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Raptors beat Knicks 110-97, assured of top-3 seed in East

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NEW YORK (AP) The Toronto Raptors know they are headed for another wake-up call, no matter how much they would like to sleep in.

They’ve had the noon start on the opening day of the NBA playoffs the last few years and expect it again. So while playing some no-name Knicks on Sunday might not get them ready for the caliber of competition, at least it provided a glimpse of the timing.

DeMar DeRozan scored 35 points and the Raptors overcame a slow start to wrap up at least the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 110-97 victory over New York.

“We’ve got to get our bodies and minds ready and I told the guys remember how this felt, (who) had a tough time getting going because that’s probably going to be the game we have,” coach Dwane Casey said.

The Raptors pulled away in the fourth quarter to reach 50 victories for the second straight season. They can still finish second if they beat Cleveland in their regular-season finale and Boston loses its final two.

Kyle Lowry had 17 points and 11 assists for the Raptors, who swept the Knicks for the first time since 2009-10 in a strong follow-up to their franchise-record 56-win finish last season.

“A lot of teams don’t get the opportunity just to win 50 games,” DeRozan said. “For us to do it back-to-back years just shows the process and the progress that we made over the years.”

Rookie Willy Hernangomez tied his career high with 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Knicks, who despite playing without most of their top players trailed only 76-75 after three. But Toronto broke it open behind the 3-point line and won its third straight.

“I think they picked it up defensively and they put more pressure on us. They are a great team, a playoff team and that’s how we learned today,” Hernangomez said. “When the other team puts more pressure we have to learn how we have to improve our defense and offense at that point of the game.”

The three victories have come since Lowry returned after right wrist surgery sidelined him for 18 games. He played 38 minutes, and then begged the NBA not to give the Raptors the sleepy-start schedule again next Saturday.

“It’s a difference for us, but at the end of the day we’re still professionals, we’ve got to out there and do our job,” he said. “Tonight it seemed like it took a little longer to get going but we got going, we got a win and whatever comes at that time we’ll be ready to play.”

Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis sat out again for the Knicks, who had already lost Derrick Rose to knee surgery and Joakim Noah to an NBA suspension.

TIP-INS

Raptors: Toronto finished 14-2 against the Atlantic Division for the second straight season. The Raptors are 61-14 against their divisional foes over the last four seasons.

Knicks: Coach Jeff Hornacek seemed to think Porzingis (sore lower back) would play Wednesday in the season finale and wasn’t sure about Anthony (sore left knee). … Courtney Lee, the only player from the Knicks’ expected starting five still playing, scored 14 points.

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DeRozan shot 11 for 15 from the field and became the second player in franchise history with a 2,000-point season. He now has 2,020 points.

Vince Carter scored 2,107 in 1999-00 and 2,070 in 2000-01.

GOOD GUARDS

Markelle Fultz from the University of Washington, expected to be one of the top picks in the draft, was at the game. So was Stephon Marbury, the New York native who played for the Knicks during a turbulent stretch from 2003-08 and has gone on to a successful career in China.

UP NEXT

Raptors: Visit Cleveland on Wednesday. The Cavaliers have won all three meetings after beating the Raptors in six games in last year’s conference finals.

Knicks: Host Philadelphia on Wednesday in their season finale.

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: Teams are calling Clippers about DeAndre Jordan trades

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Injuries have ravaged the Clippers. They started the season 4-0 have been without three starters from opening night: Milos Teodosic (plantar fascia injury, he is still in a walking boot), Danilo Gallinari (strained left glute), and now point guard Patrick Beverley is out for the season after microfracture surgery on his knee.

All this has led to the Clippers losing nine in a row before beating the Hawks Friday night. All the weight of the offense has fallen on Blake Griffin‘s shoulders, and while he’s been good most of the game in the fourth quarter his numbers have plummeted, and the Clippers have stumbled.

It’s left the Clippers with a couple of hard questions.

Do they need a coaching change? There was a sense from sources around the league that Rivers is already on his way out — he was stripped of GM/president powers over the summer — and what kept him around was the couple of seasons at $10 million a year on his contract. That’s a lot of money for an owner to eat, even Steve Ballmer, but the time may be coming as a way to shake up the team.

The other, what to do with DeAndre Jordan? They could not work out a contract extension with him (Jordan was acting as his own agent), and one of the league’s top traditional centers is a free agent next summer, but new head basketball guy Lawrence Frank said they want Jordan to be a “Clipper for life.” Does Jordan want to be a Clipper for life? Do the Clippers really want him back, and if so at what price? Does a Clipper franchise trying to get approvals for a new arena in Inglewood want to rebuild now, because it does not help that process? If it’s time to move on and rebuild, do they need to trade him now?

Teams are calling about Jordan, reports Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

DeAndre Jordan, who can become a free agent after the season, has been coming up in trade conversations, with multiple teams talking potential trades. Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank said last month that Jordan will be a “Clipper for life,” muddled matters, as does the limited number of teams who need a center and the size of Jordan’s contract ($22.6 million).

Jordan is an All-NBA center, a defensive force in the paint who sets a strong pick, rolls hard to the rim, can finish with the best of them, and is averaging 10.4 points (scoring and attempts are down without Chris Paul feeding him) and 13.4 rebounds a game. Jordan knows who he is and plays within himself.

It’s not hard to imagine how he could help teams such as Cleveland, Washington, Milwaukee, and a host of others. The question is what would teams be willing to give up to get him — they have to send back salary to match, but will not want to give up assets that help them win now. The Clippers will be looking for good young players and picks back in the package, which makes it hard for a team such as Cleveland to put together a package.

But before they discuss trade scenarios, the Clippers need to figure out what they want to do. Life has come at them fast this season and led to a lot of big-picture questions that Frank and Ballmer need to answer.

Lonzo Ball finishes one-handed alley-oop on Willie Cauley-Stein (video)

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So much attention is paid to Lonzo Ball‘s father, jumper and passes. Those are the major storylines for the Lakers rookie.

But he has such a diverse skill set, and this is absolutely part of it. Ball is a savvy off-ball cutter in the halfcourt with the athleticism to get above the rim and finish alley-oops.

But finish them over 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, who was tracking the play (though slightly late)? That’s an eye-opener, even in the Kings’ 113-102 win.

Marc Gasol makes 3/4-court shot just after buzzer (video)

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When Marc Gasol‘s 3/4-court attempt went through the net, it seemed to barely matter the ball left his hands just after the first-quarter buzzer. After all, the Grizzlies led the Mavericks by 15, anyway.

Turns out, Memphis really needed that basket.

Watch Knicks string together 28-0 run against Raptors

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Toronto has been the second best team in the East this young season. Not that anyone is really convinced they will be called that by the time we get to the playoffs (or even the All-Star break, or even Christmas), but for the first 16-18 games of the season their new move-the-ball offense had them at 11-5 and looking solid.

Wednesday night the Knicks dismantled the Raptors.

Especially in the third quarter when the Knicks went on a 28-0 run to blow the doors off the Raptors (video above). The Knicks dominated the third 41-10, when Toronto shot just 1-of-16 from the floor.

New York is gaining confidence with each win this season, they are a fun team to watch that is starting to find an identity (now that a certain three-sided shaped one is not being forced upon them). Kristaps Porzingis is a monster, and while the Knicks overpaid the market for Tim Hardaway Jr. he has lived up to his contract this season. With rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina showing some nice defense and playmaking skills as a rookie (although he is undoubtedly still a work in progress), you can see a path to a strong future unfolding. There are real reasons for hope in New York. Someone just keep James Dolan distracted and away from the basketball operations side of the building.