Associated Press

Kyle Lowry leads Raptors to 95-91 win over skidding Trail Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Kyle Lowry scored 27 points and the Toronto Raptors won their franchise-best seventh consecutive road game Monday night with a 95-91 victory over the skidding Portland Trail Blazers.

Lowry, coming off a season-high 36 points last Friday at Utah, had 20 in the second half as the Raptors (22-8) handed Portland its sixth consecutive loss.

Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan nearly had his first triple-double of the season, with 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Patrick Patterson scored 15, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 12 rebounds.

C.J. McCollum scored 27 points to lead the Blazers (13-20), who have lost 10 of 11.

Portland guard Damian Lillard sat out with a sprained ankle. Lillard, averaging 27 points per game, was injured last Friday against San Antonio.

Mason Plumlee had his fifth double-double of the season with 13 points and 15 rebounds.

Valanciunas gave Toronto the lead for good at 82-81 on two free throws with 5:50 remaining, but the Raptors were unable to shake the Blazers. Toronto finally put the game away at the free throw line, where Cory Joseph and DeRozan made four foul shots in the final 16 seconds.

Neither team could find an offensive rhythm in the first half. Toronto grabbed a 43-42 halftime lead on a free throw by DeRozan with two seconds left in the second quarter. The 43 first-half points given up by Portland tied a season low.

Toronto got it going in the third quarter, hitting seven 3-pointers, but Portland nearly matched the Raptors point for point, trailing 73-68 heading into the fourth.

Neither team led by more than six points in the game.

TIP-INS

Raptors: DeRozan moved within 14 points of tying the franchise record. Chris Bosh holds the mark with 10,275 points. Patterson hit a season-high five 3-pointers, three in the third quarter. Toronto has won three consecutive games against Portland. Before that, the Raptors were 1-12 against the Blazers.

Trail Blazers: Lillard missed his first game since Jan. 3 last season, when he was out for two weeks with a foot injury. During that stretch, the Blazers went 4-3, including a 105-76 win over eventual NBA champion Cleveland. Former Blazers star Brandon Roy, the sixth pick of the 2006 NBA draft and a three-time All-Star, returns to Portland this week as a first-year high school coach. Roy’s team, Nathan Hale of Seattle, plays in the Les Schwab Invitational, one of the country’s top holiday high school basketball tournaments.

 

Danny Ainge: Lonzo Ball declined to work out for Celtics, who hold No. 1 pick

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LaVar Ball said his son, highly touted draft prospect Lonzo Ball, would work out for only the Lakers.

You thought he was bluffing?

Celtics president Danny Ainge, whose team holds the No. 1 pick, on 98.5 the Sports Hub:

We just tried to get him in for a workout, and they politely said no.

It’s not ideal.

Listen, we’ve drafted guys that wouldn’t come in for workouts before. I mean, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve watched them play a ton. We have a lot of information on them.

Good for Ball. Professional sports teams already hold inordinate power over players entering the workforce. In no other industry are top young employees assigned to a particular company, the worst-performing companies typically getting priority, with no ability to bargain with competitors.

Ball wants to play for the Lakers, who offer proximity to his family and hold the No. 2 pick. He can’t force Boston to pass on him or Los Angeles to pick him. But he can influence decision-making.

It seemed likely the Celtics would draft Markelle Fultz, and though they could still pick Ball, him declining a workout with Boston makes that only less likely. The Lakers will probably draft Ball, but this plan carries risk. If they pass, he could fall once he gets to teams less familiar with him.

Still, Ball deserves to decide for himself how to manage his career – especially in such a closed job market. Not working out for the Celtics is probably his best path to getting where he wans to go.

Donald Sterling’s wife petitioning NBA to overturn his lifetime ban

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Former Clippers owner Donald Sterling settled his lawsuit against the NBA and his wife. Reconciled with Shelley Sterling, Donald sounds – in a recent interview with James Rainey of NBC News – ready to move on.

Rainey:

But his wife, Shelly Sterling, also 83, said in a separate interview that she has not let go of at least one formal blot that remains on Sterling’s record: the lifetime ban from the NBA that was imposed on the long-time Clippers owner after his racist remarks against African-Americans attending games.

Shelly Sterling said she personally approached Silver and also had her attorney, Pierce O’Donnell, talk to the league office about lifting the lifetime ban, which prevents Donald Sterling from attending NBA games. Her intention is not to allow her husband to do business with the league, but to clear his record, in consideration of the 33 years he spent as an owner.

“”I couldn’t understand the severity of the ban. It just seemed a little bit out of line,” Shelly Sterling said. “I have talked to [the NBA] several times and I don’t know what they will do. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t [lift the ban]. Maybe it takes a little bit more time.”

The NBA won’t lift the ban for the same reason it implemented the ban: Associating with Sterling was costing the league money.

Time has cooled the resentment toward Sterling, but overturning the ban would return the venom – and much of it would be directed toward the league. There’s no good reason to open that box.

Besides, Sterling – with his lengthy record of racism and sexism – doesn’t deserve clemency. People like him deserve far more comeuppance than they’ve gotten.

Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan staying in 2017 NBA draft

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Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan declared for the 2016 NBA draft, struggled at the combine, withdrew, got into great shape, had an All-American sophomore season, declared for the 2017 draft.

This time, he’s not turning back.

Swanigan:

Swanigan is a borderline first-round pick. He has a couple NBA-ready skills the good teams that typically pick late in the first round might covet, but thanks to trades, teams that didn’t win a playoff game this year hold most late first-round picks. They might pick someone with more upside than Swanigan.

Swanigan is a tenacious rebounder, particularly defensively. He has excellent fundamentals, size (6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan) and ability to read the ball, and he crashes through contact to hunt boards.

He’s also a quality post-up player who can finish with either hand and has the passing ability to make that play work.

But Swanigan is slow. NBA teams have become increasingly adept at running plodders like him off the court by dragging them into pick-and-rolls. Even when on the court, he hasn’t protected the rim at satisfactory levels.

Swanigan has overcome his athletic limitations as a rebounder. He hasn’t done so in other facets of defense.

He’s hardly a dinosaur offensively. He made 45% of his 3-pointers last season, and though I’m not confident that will translate to NBA 3-point range (give the small sample and his form), he should be at least a midrange threat.

Swanigan is also just 20, young for a sophomore. He can improve.

But it’s just hard to look past his defensive limitations.

Hawks hire Travis Schlenk as general manager

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The Hawks picked Warriors assistant general manager Travis Schlenk as their next general manager. All that was left was negotiating terms.

That’s done.

Hawks:

The Atlanta Hawks today announced the hiring of Travis Schlenk as General Manager and Head of Basketball Operations. He will start leading Hawks basketball operations on June 1.

Schlenk worked his way up the latter and helped the Warriors become the envy of every other NBA team. He deserves this opportunity.

But the job won’t be easy.

The Hawks are stuck between two directions. On one side, they have veterans Paul Millsap (a 32-year-old pending unrestricted free agent whom the owner has basically promised a huge contract) and Dwight Howard (who sounds unhappy). On the other side, they have a youth movement featuring Dennis Schroder and Taurean Prince. Tim Hardaway Jr., who bridges the age groups, is about to enter a potentially tricky restricted free agency.

Keeping the core together offers the upside of a playoff-series victory or two annually, modest outcomes for the cost. But a fragile Atlanta fan base might not tolerate a rebuild.

Schlenk works for owner Tony Ressler, and Ressler sounds committed to maintaining the status quo by keeping Millsap. It’s now Schlenk’s job to execute that vision or convince his boss to approve a different direction.