DeMar DeRozan; Kyle Lowry

Raptors storm from 11 back in fourth quarter to knock off Hawks

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Atlanta has been playing with a little fire of late, ever since the hot Knicks (winners of eight in a row heading into Sunday night) put pressure on them for the final playoff spot in the East.

This was the kind of loss the Hawks can’t afford if they want to make the postseason.

Atlanta was in charge for the first three quarters of this game — the Hawks shot 50 percent as a team while holding the Raptors to 36.7 percent shooting. The Hawks were up 11 and in charge. DeMarre Carroll was 7-of-12 for 17 points — it was that kind of game.

Then the fourth quarter happened.

The Hawks shot 6-of-22 overall and 1-of-10 from three in the fourth, plus they had four turnovers, a couple of them key. Meanwhile the Raptors shot 60 percent in the final frame, got 13 points from Kyle Lowry and 10 from DeMar DeRozan and stormed back for a comfortable 96-86 win.

The win keeps the Raptors two games ahead of Brooklyn for the Atlantic Division lead, plus the Raptors remain half a game up on the Bulls for the three seed (although I expect they fall behind the Bulls before the season ends).

Atlanta is now 2.5 games up on the Knicks, a gap the Knicks can close to 2 games with a win over Cleveland Sunday night. The Hawks do have a three game advantage over the Knicks in the loss column. The Hawks still control their own destiny, but they can’t afford letdown losses like this.

What let Atlanta down at the end of this game. Check out the Hawks possessions down the stretch after a pretty Paul Millsap a pick-and-pop three that had the Hawks up 3 with 3:50 left:

• Jeff Teague misses floater going one-on-three in transition.
• Teague misses a spinner in the lane.
• Millsap misses a spinner in the lane.
• Good ball movement got Millsap a wide open corner three, he missed it.
• In transition Hawks don’t attack but kick back to Teague for three, he misses.
• Shelvin Mack hits a floater in the lane to end 8-0 Raptors run.
• Coming out of timeout Lowry steals inbound pass right out of Millsap’s hands breakaway layup.

That was the ballgame.

Give the Raptors credit here — Lowry had 25 points on the night and made tough shots (like a floater across his body) late in the game, DeRozan hit some key midrange pull-ups in the final minutes on his way to 21 on the night. The Raptors played well and earned the win.

A win that gives the Knicks hope.

Pizza and soccer on agenda for Celtics on trip to Italy

Perry Jones III, Malcolm Miller, James Young, Jordan Mickey
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MILAN (AP) — After a couple of days in Milan, Isaiah Thomas‘ Italian experience is still lacking a certain something.

“I’m waiting on some pizza,” said a laughing Thomas, who used to do commercials for a regional pizza franchise when he played for the Sacramento Kings. “The place we went to last night didn’t have no pizza so hopefully tonight we go somewhere I can order some pizza for real.”

This trip isn’t just about culinary experiences, though. The Celtics are in Milan to play an exhibition game against Olimpia Milano on Tuesday before traveling to Spain to play Real Madrid as part of the NBA Global Games.

Ahead of the team’s practice session on Sunday, Thomas was also looking forward to his first soccer match, as the Celtics headed to San Siro later for AC Milan’s home match against Napoli in the Italian league – after an afternoon trip to nearby Lake Como.

“That’s going to be fun,” Thomas told The Associated Press at the Celtics’ first practice in Italy. “I’m excited about that. I’ve never been to a soccer match, to have my first soccer match be in Italy is going to be nice.”

Teammate Marcus Smart said the trip was also an important bonding experience for a young roster with plenty of new pieces. They went for a players-only meal in Milan on Saturday night.

“We had a good time with each other,” Smart said. “No phones, so everyone was talking to one other. It was good overall fun.

“We understand the severity of this trip, it is a business trip but at the same time not many people get this chance to travel like we do so we understand its business but we’re here to have fun at the same time.”

Coach Brad Stevens has overseen plenty of rebuilding since taking over the Celtics in 2013 but still led the team to the playoffs last season after trading point guard Rajon Rondo – the only remaining player from the 2008 championship team. After being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team is aiming higher this season. For Stevens, it all starts here in Italy.

“These sessions are really important to get something accomplished in practice and to make sure that we’re continuing to progress,” Stevens said. “It’s still very much a part of our training camp, and so you’ve got all of the great things about being a tourist – getting a chance to see new things and experience new things – and at the same time we’re 24 or 25 days away from our season opener.”

And after spending so many hours in the gym during the offseason, Thomas is ready to start playing actual games again – even if its just preseason.

“We’re ready to beat up on somebody else, we’re tired of beating up on each other,” Smith said.

Kings’ Karl admits mistakes in DeMarcus Cousins trade controversey

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In the NBA, elite players have the leverage. It is just simple supply and demand.

DeMarcus Cousins is an elite player — and a favorite of owner Vivek Ranadive. He is not going anywhere.

Which made this summer’s “George Karl wants trade Cousins” a battle the coach couldn’t ultimately win — the owner wasn’t going to sign off on it, and the fans are going to side with Boogie. Remember Karl said he never had a player that was untradable, and that spiraled into reports Karl probed trade options with other teams, much to the frustration of management and Cousins himself.

Karl owned up to some of his mistakes in an interview on Comcast Bay Area, as reported by James Ham at

“To be honest with you, I apologized to DeMarcus for making the trade comment that I’ve never coached a player that’s untradeable,” Karl told Christensen. “That was wrong for me to say, because you all (the media) took it and blew it up into crazy.”

“But it’s my responsibility to be smart enough to not say things like that,” Karl continued. “So I did apologize because I thought that was the only thing, maybe some other things, but really the only thing that got us separated was that comment that then everybody wrote the we’re going to trade [Cousins].”

The relationship between Cousins and Karl — not to mention Rajon Rondo and other veterans — is the biggest key to the Kings’ season. Karl and Cousins say their relationship is solid now, but what happens when that is put under stress at some point during the season?

In talking to people around the team, the Kings players seemed to have formed a tight bond — even if part of the glue of that bond is a distrust of Karl that can work for them. This is a team that has the talent to compete for the bottom couple playoff seeds in the Western Conference, but everybody needs to be pulling on the rope in the same direction. We will see pretty quickly if the Kings can do that.