Amir Johnson Raptors

The Extra Pass: Raptors’ salary dump trade could mean a few more wins, too; plus Sunday recaps

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LOS ANGELES — Make no mistake, this was first and foremost about money. And future flexibility.

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri made a smart trade sending Rudy Gay out of town in a deal that sets his team up for the future by removing up to $12.4 million from the books next season. This summer  Andrea Bargnani’s anchor contract and now Rudy Gay’s oversized one are off the Toronto books. This Gay trade was all about the financial savings.

But it could mean a few more wins in there here and now, too.

Without the duplication of Gay and DeMar DeRozan’s talents the Raptors offense on Sunday night against the Lakers played faster and had better spacing then it has in some time. There was less isolation and more pick-and-roll. The Raptors got 28 percent of their shot opportunities from either the ball handler or roll man in the pick-and-roll against the Lakers (up from 22 percent on the season) while the Raptors got just 7 percent of their shots from isolation plays (down from a 12 percent average on the season).

The result was a 106-94 win spoiling Kobe Bryant’s return.

Part of the good play can be attributed to the Raptors pulling together when shorthanded — something we see all the time in sports for short runs.

“I don’t think anyone was prepared for it happen today,” Kyle Lowry said after he scored 23 Sunday night. “I didn’t. You don’t expect it to happen this fast or this soon. You say you feel something coming but you can’t say anything until it happens and now that it happens you say ‘we knew it.’”

However, the improvement in the Raptors offense — ranked 17th in the NBA in points per possession — may well be more than just a one-night boost.

Without Gay getting his team-high 18.6 shots a game — with one-in-four coming from an isolation play — the Raptors offense looked improved.

“The floor was spaced a lot,” Amir Johnson said after he dropped 32 on the Lakers. “They pay attention to DeMar a lot, especially coming off those curls. So when you have that big (defending Johnson) help, he was able to get that dunk pass and I was able to get those layups. It was working for us tonight.”

Lowry was happy, too.

“I’m really happy how we played, the ball moved out there, swinging, everyone chipped in it was a great effort from everyone.”

Nobody in the Raptors locker room had a negative word to say about Gay — just the opposite, most players seemed upset to have lost a teammate they genuinely liked.

“Rudy is a prince of a guy,” coach Dwane Casey said. “He’s a dynamic, athletic wing player, he gets to the basket at will. He can shoot the ball, handle the ball, we were using him more in drag situations, pick-and-roll situations and he was growing into that role, doing a better job getting a feel for the defense. And that was a different role for him to do that but he was growing into it, getting better with it.”

Still, the offense looked better.

Now on top of that thanks to the trade Toronto adds a playmaking guard in Greivis Vasquez, a solid vet in Chuck Hayes, and a guy who can provide some wing depth in John Salmons. We’ll see how it all fits together — and who gets moved again before the deadline, this is a roster in flux — but all the pieces could fit together a little better than it has up to this point.

Toronto did not make this trade trying to win the sad Atlantic division — for the Raptors this is about saving money and roster flexibility. Gay is not the kind of guy Masai Ujiri wants to build around, especially not if he picks up his $19.3 million option for next season. This trade was about financial flexibility.

But with the Raptors starting five being +19 against the Lakers (who were out of sync with the Kobe’s return) you have to wonder if this might mean a few more wins this season, too.

—Kurt Helin

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Celtics 114, Knicks 73: New York didn’t bother to show up for this one, as the early noon tip-off time at home once again proved to be too much for the Knicks to deal with. The team fell behind by 25 points in the first quarter, didn’t hit a field goal for the game’s first six-plus minutes, and essentially erased any good feelings they created by coming out of their nine-game losing streak with consecutive wins by a margin of more than 30 points each.

Heat 110, Pistons 95: Detroit handed Miami one of its five losses on the season less than a week ago, so you can bet that the Pistons got the Heat’s full attention in the rematch. That meant a near triple-double performance out of LeBron James, who finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and nine assists, and a blistering 32-17 third quarter where the Heat put this one away for good and turned the final 12 minutes into nothing more than extended garbage time.

Thunder 118, Pacers 94: It’s easy to dismiss this loss for the Pacers, considering how dominant they’ve been to start the season along with the fact that a Spurs-Thunder road back-to-back isn’t exactly the fairest of schedules to deal with. But Kevin Durant turned in an above-average performance regardless of what his opponent’s circumstances were, and finished with 36 points and 10 rebounds to lead his team to the win — perhaps because he was tired of hearing about Paul George and his breakout season thus far. George had 32 points and five rebounds of his own in the losing effort.

Rockets 98, Magic 88: This one wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate, mainly because the Rockets held a lead of 22 points in the third quarter and lost focus in the final period by shooting a dismal 5-of-22 from the field over the game’s final 12 minutes. James Harden finished with 27 points and 10 assists, and Dwight Howard added 20 points, 22 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Raptors 106, Lakers 94: Kobe Bryant was back on the court, but as had to be expected he was rusty and his teammates were not used to playing with him. Kobe had 9 points on 2-of-9 shooting, with eight rebounds and eight turnovers. The Lakers five starters combined to shoot 25 percent and none scored in double digits — they were that out of sync. Meanwhile Amir Johnson was back home in Los Angeles and dropped 32 in front of his friends, while DeMar DeRozan (26 points) and Kyle Lowry (23) slashed their way into the lane. The Raptors scored 60 points in the paint on the night. Rudy Gay who?

Report: Kings forward Matt Barnes wanted for questioning after alleged New York nightclub fight

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28:  Matt Barnes #22 of the Sacramento Kings looks on against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Matt Barnes infamously fought then-Knicks coach Derek Fisher for dating Barnes’ estranged wife, Gloria Govan. Barnes even bragged that violence is sometimes the answer.

His self-earned reputation won’t earn him the benefit of the doubt over an incident earlier today.

TMZ:

Sacramento Kings star Matt Barnes is wanted by NYPD for questioning after he allegedly choked a woman inside a nightclub early Monday morning — and TMZ Sports got video of him right after the incident.

Law enforcement sources tell us cops got a 911 call to Avenue Nightclub after midnight, reporting a man assaulting 2 women and another man. We’re told things got physical when Barnes allegedly choked one woman during an argument — and when 2 other people tried to intervene … he punched both of them.

In the video, Matt and a teammate — it appears to be DeMarcus Cousins — are talking about the fight. The teammate is clearly heard saying, “Matt hit the s*** out this ni***!”

Barnes was also arrested for domestic violence against Govan in 2011. But she said the incident was blown out of proportion, and the charges were dropped.

The Kings have already played at the Knicks and Nets, so Sacramento doesn’t return to New York this season.

Warriors G Klay Thompson supports Steve Kerr in medicinal marijuana use

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Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who was out for part of last season with an excruciating back injury, admitted that he had at one point tried medicinal marijuana to ease his constant pain. Several people have come out in support of Kerr, including Golden State’s own Klay Thompson.

Speaking to the media, Thompson said that he felt his coach was right to try to battle his high amount of pain with marijuana if it helped him.

Thompson also pointed out that there are numerous other diseases that medical marijuana have been shown to lower pain levels in patients.

From CSN Bay Area:

Steve is open minded. Obviously with the way the world is going if there’s anything you can do thats medicinal, people are all for it. Especially when there’s stuff like Crohn’s disease, glaucoma — a bunch of stuff — cancer. But not recreationally of it’s use, ever. There’s obviously a medicinal side to it that people are finding out have benefits, especially people with really high pain.

Nice of Thompson to have Kerr’s back, even if he did backdoor cover the issue of recreational use at the end. A tough spot to be in for a player speaking on a substance that the NBA itself does not allow.

Warriors teammate Draymond Greenbetween kickings — also came out in support of Kerr, saying that that, “Any vegetable that comes from the earth, they encourage you to eat it.”

While I don’t think that’s strictly true, to each their own, I suppose. I think we’re all just glad Kerr is feeling better.

Three things we learned Sunday: Russell Westbrook has entered the Jordan zone

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after shooting a 3 point basket against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. Oklahoma City won 101-92. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
Associated Press
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Here is what you need to know from around the NBA Sunday, in case you were busy dodging Santas on the ski slopes

1) Russell Westbrook enters Jordan territory with fifth straight triple-double — and Thunder keep winning.
“”I am truly a fan of his… when I watch him play, I see a lot of resemblance of his passion for the game of basketball [to] the way I played the game of basketball.” That was Michael Jordan last month describing Russell Westbrook as he introduced Westbrook for the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.

Now Westbrook is entering The Jordan Zone — Sunday night he recorded his fifth straight triple-double with 28 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists. The last guy to record five-straight triple-doubles? Jordan, who had seven straight back in 1989. Westbrook continues to average a triple-double for the season (31 points, 10.8 rebounds and 11.3 assists), the last guy to do that this deep into a season was Oscar Robertson (the year of the Kennedy assassination).

But here’s what’s more important — the Thunder are 5-0 during this streak. Westbrook has 10 triple-doubles this season and the Thunder are 8-2 when he has one, they are 5-6 when he does not. The Thunder have a Top 10 defense this season, but they need Westbrook to carry the offense to get wins. So far, he’s been able to do that at an MVP pace.

2) DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis put up big numbers again, their teams fall short again. Not everybody can put up monster numbers and get their team a win. Sunday night DeMarcus Cousins had 36 points (on 9-of-30 shooting, just 4-of-13 inside 5 feet) plus 12 rebounds for the Sacramento Kings. But the Kings shot 32 percent as a team and lost to the Knicks 196-98.

Then there was Anthony Davis, who had 37 points (on 14-of-32 shooting) and 15 rebounds for New Orleans, but the rest of the team shot just 33.3 percent, and the Pelicans fell to the Thunder 101-92. Davis continues to lead the league in scoring at 31.8 points per game, and the Pelicans are playing better since the return of Jrue Holiday, but they remain four games back of a playoff spot, and that’s going to be a tough climb the rest of the season.

3) Clippers slip back to bad habits, fall to Pacers. We thought the Clippers had turned a corner. After three ugly losses on the road they showed maturity of spirit and game we hadn’t seen from them, bouncing back to knock off the Cavaliers and then Pelicans on a back-to-back. It seemed these Clippers were different.

Then there was Sunday. Los Angeles raced out to a 23-8 lead against Indiana, then proceeded to let all their bad habits take over again. The Clipper bench struggled again — when Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan were on the court together Sunday the Clippers were +11, when they weren’t combined the Clippers were -20. The Clipper defense was inconsistent and allowed the Pacers to get 58 points in the paint. Los Angeles turned the ball over 20 times.

Credit the Pacers for showing some fight. Paul George struggled with his shot but found a way to make plays. Jeff Teague did a good job defensively on Chris Paul. Thaddeus Young was making veteran plays and carrying the offense. Rodney Stucky was fantastic off the bench.

Still, these are the kinds of games an “elite” Clippers team should win. Los Angeles has lost four of six. Which Clipper team will we see Wednesday against the Warriors?

Russell Westbrook’s 5th straight triple-double lifts Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) dunks ahead of New Orleans Pelicans forward Terrence Jones (9) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. Oklahoma City won 101-92. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
Associated Press
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook became the first player with five consecutive triple-doubles since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989 and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New Orleans Pelicans 101-92 on Sunday night.

Westbrook finished with 28 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists. The Thunder have won all five games during Westbrook’s triple-double stretch. It was Westbrook’s 10th triple-double of the season and the 47th of his career.

Enes Kanter had 17 points and 10 rebounds and Victor Oladipo added 15 points for the Thunder.

Anthony Davis, the NBA’s leading scorer, had 37 points and 15 rebounds for the Pelicans. Buddy Hield, who led nearby Oklahoma to the Final Four last season, scored 16 points in his first game back in the state.

Oklahoma City led 49-41 at halftime. Westbrook had 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists at the break, and Davis kept the Pelicans in it with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Westbrook threw down a vicious right-handed jam on a drive down the middle in the third quarter that gave Oklahoma City a 57-47 lead. He clinched the triple-double on an assist to Kanter for a dunk with 2:14 left in the third quarter. The Thunder took a 78-66 lead into the fourth quarter.

Hield drained a 3-pointer to cut Oklahoma City’s lead to four with just under two minutes to go, but Westbrook’s 3 with 51.3 seconds to go bumped the Thunder’s lead back to 99-92.

TIP-INS

Pelicans: Hield got a standing ovation when he checked in late in the first half. … G Jrue Holiday started for just the third time this season. He missed the first 12 games while his wife, former U.S. women’s national team soccer player Lauren Holiday, recovered from surgery to remove a benign brain tumor.

Thunder: Made 14 of 15 2-point shots and missed all nine of their 3-pointers in the first quarter. … C Steven Adams sprained his left ankle in the first quarter and did not return. … The Thunder missed all 15 3-point attempts in the first half, then made 6 of 13 in the second. … Westbrook leads active players in career triple-doubles. … Thunder are 26-2 the past two seasons when Westbrook has a triple-double.

 

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.