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Ray McCallum’s play could leave Sacramento with tough choices

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LAS VEGAS — The Sacramento Kings are set at the point guard spot.

They traded for Greivis Vasquez to become the pass-first point guard that gets DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore going. Behind him off the bench they can bring in score-first Isaiah Thomas to spark the second unit. That pair makes for a good one-two punch. Plus, Jimmer Fredette thinks he is a point guard, too.

Ray McCallum is playing well at Summer League and could throw a wrench into the entire plan.

McCallum, the Kings’ second round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, attacked the paint and had 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting Monday night in the Kings loss to Golden State. He had one assist (although part of that was guys didn’t finish his passes), he had six steals and he was clearly the guy in charge of the team. For the second game in a row, McCallum looked good.

“The thing about Ray is he is an extension of the coach on the floor,” Kings coach Mike Malone said after the loss. “Great feel for the game.”

McCallum is baby faced but he is the son of a coach — he played for his father in college at Detroit — who spent three years playing the college game. He shows a real basketball IQ and maturity on the court, he does the little things that are too often missing for rookies at Summer League. For example, when he has the ball and feels pressure out top he doesn’t turn his body to shield the ball and limit his driving options, he stays square and has the skills to know if the defender makes the play for the ball he can pull it back and go by them.

And go by them he did Monday — he attacked the paint ferociously. He was 5-of-5 in the restricted area on the night and got to the line a dozen times (including bouncing back from one hard foul that should have been a flagrant call).

“Tonight early on he got caught dribbling around a lot, kind of pounding the ball too much,” Malone said, he also personally chewed the entire team out at the half for their effort. “Second half he was much more efficient with making plays, getting to the rim and putting pressure on the defense. He’s a terrific athlete and he showed his athleticism by making plays to the rim and finishing them.”

“Honestly I was just trying to be a little more aggressive,” McCallum said of his effort in his second Summer League game. “I watched the film, and a lot of times coming off the ball screen I could have attacked a little bit more and that’s something I tried to do tonight. Get in the paint, not necessarily just looking for my shot but just getting in the paint and trying to look for one of my teammates.

“Tonight the lane opened up for me a lot so I was able to get in there and get to the hole and try to get to the line. That’s something that’s in my game and I was just trying to be aggressive.”

McCallum was impressive. You want to be careful reading too much into Summer League success but after a couple games this much is clear — he can play at the NBA level.

Which leaves the Kings with some potentially challenging choices.

Traditionally NBA teams only carry a couple point guards on the roster and the Kings have two good ones, plus Fredette who is more of a combo guard but likes the ball in his hands. Carrying those three and McCallum on the roster is not going to be easy.

“He’ll come in, there’s nothing set in stone,” Malone said of McCallum’s role. “You know it’s going to be a healthy competition having three point guards and Ray’s kind of shown his ability here so the cream will rise to the top.”

McCallum’s game is more like that of Thomas than Vasquez, meaning it is possible if the Kings like McCallum enough they could see what the trade market is for Thomas.

McCallum need not be worried about getting his NBA shot. When I mentioned the Kings backlog at the point to a front office person for another team his reaction was “if they don’t want this kid we’ll take him, he can play.”

Just a few games into Summer League, it is certainly clear McCallum can play. Which is a good problem for the Kings to have.

NBA: 76ers got away with violation before Robert Covington’s late 3-pointer against Trail Blazers

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Robert Covington hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the 76ers’ 93-92 win over the Trail Blazers on Friday, but that wasn’t Covington’s only triple as Philadelphia overcame a four-point deficit in the final 40 seconds. He also buried a 3-pointer with 38 seconds left.

The catch: That shot came after Philadelphia should have turned the ball over, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

Gerald Henderson missed a 3-pointer, and Dario Saric prevented the rebound from going out of bounds, saving the ball with a pass to Covington. Except Saric got away with stepping out of bounds with the ball with 42.1 seconds left, per the league:

Saric’s (PHI) left foot is out of bounds when he makes contact with the loose ball.

That would’ve given Portland the ball up four.

The 76ers overcome the odds to win this game. But a correct call might have produced too steep of a hill for Philadelphia to climb.

NBA: Heat got away with two violations before clutch 3-pointer in win over Mavericks (video)

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Dirk Nowitzki entered Miami nostalgic about returning to the place he led the Mavericks to the 2011 NBA title.

He left with a 99-95 loss to the Heat.

But perhaps correct officiating down the stretch would have produced a different result.

Before Tyler Johnson hit a key late 3-pointer, Miami got away with two violations, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

First, Goran Dragic should’ve been called for travelling with 1:47 left:

Dragic (MIA) moves his pivot foot.

Failing that, Hassan Whiteside should’ve been whistled for a three-second violation with 1:45 left:

Whiteside (MIA) is in the paint for longer than three seconds.

Either call would’ve ended the Heat’s possession. Instead, they kept swinging the ball until Johnson hit his 3-pointer.

We’ll never know how the game would’ve played out with a correct call, but at different points, Dallas trailed by just two and three while having to intentionally foul.

Raptors Kyle Lowry was ejected Sunday for blow to Brandon Knight’s head (VIDEO)

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Kyle Lowry has had an All-Star worthy season, but he’s had a rough few games.

His jumper has gone missing the last three games — he is shooting 35.4 percent overall and 25.9 percent from three in those games. Not coincidentally, all three of those are Raptors losses.

Then on Sunday, he struck the Suns’ Brandon Knight in the head as Knight drove the lane. Lowry made an ill-advised swipe at the ball after Knight got past him and smacked Knight on the head. Lowry was given a Flagrant 2 and was ejected, which was the right call.

Lowry took responsibility for the hit and said after the game he texted Knight to apologize, that he wasn’t a dirty player and didn’t intend to do hurt Knight. Classy move. But Lowry still could face a fine from the league for this.

Three things we learned Sunday: Roller coaster Laker season has some deep, deep dips

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 29:  Luke Walton of the Los Angeles Lakers watches play during a 101-89 Dallas Mavericks win at Staples Center on December 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  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 Harry How/Getty Images)
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With a couple of important football games Sunday you may have missed some other things. Like why a highway was covered in red Skittles. Or, the handful of NBA Games that took place. We can help you with the latter, here are the big takeaways from Sunday.

1) On the anniversary of Kobe’s 81-point game, Lakers only score 73.
I keep waiting for the day Luke Walton snaps.

He has been the model of the patient, developmental basketball coach of a young team this season — it’s about progress, about lessons learned, about laying a foundation that helps this young core grow into something more dangerous in future years. He has been what the Lakers needed, a departure from last year and he who shall not be named. However, the lack of effort and growth on defense — the continued inability to defend the pick-and-roll — has to be eating at him inside. This is a young team, it’s going to have ups and downs, but the downs have been deep and pronounced, and at some point I expect Walton to just unload on his young charges.

Although if it didn’t happen after Sunday, it might never happen. On the 11th anniversary of Kobe’s 81-point game, the Lakers as a team scored just 73 points. Los Angeles lost by 49 points, a franchise record for worst loss ever. Walton said after the game the Lakers lacked the kind of veteran or natural leader on this team who would take charge on the court and call out his teammates off it in moments like this. Maybe he needs to be that guy.

Comments about the Lakers often talk about a quality young core for them to build around. There is some truth to that. Brandon Ingram has had some better games of late, although on Sunday he was asked to start for the injured D’Angelo Russell and be a playmaker and that failed. Ingram missed his first shot and it got in his head for the rest of the day, throwing off his game. Ingram needs to be a better shot creator (and get stronger). Jordan Clarkson can score the rock, and both he and Larry Nance Jr. are future NBA rotation players who can contribute to very good teams. Then there is Russell — nobody has been more up and down this season than the second-year point guard. A few weeks back I wrote about how he had finally developed a game-day routine and seemed to be turning a corner with a string of strong games. Since then he’s pretty much stunk. He’s developing, although it’s fair to ask if he’s doing that fast enough?

(Still, the Lakers really missed Russell Sunday — he’s the only guard they have who is a threat to score from three or getting into the lane, he’s a good passer who sees the angles on the court, and when he’s out there the ball moves better. This Lakers team lacks shot creators and when Russell is out the offense can stagnate quickly, reverting to one-on-one plays.)

It’s fair to ask why the inconsistent defensive efforts? Well, consistently bad may be the more accurate description. They make bad decisions constantly, and the veterans they have either are not great defenders — Nick Young, Lou Williams — or can be drawn into bad positions, such as Timofey Mozgov having to defend Dirk Nowitzki Sunday.

It’s also fair to ask if the Lakers really have an alpha in this core? Do they have a top 15 NBA player that can be the cornerstone of a future contender? I don’t see it. Maybe Ingram with some muscle and experience on him can get there — scouts are still very high on his game — but I do not see it elsewhere. Plus, I don’t see the alpha, ultra-competitive personality that doesn’t accept losing gracefully. Again, maybe Russell or someone has that and is just not confident showing it yet, but this team lacks it.

With all that, the Lakers development roller coaster seems to have bigger dips than highs. Which has to frustrate Walton. And at some point, he’s going to lose it.

2) The Suns beat the Raptors, and Eric Bledsoe was the reason.
Phoenix has won a couple of game in a row, and while beating the Knicks does not earn guys high praise, beating the Toronto Raptors will do that. Quietly Eric Bledsoe has had a borderline All-Star season — he’s not going to make the team due to the depth of talent in the West and the fact the Suns suck — and he showed it Sunday with an impressive 40 points to get Phoenix the win.

3) The Warriors punish Magic to end week where they asserted themselves. Last week for the Warriors started with a rematch against Cleveland, and Golden State earned a measure of confidence blowing them out. Then the Warriors beat Russell Westbrook and the Thunder thanks to a “look at what you’re missing” game from Kevin Durant. Then the Warriors knocked off the surging Rockets and James Harden.

That’s a good week, although the Warriors still had to face the Magic on Sunday. That had the makings of a potential let down game but the Warriors pulled away for the win.

Golden State has established itself as the best team in the NBA this regular season. There’s still a lot of season (nearly half) to go, and they will get tested in the playoffs, but they have set the mark to beat. Did they set the bar last year, too? Yes. And they made the Finals (and would have won if Draymond Green could keep his hands to himself), not something to ignore. But this season feels different with Durant in the fold. We’ll see. But for right now, they keep right on rolling at 38-6.