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?

Pelicans searching for right plan with DeMarcus Cousins in fold

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 23:  DeMarcus Cousins #0 of the New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis #23 react during the first half of a game against the Houston Rockets at the Smoothie King Center on February 23, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — As Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins hoisted up extra shots near one another after practice, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry stood in a far corner of the club’s practice gym, trying to explain why New Orleans hasn’t won in three games since the All-Star big men became teammates.

“We have to become more consistent, and the only way you can become more consistent, I think, is that you’ve got to consistently have the same people out there so that you’re learning the ins and outs of a system and learning the ins and outs of each other,” Gentry said Monday.

“I do feel good about the progress we’ve made the last three games, and I think we’re just going to continue to get better,” Gentry added. “Unfortunately for us, we’ve got to do it on the fly. That’s really tough to do in some situations.”

The trade that brought in Cousins last week sent three guards – Tyreke Evans, Buddy Hield and Langston Galloway – to the Kings. New Orleans then added two free agent guards – Hollis Thompson and Jarrett Jack – to the regular rotation in the past week.

“We’ve just got to stay with it,” Pelicans forward Solomon Hill said. “Minutes change for people, and we have new roles that we have to learn.”

That seems to be the case for everyone but Davis and Cousins. Davis has averaged 35.3 points and 10 rebounds in the past three games. Cousins has averaged 23.3 points and 13 rebounds despite being limited to less than 30 minutes per game by foul trouble. During a loss at Oklahoma City on Sunday night, Cousins had 31 points and 10 rebounds in only 21 minutes before fouling out.

However, Gentry has noticed instances when Davis and Cousins may be trying too hard to defer to one another.

“They are producing in the team concept, but unfortunately right now, after three games, they’re much better when one or the other one is off the court,” Gentry said. “We have to find a way to make that work when both of them are on the court.”

That might not be an issue on Wednesday night, when Cousins is expected to serve a one-game suspension for receiving his 18th technical foul this season Sunday night in Oklahoma City. He’ll only play if the league rescinds that technical on appeal from the club.

Cousins’ arrival also seems to have affected point guard Jrue Holiday‘s game in unexpected ways. Holiday averaged 21.4 points and eight assists in the 10 games before the trade. Since, he has averaged 10 points, six assists and 5.3 turnovers.

Davis said part of Holiday’s problem is that “he’s looking to be a pass-first point guard.”

“We don’t need him to come out and try to be a guy who’s getting 15 assists. That’s not who he is,” Davis said. “He’s a great scorer and a great defender. … When you’ve got two guys that you want to give them the ball as much as possible, you just overthink a lot.”

Holiday said he appreciates the advice but added that it’s hard to ignore the temptation to pass to Davis or Cousins when “they’re so dominant in the paint.”

“We’re trying to figure something out that’s new to us and trying to get as good at it as possible as quick as we can,” Holiday said.

The Pelicans often don’t practice the day after ending a road trip, but Gentry decided to bring them in on Monday and instead give them off on Tuesday, which is Mardi Gras, a state holiday in Louisiana. Davis and Cousins were invited to ride in the historic Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club parade – the same one in which Louis Armstrong rode in 1949.

Gentry thought it was important to encourage participation in Mardi Gras, suggesting that those who’ve never experienced it in person don’t have “any idea of the magnitude of what it means to the city and what it means to the people.”

Perhaps the chance to celebrate Mardi Gras like a local will inspire the Pelicans to make Lent, which starts Wednesday, more festive than usual for area basketball fans.

NBA quickly reverses course, says Dwight Howard should not have been ejected Monday

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 27: Dwight Howard #8 of the Atlanta Hawks is ejected from the game following his second technical foul against the Boston Celtics during the third quarter at TD Garden on February 27, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Dwight Howard was sent to the showers early in Boston Monday night, picking up two technical fouls in the third quarter of a game between two teams fighting for playoff seeding in the East.

The first one was unquestioned, Howard pushed Al Horford after a foul.

Five minutes later, Howard got a second technical for doing a pull-up on the rim after a dunk.

That’s two technicals, and Howard was ejected. The NBA didn’t wait for the Last Two-Minute Report to say that was a bad call.

Note that the league is saying that Howard should still have gotten the technical foul called, just not been ejected for it. According to NBA rules, “non-unsportsmanlike technical fouls” such as calling too many timeouts, delay of game, an untucked jersey and hanging on the rim, are technical fouls but do not count toward an ejection from the game.

Personally, I think the Karmic scales in the universe are balanced after Howard did this to a Celtics fan who really wanted his jersey.

The ejection was moot in the grand scheme. Not long after Howard was tossed, the Hawks went on an 8-0 run and pulled away to beat the Celtics anyway, 114-98. Dennis Schroder led the way with 21 for the Hawks.

Three Things We Learned Monday: No Kyle Lowry, so DeMar DeRozan steps up with game winner

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 27:  DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after hitting the game winning shot against the New York Knicks during their game at Madison Square Garden on February 27, 2017 in New York City.   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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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We know things get weird and busy for you, like trying to convince police not only did your dog eat your homework he shot your girlfriend, so you missed out on a busy Monday around the NBA. We got you covered, here are the big takeaways.

1) Kyle Lowry’s out, so DeMar DeRozan steps up with game-winner to beat Knicks.
Monday started with harsh news for the Raptors: Kyle Lowry needed wrist surgery and was going to be out until around the start of the playoffs. Yes, he played in the All-Star Game through it (and was in the three-point contest), but the surgery is there to remove loose bodies, something that builds up over time rather than happening in one traumatic moment, it just caught up with him. It happens.

It just happened at a bad time — with the trade deadline additions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, the Raptors were trying to make a push back up to the three seed (at least) and set themselves up for a deep playoff run. They want out of the four seed, which would mean facing Cleveland in the second round. In the three games since the trades the Raptors defense has been improved, but now where will the points come from?

DeMar DeRozan. He had 37 Monday night against the Knicks, including the game-winner in Madison Square Garden.

This is going to have to be the norm for DeRozan and the Raptors for the next month or so — DeRozan is going to have to carry the offense. Other guys can score — Ibaka will get some buckets, Jonas Valanciunas will have good nights, as will Cory Joseph and Norman Powell — but buckets and shot creation will fall heavily on DeRozan. With the win over the Knicks the Raptors moved past the Wizards into the three seed in the East, if they stay there will fall in large part on DeRozan, he has to step up.

2) Dwight Howard ejected, then NBA says it was a bad call. Doesn’t matter, Hawks beat Celtics anyway.
Dwight Howard got tossed in the Boston Garden Monday night for picking up a couple technical fouls. The first one was well deserved, pushing Al Horford after a foul.

The second came for doing a pull-up on the rim after a dunk.

The NBA didn’t wait for the two-minute report to say that was a bad call.

Interesting. The NBA says that should have been a technical, however “non-unsportsmanlike technical fouls” such as calling a timeout when a team doesn’t have one, delay of game, having an untucked jersey, and hanging on the rim should not count toward an ejection.

Doesn’t matter, not long after he was tossed the Hawks went on an 8-0 run without him that stretched into a 22-11 run, and the Hawks pulled away to beat the Celtics anyway (a rough loss for Boston in the playoff chase, see No. 1 above). Dennis Schroder led the way with 21 for the Hawks.

Maybe hanging on the rim shouldn’t have gotten Howard tossed, but consider the Karmic scales balanced after he did this to a fan who wanted his jersey.

3) Stephen Curry goes ice-cold 0-of-11 from three. Not that it matters, Warriors beat Sixers 119-108. Here is Stephen Curry’s shot chart from Monday night in Philadelphia.

Stephen Curry shotchart

That’s redder than a certain district of Amsterdam, and notice that Curry was 0-of-11 from three.

Didn’t matter, these are the Warriors we are talking about. And while the Sixers are scrappy under Brett Brown, they don’t have Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons or anyone that really scares opponents anymore. Kevin Durant had 27 points, Klay Thompson added 21, and while the Warriors as a team shot 20 percent from three they got the win in Philly 119-108.

Sit back and enjoy KD’s work on the night.

Seth Curry, Mavs hand Heat third loss in 19 games with 96-89 win

Dallas Mavericks guard Seth Curry (30) shoots against Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. The Mavericks won 96-89. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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DALLAS (AP) — Seth Curry scored 29 points, Harrison Barnes added 24 and the Dallas Mavericks beat Miami 96-89 on Monday night, handing the Heat just their third loss in 19 games.

Curry looked a little like famous older brother Stephen Curry of Golden State by hitting two long 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, the latter giving Dallas a 90-89 lead. The Mavericks rallied from 14 points down in the first quarter and let an 11-point third-quarter lead get away.

Two games after scoring a career-high 31 points in a loss at Minnesota, Curry was 5 of 7 from long range to help the Mavericks improve to 2-0 with forward-center Nerlens Noel, who came from Philadelphia before the trade deadline.

Goran Dragic scored 24 points for the Heat, who went scoreless over the final 4:37 as a three-game winning streak ended.

Hassan Whiteside, a free agent target for Dallas last summer, had 19 points and 19 rebounds. Now the Mavericks are preparing for a future with the 22-year-old Noel, who had a crowd-energizing block from behind on Whiteside and finished with six points and six rebounds.

Dragic finished a 9-0 Heat run with a 3-pointer that bounced high off the front of the rim and went in for an 89-84 lead. But Miami missed its last seven shots, and the Mavericks scored the final six points on free throws after Curry’s go-ahead shot.

Curry scored 11 points in the second quarter, including a three-point play that gave Dallas its first lead at 48-46 after the Mavericks trailed by 14 in the first quarter. He had another flurry late in the third, hitting a long 3 and a pull-up jumper for the final five points as Dallas took a 78-69 lead into the final quarter.

TIP-INS

Heat: C Willie Reed won’t need a boot or crutches to treat bursitis in his right ankle. Coach Erik Spoelstra said Reed was day to day. … The visit to Dallas was the Miami’s last road game against the West this season.

Mavericks: Coach Rick Carlisle said G J.J. Barea is at least a week away from returning from a left calf strain that has sidelined him the past 16 games and for 33 of the 41 games he has missed this season. … G Quinn Cook, undrafted in 2015 out of Duke, made his NBA debut a day after signing a 10-day contract, getting two points and two assists in 17 minutes. … Seth Curry had a big night while his brother had a most miserable one. Stephen Curry was a career-worst 0 for 11 from deep in the Warriors’ win over Philadelphia on Monday.