Getty

Nikola Vucevic helps Magic edge Raptors 114-113 in Toronto

Leave a comment

TORONTO (AP) Nikola Vucevic had 25 points and 10 rebounds, D.J. Augustin added 21 points off the bench and the Orlando Magic beat the Toronto Raptors 114-113 on Sunday night.

Vucevic, who also had five assists, keyed a late-second quarter surge that saw the Magic (19-30) close the first half on a 21-2 run to take the lead for good in snapping a three-game losing streak.

It was just Orlando’s second win in the past 16 games against Toronto.

Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 33 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Fellow All-Star DeMar DeRozan, Toronto’s leading scorer, returned to the lineup after missing three games with a sprained right ankle and had 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

It was Toronto’s sixth loss in the past seven games.

Lowry hit a 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left to cut Orlando’s lead to two, but Vucevic sank a pair of free throws to make it a four-point game before Lowry hit another 3 with just 0.5 seconds remaining.

The Magic inbounded the ball to seal the victory.

Orlando led 100-85 with little more than 6 minutes remaining. Toronto then went on a 16-5 run over the next four-plus minutes to make it close.

DeRozan’s jumper cut the Magic lead to 105-101 with 2:20 to go, but Jeff Green scored the next five points, including a 3, to give Orlando some breathing room.

The Magic led 83-78 going into the fourth quarter.

Orlando was up by as many as 11 points at the midpoint of the third quarter before the Raptors cut into it with an 11-5 run over a two-minute stretch. Toronto had a chance to tie the game in the final minute of the third but couldn’t hit the shot.

Orlando’s shooting cooled off in the third as the Magic hit 9 for 20 from the field. But the Raptors continued to struggle, hitting just 8 for 23 from the field in the period.

Jonas Valanciunas hit a foul shot with 6:20 to go in the half to give the Raptors a 49-39 edge. Orlando then scored 19 straight points with Vucevic leading the surge, hitting 3 for 3 from the field, including a pair from beyond the arc.

The Magic were 11 for 17 (65 percent) in the second quarter, including 4 of 6 on 3s. The Raptors didn’t make a field goal over the final 6:52 of the first half and were just 5 for 16 in the second quarter.

TIP-INS

Magic: Former Raptor Bismack Biyombo, a fan favorite when he played in Toronto last season, received a loud ovation when he checked into the game late in the first quarter. . Orlando scored 14 points off 10 Toronto turnovers in the first half. . The Magic had a 38-30 edge on points in the paint.

Raptors: DeRozan’s two free throws were the only points Toronto scored in the final 6:20 of the second quarter, missing eight straight field goal attempts. . Lowry has scored at least 24 points six of the past seven games. . Toronto is 17-15 when allowing 100 or more points.

UP NEXT:

Magic: Orlando wraps up a three-game road trip Monday night in Minnesota. The Timberwolves won the first meeting of the season 123-107 in Orlando on Nov. 9.

Raptors: Toronto closes out a three-game homestand on Tuesday against New Orleans. The Raptors have defeated the Pelicans in 10 of the past 13 meetings.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

1 Comment

One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

Getty Images
4 Comments

Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

Getty Images
1 Comment

We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.