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Dame Lillard taking Blazers to next level

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Dame Lillard taking Blazers to next level

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Brooklyn Nets implemented an interesting tactic late in the third quarter Thursday night in what was a must-win game for the Portland Trail Blazers to qualify for the play-in round of the NBA restart.

Damian Lillard — the hottest player in the NBA Bubble — received the inbounds pass and proceeded to casually dribble up the court to set up the offense. But on this trip up the floor, he noticed something unfamiliar. 

Before he even reached half court, two defenders blitzed him, forcing him to pass to his release valve early. “Logo Lillard” is what he’s dubbed for his penchant to pull up and hit from the league logo from near half-court with regularity.

“I’ve never [seen that] before. Maybe once, but not like that,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports after the Blazers’ 134-133 victory to claim the eighth seed in the West. “Like, bruh. Even when they were in a zone, they boxed-and-one. We ran our zone offense and [a defender] just followed me around and denied me.”

That defensive approach on Lillard first proved successful in the first round of the 2018 playoffs, when the six-seeded New Orleans Pelicans shocked the basketball world and swept the third-seeded Trail Blazers. The traps came so frequently for Lillard in that series, and for the most part, he tried to play the right way and simply trust his teammates by giving up the ball and hoping they would capitalize on a 4-3 advantage.

Portland was unable to consistently capitalize in those situations, though, and whatever rhythm Lillard had was disrupted. The narrative many people latched onto from that series was that Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday shut down Lillard when it was rarely a one-on-one situation. 

When Lillard saw Brooklyn commit to trapping him early, he thought of how he responded two years ago. 

“It was harder for me then. I took it hard,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “Every time people mention that [Pelicans] series to me, I just say I got better from that. I improved and I think it has shown. Because tonight, it was even worse than New Orleans with how aggressive and early [the trap] was.”

Lillard had a feeling the traps would resurface at some point, and he put in the work behind the scenes with his teammates to limit their effectiveness. 

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Sources said Lillard has been in attendance at every optional practice during the restart to watch the young guys play three-on-three. This is his way of showing them that they are valued members of the team, knowing he’s going to need them.

On Thursday, the five-time All-Star put his head down against the Nets, dribbling through the doubles and finessing his way into the paint. He found teammates one pass away for open triples. And on one possession early in the fourth, when the defense forgot to pick him up at half-court, he splashed the ball through the net from the logo.

The right play is to pass the ball once a double is approaching, and two years ago, that’s what he did. It didn’t translate into the result he sought.

Lillard wasn’t going out like that again.

“That’s why I took that deep three,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “I wasn’t going to allow the traps to take me out of the game. I started to attack two defenders sometimes and if they overly sucked in, then I would still throw it out. But I started to search for shots and opportunities. But at the same time, I don’t mind trusting my teammates. I think Gary Trent Jr. has earned our trust. Even if he misses a few in a row, I still have confidence to make that pass ahead to him out of the double. And I got confidence that he’ll make it. So I’m looking at Gary Trent, who has probably made the most threes in the bubble, I’m looking at CJ [McCollum], and I’m looking at Carmelo Anthony. I’m looking at the double-team like, ‘I’m OK with this.’ And tonight we didn’t make shots, but I don’t see many nights where we get those looks and they don’t go in at a high clip.”

Despite the scheme, Lillard finished with game-highs of 42 points and 12 assists in 43 minutes of play.

McCollum, who is dealing with a fracture in his back, scored 25 points and came up with the decisive defensive stop, forcing Caris LeVert into a contested step-back jumper that clanked off the back rim at the buzzer.

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After the game, Lillard had a talk with LeVert, who torched the Trail Blazers for 37 points and nine assists.

“I told him he’s nice and to keep hooping,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “Because he is. He really is nice, bruh.”

Portland, went 6-2 in the restart to grab the eighth seed and now will face the Memphis Grizzlies in the play-in round, which starts Saturday with Portland a six-point favorite at BetMGM. The Trail Blazers just have to win one game to advance to a playoff series with the Los Angeles Lakers, while the Grizzlies have to win twice on consecutive days.

Now that Lillard has found a balance in how to deal with traps and the extra attention on the court, the Blazers are anything but an easy out. Still, it’s going to take players hitting shots and some stunning performances from Lillard.

“Last year in the Western Conference finals, Golden State did kind of what Brooklyn just did. They just kind of didn’t let me get a look, except they had really experienced, smart players out there doing it and they were aggressive with it,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “And even by the end of that series, the game that we got eliminated in Portland where I missed a shot at the buzzer to win it, I had a good game. I had 28 points and 12 assists in the final game, but it took me time to get going. But I think right now, I’m just growing as a player. I’m figuring out what teams are trying to do and moving from there. I’m finding my ways around it, knowing when to be overly aggressive, when to attack it, what to look for, who to put where to make them react in a way to see how they’re doing it.”

Carmelo Anthony honored 

It has been a great comeback story for Carmelo Anthony, who has come up big multiple times for the Trail Blazers in the restart. 

But he was recently awarded for his efforts off the court.

Neil Olshey, the Blazers president of basketball operations, presented Anthony with the Maurice Lucas Award on Tuesday.

This annual honor is named after the late Trail Blazer big man to highlight an individual who contributes to their communities and has the support of his teammates and the organization. 

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In such a short time, Anthony has shown to be well loved in Portland and a valuable member of the Blazers. 

Kyrie Irving’s initiative rolling on 

The Brooklyn Nets are without numerous players for the restart, but one of their stars is making sure other players aren’t without.

Kyrie Irving, who’s also a vice president of the players association, launched the KAI Empowerment Initiative, a $1.5 million fund he’s dispersing to WNBA players who opted out of their restart for various reasons.

Sources said the deadline for players to submit their request to receive funds from the program was this past Tuesday and the review process is underway. Participants will be notified about their requests on or by Aug. 24, sources said.

It’s an initiative that intends to support women’s basketball moving forward and do its part to ensure equality and social justice.  

Jamal Crawford fitting right in

Ever since the Brooklyn Nets signed veteran guard Jamal Crawford for the restart, the organization has raved about his leadership skills and how much his younger teammates respect him.

Sources said Crawford has shown his value in the locker room and demonstrated in his limited practices — due to a hamstring injury — that he’s still an offensive force. The Nets are seriously considering adding him to the roster for the 2020-21 season, sources said.

Nets superstar Kevin Durant has already publicly lobbied for Crawford to stay.

Jamal Crawford shows off his headphones. (Yahoo Sports)

The age gap between Crawford, 40, and his teammates is glaring when you look at the headphones Nets players use pregame to get themselves amped up. 

Most of the players have wireless Beats or Apple AirPods, but Crawford is rocking an old pair of Sony wired headphones that has an earphone detached from the swivel. 

Crawford’s teammates have tried to persuade him to upgrade, but the three-time Sixth Man of the Year has refused. His wife, Tori, heard enough and shipped her husband a fresh pair of headphones that should arrive in the bubble this weekend.

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″They are all a gang of thieves!″

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″They are all a gang of thieves!″

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Atlético Madrid’s defense was incensed at the end of the match that saw Uruguay expelled from the World Cup in Qatar.

José Jiménez, Uruguay’s defender, was one of his team’s most furious referees after the triumph over Ghana, which South Americans lacked to qualify for the next round of the World Cup in Qatar.

Uruguay complained furiously after the final whistle about Cavani’s missed penalty. Jimenez, according to some media reports, even attacked the FIFA director of competitions in the heat of the moment on the field.

Caught on camera, he yelled, “They’re all thieves, bastards!”

Captain Godin, on the other hand, spoke of a theft, Cavani threw the screen on the ground on his way to the dressing rooms…



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BAL – “These are honest tears with a big soul”: Ricardo Nascimenta was already adored in Seoul and talk about the victory over Portugal (South Korea)

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BAL - "These are honest tears with a big soul": Ricardo Nascimenta was already adored in Seoul and talk about the victory over Portugal (South Korea)

Ricardo Nascimento may have ceased to be the most beloved Portuguese in Korea after the feat of Paulo Bento, when he managed to seal the Asian team’s advance to the 1/8 finals at the limit, namely in a victory over Portugal, which also happened in 2002. The midfielder, now 48 and coach of Canedo from Aveiro District, was a hero during his time at Seoul from 2005 to 2007, earning an emotional farewell to the South Koreans who saw him as the deity of the championship. in those years.

When he left, there were tears and a storm at the airport, as well as chants that made him the most experienced player in South Korea. Ricardo Nascimento did not lose this game, he followed it closely and even in the midst of the defeat of the Portuguese managed to warm his heart with the success and joy of many friends that overwhelmed him.

“I was on the phone with a South Korean friend, really delirious. I just laughed… because he was scribbling in Portuguese in euphoria. There was a lot of soul, a lot of desires. So many good people do, it was a supersonic win for the Koreans,” he praised, better analyzing the match.

“Portugal came out very strong with good ball circulation. Definitely Vitinha is a player who adds more. The team was organized for 20 minutes, then the Koreans gradually began to balance the game with very fast transitions and managed to level the score before the break. They managed to organize better for the 2nd half, which was almost equal to the beginning of the game. The difference was in speed, Portugal went better, but with slower circulation, and the Koreans tried to surprise with their accelerations. Thus, they scored the winning goal. I note their good positional play combined with such transitions,” praises Ricardo Nascimento… surrendered to the qualification celebration.

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“But there is a lot of the soul of the people. This is amazing! These were sincere tears that matched the joy that swept the streets.

I was touched to see these holidays,” said the former creative of Boavista and Rio Ave, who has no doubts about the success of Portugal.
“They finished first, that’s the most important thing. They lost the game they could have lost, Portugal’s future in the tournament seems very good to me,” he stressed.

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BALL – Enzo, Scaloni’s “pillar”, waiting for Di Maria (Argentina)

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BALL - Enzo, Scaloni's "pillar", waiting for Di Maria (Argentina)

Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni told a press conference this Friday ahead of the World Cup round of 16 match in Qatar – Saturday against Australia (15 hours from mainland Portugal), in Al Rayyan – that he still believes the former player Benfica Di Maria (now at Juventus) has recovered from his injury and is ready to play.

“Di Maria still feels some discomfort, but he has no contractures. Wait for game time. It may seem absurd, but we played later, even after winning the group, and rested less than Australia had since the last game. Look, I also have doubts about whether I will have Tagliafico at the game. i hope angel [Di María] be available for the game,” Scaloni wished reporters this Friday in the capital of Qatar.

According to the Argentine press (Olé newspaper), Scaloni’s midfielder Enzo Fernandez of Benfica is one of the pillars of the formation in a strategy dubbed “Scaloneta”: the Benfica player is already in the starting line-up against Poland (assist) after coming on as a substitute in two previous games (and a beautiful goal scored against the Mexicans) is one of the three pillars of the pampas for the coach, along with Alexis Mac Allister (Brighton) and Julian Alvarez (Manchester City).

What Scaloni doesn’t want is unbridled euphoria. “The opponent is losing? I disagree. Absolutely. This is football, 11 against 11, you have to drop favoritism and play the match. As for tactics, it will be similar, perhaps with some changes. There are good players in Australia, but we will try to show our best game, control the game for most of the minutes, our idea is to try to win,” said Scaloni.

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What he expected from the Oceania team, but which qualified and is playing in the Asian zone, was clear. “They have good players on the right flank, forwards and experienced midfielders playing in competitive leagues. And, in particular, they are a team. And when you face the team, it’s always hard. It’s a choice with players who know what they want,” Scaloni said.

After the controversy over the VAR confirmation of Japan’s 2-1 move against Spain – there was a feeling that the ball had completely crossed the bottom line earlier, but the goal was confirmed – also Scaloni, without stopping to do so, he left, as did his counterpart in Spain Luis Enrique, many doubts.

“I think the way Luis Enrique thinks: the first images are clear. [bola terá passado o risco na totalidade]🇧🇷 But if you analyze it in detail, you will see what happened. There is nothing else to do. We face the situation, we live with it. It’s hard to digest, especially since it’s implemented at the World Cup. If we had time to adapt earlier, but it was very sudden. We had a month of tests before the games. Anyway, this is for everyone, this is what we have. But to be… it’s almost a millimeter,” said the Pampas breeder.

As for the football that will be featured and what Australia expects, there is no doubt. “They have a clear system in attack and I don’t think they are going to change. My message to the fans as always: let’s break our backs on the field! We came to compete, but at the end of the day it’s just football, one game, we saw it in the Group E games on Thursday. Almost all the teams deserved to get into the next stage, but at some point the games turned upside down, that’s what happened, ”Scaloni gave the example, not surprised that Australia beat Denmark.

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“I was not surprised: they are a good team, they had a good qualifying campaign. They were the fourth team to qualify for Qatar! They have a World Cup tradition and that makes them a strong contender. We are not going to be too confident, but we will play our best football, game after game, and see what happens, ”concluded the Argentina coach.

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