NBA

DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love push mental health conversation forward by revealing their own struggles

Jay Asser 7/03/2018
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Kevin Love wrote about his mental health issues for The Players' Tribune.

From the outside, Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan look like they have it all. But everything isn’t always as it seems underneath.

The two All-Stars have grabbed headlines recently not for their play, but for their courage in revealing their battle with mental health issues.

DeRozan first acknowledged he suffers from depression, which paved the way for Love to pen an essay on The Players’ Tribune about his own mental health struggles.

In his piece, the Cleveland Cavaliers forward admitted he was overcome with a panic attack in a game this season and credited DeRozan as his inspiration to come forward.

“Mental health is an invisible thing, but it touches all of us at some point or another,” Love wrote. “It’s part of life. Like DeMar said, ‘You never know what that person is going through.'”

DeRozan may not have expected his own admission to be a rallying cry for someone else in the NBA to let the public in on what they’re dealing with, but the Toronto Raptors star was proud that he could be a positive influence.

“It made me feel, you know, pretty damn good, honestly,” DeRozan said. “So it’s cool to be able to help somebody.”

Who knows if others in the league will open up and follow suit, but even without another player joining them, DeRozan and Love have already done immeasurable good.

A cynical way to look at the awareness they’ve raised is by deeming it short-lived and an eventual casualty to the viscous news cycle.

But while the conversation will die down in the mainstream, there’s every chance it’ll stick with players in the league, and hopefully, just maybe, make outsiders think twice before rushing to judgement.

It would be encouraging to see any athlete in any sport open up about mental health, but the stature of Love and DeRozan, as well as the fact they play in the NBA, can’t be understated.

These aren’t two guys toiling away on the end of the bench – they’re two All-Stars who’ve inked nine-figure contracts and seemingly living the dream.

If people who’ve achieved this much success can still be plagued with depression and anxiety, no one, in any walk of life, should feel ashamed of going through something similar.

And that Love and DeRozan have reached their respective levels in an environment like the NBA should challenge our views and assumptions.

Sport in general operates in a machismo culture, but that’s especially true with the NBA, where the nature of the game means the flip side to constantly being in the spotlight is having nowhere to hide.

A basketball court is a relatively small playing field and because there are only 10 players on the floor – all without a helmet or cap to help conceal emotions – it’s nearly impossible to go unnoticed.

That means every interaction, trash talk or highlight puts a magnifying glass on the participants.

Get crossed up like Wesley Johnson was by James Harden, or get called ‘soft’ by Draymond Green? Everyone is going to see it and then humiliate you to some degree.

There’s nothing wrong with poking fun at players, but empathy is important because you never know what the next person may be going through.

The more players, and people in general, share their experiences, the more the walls will come down – not only the ones we put up around our vulnerabilities, but the ones we’ve constructed around our long-held beliefs.

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NBA

Houston Rockets put on clinic against Oklahoma City Thunder to match longest win streak in NBA this season

Jay Asser 7/03/2018
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Chris Paul dropped 25 points on the Oklahoma City Thunder.

When the Houston Rockets are clicking like this, it’s hard to imagine anyone slowing them down.

Houston kept their sizzling run going by defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder 122-112 on Tuesday for their 16th straight victory, matching Boston for the longest win streak in the league this season.

Despite their underwhelming record and standing in the West, Oklahoma City had fared well against some of the top teams by claiming wins over Golden State, Toronto and Cleveland.

The Rockets, however, made light work of the Thunder with an offensive clinic that saw James Harden and Chris Paul combine for 48 points on 15-of-27 shooting, while the team as a whole hit 17-of-33 3-pointers (51.5 per cent).

“We’re so good offensively that every single night teams are going to throw different coverages at us,” Harden said. “We’ve just got to find different ways to attack them. Once we find something we can go to, we use it. Guys got open shots, and we just ride that wave.”

Houston don’t even rank near the top of the league in 3-point percentage – sitting 10th at 36.7 per cent – but the win over Oklahoma City marked the 26th time this season they’ve hit at least 17 triples.

Their 15.6 3-pont makes per game are far and away the most in the league, with Brooklyn’s 12.2 the next closest.

That type of firepower is a major reason why, with each passing win, they’re closing the gap with the prohibitive favourite Warriors.

But there’s also a sense that if the Rockets – who’ve failed to advanced past the second round of the playoffs the past two years – look too far ahead and concern themselves with the bigger picture too soon, things might unravel a bit.

“We just try to stay in the moment,” Paul told ESPN about the win streak. “Stay in the moment, not try to think about all that stuff. Just keep hooping and leave all that other stuff for everybody else to talk about.”

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NBA

Damian Lillard firing on all cylinders as Portland Trail Blazers put together late-season surge

Jay Asser 6/03/2018
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Damian Lillard takes it to the basket against the Los Angeles Lakers.

While the Portland Trazil Blazers‘ climb up the Western Conference standings has gone somewhat under the radar, there’s nothing quiet about what Damian Lillard is doing.

The All-Star guard has been on fire and taken his play to another level over the past month, propelling the Trail Blazers to a seven-game winning streak and nine victories in their last 10 matches.

Over that span, Lillard has put together games in which he’s scored 50, 44 and 40 points, but his most recent performance may have been his most impressive yet.

Facing an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, Lillard scored 15 straight – including four consecutive 3-pointers in less than two minutes – to lead the Trail Blazers to a 108-103 victory.

Overall, he scored 19 of his 39 points in the final period to maintain Portland’s sparkling run of form.

“It will probably be a while before I miss, that is what I am [thinking],” said Lillard. “Usually when I get on the road, I feel like every shot is going in. There have been times when it came down to a big shot, where I have been missing; but I think just knowing that I have taken these shots so many times, not only in games but in workouts, that I have been preparing myself.

“I expect things for myself. Regardless of how the game is going, I am always going to feel like when the time comes, I can make it happen.”

Since February 8, Lillard is averaging 33.5 points per game – second in the league behind Anthony Davis’ 34.7 – on shooting percentages of 46.3 from the field and 38.0 from long range.

His surge has pushed the Trail Blazers all the way to third in the West behind only Houston and Golden State. Though only two games in the loss column separate them from the Los Angeles Clippers in ninth, Portland have proven their playoff credentials.

If Lillard can sustain his play down the stretch, the Trail Blazers will be in a favourable position to not just reach the post-season, but hold home-court advantage in the opening round.

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