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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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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.