Shootaround (Dec. 18): Damian Lillard calls out Blazers after loss to Warriors
Lillard puts Trail Blazers on blast after loss to Warriors | Are the Wizards finally turning the corner? | Another twist on Cavaliers’ rest theory | Spurs need to win one for Timmy
No. 1: Lillard puts Trail Blazers on blast after loss to Warriors — Damian Lillard’s competitive edge is evident in the way he approaches and plays the game. It’s also reflected in his words, which were delivered with specific precision for his Portland Trail Blazers teammates after an embarrassing loss to his hometown team Saturday. The Golden State Warriors demolished the Trail Blazers and Lillard let it be known that he’s not having it. Chris Haynes of ESPN.com explains:
At the conclusion of a 45-point thumping at the hands of the Golden State Warriors on Saturday evening, a livid Portland Trail Blazers All-Star addressed his teammates in the locker room.
Damian Lillard didn’t mince words in criticizing his team, telling ESPN the Blazers’ performance was “ridiculous” and that the team’s recent slide “is on us,” not the coaches.
“Man, it’s OK to turn the ball over, it’s OK to make mistakes, but we have to play with some damn heart and compete out there,” he said of his teammates.
The Warriors secured a 135-90 win at Oracle Arena and shot 59 percent in the process. It was the largest margin of victory in the NBA this season, and it was the Warriors’ largest ever over the Trail Blazers.
Portland has lost six of its past seven contests and is dead last in defensive efficiency (109.6).
The visiting locker room was virtually silent.
Players were speechless. Lillard got dressed at his locker stall and routinely shook his head in disappointment. At 13-16, the Trail Blazers are only a game up on the Denver Nuggets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings.
Golden State executed an offensive clinic. Backdoor cuts went uncovered by Portland, several lob dunks went uncontested and a multitude of mental blunders led to wide-open 3-pointers for the Warriors.
Several Trail Blazers players expressed afterward that they felt like they had disrespected the game.
“This is unacceptable, no matter who you’re playing against, champions or not,” C.J. McCollum told ESPN. “You have to be ready to play and perform and compete, and I don’t think we did any of those things today.”
Reserve Allen Crabbe offered his take.
“Honestly, there are really no words for it,” Crabbe said to ESPN. “Our play is really self-explanatory right now. We’ve got to get it together. It was a 40-point loss. That’s embarrassing right there.”
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No. 2: Are the Wizards finally turning the corner? — It’s taken a little longer than most in Washington anticipated, but the Wizards are finally showing some signs of the team people thought they had the potential to be. John Wall and Bradley Beal are leading the charge for Scott Brooks, in his first season coaching the Wizards. And, as Candace Buckner of the Washington Post points out, it’s all seems to be coming together now for the Wizards (who host the Los Angeles Clippers today):
The flashes have flickered from Verizon Center before. The nights when the Washington Wizards turn a season of groans into sighs of relief, and even thoughts of what could be: The first win over Atlanta (Nov. 4), the beatdown against Boston (Nov. 9), the slump buster thanks to New York (Nov. 17). But these all turned out to be passing moments.
Every time the Wizards have led fans to believe that they’ve found a rhythm to the season, the flashes inevitably fade away. A spark of life — then it’s gone.
Maybe that’s why after the 122-108 win over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night, the Wizards’ fourth win in five games, forward Markieff Morris hesitated. Asked if he felt the Wizards (11-14) had turned the proverbial corner, Morris initially responded with a shrug. Then, even he couldn’t ignore the radiant light of the Wizards’ progress.
“You can call it what you want,” Morris said, but soon added: “You can call it that — we’re turning the corner, yeah.”
The record still sits below the .500 mark. The defense still surrenders 100-plus to opponents. The starters still perform a dead lift every night, carrying most of the weight because the bench simply can not. And yet, the Wizards are playing their best basketball of the early season. While the 109-106 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday showed their balance — six Wizards scoring in double figures even with Morris, a regular starter, sidelined — Friday night should be considered Washington’s best offensive display in 25 games.
Coach Scott Brooks might want to tape the box score to his refrigerator. Not only did his Wizards score a season-high 122 points, they did so against one of the stingiest defensive teams in the NBA. Before Friday night, the Pistons allowed the second-fewest points per game at 95.7 — yet the Wizards had reached that mark by the end of the third quarter. Also, Brooks’s back court once again realized its vast potential by combining for 54 points on 60 percent shooting from the floor and 50 percent from the three-point arc.
“I think we’re getting into a nice little rhythm that we’re understanding what we want to do as a basketball team on both ends,” Brooks said. “We’re still not where we need to be but I see some progress, I see some belief in each other and that’s what it’s about.”
While John Wall and Bradley Beal held a master class in shooting for an announced crowd of 15,573, their teammates didn’t simply stand around and watch in awe. Throughout the roster, players filled their roles.
Wall and Beal would not have gotten so many clean looks without center Marcin Gortat, the NBA leader in ‘screen assists.’
“He’s turning into our best screener,” Brooks raved.
As Morris was limited with early foul trouble, Kelly Oubre Jr. played starter’s minutes (33:42) and contributed seven points and six rebounds.
“He’s growing up in front of our eyes,” Brooks proclaimed.
Also, Otto Porter Jr., who quietly plays as the measuring stick for Wizards’ success, knocked down three of four shots from the arc and added eight rebounds to go with 15 points.
These are the performances that have led to four straight home wins — and possibly, carried the team out of its lowest funk.
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No. 3: Another twist on Cavaliers’ rest theory — Tyronn Lue had his biggest stars back in uniform when the Cleveland Cavaliers hosted the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday night, putting to rest (so to speak) a controversial stretch that is sure to come up again this season. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will all be subject to Lue’s season-long maintenance plan at some point again this season, whether they like it or not. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com provides some detail:
For as tired of a story as that is (pun intended), it will never quite go away when it comes to this team, this season. Last night, it was back because Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love were back for Cleveland’s 119-108 win over the Lakers.
And the story’s going to come back because, well, Tyronn Lue said he was going to give Irving extended rest again this season.
Surely James and Love will sit again too when they’re not hurt. But the focus now is on Irving, who is the youngest of the bunch at 24 and was essentially given a full week off because his legs were heavy last week.
By the way, Lakers coach Luke Walton said 20-year-old D’Angelo Russell, from Ohio State, asked to sit out of last night’s game to rest his knee.
Here’s the thing when it comes to being “soft.” It’s not Irving’s call (or James or Love). Irving tried to buck Lue last week off his decision.
“Well, our biggest thing is trying to keep Kyrie healthy,” Lue said. “It’s gonna be times where he’s going to be mad at me or mad at the training staff, that’s part of it. The biggest thing is we’re trying to prepare ourselves for the playoffs and having healthy legs and fresh legs and being healthy going into the playoffs. So he can get mad at times, because you’re young and you want to play.
“You’ve got to understand the task at hand and what we’re focused on and what our mission is. He understands that now and we just gotta keep moving forward.”
Irving scored 21 points and dished out 12 assists Saturday night, which tied a career high. In his previous game, seven days prior against Charlotte, he failed to score 20 for the first time in 13 games. He told the coaches just as that game started that he didn’t have his legs, and he proved it.
In addition to co-piloting the Cavs to the title last June, he also played point guard for Team USA at the Olympics.
Irving said he knew this period of heavy legs would come, he just didn’t know when.
“For me, it’s just about being smart and not running into that wall completely,” Irving said. “I’m able to push through anything and my mind commands my body at the same time, it’s still about being smart.”
Though Irving tried to convince Lue to let him play Wednesday in Memphis, rather than sit for a consecutive night, he told reporters Saturday that the week off “was warranted. After that game, how I felt, knowing the importance of what was coming up in the season, I think it was a great group decision in terms of the rest that was needed,” Irving said. “I had no arguments with that. Now mind you I don’t know if he has it planned or written down or scheduled, but if we ever come to that point again, I’m going to put myself in the best position in order for myself and the team.”
If there’s a message here, and there is, it’s that the Cavs place a far, far greater value on being rested for the postseason than their seeding when they arrive. At 19-6, right now they’re in prime position for both, but, as was the case last year these Cavs, under Lue’s direction, will always choose rest in the regular season.
Does that make one soft, if the goal is a championship? Last season’s results suggest otherwise.
It is true, Lue intended to sit Tristan Thompson for all but the first few minutes of that starless game in Memphis, and Thompson talked him out of it. Irving had no such luck.
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No. 4: Spurs need to win one for Timmy — The prospects of Tim Duncan’s jersey being retired tonight in San Antonio poses a simple challenge for his former Spurs teammates, who recognize the importance of the moment. You win one for Timmy, by any means necessary. Tom Osborne of the Express News makes the case:
Tim Duncan’s former teammates are determined to do their part to ensure everybody is in a great mood for the start of the legend’s jersey retirement ceremony after Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans.
“It’s kind of like senior night,” Spurs guard Danny Green said. “You don’t want your seniors going home losing their last game at home.”
While Green stopped short of labeling it a must-win game, he made it clear it’s no stretch to say the Spurs want to “win one for Timmy.”
“We don’t want to come in and not win the game for Timmy or not have him be retired on a good night,” Green said Saturday after practice. “So we want to come out and bring energy from the start, play a good game. Hopefully it’s not sloppy. Hopefully we play well, that we win the game and have a good celebration afterward with him.”
Added guard Patty Mills, “It’s going to be an exciting night, one of those where there is no extra motivation needed to play well.”
The Spurs lost what turned out to be the final three games of Duncan’s career, including a 113-99 decision on May 12 in Oklahoma City in the sixth and deciding game of last season’s second-round playoff series with the Thunder. One month later, Duncan retired after 19 seasons.
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Trading for DeMarcus Cousins might not be as easy a sell to NBA general managers as you might think, not with all that’s gone on recently for the All-Star center … The Memphis Grizzlies face a surprising and a fresh challenge the remainder of this season … Put Sean Kilpatrick in the “one that got away” category for the Philadelphia 76ers … The Charlotte Hornets served notice in Atlanta that they are more than ready for the challenge in the Southeast Division … The Toronto Raptors don’t need any magic to fix what aisle them … The Miami Heat miss Tyler Johnson, the NBA leader in fourth quarter minutes this season …So, the New York Knicks are playing (and losing) “must-win” games before Christmas …