Corey Maggette, Pau Gasol, Matt Barnes

Game of the night: Where the Bucks didn’t want a shootout with the Lakers

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This was supposed to be strength-on-strength. Los Angeles versus Milwaukee. The League’s best offense so far (the Lakers) versus the best defense so far (the Bucks). The Lakers were scoring 116.7 points per 100 possessions, the Bucks were giving up just 96.9. Something had to give.

The Bucks gave. Not just gave, collapsed. Reverted to the fetal position. They couldn’t stop the Lakers so instead they got in a shootout with the best offense in the league. That ended about like you’d expect.

The Lakers won 117-108 putting up a crazy good 126.9 points per 100 possessions.

The Lakers did that doing what they do every game — getting smart, good looks. Simple clean shots from Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, or kick-outs to shooters. Well, all that and the Kobe show.

The Bucks could not stop it. The Lakers got t the rim, they hit 10 of 16 threes. Kobe was posting up and hitting shots on the move, Shannon Brown had 21 off the bench. All the shots were working.

Meanwhile, it was he Lakers defense that really won them the game. The Bucks stayed close bombing threes and hitting difficult shots (Drew Gooden taking deep twos is not a good offensive strategy). Still, that made for an entertaining first half.

The Lakers wasted no time shredding the Bucks vaunted defense. Well, not the Lakers so much as Kobe. From the start you could tell this was one of those games where Kobe was going to do what he wanted when he wanted.

He scored seven of Lakers’ first nine showing all the different ways you can make John Salmons look bad — first came the bucket-and-one beating Salmons down the floor on the break; then Kobe posted him for two; Then he just elevated and knocked down a jumper right over Salmons.

What made this fun early on is the Bucks couldn’t miss either — while Kobe was going Kobe, Brandon Jennings had two threes and one long two. The Bucks hit 5 of 6 early threes, and even Gooden was in on the act bombing from the outside.

The Bucks were just on fire — they shot 76.3% eFG% in the first quarter, 5-7 from three. And they still trailed by three. That’s when you knew where this was headed. When you’re hitting every shot on your wish list and still trail, it’s bad. Milwaukee didn’t want an old-fashioned shootout but they were in one and found a way to lead 59-57 at the half.

Then the Lakers started playing much better defense. The Bucks shot 38 percent in the third quarter, scored just 22 points. They had six turnovers.

Meanwhile, the Lakers just kept being the Lakers. The Bucks focused on stopping Kobe as the second half wore on and he went into facilitator mode. Shannon Brown continued to show the maturity of his game, as he knocked down key threes whenever he wanted. He had 19 in the second half. The Bucks could do nothing about it.

This was a one-off for the Bucks — their defense is better than this, but they hadn’t gone up against player movement, ball movement and shooting like this yet. There are nights when nobody is stopping the Lakers. This was one.

One other note — Andrew Bogut tweaked is bad elbow during the game and admitted that might bother him more for a little while. Bogut was under the Lakers basket and was undercut by Corey Maggette. When Bogut fell he instinctively put his arms down to break the fall. That aggravated the elbow, which Bogut said would hurt tomorrow.

Suns’ Marquese Chriss shows off crazy hops to throw down alley-oop (VIDEO)

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Marquese Chriss has ridiculous athleticism, which is why a lot of teams had their eye on him last draft.

He’s still trying to figure out how to make that talent work for him on the court, but on plays like this third quarter alley-oop your jaw drops.

The Suns got the upset win over the Raptors thanks to a monster game from Eric Bledsoe.

Karl-Anthony Towns carries Wolves past Nuggets, 111-108

Minnesota Timberwolves teammates Karl-Anthony Towns, center, and Tyus Jones (1) celebrate their lead in the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Minneapolis. The Wolves won 111-108. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Karl-Anthony Towns had 32 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists and hit the go-ahead shot with 42.5 seconds to play to lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to a 111-108 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night.

Towns hit 13 of 19 shots and also had four blocks and Andrew Wiggins scored 24 points in Minnesota’s fourth straight home win. Shabazz Muhammad scored 20 points off the bench and the Wolves rallied from nine points down midway through the fourth quarter for the win.

Gary Harris scored 22 points and Nikola Jokic had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Nuggets on the second night of a back-to-back. Wilson Chandler and Jamal Murray added 17 points each for Denver, which played without Emmanuel Mudiay because of a sore back.

Kris Dunn had 10 points and nine assists for the Wolves while starting for Ricky Rubio, who missed the game to attend his grandmother’s funeral.

The Wolves were down 100-91 midway through the fourth quarter when Towns and Muhammad keyed a 12-2 run. Muhammad finished the spurt with a layup for a 103-102 lead, Wiggins hit a 3-pointer and Towns knocked down a jumper from the baseline to put the Wolves up for good in a thriller.

The game featured two of the best young big men in the game in Towns and Jokic. Both are considered the new breed of NBA center, able to shoot the ball like a shooting guard, pass it like a point guard and run the break like a small forward.

Denver coach Mike Malone said the Nuggets offense took off when he inserted Jokic into the starting lineup, and the Serbian gave his coach the luxury of being able to weather Mudiay’s absence by running the offense through him. Rookie Jamal Murray saw extended minutes at point guard, running the pick-and-roll with Jokic to perfection.

Towns knows there is a segment of the NBA analytics community that believe Jokic should have won rookie of the year honors last year, and he went right at Jokic every time he had the chance on Sunday night. Towns dunked on Jokic twice and had another blow-by for a dunk in the second quarter that got the crowd on its feet.

TIP-INS

Nuggets: Denver committed 18 turnovers leading to 31 points for Minnesota. … Mudiay stayed home in Denver to get treatment for his back. The hope is that it is a short-term injury.

Timberwolves: Gorgui Dieng was limited to six minutes in the first half after picking up three quick fouls in the first quarter. … Rubio is expected to rejoin the team on Monday.

SHABAZZ SHINES

Muhammad made 9 of 14 shots, including two 3s and hustled on defense as well, giving the Wolves some much-needed production off the bench. Zach LaVine had another quiet night as he works his way back from a hip injury, but Muhammad picked up the scoring slack. He reached double figures for the fourth time in seven games.

 

Eric Bledsoe’s career day leads Suns over Raptors 115-103

Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) drives past Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry during first-half NBA basketball game action in Toronto, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
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TORONTO (AP) — Eric Bledsoe scored a career-high 40 points and had 13 assists and the Phoenix Suns handed the Toronto Raptors their third straight loss, 115-103 on Sunday night.

Bledsoe was 11 of 17 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, and Devin Booker added 20 points as the Suns won their second straight road game following Saturday’s win at New York. The victory also completed a season sweep of the Raptors for the first time since 2013-14 and improved Phoenix to 11-6 against Eastern Conference teams this season.

DeMar DeRozan had 22 points for Toronto and Jonas Valanciunas added 16 points and 12 rebounds for his 17th double-double of the season. It’s the first time the Raptors have lost three straight since Nov. 6-10, 2015.

Kyle Lowry was ejected with 1:30 left after a flagrant-two foul following contact with the head of Brandon Knight. It capped a night to forget for Lowry, who had 15 points but shot just 5 of 17, including 1 of 9 from 3-point range.

Toronto led from the 2:13 mark of the second quarter until the Suns tied it at 95 on a banked hook shot from Tyson Chandler with 7:29 to play. After DeMarre Carroll and Bledsoe exchanged baskets, Phoenix went on an 18-6 run the rest of the way to take the game away from the Raptors.

After falling behind on Bledsoe’s 3-pointer just 19 seconds in, the Raptors responded with a 12-0 run, punctuated by a spectacular alley-oop dunk by Lucas Nogueira from Lowry’s pass. The Raptors led 31-28 after 12 minutes.

DeRozan led the way in the second quarter, going 4 of 5 from the floor for 12 points as the Raptors built their lead to seven on a driving layup with 1:51 to play in the half. The Suns countered with a 10-4 run to go into the interval down 60-57.

The Raptors extended their lead to seven in the third but only shot 36.8 percent from the floor and were unable to pull away, settling for an 85-82 edge after 36 minutes.

TIP-INS

Suns: One night after setting the mark, Chandler ended his franchise record and career high of consecutive 15-plus rebound games at seven with nine rebounds on the night. … F Dragan Bender left with 9:03 remaining in the second quarter with a sore right ankle and did not return.

Raptors: F Patrick Patterson (left knee) missed his sixth consecutive game. … The Raptors got double-digit points from all five of their starting players.

HOME AT LAST

Toronto’s prized free-agent signing Jared Sullinger played his first home game for the Raptors on Sunday night. After missing the first 41 games of the season following left foot surgery, the forward made his debut in Friday’s loss in Charlotte before entering the fray Sunday with 3:56 to play in the first. He ultimately played 13 minutes, scoring nine points.

DRAWING LEVEL

With 22 points Sunday, DeRozan tied Chris Bosh for second in franchise history with 265 games with at least 20 points. Vince Carter leads the way with 273 such games.

HIGHLIGHT REEL

With 7:10 left in the third, Marquise Chriss made a spectacular, one-handed alley-oop dunk from T.J. Warren‘s lob pass that was slightly behind him, falling to the floor before rolling over and popping right back up.

 

Magic had one highlight: Aaron Gordon in transition with dunk (VIDEO)

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Golden State didn’t have much trouble with Orlando Sunday, pulling away in the second half as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each had seven threes.

But the Magic did have one highlight: Elfrid Payton found Aaron Gordon in transition and we know the man can finish. Enjoy.