San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) drives against Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
AP

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.

Anthony Morrow says he’ll switch from No. 1 with Bulls after Derrick Rose fans complain

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 24: Anthony Morrow #1 of the Chicago Bulls participates in warm-ups beofre the Bulls take on the Phoenix Suns at the United Center on February 24, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. 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 Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
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Anthony Morrow clearly didn’t follow the Michael Carter-Williams saga.

Morrow, like Carter-Williams, took No. 1 when joining the Bulls.

And Morrow, like Carter-Williams, swiftly changed course when Derrick Rose fans protested.

Morrow:

Morrow had never worn No. 1 in the NBA. The No. 23 he wore with the Mavericks is obviously retired in Chicago for Michael Jordan, and two of Morrow’s other previous numbers — No. 2 (Jerian Grant), No. 3 (Dwyane Wade) — were already taken. As far as Morrow’s other previous number, Cameron Payne, who came from the Thunder with Morrow, kept the No. 22 the point guard wore in Oklahoma City.

So, Morrow needed a new number. I’m just not sure why the Bulls didn’t warn him off No. 1 and the backlash that would come with it.

Doc Rivers on DeMarcus Cousins: “I’m 55. It’s tough for me to call a grown man ‘Boogie'”

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The Kings trade with the Pelicans has made DeMarcus Cousins the NBA’s mostdiscussed player lately.

But Clippers president/coach Doc Rivers isn’t sure he can address Cousins by his nickname.

J.A. Adande of ESPN:

Cool story, Glenn.

Deron Williams clears waivers, intends to sign with Cavs

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 01:  Deron Williams #8 of the Dallas Mavericks brings the ball down the floor against the Charlotte Hornets during their game at Spectrum Center on December 1, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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CLEVELAND (AP) — Free agent guard Deron Williams has cleared waivers and told the Cleveland Cavaliers he intends to sign with them.

Williams, a five-time All-Star, was waived earlier this week by Dallas. He will give the defending NBA champions a playmaker they’ve needed all season and one LeBron James demanded.

Williams cannot sign with the Cavs until Monday. Cleveland hosts the Milwaukee Bucks that night. The Cavs will be the fourth team for Williams, who is averaging 13.1 points this season.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue can bring him off the bench and also play him with Cleveland’s starters to give James and Kyrie Irving rest before the playoffs.

Kyle Lowry plays through injury in All-Star game, out for Raptors now

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 19:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors and Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors in action during the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center on February 19, 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)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
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Kyle Lowry participated in the 3-point contest. He played nearly 18 minutes in the All-Star game.

But when the Raptors played the Celtics in their first game after the break, Lowry never saw the court.

He was sidelined with a right wrist injury suffered in Toronto’s final game before the break.

Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet:

He can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened and didn’t even feel it during the game, but when Lowry woke up the next morning he knew something was up.

“Honestly, I thought I’d slept on it wrong — I thought it would go away,” Lowry said. “It was a little sore, but I paid no attention to it.”

Unconcerned at the time, Lowry didn’t tell anyone but his wife about the wrist pain, and took off for New Orleans where he participated in both the NBA’s three-point contest and all-star game this past weekend. He received some treatment in between his all-star appearances and iced his wrist on and off, but he still saw little cause for alarm.

“I thought over the break it would rest up and heal up,” Lowry said. “But it constantly stayed bothering me.”

“That’s a blow — that’s a huge blow for us,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said Friday evening after announcing the injury. “I don’t know how long he’s going to be out. But, no, it’s not a one-day thing.”

This is bad — bad for the Raptors and bad for Lowry’s reputation.

Lowry might have wanted to show his toughness by not running to the doctor for every bump or bruise. But this will also raise questions about whether he prioritized the shine of All-Star Weekend over the grind of Toronto’s season. Lowry is not a trained medical professional, so it’s understandable he misdiagnosed his injury. But he makes his living using his body, and his employer provides trained medical professionals to handle these types of things. Lowry’s bet that his wrist would heal over the break clearly backfired.

And now the Raptors pay the price. They traded for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker to make a push, but that’ll be much tougher without the the team’s best player. Toronto beat Boston without Lowry, but the Raptors are still fourth in the Eastern Conference. Passing the Wizards for third is paramount to avoiding a second-round matchup with the Cavaliers and getting a clearer path back to the conference finals.

Every game matters now for Toronto, and wherever blame falls, Casey nailed the outcome: Lowry’s injury is a huge blow.