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.”


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.


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.


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.


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

Bulls: Host Boston on Thursday night.

Report: Becky Hammon staying with Spurs, not coaching Colorado State men’s team

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Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was a candidate to coach the men’s team at Colorado State, her alma mater. That would have made her the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team.

Alas, it won’t happen.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

It’s unclear whether Hammon was ever actually offered the job.

She’s still on the right track for a head-coaching job somewhere. Most importantly, by all accounts, she’s doing good work in San Antonio. There’s also more attention on her career because of her pioneering status, and that will appeal to some teams.

This dalliance with Colorado State raises her profile even further and shows just how close she is.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: James Harden ‘best offensive player I’ve ever seen’

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

James Harden torched a solid Trail Blazers defense for 42 points on 13-of-25 shooting, including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers, and seven assists.

That prompted his coach to heap praise on the runaway MVP.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“That’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of Harden. “They’re running guys to him and he just steps a little further back and makes a 3. The way he can pass and see the floor, get layups, floaters, maybe a lob, maybe out to the corner — he has so many weapons, and now he’s shooting those step-back 3s.

“It’s impossible to guard him. It’s impossible.”

At first, that sounds like hyperbole from a biased source. But Harden might actually the best offensive player ever. (D’Antoni has been around for all the major contenders.)

Michael Jordan gets overlooked because he was also excellent defensively. Ditto LeBron James to a lesser extent. Another contender: Stephen Curry, whose Warriors might file away D’Antoni’s assessment for if they meet Houston in the playoffs. (The Rockets provide plenty of motivational fodder.)

The list of contenders definitely skews toward the present. Players have gotten progressively more skilled, especially the generation that grew up with the 3-point arc and didn’t suddenly have to adjust to it.

And Harden might be the cream of the crop. He’s an incredible shooter with very deep range off the dribble or spotting up, and he can drive with the best of them. Yes, foul-drawing is a skill. Harden’s combination of scoring volume and efficiency is unprecedented. He’s also an impressive passer, a skill fully unleashed by D’Antoni making Harden a point guard.

I think I’d lean toward Curry, who’s an even better shooter and screener. But it’s very close, and Harden keeps raising his level. Curry probably peaked two years ago (though he obviously remains elite). I definitely wouldn’t dismiss anyone who picks Harden as biased or misguided.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

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It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.