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Bojan Bogdanovic, Bradley Beal, John Wall lead Wizards past pesky Suns, 131-127

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PHOENIX (AP) Bojan Bogdanovic scored 29 points, setting a franchise record for free throws made by going 16 of 16, and the Washington Wizards opened a five-game western trip with a 131-127 victory over the pesky Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.

Bradley Beal had 27 points and John Wall added 25 points and 14 assists in a victory that ended the Suns’ three-game winning streak, their longest since November 2015.

Eric Bledsoe scored 30 points for the Suns, who erased a 22-point, first-half deficit, were tied at 110 with 5:16 to play and challenged the Wizards in the final two minutes before Wall finally clinched it with two free throws with 6.5 seconds to play.

Devin Booker scored 25 for the Suns, nine in the final 21 seconds.

Phoenix’s Jared Dudley was ejected from the game in the second quarter for a head butt to Washington’s Jason Smith. The Wizards’ Brandon Jennings also was tossed for making “an inappropriate gesture.”

Tyler Ulis, whose 3-pointer at the buzzer beat Boston on Sunday, sank a 16-footer to tie it for Phoenix at 110-all with 5:16 to play.

But Bogdanovic’s third 3-pointer of the game started the decisive Washington run, a 12-2 surge that put the Wizards ahead 122-112 with 2:50 left on one of Wall’s many driving layups.

Phoenix cut it to 122-118 but Beal drove the lane for a powerful dunk. Booker made it a three-point game twice in the waning seconds, first with a three-point play, then with an extra-long 3-pointer. But Bogdanovic and Wall each sank two free throws and the Wizards escaped.

Washington dominated early and built a 56-34 lead on Smith’s 17-footer with 7:12 left in the half.

Bledsoe’s 3-pointer triggered a comeback.

Phoenix scored 14 consecutive points and eventually cut the lead to 62-61 before Washington scored the last six points of the half to lead 68-61.

Phoenix opened the second half with a 20-2 run but Washington immediately responded, scoring the next 12 to go back on top 82-81 after Wall’s three-point play with 3:52 left in the third.

TIP INS

Wizards: Washington beat Phoenix for the fourth straight time. … Ex-Sun Markieff Morris was still the villain but the boos weren’t quite as hearty as in the past. … The five-game trip is the Wizards’ longest of the season. … Beal and Booker have the most 3-pointers before their 21st birthday in NBA history. Beal had 229 before turning 21. Booker has 218 and doesn’t turn 21 until Oct. 30.

Suns: Ulis’ 25-footer to beat Boston Sunday was the Suns’ third buzzer-beater of the season, most by any team in the NBA. The others were by Bledsoe and Booker.

HEAD BUTT

Dudley’s head-butt incident started when Smith knocked diminutive Ulis to the court with a rough screen in the backcourt. Smith was called for the foul but the two sides’ tempers erupted. Dudley ran to Smith and clearly head butted the big Washington player. After referees reviewed the video, Dudley was tossed. Jennings also was ejected for his hand gesture.

UP NEXT:

Wizards: Washington plays at Denver on Wednesday night.

Suns: Phoenix closes out a five-game homestand against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.

Kobe Bryant on race for Podoloff Trophy: “We might see our first co-MVPs this year”

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The race between James Harden and Russell Westbrook for the 2017 NBA MVP has narrowed to a two-man race toward the end of the season. The Oklahoma City Thunder star is averaging at triple-double this year, and the Houston Rockets guard is doing things nobody has ever done on a basketball court before.

It’s a tough decision to decide between them, so much so that even former Los Angeles Lakers great and 2008 NBA MVP Kobe Bryant can’t do it.

Speaking on ESPN on Sunday, Bryant said he thought the league might have to just bite the bullet on Westbrook vs. Harden.

“We might see our first co-MVPs this year,” said Bryant.

That would be a huge step for the league, but I’m not entirely sure they would do it. There have been co-NBA All-Star Game MVPs in years past, but never league MVP.

Still, can you decide between Russ and Harden? The Mamba can’t.

Watch Rockets C Nene lead the break, eurostep past Enes Kanter (VIDEO)

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Houston Rockets center Nene is from Brazil, but on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder the South American native went full euro.

On a fastbreak possession, Nene took on Thunder big man Enes Kanter near the rim and absolutely shook him with a nasty eurostep.

The play was so good that it forced Oklahoma City to call a timeout as James Harden and the rest of the Rockets bench met Nene on the court to celebrate.

Kobe Bryant says he didn’t even have NBA League Pass until a month ago (VIDEO)

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What has retired all-time NBA great Kobe Bryant been doing with his time? A little of this, a little of that. Apparently that doesn’t include watching non-national NBA games.

Speaking with ESPN’s Jemele Hill and Michael Smith on SC6, Bryant revealed that he went to go watch a little NBA while he was getting a workout in at his house and realized he didn’t have the NBA package hooked up on his cable.

Via Twitter:

I don’t know if I totally buy this. On one hand, Kobe is a busy guy and he did spend two decades living and breathing the NBA night in and night out. I would expect that after all that time he might want some kind of relief.

Then again, to think that Kobe doesn’t have multiple assistants that would have handled that sort of thing already is sort of silly. The only benefit here is Kobe trying to sell that he’s just relaxing and not paying attention to the league too much, which is hilarious.

Kobe, we all know who you are by now. You’re watching the league, man. You’re Kobe. We get it. You didn’t suddenly turn into The Dude.

Let’s just hope Kobe’s League Pass works right off the bat. We all know how much of a hassle it can be.

Damian Lillard dismisses playoff expectations as pressure, says it insults regular people

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The Portland Trail Blazers have had a disappointing season thus far. The team is just 34-38 before their game with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, and they’re battling it out for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs with the Denver Nuggets.

This comes as after expectations rose greatly following the 2015-16 campaign which saw the Blazers finish 44-38, good enough for the No. 5 spot in the West.

Portland has looked better after trading Mason Plumlee to Denver in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, but it might be too little too late. Meanwhile, team leader Damian Lillard isn’t bowing to the idea that last season’s good fortune raised the bar so much that it put undue pressure on his team.

Speaking with Sporting News, Lillard said he thinks the idea is really more about pressure vs. challenges.

Via SN:

Pressure, nah. Fam, this is just playing ball. Pressure is the homeless man, who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Pressure is the single mom, who is trying to scuffle and pay her rent. We get paid a lot of money to play a game. Don’t get me wrong — there are challenges. But to call it pressure is almost an insult to regular people.

Look at the Wizards, they were kind of on the same wave as us. Didn’t even make the playoffs while we did. Now this year they’re the second-best team in the East. The adversity made them better. It can make us better, too. What I come from and my background made me who I am. As comfortable as I am with the good times, I’m also comfortable in adversity. Yeah, I might feel some type of way when somebody comes for me or says my name. But when it’s all said and done, it ain’t gonna rock me.

This is interesting to hear an NBA player say out loud. One, because I’m not sure I entirely believe it. You can have pressure without it having to be something that threatens your overall wellbeing.

Then again, maybe we’re arguing linguistics here. There’s definitely a different emotion from, say, trying to make sure you make rent and aren’t evicted to the street vs. trying to make the NBA playoffs. If one emotion is being defined as pressure, it makes sense to call the other a challenge.

It’s also interesting to hear an NBA player speak in those kinds of terms. There are a few guys around the league who seem to be relatively grounded and give out quotes like this from time-to-time. The absurdity of the NBA — playing games, making millions, and having folks worship you — would easily bend reality for most of us.

In any case, the challenge of making the playoffs for Portland is not going to be an easy one to overcome. Going into Sunday’s matchup with the Lakers, the Trail Blazers are a game behind Denver for the final spot.

Portland will face Denver on Tuesday, March 28 in perhaps their most important game of the season.