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Raptors, Kyle Lowry look to recover from latest slow start

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TORONTO (AP) Kyle Lowry is experiencing playoff deja vu, only with a twist. The All Star point guard for the Toronto Raptors says his latest Game 1 failure doesn’t just feel familiar, it’s even worse than those that came before.

Lowry scored four points in Saturday’s 97-83 loss to Milwaukee, connecting on just two of 11 field goal attempts and finishing 0 for 6 from 3-point range.

His disappointing performance brought back memories of the series-opening struggles Lowry faced last year, including 3 for 13 efforts against both Indiana in the first round and Miami in the second, and a 4 for 14 effort against Cleveland in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Sitting slumped in a chair at Toronto’s practice facility on Sunday, still dealing with flu-like symptoms, a despondent-looking Lowry said he was struggling to ditch the disappointment of his latest playoff stinker.

“It gets worse,” Lowry said. “It got worse.”

Milwaukee’s long, athletic defenders made life rough on Lowry in Game 1, giving him little room to manoeuvre. On every attempted drive, he said, “I had four arms around me. Every shot I took was contested or run off.

“They did a good job. They game-planned really well for us.”

Saturday’s contest was Lowry’s fifth after being sidelined for 21 games following wrist surgery. He finished with six assists and two rebounds.

“It’s one game,” coach Dwane Casey said Monday. “I don’t think we should overreact. Everybody has a rough night. I know Kyle will find his way back to his star status.”

Lowry’s career playoff shooting percentage of .379 is the second lowest figure of any active player with at least 500 postseason shot attempts. Clippers guard Jamal Crawford is at .378 after going 4 for 12 in Game 1.

Fellow All Star DeMar DeRozan is Lowry’s closest friend on the Raptors, but said he hasn’t felt the need to deliver any kind of message of support or encouragement to his locker room neighbour. DeRozan said he expects Lowry to contribute any way he can in Game 2, even if his shots aren’t falling.

“Nobody wants to have four points but one thing about him, he’s going to bounce back,” DeRozan said. “Even if it’s not with points, it’s getting everybody involved … rebounding the ball, pushing the tempo and putting us in the right positions out there on the floor.”

One of Lowry’s three made baskets in last year’s Game 1 loss to Miami was an unlikely half court heave to force overtime. Long after Toronto lost that night, Lowry returned to the court alone to work on his shot, staying past midnight as cleaning crews collected garbage from the otherwise empty arena.

This year, Lowry passed on the extra practice, instead sounding defiant about his plan of attack for Tuesday’s Game 2.

“Put it this way: I guess I’m going to have to force shots,” he said. “My teammates want me to be more aggressive, so I’m going to have to force some more shots. Simple as that.”

Lowry and the Raptors have plenty of experience dealing with slow starts. Besides losing the first game in eight consecutive postseason series, Toronto led the league by overcoming deficits of 10-points or more 21 times this season.

DeRozan joked that Toronto is like a vintage car whose engine needs a little time to warm up before it starts humming.

“You ever have an old Regal that you’ve got to start up and sit there for a little while before you pull off for a little road trip?” he asked. “Once you get going, your car feels like a 2016 Lexus or something. That’s kind of our problem. It’s something we have to be better with.”

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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.