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NBA AM: The 2015 NBA Free Agents

There are 245 players that have uncertain status beyond the current season, a number of them could be in the center of trade talks in the coming months… The Notable Extendables.

Steve Kyler

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The 2015 Free Agents:  With the 2014-15 NBA season now firmly on tap with the release of the regular season schedule yesterday, there are somethings to think about in regards to next season, especially as it pertains to free agency.

As currently constructed, there are 245 players that have uncertain status beyond the current season. This includes 59 players with team options, which are usually picked up, especially for first round draft picks. There are 41 players who can be issued qualifying offers and have their free agency restricted. There are 30 players with player options for free agency; a large number of those are likely to be exercised in order to secure new long-term deals. Thirty four players have some level of non-guaranteed money owed them beyond the upcoming season. Seventy nine players look poised to be unrestricted free agents barring an extension during the season. There are just two players with early termination options.

Click here for the complete list of 2015-2016 Free Agents

There are some notable names to know regarding next year’s free agents class, here are just a few of them:

LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers – $20,644,400 (option worth $21.57M)

While the conspiracy theorists want to make a big deal out of James’ decision to sign a short-term deal, what he has done is given himself repeated options to cash in. More importantly, it ensures the power stays on his side of the equation.

The plan for James is to re-sign as frequently as possible and stay on the top end of his earning potential. This was discussed with the Cavaliers and they are fully on board, so discussing James as a free agent next year is unrealistic unless things go massively bad.

Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves – $15,719,062 (option worth $16.744M)

It is commonly believed that the Timberwolves and Cavaliers will trigger a trade sending Love to the Cavs on our about August 23. There have also been reports that Love and the Cavs have had some level of contract discussions about what it would take to re-sign him going forward. The plan for Love is to opt out of his remaining $16.74 million contract year and sign a new max level deal in July; such a deal would likely be worth $120 plus million over five years. NBA teams are not permitted to make future contract agreements with players in Love’s situation, however knowing a player wants a max level deal and agreeing that something like that is workable is not the same as hammering out a completed contract. Love’s potential trade to the Cavaliers is likely going to be scrutinized heavily, mainly because it’s been characterized that the Cavs and Love have a firm commitment in place, something both sides are likely going to deny wholeheartedly. It is important to note that there can be nothing binding between Love and the Cavaliers beyond the terms of his existing contract, so there is a small window to consider Love in free agency, but it’s likely to be a very small one if there is any shot at all.

Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics – $12,909,090

The Celtics have a dilemma. They seem to be open to keeping Rajon Rondo long-term, but unless he would sign a contract extension – something he is highly unlikely to do – he is poised to be an unrestricted free agent in July.

If the Celtics cannot get a sense of commitment from Rondo beyond this year, they have to trade him or risk losing him for nothing in return.

Rondo is considered the top obtainable free agent in the 2015 free agent class and he is likely going to command a max level, or near max level contract.

It seem inevitable that Rondo is going to be traded, the question is what’s the return going to be for Boston, especially when it’s more likely than not that Rondo explores his options in July?

LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers – $16,256,000

Two seasons ago it seemed like a foregone conclusion that LaMarcus would be leaving Portland. Today it seems unlikely that he won’t be back on a new long term deal in July. Aldridge has said repeatedly that his intention in July is to sign a new max contract with the Trail Blazers.

Like all potential unrestricted free agents, there is risk for Portland, but given that both sides of this have a very open dialogue going, it’s unlikely that Aldridge isn’t back in Portland. But, this one will linger, and Aldridge’s name is going to come up a lot even though it’s unlikely he’s going anywhere.

Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies – $15,829,688

The odds that Marc Gasol is not in Memphis next year are fairly small. The Grizzlies are going to pay Gasol the max level money he’ll command; unfortunately, like Love, in order for Gasol to get all that’s available he’ll have to hit free agency in July.

Gasol could sign an extension, but that would leave money on the table as he is now eligible for 30 percent of the upcoming salary cap projected to be $66 million. Doing the math, that’s a starting salary next year in the $19.8 million range, wherein an extension would be based on a minor increase on his $15.82 million salary this year.

There is always a risk of losing a player whenever they can hit unrestricted free agency, but the sense from Gasol and the Grizzlies is that as long as a max offer is there in June, he’ll re-sign.

Arron Afflalo, Denver Nuggets – $7,500,000 (option worth $7.5M)

It is extremely likely that Afflalo will opt out of his deal in Denver this summer. Afflalo has steadily improved over the last two seasons and hopes to put an All-Star caliber season together this year in Denver.

It is possible that Denver explores Afflalo’s trade value given that he is likely going to command a deal at the top end of his range ($10-$12 million per season). That may be too rich for Denver’s liking.

In terms of potentially available players, Afflalo looks to be one of them.

Jeff Green, Boston Celtics – $9,200,000 (option worth $9.20m)

The Celtics have had trade talks regarding Jeff Green for almost two years. With the Celtics poised to have what looks to be a sub-par season there is a strong chance that Green is packed into any trade involving the aforementioned Rondo.

Green has the option to hit free agency. Assuming he plays well this season, the odds are good that he’ll opt-out and re-sign in a situation of his choosing and trade his remaining $9.2 million in for a longer term deal.

Luol Deng, Miami HEAT – $9,714,461 (option worth $10.15M)

Deng turned down a multi-year extension with the Bulls last season valued at roughly $10 million a season, prompting his trade to the Cavaliers. After a ho-hum showing in Cleveland, Deng got considerable attention as a free agent but did not command that upper tier money his camp expected after several All-Star appearances.

Deng needs to have a strong season in Miami if he hopes to cash in. The structure of his deal with the HEAT allows for him to opt-out in July, something he will likely do if he can out-play his contract.

Deng is a 50/50 candidate for free agency in July. Those odds go up if he returns to All-Star form.

David West, Indiana Pacers – $12,000,000 (option worth $12.6M)

West’s deal with the Pacers seemed like the twilight deal; he’d play out the deal make a couple of runs at a championship, however with Paul George out for the season and the Pacers in something of disarray as a result, there is a belief that West might get traded at some point this season. The prevailing thought on the Pacers is that they will open camp and make a go of it and see what they have. If the team starts to fall off, then changes and significant trades are likely.

West will turn 34 this month, so he’s not exactly a spring chicken, but with this year and a player option year left on his deal, he may be more attractive to teams with championship aspirations. It’s possible that West opts-out of his final year, especially if he is traded to an unfavorable destination. If the Pacers hang on to him, or he is traded to a contender it’s unlikely that anyone is going to offer more than $12.6 million for West. However, there is always the chance that West trades in his final $12.6 million in exchange for a few more guaranteed years in the NBA.

Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks – $9,500,000

There is no doubting that Paul Millsap outplayed his contract last year. The problem for the Hawks is much like Marc Gasol and Kevin Love, the only way for Millsap to reset the finances is to hit unrestricted free agency. This becomes a problem for Atlanta, mainly because that means potentially losing him for little or nothing in return.

Given that Millsap recently choose Atlanta in free agency and that he’s had success there, they may have the inside trade on keeping him, but with so many teams expected to have cap space can the Hawks risk losing such a solid asset?

That’s going to be the question they have to debate this season and one of the reasons the Hawks have been linked to so many trade scenarios.

Millsap looks to be one of the better free agent options in July and unfortunately for the Hawks there is not a lot they can do about it, given where Millsap’s contract is currently priced.

Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets – $15,719,062 (option worth $16.74M)

It is highly likely that Lopez opts-out of his existing deal, even with the chronic foot injuries he has endured. When healthy Lopez is one of the top centers in the game and with just one-year left on his deal he likely opts for the chance at a new payday and long-term security, even if that means re-upping in Brooklyn.

Like many of the other potential free agents, this puts the Nets on the clock on a number of fronts. There is the threat that Lopez could walk away and the question of what is he really worth in trade?

If Lopez can pick up where he left off before the injury last year there is a really good chance he could be one of the more coveted free agents in the 2015 free agent class and he might be obtainable too.

Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers – $14,898,938 (option worth $15.51M)

Like Lopez, Hibbert has a decision coming up. The problem with Hibbert is he hasn’t exactly played up to his contract, but elite level big men are hard to find and they are usually overpaid.

There has been some talk that the Pacers would entertain trading Hibbert, although Pacers sources were pretty adamant that was not the case, but with the Pacers’ season is very much up in the air and the risk that Hibbert could opt-out and walk away means the Pacers have to explore their options, especially with the gruesome Paul George leg injury.

Like most players with one year remaining on their deal, it’s likely Hibbert forgoes $15.51 million in exchange for more long-term money. The question is who invests in him given his production as of late?

DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers – $11,440,123

Like Paul Millsap, Jordan has outplayed his current contract. It’s very likely that DeAndre re-signs in LA with the Clippers on a new max level, or near max level contract. This is where the depths of the new Clippers ownership’s pockets is going to pay off.

Like all potential unrestricted free agents, Jordan could walk away, but considering the Clippers will put the money on the table and the success the team has had as currently constructed, the odds that Jordan hits the market in a real way are slim. The problem is that he has to hit free agency to get the raise his camp is seeking. So, there is risk for the Clippers, but all sides have been fairly clear they want the marriage to continue.

Robin Lopez, Portland Trail Blazers – $6,124,729

Like Millsap and Jordan, Lopez has outplayed his contract, which means he too will likely have to hit unrestricted free agency in July in order to get his contract re-set on par with his performance. This poses some risk for the Blazers, but all indications are that both sides want to continue to the relationship. It’s simply going to cost the Blazers more than the $6.1 million Lopez is set to earn.

Al Jefferson, Charlotte Hornets – $13,500,000 (option worth $13.5M)

Like Millsap it’s very possible that Jefferson opts-out of his deal simply to cash in under new terms. Given the success Jefferson has had in Charlotte, it seems unlikely that he’d leave, but whenever a player hits unrestricted free agency there is risk.

Jefferson recently chosing Charlotte in free agency bodes well for a new long-term deal, however with Jefferson’s season last year he might be in line for a hefty new deal and that becomes a question mark for the Hornets on whether they’ll go to near max for a player who will turn 30 this season.

If Jefferson posts another All-Star worthy campaign like last season, the odds are very good he’s hitting free agency in July, if only to cash in again.

Notable Extension Eligible Players

Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves – $4,660,479 (Qualifying Offer $6,179,795)

The Wolves and Rubio have been talking for most of the summer. As you can imagine Rubio’s camp has some substantial leverage given the Love situation and they are seeking a max deal for Ricky. The Wolves and Rubio have until October 31, as do all of the players and teams listed below, to reach an extension and it seems like the might.

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors – $3,075,880 (Qualifying Offer $4,210,880)

Thompson was talked about a lot this summer as someone the Warriors were unwilling to part with. The question becomes is he someone the Warriors are willing to pay? Both sides have had some contract talks and that discussion is expected to pick up steam as training camps get closer. There has been a lot of talk that Thompson is seeking a near max level extension and that seems unlikely given the $12 million Steph Curry earns. It is likely that Thompson and the Warriors do not reach a deal before the deadline, unless he comes off his asking price. Restricted free agency seems more likely, especially with all the changes the team has made on the coaching front.

Brandon Knight, Milwaukee Bucks – $3,553,917 (Qualifying Offer $4,790,680)

It is unlikely that the Bucks and Knight reach an extension unless it’s a landslide in Milwaukee’s favor. Both sides have talked and the Bucks say they want to keep him so a deal is very possible. It’s going to come down to the math and that may not get decided until this summer.

Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets – $2,249,768 (Qualifying Offer $3,257,664)

Its not out of the question that the Nuggets and Faried reach an extension, it just unlikely. Word is Faried wants a monster contract and while he has shown some moments that might justify it, his body of work is not on par with the near max money his side is said to be seeking. Faried’s situation likely gets resolved in restricted free agency if he is not traded first. His name has been kicked around a lot in trade scenarios.

Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic – $2,380,594 (Qualifying Offer $3,394,727)

Harris’ camp wants a new deal this summer and the Magic have agreed to talk about the subject, but given where Orlando is at in their rebuild committing a huge number to Harris seems unlikely. Although, there is a sense that if the Magic make a reasonable market-based offer, Harris might take it.

Word is Harris is atop a number of team’s wish list, so if the Magic don’t want to pay him this summer, there is a strong chance he gets a sizable offer sheet next summer.

The Magic would be bidding against themselves in a deal now, so it’s unlikely an extension gets reached, but it does seem like Harris’ camp is open to one if the Magic will come with the right kind of offer.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs – $2,894,059 (Qualifying Offer $4,045,894)

Can you say max offer? That’s what it’s going to take to get Kawhi Leonard signed this summer and that number seems a little unlikely considering the only player the Spurs have ever given the max to was Tim Duncan. That’s not to say that the reigning Finals MVP isn’t worth it, especially consider what guys like Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons got.

Both sides seem open to a deal, the question becomes for how much? Even if Leonard gets to free agency in July, its fair more likely that the Spurs match offers than let him go, the question is do the Spurs want that in their locker room this year? The Spurs cap position allows them a lot of room with regards to Leonard and his eventual payday. Do they lock him in now or does it have to play out next summer?

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic – $2,751,260 (Qualifying Offer $3,865,520)

Like Harris, the Magic are talking extension with Vucevic, and also like Harris the Magic are in essence bidding against themselves. There is a chance that a deal gets reached this summer to start locking in core pieces, but given that Orlando doesn’t have to set a price today, there is a bigger chance that both Vucevic and Harris hit restricted free agency and let the market place set their price after seeing what both contribute in a season that should be about winning games.

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NBA Daily: The Stretch Run — Southeast Division

With the All-Star Break behind us, the final stretch of NBA games has commenced. Quinn Davis takes a look at a few teams in the Southeast Division that have a chance at making the dance.

Quinn Davis

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Well, that was fast.

With the NBA All-Star break in the rearview, there are now fewer than 30 games to play for all 30 NBA teams. In other words, time is running out for certain teams to improve their seeding in the conference.

Here at Basketball Insiders, we will be looking at a certain subset of teams that are right on the border of making or missing the playoffs. In this edition, the focus will be on the Southeast Division.

The Southeast features three teams — the Charlotte Hornets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards — operating in the lower-middle-class of the NBA. These three will be slugging it out over the next month-and-a-half for the right to meet the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

The two remaining teams are the Miami HEAT and Atlanta Hawks. As this is being written, the former is comfortably in the playoffs at 35-20, while the latter is comfortably gathering more ping pong balls at 16-41.

In this space, the focus will be on the three bubble teams. The Magic are currently frontrunners for the eighth seed, but the Wizards and Hornets are within striking distance if things were to go awry.

Led by head coach Steve Clifford, the Magic have ground their way to the eighth seed behind an eighth-ranked defense. Lanky wing Aaron Gordon is the standout, helping the Magic execute their scheme of walling off the paint. The Magic only allow 31.3 percent of opponent shots to come at the rim, putting them in 89th percentile in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.

Following a post-break loss to Dallas Mavericks, the Magic sit at 24-32 and three games up on the ninth-seeded Wizards. While a three-game margin doesn’t sound like much, that is a sizable cushion with only 26 games to play. Basketball-Reference gives the Magic a 97.4 percent chance to make the playoffs.

The Magic have the third-easiest remaining schedule out of Eastern Conference teams. They have very winnable games coming against the Bulls, Hornets, Cavaliers, Knicks and Pistons. They also have multiple games coming against the Brooklyn Nets, the team they trail by only 1.5 games for the seventh seed.

The Magic are prone, however, to dropping games against the league’s bottom-feeders. It can be difficult to string together wins with an offense this sluggish. The Markelle Fultz experiment has added some spark in that department, but his lack of an outside shot still leaves the floor cramped.

After a quick analysis of the schedule, the most likely scenario appears to be a 12-14 record over the last 26 games, putting the Magic at 36-46 come season’s end. A record like that should not be allowed anywhere near playoff basketball, but it would probably be enough to meet the Bucks in round one.

If the Magic go 12-14, that would leave the Wizards, fresh off a loss to J.B. Bickerstaff and the Cleveland Cavaliers, needing to go 17-11 over their last 28 games. They will need to finish one game ahead as the Magic hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Wizards finishing that strong becomes even more farfetched when you consider their remaining schedule. They have the second-toughest slate from here on out, per Basketball-Reference.

The Wizards do have a trump card in Bradley Beal, who is the best player among the bubble teams in the East. He has now scored 25 points or more in 13 straight games and has been the driving force behind the Wizards staying in the race.

He has also picked up his defense a bit following his All-Star snub in an effort to silence his critics. The increased focus on that end is nice, but it would’ve been a little nicer if it had been a part of his game earlier in this season when the Wizards were by far the worst defense in the league.

Even if Beal goes bonkers, it is hard to see a path for this Wizards team to sneak in outside of a monumental collapse in Orlando. Looking at their schedule, it would take some big upsets to even get to 10 wins over their last 28. Their most likely record to finish the season is 8-20 if all games go to the likely favorites.

The Wizards’ offense has been impressive all season, but injuries and a porous defense have been too much to overcome.

The Hornets, meanwhile, trail the Wizards by 1.5 games and the Magic by 4.5 games. They have won their last three in a row to put themselves back in this race, but they still have an uphill climb.

The Hornets also may have raised the proverbial white flag by waiving two veterans in Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The goal coming into this season was never to make the playoffs, so they are likely more interested in developing young talent over these last 27 games.

If the Magic do play up to their usual levels and go 12-14, it would require the Hornets to go 18-9 to finish the season against the sixth-toughest remaining schedule in the East.

Devonte’ Graham and his three-point shooting have been a bright spot for the Hornets, but it would take some otherworldly performances from him and Terry Rozier down the stretch to put together a record like that. Basketball-Reference gives this a 0.02 percent chance of happening (cue the Jim Carrey GIF).

Barring a miracle, the eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference are locked in place. The only questions remaining are how seeds 2-6 will play out, and whether the Magic can catch the Nets for the seventh spot.

The Wizards will fight to the end, but it is unlikely they make up any ground given the level of opponents they will see over the next six weeks. The Hornets, meanwhile, are more likely to fight for lottery odds.

At least the playoffs should be exciting.

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The Pressure Is On Anthony Davis

The Rockets’ and Clippers’ strong commitments to small-ball show that the Lakers’ opponents are zeroed in on stopping LeBron James. If the Lakers want their next title, Anthony Davis has to prove he can take over for a contender. Matt John writes.

Matt John

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LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of his generation and arguably of all-time. No matter how old he is or how many miles he has on those tires — 48,014 minutes total as of Feb. 20, good for eighth-most all-time among NBA players =- he is not to be underestimated. The Los Angeles Lakers know they have a window on their hands, but with LeBron on the wrong side of 30, they know that this window won’t be for too long. Unfortunately, so do their opponents.

This brings us to his partner-in-crime, Anthony Davis. Throughout LeBron’s era of dominance, he’s always had a Robin to his Batman. Dwyane Wade needed time to adjust to it. Kyrie Irving was so perfect for the role that he grew tired of it. Anthony Davis has embraced it since day one.

LeBron and AD have been as good as advertised. Together, the two of them possess a net rating of plus-10.3 when they share the court. They don’t actually run the pick and roll as often as we thought they would – LeBron only runs 26 percent of his plays as a handler while Davis has been the roll man for 13 percent of his plays – but when they do, it’s efficient.

LeBron’s effective field goal percentage as a pick-and-roll handler is 47.5 percent and draws and-1’s at 3.5 percent, which is pretty high for that sort of play. He ranks in the 67th percentile as a handler. Davis’ effective field goal percentage as a roll man is 61 percent and draws and-1’s at 4.9 percent. He ranks in the 72nd percentile as a roll man.

They may not run this in LA primarily because their old school play of playing big probably eats up the spacing. Since the Lakers have the fourth-highest offensive rating in the league, scoring 113.6 points per 100 possessions, it’s not a problem at the moment. This might change in the playoffs, but we’ll get to that.

Something else to note is that Davis’ numbers have stayed relatively the same since going from New Orleans to LA. His scoring average has gone down just a tick, but that’s to be expected when you’re playing next to LeBron James. Davis’ rebounding numbers have taken a more noticeable dip, but having him play next to Dwight Howard or JaVale McGee probably has something to do with that.

He and LeBron have led the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference. According to Tankathon, they have the 10th-easiest schedule for the rest of the season, so the odds are in their favor of finishing out on top. Of course, their elite production as a duo is about as shocking as Martin Scorsese’s movies getting nominated for Oscars.

The Lakers are expected to make their deepest run since the last time they won the title in 2010. Even if they are among the league’s biggest powerhouses, they’ll have plenty of competition along the way in the Western Conference. Without going into too much detail about who that is — because you probably already know who that is — let’s focus on the two competitors who have been making major shakeups since the trade deadline, the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Both may have executed different trades, but both had the same goal in mind when they made them.

When the Rockets traded Clint Capela — their only traditional center that was playable — for Robert Covington, a two-way wing that they believed they could mold into a small-ball five, they traded their size for switchability and versatility. Not only that, they doubled down on their strategy by bringing in the likes of DeMarre Caroll and Jeff Green, two swingmen who have played some minutes at center in their career but very, very few.

When the Clippers traded Moe Harkless — who was doing just fine for them as their third wing — they opted to go for an upgrade at the wing spot instead of another big by trading him among others and a first-round pick for what’s likely to be a short rental of Marcus Morris. They could have used Harkless to get another big to combat the Lakers’ size, but instead opted to add more grit to the wing department. The deal also opened up a few more spots on the roster, but they too opted not for more size, but for another scorer in Reggie Jackson.

Acquiring those wings demonstrates that they have coined the exact same gameplan to taking down the Lakers should they face them in the playoff — slowing down LeBron James.

Slowing down LeBron is a strategy that just about everyone has been familiar with since 2003, but very few have been successful at executing it because, well, there doesn’t really need to be an explanation when it comes to the subject of LeBron James.

By doing everything in their power to make LeBron’s life miserable, they are in effect going to dare everyone else on the Lakers to beat them, and that starts with Anthony Davis.

We know how good Anthony Davis is, but we don’t really know how good he’s going to be when the stakes are higher. Davis’ numbers in the playoffs should hardly concern the Lakers’ faithful. He’s averaged 30.5 points and 12.7 points on nearly 53 percent shooting from the field. The one number that could be concerning is that those averages come from only 13 playoff games total.

Davis is hardly to blame for the lack of playoff success in his name. Injuries ravaged the Pelicans continuously, and the best players he’s played with in the postseason are Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Rajon Rondo. The numbers suggest he carries his weight.

He should have less weight to carry when and if the Lakers enter the playoffs, but because their competitors are doubling down on their small ball to make sure LeBron’s covered as tightly as possible, the pressure will be on Davis to keep it going.

Posting up against small lineups shouldn’t be an issue for Davis because he’s been efficient on post-ups this season. On a frequency of 22.8 percent, Davis has a points per possession (PPP) of 0.95 when posting up. Davis is averaging five points while shooting 47.8 percent from the field in the post up throughout the entire season. His efficiency in the post up ranks him in the 63rd percentile. He’s not Joel Embiid or even LaMarcus Aldridge in that area, but he’s reliable.

Still, time will tell to see if it translates in the playoffs. In the Lakers’ most recent game against the Rockets, we got our first sample of how LA will fare against Houston’s new scheme. LeBron struggled with it, putting up just 18 points on 8-for-19 shooting while turning it over six times. The switchability and intelligence that their defenders possessed made life difficult for him.

It was a different story for Davis. He had an excellent game. 32 points on 14-of-21 shooting, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks because he dominated the very undersized center Houston threw at him. Despite that, the Rockets prevailed 121-111.

They were more than happy to let Davis dominate them as long as they took LeBron out of his comfort zone, and it worked. Games like that should make you want to keep your eye on this. Teams know that LeBron James is a nuclear weapon during the NBA playoffs. They have yet to see if Anthony Davis can be the same. If he can’t pick up the slack when LeBron is off his game, then that changes the ballgame.

Davis is an elite player. He has done a lot in his NBA career. He hasn’t had the opportunity to show that he can take over for a contender when the stakes are dialed to 11. When the playoffs arrive, we’ll finally see what he can do.

There shouldn’t be much doubt as to if Davis can do this. There should be much pressure as to if he’ll be able to do enough.

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NBA Daily: Picking Up The Pieces In Portland

The Portland Trail Blazers continue to fight for their playoff lives. Damian Lillard’s recent injury is just another obstacle that this team must hurdle to survive. Chad Smith looks at one player that may be emerging off of their bench just when they need it most.

Chad Smith

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The home stretch has begun, and most teams around the league are pushing for a better playoff seed.

The postseason begins in less than two months and many teams are just hoping that they are able to be part of it. That is the case in Portland, where the Trail Blazers find themselves on the outside looking in as they trail the Memphis Grizzlies by 3.5 games for the final spot in the West. They also have four teams right behind them that are hungry for playoff basketball.

The story of the 2019-20 Blazers has been injuries. It began last season when they lost their starting center Jusuf Nurkic to a devastating leg injury that he has still not fully recovered from. Zach Collins was more than ready to fill in, but he suffered a shoulder injury in their third game of the season and has been out since having surgery on it. The organization made a Hail Mary trade for Hassan Whiteside, who has actually played very well for them this season.

Rodney Hood had been a staple for Portland since they acquired him, but he was lost to a season-ending injury earlier in the year. Desperation may have ultimately led them to sign Carmelo Anthony, but he has undoubtedly been a positive addition to the club. The trade Portland made with the Sacramento Kings was thought to have just been a cost-saving move, but Trevor Ariza has been an excellent fit with the first unit.

The latest setback came in their final game before the break when the face of the franchise suffered a groin injury. Damian Lillard has been having an MVP-worthy season, on the heels of what was one of the greatest playoff buzzer-beaters in league history. Fortunately, the injury was deemed mild, and he should only miss a few games. It may be cliché, but it has been the moniker for Portland all season: Next man up.

Early in the season, it appeared as though their 2018 first-round pick Anfernee Simons was going to have a breakout year. After putting up strong numbers in the first couple of months, he was seen as a highly sought after trade target. Simons has cooled off considerably since then, and it has been the play of their other second-year guard, Gary Trent Jr., that has turned some heads.

Appearing in just 15 games as a rookie last season, Trent Jr. has had more opportunities to show what he can do this year. Amid all of the injuries and movement in Portland, he has shown the ability to hit shots and defend. The sophomore swingman just turned 21 last month, but he has the maturity and understanding of a player with more experience.

A large part of that can be attributed to his father, Gary Trent, who was traded to the Blazers after being selected 11th overall in the 1995 draft. While he didn’t turn out to be an All-Star player, he did play for nine seasons and appeared in more than 500 games. His son may not end up being a star, but they both know this is an excellent opportunity for him to showcase his talents.

The former Duke product began his rise in the middle of January after putting up 30 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder, followed by another 20 points against the Dallas Mavericks. He didn’t slow down in the final handful of games before the All-Star break, either. He scored double-digits in four consecutive games against tough competition in Denver, San Antonio, Utah and Miami, where he shot 65 percent (20-for-31) from deep. Those final two games were against elite defenses, in which he put up 38 points while shooting 7-for-15 from downtown.

So far in the month of February, Trent Jr. has shot 48 percent from the floor, 45 percent from three-point range, and is averaging 12 points and 1.4 steals per game. Those are all solid numbers for a third-string guard, but now he will be relied upon more heavily in the absence of Lillard.

It will be interesting to see the adjustments that Terry Stotts makes without his superstar point guard on the floor. CJ McCollum will likely have a higher usage and handle the ball more than he has before. The Blazers struggle mightily with shot creation. While the veteran two-guard will be looked upon to provide play-making for this group, it will be up to guys like Trent Jr. to knock down open shots and make the correct reads and rotations on defense.

Stotts appears to be leaning on Trent Jr. more often — and for good reason. Both he and Simons played in all 15 games in January, with Simons averaging about one more minute per game. Trent shot 39 percent from deep compared to Simons’ 23 percent. What Stotts really likes is how Trent Jr takes care of the ball. In those 15 January games, he had just four total turnovers. He also played 36 minutes in one of those games and finished without a single turnover.

As good as Whiteside has been at protecting the rim, Portland remains one of the worst defensive teams in the league. It ranks 26th in opponent scoring and has the 27th-ranked defensive rating. Trent Jr. is much bigger than the aforementioned Simons. He is actually bigger than McCollum and Lillard. The size and length that he possesses allow him to guard multiple positions and really help create deflections.

In his role as an off-ball scorer, Trent Jr. just fits really well alongside the Blazer backcourt. Even when one of them is out, he has found a way to excel. Over his last 15 games, he is averaging 12.5 points per game on 44.2 percent shooting from three-point range. They may need Trent Jr. to steal some minutes from the McCollum and Lillard, as they both rank among the top 12 in minutes per game.

Easing all of these injured players back into the rotation is going to be tricky. There will be some bumps and some hiccups along the way, but time is simply not on their side. They have just 26 games remaining, and several teams are fighting for that same spot. The good news for Portland is that only four teams have an easier remaining schedule.

A healthy Portland team is a dangerous playoff team. Getting Lillard back is paramount, but getting Nurkic and Collins back into the rotation with Carmelo and Whiteside would be monumental for this group.

A potential first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers would be tantalizing, to say the least. It will take some work for this team to get back into the playoffs, but then again, they have never backed down from a challenge.

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