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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.

DEMAR 2K

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

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.