Chicago Bulls beat Toronto Raptors for 11th straight time, 105-94 (VIDEO)

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CHICAGO (AP) Doug McDermott and Jimmy Butler can’t explain the Chicago Bulls’ recent mastery over the Toronto Raptors. They only hope it continues.

McDermott scored 20 points, Butler had 19 points and 12 assists in his return to the lineup, and the Bulls beat the Raptors for the 1th straight time, 105-94 on Tuesday night.

In his last four games against Toronto, McDermott averaged 24.0 points on 62 percent in the field.

“We just have their number,” said McDermott, who has averaged 24.0 points on 62-percent shooting in his last four games against Toronto. “It’s a good matchup for us. I don’t know. It’s hard to say. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling against them.”

Taj Gibson had 14 points and Rajon Rondo added 12 for Chicago, which led by as many as 23 points and never trailed in the final three quarters to snap a three-game skid.

Toronto’s last victory in the series was Dec. 31, 2013, in Chicago.

“Um, I think the only way to win is have more points than them at the end of the game,” said Butler, who scored 15 points on free throws.

Kyle Lowry scored 22 points to lead the Raptors, who lost their third straight and 11th in the last 15 to fall one-half game behind idle Atlanta for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

“Right now, we’re a way below .500 team,” Lowry said. “We’re playing really bad basketball. It’s crazy right now. We went from this to that.”

The Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan was limited to 18 points – 10 below his season average. He was whistled for his second technical foul with 25 seconds left and ejected from the game.

The loss came hours after the Raptors acquired forward Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic. The need for his physical toughness was apparent from the start.

Chicago attacked the rim with success and threw down five dunks in the second quarter alone.

“One guy’s not (going to change everything),” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We’re excited about Ibaka coming in, but we’ve got other things we’ve got to get fixed up before he comes in – our defense, (for) one.”

At the 1:44 mark of the second period, Butler converted two free throws to give Chicago a 56-35 lead, its largest of the first half.

Gibson had all of his scoring in the first half as the Bulls shot 51 percent from the field while taking a 58-39 lead.

Chicago scored the final six points of the first quarter to take a 24-18 lead.

“The biggest thing I was happy about was our energy out of the gate,” Bulls coach Fred Holberg said. “We got off to a really good start, especially defensively.”

TIP-INS

Bulls: Chicago was without F Nikola Mirotic (back spasms), G Dwyane Wade (bruised right wrist) and F Paul Zipser (left ankle tendonitis). … Butler (bruised right heel) was back after missing four of the last five games. “It feels good,” he said. That’s all there is to say. There wasn’t that much pain at all. Now it’s all about getting in rhythm.”

Raptors: Toronto’s reserves outscored 54-34 by their Chicago counterparts. G Norman Powell led the way with 13 points. … C Jonas Valanciunias scored 12 points and nine rebounds in 21:30. He also picked up a technical foul in the first quarter.

URGE FOR SERGE

Toronto coach Dwane Casey wasted no time to review film of Ibaka, who was acquired from Orlando in exchange for F-G Terrence Ross and a 2017 first-round pick.

“Any time you can add a talent who has got playoff experience, (NBA) Finals experience, and a defender and two-way player like Ibaka has got to give us a boost,” said Casey, who wasn’t certain whether the veteran would join the team before the All-Star break.

In particular, Ibaka represents an upgrade at the defensive end. The Raptors ranked 15th in blocked shots and 16th in opponents’ field goal percentage at the start of the day.

In Ross’ absence, G Norm Powell is in line to play an expanded role.

ONE STEP FOWARD, ONE STEP BACK

Bulls F Bobby Portis scored six points on the heels of a 16-point, six-rebound effort versus the Timberwolves on in Minneapolis on Sunday.

“Bobby has got an opportunity with Niko out of the lineup right now, and we’re confident he will take advantage of that,” Holberg said.

UP NEXT

Raptors: Host Charlotte on Wednesday night in the final game before the All-Star break.

Bulls: Host Boston on Thursday night.

Report: Other NBA executives believe Pacers not seriously shopping Paul George

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers in action during the NBA match between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena on January 12, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
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The Pacers are reportedly shopping Paul George, trying to line up a trade if they can’t get him help in another deal.

But it’s hard to find anyone who believes Indiana is genuinely looking to trade George before the upcoming trade deadline.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

If the Pacers are serious about trading George, they better convince other teams quickly. That’s the only way to draw out the best offers.

But it makes sense Indiana is only in the exploratory stage.

The Pacers — and only the Pacers — could offer George a designated-veteran-player contract extension (projected to be worth about $209 million over five years) this offseason if he makes an All-NBA team.

That’s probably a longshot. Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James are locks for three of the six forward spots. Anthony DavisJimmy ButlerDraymond Green and Giannis Antetokounmpo should also rank ahead of George. Gordon HaywardPaul MillsapKevin Love are firmly in the mix, too. That’s a lot of ground to make up and other contenders to fend off.

But it’s likely worth it for the Pacers to keep George past the deadline and let him try. The upside is so high.

If George doesn’t make an All-NBA team, Indiana could always trade him at any point before the next trade deadline. He could also qualify as a designated veteran player by making a 2017-18 All-NBA team and re-signing as a free agent in 2018, but by then, it’d be too late for the Pacers to trade him if they don’t have the major financial advantage.

At some point, Indiana could ask George to pledge to stay for his max, whatever that winds up being. That wouldn’t be binding, but his response could be telling.

For now, if I were the Pacers, I’d hope he makes All-NBA this year and dare him to reject the designated-veteran-player extension. If he qualifies and turns that down, that would absolutely be telling.

But I’d also be exploring the trade market now, hoping for an offer that knocks my socks off but more realistically gaining understanding for when dealing George becomes more logical.

Report: Clippers’ Chris Paul cleared, could play against Warriors on Thursday

Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul shoots as Portland Trail Blazers' Al-Farouq Aminu watches during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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Chris Paul tore a ligament in his left thumb last month, and the Clippers announced he’d miss 6-8 weeks.

He could return just over five weeks after injury, when the Clippers face the Warriors on Thursday.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers, via Andrew Han of ESPN:

“He looked great. He went through the whole practice [on Tuesday]. You know, so it was good. Really good,” Rivers said before practice on Wednesday. “He could play tomorrow. I mean, I can’t tell you if he will or not, but he’s been cleared medically. But we just want to make sure that he’s comfortable playing.”

The Clippers have slid to fourth in the West, leading the fifth-place Jazz by just half a game. It’s probably too late to catch the third-place Rockets, who are five games up. But maintaining home-court advantage in the first round is important.

Paul should help.

The Clippers remain dangerous when healthy. They’ve outscored teams by 15.1 points per 100 possessions when Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and J.J. Redick share the court. With those four, they score and defend at rates that would lead the league if it weren’t for Golden State’s historic offensive rating.

DeMarcus Cousins on trade from Kings: “I’m not sour”

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DeMarcus Cousins met with the press for the first time in New Orleans, and they got a vision of the relaxed and happy side of the big man.

He was cracking jokes, saying he thought himself and Anthony Davis would blend perfectly, and being engaging.

One of the best parts was Cousins being asked how competitive he is, and Cousins replied “About 17 technicals worth.”

Cousins also talked a fair amount about how he and Davis would work together.

Cousins talked a good game, now he has to show it started Thursday on the court against the Rockets.

Report: Wizards trade first-round pick to get Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough, unload Andrew Nicholson

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 30: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards battles Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Brooklyn Nets for a loose ball during the first half at Verizon Center on December 30, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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John Wall has been so good, he made himself right.

The Wizards’ starters have been awesome, and their bench has been about equally bad. With Washington surging to third in the East, and the fourth-place Raptors making their move with Serge Ibaka, this was no time to idle.

So, as Wall predicted, the Wizards traded for bench helpBojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough from the Nets.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Andrew Nicholson, with three years and $19,911,007 remaining after this season, had negative value. He was part of the reason the Wizards’ bench stunk. Likewise, Marcus Thornton provided little in reserve. A 29-year-old on an expiring minimum contract, he was likely included only so Washington didn’t exceed the roster maximum of 15 players.

Essentially the Wizards traded a first-round pick for Bogdanovic, McCullough and shedding Nicholson.

Bogdanovic will provide wing scoring for a reserve unit badly in need of juice. He has been an ineffective defender, but his 6-foot-8 frame offers a path to improvement on that end.

The 27-year-old will be a restricted free agent next summer. Assuming re-signing Otto Porter is the priority, keeping Bogdanovic could push Washington into the luxury tax — likely a non-starter. This could win up just a rental, but there’s plenty of time to evaluate Bogdanovic’s (and everyone else’s) long-term fit.

The Nets drafted McCullough No. 29 in 2015 as a project, and he remains one. The 22-year-old has spent far more time in the D-League than the NBA this season. It’s unlikely he contributes this season, as lower as the bar is for the Wizards’ bench. He has two additional seasons left on his rookie-scale contract, time for Washington to figure out what it has.

Now, Brooklyn has a couple first-round picks this year — the Celtics’ and the Wizards’. That doesn’t amount to much, but the Nets are so far from relevance, getting even younger is a wise path forward.