After Toronto's stumble, the race for Matt Barnes is now wide open

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The Toronto Raptors thought they were close to acquiring Matt Barnes via sign-and-trade, but apparently somebody didn’t do their homework, causing the deal to go through. With no cap space left to sign Barnes, no Bird rights (or even early Bird rights), and the inability to use salary cap exceptions to sign him and subsequently trade him, the Magic are a pretty improbable sign-and-trade partner.

With Toronto stalled, a few more teams will have a chance to lure away Barnes, despite the fact that he doesn’t seem to mind playing for the Raptors next season. According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, though the Raptors remain interested and are exploring more ways to acquire Barnes, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Miami Heat will all be continuing their negotiations with the swingman.

It’s not hard to see why. Barnes is something of an irritant, but mostly because his brand of defense is impressively pesky. He can also step out and hit the three on occasion, but Barnes is actually a bit overrated in that respect (Barnes shot just .319 from deep last season and .329 for his career, unimpressive marks for a guy with somewhat limited offensive utility). That said, Barnes is far more active than your typical three-point shooting role player, and his tendency to cut hard to the rim and fight for rebounds give him value beyond his shooting stroke.

Toronto will have to think quickly, because after spending most of their mid-level exception on Linas Kleiza, it doesn’t look like they’ll have the means to sign Barnes to a decent offer outright. Meanwhile, Boston, L.A., and Miami will continue their pursuit, because that’s what NBA contenders do: They target and acquire quality role players like it’s going out of style. The idea of playing with one of those powerhouses must be at least somewhat alluring to Barnes, particularly as the reality of him landing in Toronto becomes more and more of a pipe dream.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.

Isaiah Thomas nutmegs Knicks center Marshall Plumlee (video)

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Isaiah Thomas usually saves his best play for the fourth quarter, but the Celtics guard showed out early with this pass between Marshall Plumlee‘s legs to get Kelly Olynyk a layup.

Thomas uncharacteristically just didn’t have enough late. Though he scored 39 points, he shot just 2-for-9 in the final period, as the Knicks pulled away for a 117-106 win.

Kevin Durant misses dunk so hard, ball flies past halfcourt (video)

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Kevin Durant played great in the Warriors’ win over the Thunder last night, but – perhaps fueled by excess emotion – he missed this incredibly emphatic dunk attempt.

Later, Russell Westbrook showed his former teammate how to do it (sparking their apparent conversation):

James Harden outduels Giannis Antetokounmpo as they produce fantastic highlight video

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James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo met in a battle of two of the NBA’s best point guards. (Still weird to say.) The final lines:

  • Harden: 38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks
  • Antetokounmpo: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks

The winner? Harden and the Rockets, who topped the Bucks, 111-92.

But the real winner? Anyone who gets to watch this highlight video. It just gets better as it goes.