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.

 

Watch DeMarcus Cousins’ historic 44/24/10 night

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The last time somebody did this — scored more than 40 points, had more than 20 rebounds, and dished out more than 10 assists in a game — “Poseidon Adventure” was in the theaters and Elton John had just released “Rocket Man.” It was Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he was still playing in Milwaukee.

Monday night, DeMarcus Cousins did it.

Cousins scored 44 points, had 24 rebounds, and dished out 10 assists in the Pelicans’ double OT win against Chicago. These were not meaningless points, Cousins picked up seven of them in the second overtime.

Cousins has had a monster first half of the season and earned his first All-Star Game start this year.

Report: Kevin Love called out in emotional Cavaliers team meeting

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Having lost 8-of-11, a Cavaliers team meeting where the players got to vent seemed inevitable. There isn’t one person in that Cavaliers locker room that doesn’t deserve some blame for how things have turned.

However, Kevin Love apparently became the whipping boy.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Cleveland Cavaliers held a fiery team meeting in the practice facility locker room prior to Monday’s practice, during which several players challenged the legitimacy of Kevin Love’s illness that led him to leave Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma City early and miss Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

Several players were pushing for the Cavaliers’ management and coaching staff to hold Love accountable for leaving the arena before the end of Saturday’s game, and then missing Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

The meeting was loud and intense, only calming down once Love spoke to those gathered in the room and explained himself, league sources said.

The more things change, the more things are always Kevin Love’s fault.

According to the report, the majority of the team seemed to accept Love’s explanation. Love left the Cavaliers ugly, nationally televised blowout at the hands of the Thunder in the first half and did not return due to what was described only as an illness. He did not stay around for the end of the game. I’m not about to speculate on how ill he was or was not, what matters is that his teammates were not buying it. When a team is losing finger-pointing is almost inevitable, and Love has gotten more than his fair share of it in Cleveland. At least he stood up for himself.

Team meetings may allow a pressure release in a locker room, but they almost never result in any kind of meaningful change. We’ll see what if anything changes in Cleveland.

Bucks GM on Jason Kidd firing: “This is a performance-based thing”

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Last season the Bucks went 42-40 in the regular season and were up 2-1 in their first-round playoff series against Toronto before ultimately losing in six.

This season, expectations were high. Before the season there was talk from the team of a 50-win team (Las Vegas oddsmakers set the under/over at 47.5) that would finish in the top four in the Eastern Conference, hosting a playoff round. There was hope that the defense would improve, and with that the Bucks would look like a young team figuring it out.

They haven’t looked like that at all — they are 23-22 (with the point differential of a 20-25 team), and their defense is 25th in the NBA. Currently, they have just a one-game cushion for the final playoff slot in the East.

That cost coach Jason Kidd his job, first-year Bucks GM Jon Horst said Monday night at a press conference, as reported by Matt Velazquez at the Journal-Sentinel.

“At the end, this is a performance-based thing,” Horst said. “We believe in this team, we believe in our players and in the talents that they have. We’re looking forward at making playoff appearances in consecutive years for the first time in over a decade and hopefully winning a first-round series for the first time in over a decade. So we felt like at this time, this is the right decision to help this team get there.”

Around the league the move was not a total surprise, but the timing caught people off guard. Horst said it happened “relatively quickly” and explained:

“A general manager in the NHL had a statement once: ‘If something is inevitable, why wait?’ I think we came to the conclusion that this was the best thing for the future of the franchise and this was the time.”

Come this summer this will be the hottest coaching job available because of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the potential of this roster. Names such as Jeff Van Gundy and former Pelicans coach Monty Williams have been mentioned, but the ultimate list will be longer. Honestly, a few coaches with jobs might rather have the Bucks job (although the challenges between the two owners there can make things uncomfortable at times).

“We have another game on Friday and between that time we have a plan that we’ll put in place that we’ll kind of layout for the rest of the season,” Horst said. “We’ll go into the summer and have an extensive coaching search with an opportunity to hopefully find a great coach for this organization of which (interim coach) Joe Prunty has every opportunity to be a part of based on what happens going forward.”

This is going to a rough adjustment for Antetokounmpo and some of the players, who respected and trusted Kidd. There’s a lot of pressure on Horst with this hire.

That doesn’t make it the wrong move — Horst did the right thing here. The Bucks were going to be moving on, they just did it sooner rather than later.

 

Kevin Durant fires back, says Clint Capela’s job is “easy”

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“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them… We are better than them.”

That was young Rockets center Clint Capela after the Rockets beat the Warriors last Saturday night, feeling confident.

Asked about it, Kevin Durant shot Capela down, saying he’s not the guy that should be commenting.

There are no easy jobs in the NBA. It takes a lot of work physically, a good mental feel for the game, and the right opportunity just to get a chance. That said, some NBA jobs are simpler and more straightforward than others. On offense, Capela is not the ball handler and creator making a lot of decisions, things are simple for him — and he executes them. He’s shooting 66.6 percent this season — he does what he does well.

Houston took two of three from Golden State this season, and while that is far from doing it in a playoff series it should be a confidence boost for Houston if/when they go up against Golden State.