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Bucks overwhelm Raptors 104-77, take 2-1 series lead

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MILWAUKEE (AP) Khris Middleton scored 20 points and the Milwaukee Bucks overwhelmed the cold-shooting Toronto Raptors for a 104-77 win on Thursday night to take a 2-1 lead in their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.

Greg Monroe added 16 points and seven rebounds for the Bucks, who held DeMar DeRozan without a basket and never looked back after leading by 20 points after the first quarter.

Making this blowout even more impressive was that they barely needed All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo. He finished with 19 points and eight boards.

Game 4 is Saturday back at the Bradley Center.

With raucous fans wearing black Bucks giveaway T-shirts to match the players’ uniforms, Milwaukee put on a dominating display of basketball worthy of the team’s “Fear the Deer” slogan.

The Raptors looked frazzled after shooting 4 of 18 in the first quarter. Kyle Lowry had 13 points.

DeRozan scored eight but was 0 of 8 from the field. The Raptors and their playoff-tested backcourt looked nothing like the crew that held off the Bucks in Game 2 in Toronto.

This night belonged to Milwaukee.

The Bucks moved the ball well, hit open shots and had a double-digit edge on points in the paint for much of the night.

On the other end, the Bucks’ length bothered the Raptors. Toronto also started poorly from the 3-point line, missing its first six shots from behind the arc.

With about 6 minutes left in the second quarter, the Raptors had called their fourth timeout while trailing by 31. They had only six field goals at the time.

If the Bucks take this series, Game 3 might be seen as a a href(equals)’https://www.apnews.com/913763f44a9b404db366330095879716/Playoff-berth-gives-rest-of-NBA-glimpse-into-Bucks’-future’turning point in the development of an up-and-coming franchise/a in a town starving for basketball success. Milwaukee hasn’t won a playoff series since going to the conference finals in 2001.

Few fans, if any, left the sold-out Bradley Center by the end of the night, cheering loudly for every last Antetokounmpo dunk and block.

TIP INS

Raptors: Toronto trailed 57-30 at the half, tying the team’s regular-season low for scoring in a half. The Raptors scored 30 in the second half of a loss at Charlotte on Jan. 20, 2017. … Frustration was evident early in the game. Serge Ibaka was whistled for a technical foul with 2:03 left in the first half and Toronto trailing by 31 points after slamming the ball hard on the floor following a defensive goaltending call.

Bucks: Middleton finished 8 of 15 after hitting his first five shots to get the offense going. The 6-foot-8 forward is the Bucks’ best all-around player after Antetokounmpo with his ability to hit from the 3-point line, create in traffic and defend on the perimeter. … Monroe fouled out with 8:07 left.

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Chris Paul thanks Clipper fans in online statement

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Chris Paul is as competitive a guy as there is in the NBA — he and James Harden are not the smoothest fit next to one another, but he would rather team with another star and go hard at the Warriors juggernaut than sit back and collect a check.

That’s why CP3 wanted to go to the Rockets as part of the trade reported Wednesday.

But before he left, he wanted to say thank you to Clippers fans.

Paul is committed to his charity causes, he’s not giving those up. He’s likely keeping his home in Los Angeles, too — L.A. is the unofficial off-season home of the NBA anyway.

Rockets make series of cash trades for expiring contracts to help line up Chris Paul deal

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While everyone was rightfully raving about the move by the Houston Rockets to trade for Chris Paul — you have to love a team not cowering from the Warriors but willing to take them on Game of Thrones style — there was one little catch. The trade, as first announced, didn’t pencil out.

Because the Rockets were over the cap, this trade needs to be a salary match. The Clippers were getting back nice young players in Sam Decker and Montrezl Harrell, plus a first-round pick, but the salaries still didn’t match up. Then a string of small cash deals for expiring contracts started rolling in.

All those deals are official — and led to one of the funniest tweets of the year.

All three of those players will head to the Clippers as part of the official trade, but then be waived by the Clippers so they don’t actually pay them.

Also of note, by staying above the salary cap line (as opposed to diving below it to absorb CP3’s contract) the Rockets will keep their mid-level exception, giving them a full $8.4 million to spend in free agency to get a role player to help fill out the roster in Houston.

The Rockets are not done big game hunting, GM Daryl Morey is reportedly going after Paul George and maybe free agents such as Paul Millsap. Carmelo Anthony reportedly would like a buyout so he can get to Houston now, but with Phil Jackson gone and $55 million owed over the next few years that seems more up in the air. Regardless, expect the Rockets to keep making small moves to set up big ones.

Reports: Rockets not done, looking at Paul George, other possible third big star

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If you’re going to go toe-to-toe with the Golden State Warriors, you can’t have enough elite talent on the roster. Which is turning the Western Conference into a Game of Thrones.

Houston has James Harden and just added Chris Paul — and GM Daryl Morey is not done, he’s targeting Paul George and other stars. That according to multiple reports from ESPN, starting with Jeff Goodman.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey not done yet, source told ESPN. Harden and CP3. Will try to add a third star to compete with Warriors.

The logistics of this would be difficult, but not impossible. The Pacers want a first-round pick, which the Rockets can include if the Pacers will wait until 2020 (the Rockets 2018 pick goes to the Clippers, 1-3 protected, which means they can’t trade 2019). With Sam Decker traded to LA, the Rockets may not have a young player of interest outside of Clint Capella (the Pacers have Myles Turner at center), but the Rockets have made a series of cash deals for non-guaranteed contracts to make this work with the Clippers and pave the way for future deals.

Also possible, the Rockets look for a way to land Paul Millsap (or maybe a lesser version, like Serge Ibaka) in free agency.

The Rockets also could target guys such as Carmelo Anthony or Dwyane Wade, if they are bought out. Anthony is rumored to want a buyout to go to Houston now, but with Phil Jackson out and being owed $55 million over a couple years, that may not happen.

The point is the Rockets are going all in — they see the window as now and, unlike much of the rest of the West and the NBA, they are not going to wait and hope for the Warriors to wilt in a few years.

Knicks fans celebrating Phil Jackson’s departure on social media

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When the Knicks hired Phil Jackson, he was a beacon of hope for an organization that had seen dark days. Jackson was going to keep owner James Dolan out of basketball decisions (he did that) and provide a direction for the franchise (he failed to do that).

Now, three year’s later, Jackson is out as president of the Knicks.

That had Knicks fans celebrating on social media.

HALLELUJAH.

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That’s just a small sampling. So all is good with the Knicks now, right?