The NBA's hottest young scorer got the best of the reigning MVP on Monday as Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies defeated Nikola Jokic's Denver Nuggets 106-97. 

Morant had 26 points, eight assists and seven rebounds for the Grizzlies, who bounced back from an ugly home loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday. 

The 22-year-old Morant is averaging 28.3 points per game, second only to Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors (28.7), while shooting 52.4 per cent from the field. 

Jokic played a team-high 33 minutes and finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and four blocked shots. 

The Nuggets superstar has shown no ill effects from the knee contusion that forced him out of a game against the Utah Jazz last week in the second quarter. 

The teams meet again in Memphis on Wednesday. 

 

Short-handed 76ers top Trail Blazers

Joel Embiid missed the game with a planned rest day and Tobias Harris sat out due to health and safety protocols, but the Philadelphia 76ers still managed to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers 113-103 behind 23 points from Seth Curry and 21 off the bench from Georges Niang. Embiid's replacement, Andre Drummond, added 14 points and 15 rebounds for the 76ers as Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined to make just 15 of 40 shots from the field, including five of 17 from three-point range, for Portland. 

After making just one of nine shots from the field in the first half, Paul George hit 10 of 15 in the second to finish with 32 points and lead the Los Angeles Clippers past the Oklahoma City Thunder 99-94. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 28 for OKC. 

The Chicago Bulls outscored the Boston Celtics 39-11 in the fourth quarter to rally for a 128-114 road victory. DeMar DeRozan had a spectacular shooting game, making 15 of 20 from the field to lead the Bulls with 37 points while Zach LaVine added 26. 

OG Anunoby had 36 points as the Toronto Raptors handed the New York Knicks their second loss of the season, 113-104 at Madison Square Garden. Gary Trent Jr. added 26 for Toronto, while RJ Barrett led New York with 27 points.

 

Beal, Wizards suffer second loss

Bradley Beal made only three of 11 shots from three-point range and the Washington starting lineup attempted just five free throws as the Wizards suffered their second defeat of the season, 118-111 to the Atlanta Hawks. 

James Harden recorded his first triple-double of the season as the Brooklyn Nets claimed back-to-back wins for the first time this NBA campaign in a 117-91 victory over the lowly Detroit Pistons on Sunday.

Harden finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists after three quarters, while Nets team-mate Kevin Durant top-scored with 23 points but was ejected in the third quarter for shoving his elbow into Kelly Olynyk's face.

Former MVP Harden has had a slow start to 2021-22, however, he backed up his season-high 29 points against the Indiana Pacers on Friday with another impressive showing which will encourage the championship-chasing Nets (4-3) that he is getting back to his best after an injury-impacted offseason.

Harden hit four three-pointers as the superstar guard – already Brooklyn's all-time triple-double leader with 13 – joined Hall of Famer Larry Bird for second on the NBA's all-time list with 59.

 

Mitchell leads Jazz past struggling champs

Donovan Mitchell starred with 28 points, including a treble of first-quarters three-pointers as the Utah Jazz hit their first five attempts from range in a 107-95 win against slumping champions the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Bucks, who have lost three in a row.

Carmelo Anthony – who is shooting a career-high 50 per cent and 52.2 per cent from three this season – scored 23 points off the bench, while LeBron James had 15 points, seven rebounds and assists in the Los Angeles Lakers' 95-85 triumph over the Houston Rockets.

Luka Doncic led the way for the Dallas Mavericks with 23 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists in a 105-99 victory against the Sacramento Kings.

 

Dame cold in Blazers loss

All-Star Damian Lillard's shooting was wayward as the Portland Trail Blazers were downed 125-113 by the Charlotte Hornets, hitting two from 14 from three-point range for a below-standard 14-point return.

NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks suffered consecutive defeats after being upstaged by the San Antonio Spurs 102-93.

Giannis Antetokounmpo posted a double-double of 28 points and 13 rebounds, but the Bucks still suffered back-to-back losses on Saturday.

The Spurs (2-4) trumped the Bucks (3-3) on the road in Milwaukee thanks to point guard Dejounte Murray, who scored 16 of his 23 points in the final period.

Murray entered the contest having put up 44 points, 22 rebounds and 23 assists over his previous two games – the only Spurs player in the last 30 seasons to have had at least 40 points, 20 rebounds and 20 assists over a two-game span, according to Stats Perform.

"Obviously, it's a good win against the NBA champions," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said after the Bucks were again without Jrue Holiday due to an ankle injury. "They were missing a pretty big piece tonight but it happens to all of us."

 

 

76ers gain some revenge as Heat sizzle

Facing the Atlanta Hawks for the first time since being surprisingly eliminated in last season's Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Philadelphia 76ers routed their rivals 122-94. Tobias Harris fuelled the 76ers with 22 points and 11 rebounds, joining Joel Embiid as the only 76ers players this season with 20-10 games.

The high-flying Miami Heat finished one short of setting a new franchise record after sinking 21 three-pointers in their 129-103 victory at the Memphis Grizzlies. Jimmy Butler led the way with 27 points.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic starred with 26 points and 19 rebounds as the Denver Nuggets outlasted the Minnesota Timberwolves 93-91.

Double-doubles from Deandre Ayton (17 points and 12 rebounds) and Chris Paul (16 points and 10 assists) helped last season's NBA Finals runners-up the Phoenix Suns beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 101-92.

 

Jazz taste defeat

The Utah Jazz were the last unbeaten team remaining having opened their season 4-0, until the new-look Chicago Bulls spoiled the party with a 107-99 win.

LeBron James returned from injury with 26 points as the Los Angeles Lakers overcame a slow first half to defeat his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, 113-101 on Friday.

James had missed the Lakers' past two games with a sore ankle but marked his return by top scoring, adding eight assists and three rebounds.

The four-time MVP only shot 10 from 22 from the field and one from 10 from three-point range, draining a three-quarter time buzzer beater from almost halfway.

Carmelo Anthony added 24 points off the bench for the Lakers while Anthony Davis had 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists.

The Cavs, who have beaten contenders the Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers this season, led by as much as 11 points at one stage, including holding a one-point lead into the fourth quarter.

James played a lead role in steadying the ship for the Lakers, who scored 25-16 in the fourth quarter to win by 12 points and improve their record to 3-3.

 

Harden finds his scoring touch

James Harden re-discovered some form with a season-high 29 points, including 21 in the first half, in the Brooklyn Nets' 105-98 win over the Indiana Pacers. LaMarcus Aldridge added 21 points off the bench to reach 20,000 career NBA points, while Kevin Durant dominated with 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.

Jimmy Butler starred with 32 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while Bam Adebayo added 26 points and 19 rebounds as the Miami Heat downed the in-form Charlotte Hornets 114-99.

Damian Lillard hit five from seven three-pointers, finishing with 25 points as the Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 111-92. Paul George finished with 42 points for the Clippers, who are 1-3.

 

Doncic wayward as Mavs routed

Luka Doncic had an off-night, with 16 points, shooting five from 18 from the field as the Dallas Mavericks were brushed aside 106-75 by the Denver Nuggets.

Hornets guard LaMelo Ball's bright start to the season has stalled, managing only six points in their loss to the Heat, shooting none from five from beyond the arc.

The Brooklyn Nets' stuttering start to the season continued with their third defeat in five games as they went down 106-93 at home to the Miami Heat.

Jimmy Butler starred for the Heat with a double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds as well as seven assists and four steals as Miami improved their record to 3-1.

Bam Adebayo stole the show in the final quarter as the Nets threatened to overtake them, landing three big dunks to finish with 24 points and nine rebounds.

James Harden had some bright moments but only managed 14 points with seven rebounds and seven assists, while Kevin Durant had 25 points and 11 rebounds.

All three Nets defeats this season have been by double-digit margins as they continue to miss Kyrie Irving who is absent due to his vaccination status.

 

Giannis hits 40 in Bucks defeat

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 40 points but it was not enough as the Milwaukee Bucks suffered their second loss in their title defence 113-108 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Antetokounmpo had 40 along with 16 rebounds and seven assists, while all five Timberwolves starters contributed strongly led by D'Angelo Russell (29 points, five rebounds and six assists) and Anthony Edwards (25 points, seven rebounds and three assists).

Harrison Barnes (22 points, nine rebounds and four assists) drained a turnaround triple on the buzzer to clinch the Sacramento Kings a 110-107 win over last season's the Phoenix Suns who had closed a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit late in the game, led by Devin Booker (31 points, six rebounds and eight assists).

The Cleveland Cavaliers added another impressive scalp to their list this season as they downed the Los Angeles Clippers 92-79 with Collin Sexton scoring 26 points.

 

Westbrook turnovers as Lakers lose

Russell Westbrook got his first Los Angeles Lakers triple-double but he also had 10 turnovers in their 123-115 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, with LeBron James absent due to an ankle injury.

LaMelo Ball struggled with only seven points, shooting three-from-14 from the field and only one-from-five beyond the arc as the Charlotte Hornets won 120-111 over the Orlando Magic.

Khris Middleton's three-point radar was off in the Bucks loss to the Timberwolves, shooting one-from-eight and contributing only 16 points, leaving Antetokounmpo with too much to do.

Giannis Antetokounmpo came close to a triple-double as reigning NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks took down the Indiana Pacers 119-109 on Monday.

Antetokounmpo finished the game with 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, as well as two blocks and a steal to fuel the Bucks.

Bucks team-mate Khris Middleton provided good scoring support with 27 points, five rebounds and seven assists, including a remarkable three-pointer on the first-quarter buzzer.

Milwaukee pulled away throughout the game, leading by 15 points at the final change, having no issues in Jrue Holiday (ankle) and Brook Lopez's (back) absence.

While the Bucks improved to 3-1, the Pacers slipped to a 1-3 record despite Domantas Sabonis' 21 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

 

 

Bulls maintain perfect start

The Chicago Bulls improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1996-97 thanks to a 111-108 victory against the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls led by 10 points with less than three minutes remaining before Fred VanVleet (15 points and a career-high 17 assists) missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to send it to overtime.

Jayson Tatum posted 41 points, including six three-pointers, with seven rebounds and eight assists as the Boston Celtics outlasted the Charlotte Hornets 140-129 after overtime. The Celtics closed the extra period with a 14-0 run to storm to victory.

Paul George had a career-high eight steals along with 16 points as the Los Angeles Clippers won 116-86 against the Portland Trail Blazers. Luke Kennard added 23 points.

Jonas Valanciunas put up 22 points and a career-high 23 points as the New Orleans Pelicans snapped a season-opening three-game skid by topping the Minnesota Timberwolves 107-98.

 

Harden's radar still off

The Brooklyn Nets improved their record to 2-2 with a 104-90 win over the Washington Wizards although James Harden's shooting radar was off. The former MVP finished five of 17 from the field, including going at 12.5 per cent from beyond the arc for his 14 points.

Damian Lillard continues to struggle for the Blazers this season. The All-Star finished four-of-15 shooting against the Clippers, while he missed all eight of his three-point attempts. Lillard has made two of 24 three-pointers this season (8.3 per cent). He is shooting 34 per cent overall.

The reigning NBA champions got back on track Saturday, as Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Milwaukee Bucks to a 121-111 defeat of the San Antonio Spurs. 

Two days after a 42-point blowout loss to the Miami Heat, the Bucks looked more like their usual selves in San Antonio, though the Spurs kept the game tight and pulled within four points with 4:24 to play. 

Middleton had 28 points to lead the Bucks, while Antetokounmpo added 21 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. 

Middleton, who is beginning his ninth season with the Bucks, passed Ray Allen to move into 10th on Milwaukee's all-time scoring list with 9,704 points for the team.

Doug McDermott scored 25 to lead Milwaukee, making seven of 11 from three-point range. 

 

Grizzlies hand Clippers another loss

Despite 41 points from Paul George, the Los Angeles Clippers lost their second straight game to open the season, falling 120-114 to the Memphis Grizzlies. While George poured in the points, a balanced Memphis attack led by Ja Morant's 28 points and eight assists secured another win for the visitors. 

In Portland, CJ McCollum scored 28 points and Damian Lillard had 19 as the Trail Blazers rolled past the Phoenix Suns 134-105. Devin Booker had 21 points, the only Phoenix player to score more than 14. 

Luka Doncic had a game-high 27 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds as the Dallas Mavericks rallied from a six-point half-time deficit to defeat the Raptors 103-95 in Toronto for their first victory under new head coach Jason Kidd. Tim Hardaway Jr. added 25 points and Kristaps Porzingis had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Mavericks, while OG Anunoby led Toronto with 23. 

The Philadelphia 76ers put aside the Ben Simmons drama for 48 minutes as the championship-chasing team opened their NBA season with a 117-97 win at the New Orleans Pelicans.

Simmons was nowhere to be seen in New Orleans after the disgruntled All-Star – demanding a trade – was suspended on Tuesday for "conduct detrimental to the team" following reports he was ejected from practice by head coach Doc Rivers.

The 76ers – last season's Eastern Conference top seeds – played without Simmons on Wednesday and made light work of the Zion Williamson-less Pelicans behind Joel Embiid (22 points), Furkan Korkmaz (22 points), Tobias Harris (20 points and 12 rebounds) and new starting point guard Tyrese Maxey (20 points, seven rebounds and five) for their first season-opening road win since 2004.

Korkmaz sizzled in the fourth quarter, scoring 18 points on four-for-four shooting from three-point range – the most points in a quarter by a Sixers bench player since Lou Williams in 2011.

 

 

LaMelo leads Hornets rally, Brown has career night

LaMelo Ball put on a show as he helped the Charlotte Hornets come back to pip the Indiana Pacers 123-122. The reigning Rookie of the Year put up 31 points, including seven three-pointers – tying a career high, nine rebounds and seven assists to fuel Charlotte's rally. The Hornets used a 24-0 run – in which Ball scored 12 points – in the third period to the stun the Pacers. Chris Duarte (27 points, six three-pointers and five rebounds) became the first Pacers rookie with 25-plus points, five-plus rebounds and five-plus threes in a game since Jamaal Tinsley in 2002.

A career-high 46 points from Jaylen Brown was not enough as the Boston Celtics lost a wild showdown with the New York Knicks 138-134 after double overtime. Brown's tally was the most points ever by a Celtics player in a season opener. The Knicks withstood the Celtics thanks to Julius Randle (35 points) and debutant Evan Fournier, whose 32 points were the most by a player on debut in franchise history.

Jo Morant had 37 points – the second most on opening night in franchise history, behind only his 44-point haul last season – in the Memphis Grizzlies' 132-121 win at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Memphis posted 73 points by half-time – tying the fifth-highest first-half scoring total in their history.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic's 27 points and 13 rebounds guided the Denver Nuggets past last season's NBA Finals participants the Phoenix Suns 110-98.

CJ McCollum (34 points), Damian Lillard (20 points and 11 assists) and Jusuf Nurkic (20 points and 14 rebounds) combined for 74 points but the Portland Trail Blazers still lost 124-121 to the Sacramento Kings, who were led by Harrison Barnes' 36 points and eight three-pointers.

 

Forgettable debut for Rockets rookie

The second pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Jalen Green endured a baptism of fire midweek. The Houston Rockets rookie finished with nine points on four-of-14 shooting from the field, while he made just one of six three-pointers. His minus-37 was the worst plus-minus by a Rockets rookie in a game in the last 20 seasons – tied for the fourth worst by any Rocket in that span. The Rockets were taken down 124-106 by Minnesota Timberwolves trio Karl-Anthony Towns (30 points and 10 rebounds), Anthony Edwards (29 points) and D'Angelo Russell (22 points).

Back on home court for the first time since February 2020, the Toronto Raptors' long-awaited return to Canada ended in a disappointing 98-83 loss to the Washington Wizards. Toronto missed 19 of their first 21 three-pointers, finishing seven of 34 from beyond the card. They were just 30.9 per cent from the field overall.

Suns star Devin Booker was far from his best against the Nuggets, finishing three-of-15 shooting for 12 points in 30 minutes of action.

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard said he still wants to win an NBA championship with the franchise amid ongoing speculation over his future.

Lillard's future has dominated headlines following Portland's first-round playoff exit last season, the six-time All-Star continuing to be the subject of trade rumours involving the Philadelphia 76ers.

There has also been talk about the New York Knicks, but despite his frustration after another early postseason elimination in 2020-21, Lillard remains determined to deliver a title to Portland.

"We lose to Denver, they were you know unhealthy," Lillard told Complex News' Pierce Simpson. "I'm frustrated with the loss against Denver, so like we gotta do better.

"I've always said I want to play in Portland, I want to win in Portland, and I still feel that way. So if I'm saying we gotta do better, we gotta give ourselves a real chance, we can't get out the first round as we are, then we gotta get better.

"Not from a standpoint of threatening you all. It was like, if it comes down to me having to move on and do something different like then maybe that's what I have to do.

"But it was like, I haven't made that decision you know what I'm saying? But the fact remains that I would like to win a championship in Portland."

Lillard has been named an All-Star six times in his career and has helped the Blazers reach the playoffs in each of the past eight seasons.

 

It is his clutch shooting that has consistently kept Portland in the mix and, since he entered the league in 2012, only Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry (2,460) and James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets (2,125) have made more three-pointers than Lillard's 2,051.

Portland reached the Western Conference Finals in 2019 but were swept by Curry and the Warriors.

However, this season's exit at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in six games was their fourth first-round elimination in five seasons and led to the Blazers parting ways with head coach Terry Stotts. Chauncey Billups is the man now tasked with leading them to a first NBA Finals since 1992 and a first championship since 1977.

"You get to a position where it's like, 'Do I defend myself or do I just say nothing'. For me, when I'm just hearing stuff that's not the facts, I'm going to say I didn't say that," Lillard told The Athletic as he addressed the trade speculation.

"Some things I've just got to let it be said. I know what the truth is. I know where I stand. It's not my duty to make the public know … it's not my job to make them aware of what that is.

"It definitely has been different. I feel like I've handled it like I've handled everything. I just let it happen. I let people talk and I just stay true to who I am and I stand on that.

"If I say something, I stand on what I said. It is what it is, at this point."

Los Angeles Lakers signing Carmelo Anthony has brushed off concerns about the age of the franchise's roster where he will play alongside four-time MVP LeBron James.

Anthony, who turned 37 in May, joined the Lakers from the Portland Trail Blazers last week.

The 10-time NBA All Star, who was the third pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, will team up with 36-year-old James who was the top pick in that year's draft.

The Lakers side also consists of veterans Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol, while 32-year-old point guard Russell Westbrook has also joined this offseason, leading to concerns about an aging roster.

"We don't care," Anthony interjected when the aging topic came up during his presentation press conference on Monday. "We don't care. We make our own narrative."

Anthony added: "I like when people talk about the age. It gives a better story. I think it gives a better story. I think people forget, at the end of the day, it's about basketball.

"You got to know how to play basketball. You got to have that experience. I think that's what we bring at this point and time. Our talent, our skill, but also our experience.

"There's different resources than when we came into the game. We understand what taking care of yourself means from the holistic perspective."

The power forward, who will likely play a bench role for the Lakers this season, averaged 13.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game in the 2020-21 NBA season for the Blazers.

Anthony will enter his 19th NBA season pursuing his maiden title, having had stints with five other franchises, getting closest in 2009 when the Denver Nuggets made the Conference finals.

"I'm coming in with a championship on my mind," Anthony said.

"I think we all know that this is the one thing that I'm missing, right? This is the one thing that it keeps me up at night, it motivates me, because I don't have it. I want that experience."

Anthony also revealed the role James played in luring him to the Lakers, having been linked with a move to Los Angeles numerous times in the past.

"Bron just came to me one time and said, 'yo, the time is now. I want you. We got to make this happen,'" Anthony said.

"I just felt like for right now, this is the best time. Most people would say we should've gotten together years ago early in our careers, but we were in two different lanes, we were on two different paths. Everything comes full circle."

The Lakers also unveiled Kent Bazemore on Monday after being added to the roster from the Golden State Warriors.

Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell were all previously traded out to the Washington Wizards as part of the Westbrook deal.

Los Angeles Lakers signing Carmelo Anthony has brushed off concerns about the age of the franchise's roster where he will play alongside four-time MVP LeBron James.

Anthony, who turned 37 in May, joined the Lakers from the Portland Trail Blazers last week.

The 10-time NBA All Star, who was the third pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, will team up with 36-year-old James who was the top pick in that year's draft.

The Lakers side also consists of veterans Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol, while 32-year-old point guard Russell Westbrook has also joined this offseason, leading to concerns about an aging roster.

"We don't care," Anthony interjected when the aging topic came up during his presentation press conference on Monday. "We don't care. We make our own narrative."

Anthony added: "I like when people talk about the age. It gives a better story. I think it gives a better story. I think people forget, at the end of the day, it's about basketball.

"You got to know how to play basketball. You got to have that experience. I think that's what we bring at this point and time. Our talent, our skill, but also our experience.

"There's different resources than when we came into the game. We understand what taking care of yourself means from the holistic perspective."

The power forward, who will likely play a bench role for the Lakers this season, averaged 13.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game in the 2020-21 NBA season for the Blazers.

Anthony will enter his 19th NBA season pursuing his maiden title, having had stints with five other franchises, getting closest in 2009 when the Denver Nuggets made the Conference finals.

"I'm coming in with a championship on my mind," Anthony said.

"I think we all know that this is the one thing that I'm missing, right? This is the one thing that it keeps me up at night, it motivates me, because I don't have it. I want that experience."

Anthony also revealed the role James played in luring him to the Lakers, having been linked with a move to Los Angeles numerous times in the past.

"Bron just came to me one time and said, 'yo, the time is now. I want you. We got to make this happen,'" Anthony said.

"I just felt like for right now, this is the best time. Most people would say we should've gotten together years ago early in our careers, but we were in two different lanes, we were on two different paths. Everything comes full circle."

The Lakers also unveiled Kent Bazemore on Monday after being added to the roster from the Golden State Warriors.

Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell were all previously traded out to the Washington Wizards as part of the Westbrook deal.

Star point guard Damian Lillard denied reports he will request a trade from the Portland Trail Blazers in an offseason of ceaseless speculation.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the Olympic Games as a member of Team USA, Lillard said he has yet to make a decision about his future despite rumours of an impending trade request emerging on Friday.

"I woke up to those reports, a lot of people reaching out to me," said Lillard. "But it's not true. I'll start off the rip and say it's not true.

"A lot of things are being said. It hasn't come from me. I haven't made any firm decision on what my future will be."

The comments from the six-time All-Star came hours after TrueHoop's Henry Abbott reported Lillard would be formally requesting a trade in the coming days.

Lillard also insisted he "expects to be" with Portland when the 2021-22 season tips off but reiterated that he does have some concerns about the Trail Blazers' title chances.

"I think if you look at our team as it is, I don't see how you say this is a championship team," Lillard added.

“My intention and my heart is set on being in a Trail Blazers uniform for my entire career. But over time … you want to win it all. And we have to make strides to do that.”

Portland has played in eight straight postseasons, including a run to the Western Conference finals in 2019 that ended in a sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.

After first-round exits in the last two playoffs, Portland replaced long-time head coach Terry Stotts with Chauncey Billups, the first of perhaps many moves in a pivotal offseason for the Blazers.

Lillard is scheduled to meet with Billups and general manager Neil Olshey in Las Vegas before the Tokyo Olympics begin to discuss the future of the organisation.

Portland is 12-16 over the last three postseasons, despite Lillard averaging 28.3 points and 7.2 assists while shooting 39.6 percent from three-point range, leading many to believe it is time for him to seek a stronger supporting cast.

Lillard, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Thursday, is under contract for the next four seasons for $176.3 million.

"The best way to put it is be more urgent," Lillard said. "Be urgent about our next step and how we move forward. We've made the playoffs all these years. We're not a bad team, we're a good team.”

"It's a lot of positives. But we've reached that point where it's not enough.”

Damian Lillard believes changes need to be made by the Portland Trail Blazers if they are to end their now 44-year wait for an NBA title amid swirling speculation about his future.

A report on Friday suggested star point guard Lillard will request a trade from the Blazers having spent his entire NBA career in Portland.

He will reportedly address those claims during a media availability session for the United States' Olympic basketball team on Friday.

Lillard has been named an All-Star six times in his career and has helped the Blazers reach the playoffs in each of the past eight seasons.

It is his clutch shooting that has consistently kept Portland in the mix and, since he entered the league in 2012, only Stephen Curry (2,460) and James Harden (2,125) have made more three-pointers than Lillard's 2,051.

Portland reached the Western Conference Finals in 2019 but were swept by Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

However, this season's exit at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in six games was their fourth first-round elimination in five seasons and led to the Blazers parting ways with head coach Terry Stotts. Chauncey Billups is the man now tasked with leading them to a first NBA Finals since 1992 and a first championship since 1977.

Asked by Yahoo Sports if the Blazers have matched his commitment to the franchise, Lillard said: "To make it to the NBA, I had to give it everything I had.

"I was going to do what needed to be done to win games. I didn't come into the league worrying about what others were doing in the organisation. I didn't come in with that type of mentality.

"But I've been active in probably 95 per cent of the games in my career. I've played through injuries, and I've been a part of two rebuilds. I feel like I've experienced everything with the Trail Blazers, and I've worn that jersey as a badge of honour and with a lot of pride and care.

"I never felt like my job was to go in and critique what other people were doing in the organisation. My job was to make sure the team is functioning and trying to lead them to the best results. I've always assumed everybody’s mentality was the same.

"Even when I'm playing well and we come up short at the end of the season, I go home and the first thing I do is look in the mirror and tell myself we didn't win a championship. Or if I didn't play as well as I should have, I've had to look in the mirror and tell myself that my performance was unacceptable and I have to do better. And then you go do better.

 

"I think that's the stage we're at as a team where we all, not just me, not just my team-mates, not just our new coaching staff, the front office, everybody in this organisation must look in the mirror because we've constantly come up short.

"We have to look in the mirror and say I have to be better because whatever it is we're doing is not working and it's not giving us the shot to compete on the level that we want to compete on."

On why he feels this is a pivotal juncture in his career, Lillard added: "There are a few reasons: One being I'm not getting any younger. Our environment has always been great.

"We're not losing a lot, but we were eliminated by a shorthanded Denver team that I felt we should have beat. I just walked away from that really disappointed. I was like, 'Man, this just isn't going to work'.

"We're not winning the championship, but we've got a successful organisation. We're not a franchise that’s just out here losing every year and getting divided.

"We have positive seasons; we just don't end up with a championship. So I feel like at this point, I basically made the decision that if you do what you've always done, you'll always be where you've always been.

"Just like I hold myself accountable for a bad performance or hold myself accountable to make sure that I work my a** off when I’m training, I must be accountable for saying what needs to be said even if it's not popular. And that just comes with age.

"When I was younger, I felt like maybe I'll be out of place, but I feel like I've earned the right to say we must do better. We must do better if we want to win on that level."

The Portland Trail Blazers have appointed Chauncey Billups as their new head coach.

Billups spent the 2020-21 NBA season as Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach and has given been the chance to take the top job at Portland.

The five-time All-Star replaces Terry Stotts, who departed after the team's elimination in the opening round of the NBA playoffs this month.

Billups, named Finals MVP when the Detroit Pistons were crowned champions in 2004, is relishing a new challenge with the Trail Blazers.

The 44-year-old said: "I'm very excited and humbled to be the next coach of the Trail Blazers.

"Portland is a special place and a unique franchise. As a player I always loved playing here because the passion and knowledge of the fans brought out the very best in me as a competitor.

"Now I'm looking forward to being on the other side of that energy and engaging with the Portland community on a whole other level.

"I want to thank Jody Allen, Bert Kolde and Neil Olshey for their trust and for giving me this incredible opportunity. And, most importantly, I want to say to the fans that I know what this team means to you, and I promise to pour every ounce into continuing to make you proud of what the Trail Blazers stand for."

 

Trail Blazers chair Allen said: "Chauncey is a proven and consistent winner with NBA championship experience as an All-Star NBA player. 

"He has demonstrated throughout his career, first as a player, and currently as an assistant coach a unique ability to lead. We are very happy to welcome him to Portland."

Billups played 17 seasons in the NBA for Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit, New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Clippers.

A new generation of NBA superstars established themselves as the playoffs continued last week.

The first round concluded as a talented, young (with the exception of Chris Paul) Phoenix Suns team defeated LeBron James and defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Atlanta Hawks quickly gained an upper hand against the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, too.

And although Kawhi Leonard led the Los Angeles Clippers through to round two, they also suffered at the hand of an emerging talent, as Stats Perform's NBA Heat Check shows.
 

RUNNING HOT...

Devin Booker

Booker was dominant across the board for the Suns, earning praise from James after getting the better of the reigning NBA Finals MVP.

When comparing last week's performances with regular season returns, Booker ranked third for scoring improvement, second for rebounding improvement and second for three-point makes improvement. This was a staggering show of strength.

Playing in his sixth year, it is easy to forget this was a debut postseason series for Booker, who finished with 47 points at Staples Center and will back himself to deliver again against the Denver Nuggets.

Trae Young

The biggest potential upset of the second round is already under way after the Hawks took Game 1 against the 76ers in Philly despite Joel Embiid's return to fitness.

Young – another playoff debutant – was predictably at the centre of their success, following up 36 points in Game 5 against the New York Knicks with 35 in this opener.

He had 25 in the first half on Sunday on eight-of-13 shooting as Atlanta scored 74, the most ever by a road team in a Game 1. Considering the way the Sixers battled back to make the encounter close, Young might have to be similarly outstanding again in the forthcoming meetings.

Luka Doncic

Young was traded to the Hawks as part of the deal that saw Doncic go the other way to the Dallas Mavericks on draft night in 2018. But the Slovenian will play no further part in the playoffs after Sunday's Game 7 defeat to the Clippers.

Doncic has undoubtedly proven his class in the postseason, though, even if he is yet to win a series. Already one of the league's outstanding offensive stars, his career playoff average of 33.5 points per game is the best of any player to appear in 13 or more games – surpassing Michael Jordan's 33.4.

The Mavs ace reached that mark thanks to an outstanding week that included two 40-point performances despite Dallas' eventual series defeat.

Doncic's performances through 13 career playoff games are a match for the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Only Rick Barry, Bob McAdoo and Jordan have topped his 436 total points at this stage since 1963-64. He was certainly not to blame on Sunday...
 

GOING COLD...

Kristaps Porzingis

Expensive team-mate Porzingis may well have to take some responsibility for the Mavs' failings, although he was not alone. Among the players with the largest declines in scoring over the past week from their regular season outputs, three Dallas players were in the top seven.

Josh Richardson and Jalen Brunson were also in there, but Porzingis' presence should be of the most concern.

Although the big man put up 16 points and 11 rebounds – his second-most in a postseason game – on Sunday, his failure to make a single one of his five three-point attempts left Doncic short of help.

Enes Kanter

Doncic was not the only superstar left high and dry as he exited the first round. Damian Lillard did all he could to try to carry the Portland Trail Blazers past the Nuggets last week, averaging 41.5 points, but could not advance alone.

CJ McCollum underwhelmed, despite contributing 20.7 points across the series, yet it was the absence of effective defense that meant Nikola Jokic was always able to match Lillard.

Jusuf Nurkic had a combined plus/minus of 45 but fouled out of three of the six games, meaning poor Kanter had to guard Jokic on occasion and ended the series with a -34 plus/minus across only 56 minutes.

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