Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki reaches cusp of NBA’s 30,000-point club

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DALLAS (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki chuckled at the memory of he and Steve Nash trying to sneak in a few shots between YMCA games inside the closest thing the Dallas Mavericks had to a practice facility nearly 20 years ago.

He also recalled a trying rookie season with the Mavericks that was compressed by a lockout, playing on three consecutive nights as a teenager and sometimes sitting out the entire game even when healthy for one of the worst franchises in pro sports.

The 38-year-old German can smile about it all now because he sits on the cusp of an exclusive club , needing 20 points Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers to join four Hall of Famers and a future one, Kobe Bryant, as the only NBA players with 30,000 points. Julius Erving reached that milestone with his ABA career included, while Nowitzki will be the first international player in the group.

“There was some doubt creeping in,” said the bearded father of three, recalling the baby-faced version with floppy bangs. “I’m glad I stuck with it and tried to get better. I’m glad we grinded it, barely took any time off in the summer, always trying to add something.”

Nash retired three years ago, forced out by back issues that limited him to 15 games his final season. Nowitzki looks better every day in his 19th season after being slowed early by a sore Achilles tendon. He’s already said he plans to make it 20.

Together, the best friends revitalized the Mavericks after a decade of losing. So it stands to reason that if Nowitzki were to take a moment to reminisce, his playmaking point guard would come to mind as he prepares to join a list that includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain.

Not only did the Mavericks lack a practice facility that was theirs exclusively in the late 1990s, Nowitzki said they didn’t have catering after games or even food after practice. That’s why he and Nash had their favorite hangout – the Loon.

“We had to go to Chipotle after practice every other day,” he said. “And after games, everything was closed so we’d hit the Loon for a chicken sandwich or a burger and a beer for recovery. You can get away with a lot of things when you’re young.”

Nowitzki and Nash separated before achieving their greatest successes. Nash went to Phoenix as a free agent and won consecutive MVPs in 2005-06. Nowitzki took it the next year after beating Nash and the Suns the previous season for his first trip to the NBA Finals.

Dallas lost to Miami in that 2006 series, but beat LeBron James and the Heat five years later for the franchise’s only title. That’s the first thing Miami coach Erik Spoelstra thinks of when asked about Nowitzki and the looming milestone.

“What else do you need to accomplish in this league?” Spoelstra asked. “In the toughest, most pressured moments, he played his best. His game is timeless. When he’s playing anybody but us, I like throwing the game on and seeing Nowitzki play.”

Once former Mavericks coach Don Nelson moved Nowitzki to power forward, the smooth-shooting 7-footer redefined what’s known as the “stretch four” position, forcing teams to guard him at the 3-point line. But it was more than that to owner Mark Cuban.

“Put the ball on the ground, spin moves, finished at the rim, rebound and took it coast to coast, rebound and took it for a pull-up 3,” Cuban said. “There were big guys that could shoot 3s but they weren’t putting it on the ground and leading a fast break.”

Nowitzki won his championship by adding a one-legged fadeaway jumper that TV analyst Charles Barkley called unguardable and four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant worked to mimic.

These days, Nowitzki defers to Harrison Barnes in the Dallas offense. The Mavericks gave Barnes a max contract when Durant went to Golden State in free agency.

Barnes, who has a chance to be Dallas’ first 20-point scorer since Nowitzki in 2013-14, has enjoyed the closer view of his neighbor in the home locker room.

“You look at his body, his athleticism, you’re like, `OK, there’s no way this guy has 30,000 points,”‘ Barnes said with a smile. “It just speaks to his consistency, year in, year out, Hall of Fame players next to him, not Hall of Fame players next to him, going out and doing what he does all the time.”

The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since taking the title almost six years ago, cycling through dozens of roster moves to try to give Nowitzki another shot at a title. Cuban watched all those players come and go.

“When you get a new guy on the team, you’ve seen Dirk but never really watched Dirk,” said Cuban, who bought the team during Nowitzki’s second season in January 2000. “And that jumper, you see how smooth it is and you see it go through the net. And you start to see guys really start to appreciate them and realize just how incredible he is or the competitive streak he has. There’s just no way to put into words.”

There’s about to be another way to put it into numbers.

Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

DeMar DeRozan scores 36, Raptors top Magic 131-112 for 6th in row

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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan scored 36 points and Cory Joseph had 15 points and 13 assists as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Orlando Magic 131-112 on Monday night for their sixth straight victory.

DeRozan, selected the Eastern Conference player of the week earlier in the day, set the pace early by scoring 18 in the first quarter. Joseph added six rebounds and Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors (45-29).

Elfrid Payton had 22 points and nine assists for Orlando (27-47). Evan Fournier added 20 points, and Nikola Vucevic had 12 points and 15 assists.

It was the first game between the teams since the Raptors traded Terrence Ross to the Magic for Serge Ibaka in February. Ross finished with 17 points and two rebounds, while Ibaka had 16 points and seven rebounds.

The Raptors took a 99-89 lead into the fourth quarter.

DeRozan’s basket gave Toronto a 19-point lead with 8:15 to go in the third. But the Magic, winners of seven games this season after falling behind by double digits, fought back.

Bismack Biyombo made a pair of free throws to cut Toronto’s lead to five with 12 seconds left in the period.

But after DeRozan hit a jumper to widen the lead to seven, Delon Wright stole the inbounds pass and hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Toronto its double-digit lead back going into the fourth.

Payton paced the Magic surge, hitting all four field goals he attempted in the quarter. He led all scorers with 10 points in the period, as Orlando outscored Toronto 32-26.

After four ties and seven lead changes in the game’s first 15 minutes, the Raptors took charge over the final nine minutes of the second quarter to take a 73-57 lead into halftime.

The Raptors hit all four 3s they attempted in the quarter, three by Norman Powell, who led all scorers with 11 points in the period.

Eight different Toronto players scored in the quarter as the Raptors outscored the Magic 33-17 over that nine-minute stretch and led by as many as 18 points.

The Magic cooled off from a torrid shooting pace in the first quarter to a still-respectable 48 percent in the second. Fournier led the way with nine points in the period.

Toronto led 35-34 after a first quarter that featured terrific shooting by both teams.

The Magic led by seven points early as Ross hit four of his first five shots and Aaron Gordon poured in 10 points. Orlando shot 13 for 29 (62 percent) from the field in the period.

DeRozan was 7 for 10 from the field in the opening quarter and hit his only 3-point attempt.

Toronto shot 15 for 24 (63 percent) as each starter had at least one field goal in the first period.

TIP-INS

Magic: Ross received a standing ovation after a tribute commemorating his 4 1/2 seasons in Toronto was played on the scoreboard during the first timeout. . Orlando has hit a 3 in 812 consecutive games, the fifth-longest active streak in the NBA. . The Magic had a 66-58 edge on points in the paint.

Raptors: DeRozan’s conference player of the week award was his fourth of the season. He averaged a league-best 33.3 points in three games last week. . Valanciunas pulled down the 3,000th rebound of his career in the second quarter, second to Chris Bosh (4,776) on Toronto’s all-time list. . The 73 points were the most the Raptors have scored in the first half this season.

 

Kawhi Leonard scores 25 as Spurs dismantle ailing Cavaliers, 103-74

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cleveland Cavaliers 103-74 on Monday night in a showdown that turned into a major letdown for the defending NBA champions.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol added 14 points apiece for the Spurs, who won their fifth straight.

Cleveland (47-26) dropped its second in a row, set a season low for points and fell a half-game behind Boston (48-26) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Cavaliers star LeBron James was injured late in the third quarter after taking an elbow to the base of his neck. He remained on the bench for a while receiving medical attention, then headed toward the locker room and didn’t return to the game.

His status was not immediately known.

Cleveland has been out of sync recently, losing three of five, and those struggles only got worse against San Antonio. The Spurs led by as many as 33 points to the delight of the sold-out crowd.

San Antonio (57-16) is two games behind Golden State (59-14) for the league’s best record entering a home showdown with the Warriors on Wednesday.

Cleveland opted to play its stars rather than sit them for rest, but the trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat out the fourth quarter of its second rout in the past two weeks.

James exited with 25 seconds remaining in the third after taking an elbow to his neck from David Lee on a rebound. James continually rubbed the area before collapsing after he crossed midcourt and remained on the floor for about a minute before walking unassisted to the bench. He left for the locker room early in the fourth quarter during a timeout.

James finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes.

The Spurs held the Cavaliers scoreless for three minutes after San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich was issued a technical foul during a timeout with 6:38 remaining in the first half.

Leonard hit a right-handed runner as the second quarter closed to give the Spurs a 64-40 lead.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Cleveland completed its schedule against the West, finishing 16-14. In addition to losing to the Spurs by 29 points, the Cavaliers lost by 35 to Golden State and 30 to the Los Angeles Clippers. . Cleveland F Kyle Korver missed his third straight game with a sore left foot, and the team plans to sit him for several games to see if rest and treatment helps. Korver will sit out Thursday in Chicago and Friday at home against Philadelphia before being re-evaluated, a team spokesman said. The shooting specialist missed seven games earlier this month with an inflamed tendon in his foot. . G Iman Shumpert missed his second consecutive game with a sore right knee. . James needs 24 points to pass Shaquille O’Neal for seventh overall in career scoring. O’Neal has 28,596 career points. . The Cavaliers averaged 116.3 points in their previous four games.

Spurs: San Antonio is holding its opponents to an average of less than 100 points for the 22nd straight season. . Danny Green tied his season high with four blocked shots. . Leonard has scored in double figures in 100 straight games.

 

Russell Westbrook dominates final minutes, hits game winner for Thunder (VIDEO)

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This game looked over. The Dallas Mavericks were up 13 with 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Oklahoma City Thunder were going to take the loss.

Then Russell Westbrook happened.

He scored 12 points in a 14-0 Thunder run to close out the game, then capped it off hitting the game winner for the Thunder (video above). For the game-winner, the Thunder almost went 1-4 flat and just let Westbrook work in isolation on his defender, a smart play when you have a guy this talented.

It was the kind of game that the Westbrook for MVP crowd will point to — he had 37 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, and he absolutely dominated the final minutes of the game (he shot 5-of-9 down the stretch).

This was Westbrook’s 37th triple-double of the season, and the Thunder are 30-7 when he does reaches that mark. Westbrook takes heat in some quarters for “empty stats” or trying to pad his numbers, but the fact is the Thunder are 11-24 when he doesn’t put up the huge numbers and carry the offense. If you’re going to define “MVP” by value to his team, it’s hard not to choose Westbrook this season, this team is toast without him.

Paul Millsap out at least three more games with knee issue, Hawks 0-8 without him

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The Atlanta Hawks have come apart at the worst time. They have lost seven in a row and have fallen from comfortably in the playoffs to tied for the 5-6-7 seed in the East, just 2.5 games out of falling out of the playoffs altogether.

It has all happened with Paul Millsap out, and that is going to continue for about a week more the team announced Monday.

Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap has been diagnosed with left knee synovitis and has undergone a non-surgical procedure at Emory (Orthopaedics & Spine Center in Atlanta). He will be listed as out for the next three games and his status will be updated as appropriate.

Synovitis is when the synovial membrane — which encases joints and helps lubricate them with synovial fluid — becomes inflamed. It’s usually a sign of another issue causing the inflammation.

The Hawks problem is they are 0-8 this season when Millsap is out.

It still feels unlikely Atlanta will fall all the way out of the playoffs (they have a slightly easier schedule than everyone they’re competing against for the slot), but they are more likely than Indiana or Milwaukee to slip. Also, the odds of them finishing with the seven or eight seed seem high, and that likely means a quick one-and-done visit to the postseason.

After that would come some real questions in Atlanta about how much they want to pay Millsap to keep him as a free agent (it’s going to have to be near max money and for five years, or he will look hard at his other options).