup with Nurkic, Kanter, and slid Al-Farouq Aminu to small forward. Those three combine to average 28.6 rebounds per game, with 8.8 of those being offensive rebounds. To put that in perspective, as a team the Bulls and Grizzlies both average 8.2 offensive rebounds per game. With Nurkic and Kanter, the Blazers are also now the only team in the NBA with two players averaging 10 or more rebounds per game. Think about that for a second. Stotts could roll out a lineup that would just do damage on the glass.

Hood and Kanter may not be the big names Blazers fans wanted at the deadline, but a closer look shows they are great additions. Stotts now has a lot of options to run with, and for a coach that loves playing the matchup-vs-matchup chess game, it's a good place to be.

Where Kanter takes a majority of his minutes from is still up for debate, but we will get our first look when the  Blazers return to action on February 21st against the Brooklyn Nets.