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Spurs edge Raptors 108-106 for 5th straight victory

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TORONTO (AP) Down a trio of stars on Tuesday night, many NBA teams would struggle to get the job done.

Not the San Antonio Spurs.

Without Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Pau Gasol, the Spurs beat the Toronto Raptors 108-106 for their fifth straight victory.

“One thing about being here is it’s more about the system,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “They’ve been good over the years of plugging guys into the system. . We try to have players here who we can plug in and get the job done.”

Aldridge led the Spurs with 21 points, while Patty Mills added 18 and fellow reserve Davis Bertans chipped in with 12.

The Spurs improved to 36-9, their third-best record through 45 games, behind only the 38-7 records of the 2010-11 and 2015-16 squads. On top of that, they improved to 20-4 on the road, the eighth team in NBA history to win 20 of their first 24 games, according to NBA Stats.

“There’s a couple times we’ve had some guys out and in the past we’ve always had a next-man-up mentality and guys always performed and got it done,” said Danny Green. “I think we’re just now getting that chemistry, guys are getting confident and starting to pick up that slack.”

In a back-and-forth fourth quarter that saw eight lead changes – after just two in the preceding 36 minutes – the Spurs finally took control on a floating jump shot from rookie Dejounte Murray with 1:29 to play.

Terrence Ross shot an airball on a 3-pointer on the Raptors’ next possession, and after four consecutive scoreless possessions between the teams, Aldridge had a chance to establish a four-point lead with 11.3 seconds left on a pair of free throws, but he missed his second shot.

Norman Powell cut the lead to one with a dunk with 6.2 seconds remaining, and after Aldridge split another pair of free throws with 5.1 seconds to go, Powell missed a 3-pointer as time expired.

“Down the stretch, very honestly, it just went away,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “We didn’t do anything special to deserve it other than playing hard just like they did, so we’re thrilled with the win.”

The mood around the Raptors’ locker room was somewhat less jubilant after they lost four in a row for the first time since March 4-10, 2015. With Eastern Conference All-Star starter DeMar DeRozan sidelined with a sprained ankle, Kyle Lowry had 30 points and Ross added 21 off the bench.

After falling behind by as many as 13 points, Toronto didn’t take its first lead of the game until 1:19 to go in the third quarter, and ultimately fell just short in the see-saw fourth.

“I was really proud of the way they played,” coach Dwane Casey said. “It comes back to the will thing. It’s not the 3-point shots or the fancy plays, it’s the fundamentals: box out, free throws, layups tonight in the second half.”

Despite registering his fifth 30-point game of the season, and putting in a game-high 41:45 of court time, ultimately Lowry chose to place the blame on himself for his team’s current woes.

“I’m just going out there, do whatever my job is, and right now it’s to go out there and try and win games, and unfortunately I’m not doing a good job of that right now,” he said. “Got to figure it out, got it figure it out no matter what.”

TIP-INS

Spurs: Leonard (left hand) and F Jonathon Simmons (right wrist) sat out. … Green tied his season high with four blocked shots. He had four against Boston on Nov. 25. … San Antonio scored 100 or more points for the 22nd consecutive game.

Raptors: DeRozan (right ankle) was inactive for the game. Following the sprain he suffered in Sunday’s loss to Phoenix, the Raptors said that he will also miss Wednesday’s game in Memphis before they re-evaluate the injury. … F Jared Sullinger made his first start since April 13, 2016, when he was still with Boston. … After missing the last six games with a sore left knee, Patterson returned to action on Tuesday.

THE HUNGER FOR VICTORY

“You make adjustments, make substitutions, get certain groups on the court, call timeouts, yell and scream and beg and love and be crazy and then you win or you lose and then what happens? You get to go to dinner, which is sometimes the best part of the evening, with a nice glass (of wine).” – Popovich, on the ups and downs of the game of basketball.

MOVING ON UP

With his 1,126th win Tuesday night, Popovich is now one from tying Jerry Sloan for most career wins with one NBA franchise. Casey had described Popovich as the best coach in all of sports earlier in the day, but before the game, Popovich politely disagreed.

“That’s very flattering but obviously untrue,” he said. “I’ve been around a long time and we’ve won some games, and if you’ve forgotten, I got to coach Tim Duncan. That made me look pretty good.”

UP NEXT

Spurs: Visit New Orleans on Friday looking for a sixth straight win over the Pelicans.

Raptors: Visit Memphis on Wednesday, looking to snap a four-game losing streak.

It’s time for No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz to turn 76ers into winners

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Markelle Fultz already has his first turnover as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.

It came in an Instagram post sponsored by a watch company. “Excited to head to (City) and join the (team name). (at)Tissot.us is helping me get started with my (team name) watch,” Fultz posted, not bothering to actually fill in the blanks.

Ah, it’s a process. Or rather, The Process. And the Sixers have plenty of blanks to fill in on their roster before becoming a playoff contender.

The No. 1 overall pick in this NBA draft has become an instant fan favorite before signing his rookie contract. The 6-foot-4 guard out of Washington has gone on late-night TV and boasted of his love of Philly cheesesteaks, made a social media connection with franchise player Joel Embiid and dazzled on draft night with a pair of orange sneakers made of the same leather used to make NBA game balls.

If that wasn’t enough, Philly fans found an open love letter from Fultz to the city on The Players’ Tribune.

“What’s up, Philly? You good? I’m pretty good,” Fultz wrote . “Today is a good day. Today we take The Process to another level.”

Long the league laughingstock, it’s the Sixers’ turn to clap back, with Embiid and Ben Simmons poking fun on Twitter at Lonzo Ball and his father, LaVar.

Moments after LaVar Ball went on TV and declared of his son, “From the words of Zeus, Jesus, everybody said he gonna be a Laker,” Simmons simply tweeted, “Crazy pills .” Embiid quickly chimed in with, “Please dunk on him so hard that his daddy runs on the court to save him.”

But the Sixers aren’t counting on the Fultz-Simmons-Embiid core to simply entertain in 140-character bursts. They expect the trio to help lead the franchise to their first playoff appearance since 2012 and first championship since 1983.

“It’s been a while,” team president Bryan Colangelo said, pointing toward championship banners hanging in the team’s New Jersey complex.

Here’s a look at how they might get to 35-50 wins over the next two seasons:

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STEP ON THE GAS

First, Simmons and Embiid need to be healthy.

Embiid, who missed his first two seasons with foot injuries, was placed on minutes restrictions in 2016-17 and was banned from playing both games of back-to-back contests. Despite the precautionary steps, Embiid played in only 31 games and needed surgery on his left knee in March.

Simmons missed his rookie season with a broken right foot.

“I think both Ben and Joel are on course for recovery,” Colangelo said Friday. “We anticipate a full, healthy roster.”

Colangelo said Embiid would have no minutes’ restrictions this season, provided he stays healthy.

“He plays with reckless abandon and some of that has got to be controlled,” Colangelo said.

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IT TAKES TWO

Coach Brett Brown had said all year that Simmons would open next season as the point guard. Simmons seemed excited at his shot to run the show until a confluence of events and a trade with Boston for the No. 1 pick that netted Fultz.

No worries, for now. Brown said Simmons and Fultz, who will play in the summer league, could work well together in the backcourt, no matter which player is the ballhandler.

“It’s a really exciting challenge to have where you try to grow those two players and let them coexist and learn more about each other,” Brown said. “The start of the season and training camp and the month of September are really going to be important for us to allow those guys to feel each other and the coaching staff to be able to truly see it on the court.”

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TOUCH OF GREY

So who shall lead the talented trio of Embiid-Fultz-Simmons, a trifecta of first- and second-year players. The Sixers have long needed a veteran both in the locker room and to help lead on the court.

“Those young guys need nurturing and they need veteran leadership. To think that you’re going to go into a season with a 19-year-old, a 20-year-old and Joel Embiid, as much as we love him and see how special he is, the reality is those three players have played a cumulative 31 NBA games,” Brown said. “And holding a locker room, growing those guys, helping them navigate NBA life and NBA games is a very powerful message when it comes from a player. And trying to identify veterans that have the ability to nurture and help those three, especially, is one of the main priorities.”

WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART

Sixers fans have been very patient, and they may have stay that way.

They waited two years for Dario Saric to come from his overseas commitments. They waited two years for Embiid to recover from injuries.

They may have to wait two more years for Latvian center, and first-round pick, Anzejs Pasecniks. Pasecniks, who most recently played with Gran Canaria, a Spanish basketball club, has two more years left on his deal and may not immediately join the Sixers. Second-round picks Jonah Bolden and power forward Mathias Lessort out of France also won’t join the team next season.

But when they do, they could be the final pieces for a contender.

“Everything is designed with a championship in mind,” Colangelo said.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: Mavericks will decline $25 million option for Dirk Nowitzki, sign him to new deal

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Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki had a huge $25 million team option on his contract for the upcoming 2017-18 NBA season. It now appears that the team will not exercise that option, and will instead try to re-sign their star player for an additional few years.

Given the context of the Mavericks roster, it makes sense that the team would want to allocate its resources as the NBA salary cap goes even further up the scale. Nowitzki’s salary would have remained a huge chunk of change as the Mavericks yet again try to go after free agents this summer.

While a restructuring of his contract to, say, half the amount it would have been originally would not give Dallas room for a max-level free agent, it could at least give them the capacity to go after mid-level exception type of players.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear what kind of contract the Mavericks will try to sign Nowitzki to. Reports at this point say that a two-year deal for Nowitzki Is one of the options are being considered.

The question now will be what kind of deal will Mark Cuban offer his favorite player, And how low Nowitzki Is willing to go.

Via ESPN:

Nowitzki’s advanced statistics were down from prior seasons, particularly affecting his offensive efficiency thanks to dips in both field goal percentage and free-throw rate. He also only played and 54 games last year, a real concern as the Dallas roster looks to be carried by a player going into his age 39 season.

Paul George disputes the idea that he’s already moved out of his house in Indiana

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Rumors spread on social media this week as moving trucks were found outside of Indiana Pacers star forward Paul George‘s house. But were they really his?

The user posted photos of giant moving trucks outside of a house in George’s neighborhood to Snapchat. People began speculating wildly that George, the subject of trade rumors for the last few weeks, could be on the move.

Now, the Pacers start has taken to Twitter to dispute the moving trucks as his. So whose were they?

According to George, they were there to move his neighbors.

Via Twitter:

Well I guess that settles that.

The other obvious answer is that they were George’s and NBA players simply move to new locations during the summer. Half of the NBA it seems lives in the Los Angeles area come the off-season, or at least train there, so seeing moving trucks outside of his house would not have been an anomaly if you ask me.

We are past the 2017 NBA Draft and still we have no deal for George. But the NBA off-season is long, and free agency is just around the corner. I am sure that we will see a new landing spot for George in the coming months.

Then we can send somebody on over to see if there are moving trucks at his house.

Hornets’ GM slips up, introduces Dwayne Bacon as Dwyane Wade

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It’s a slip that would have made Freud proud.

Charlotte had a good draft night. In the first round, Kentucky shooter Malik Monk fell to them at 11 and they grabbed him. In the second round, they took a smart risk with Florida State wing Dwayne Bacon.

Friday came the usual team press conference with the GM introducing his players and Charlotte GM Rich Cho made a mistake, introducing Bacon as “Dwyane Wade.”

I love Bacon’s reaction.

Cho instantly realized his mistake and laughed it off, then later said: “Actually, I think they have some similarities.” Hornets fans can only hope.