Blake Griffin

Associated Press

Serge Ibaka, DeMar DeRozan lead Raptors past Mavericks, 94-86

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DALLAS (AP) — DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka scored 18 points apiece, and the Toronto Raptors clinched a playoff berth after their fifth straight victory, 94-86 over the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night.

The Raptors, who came back from 15-point deficits to win each of their last two games, made it a little easier on themselves Saturday. Toronto scored the game’s first seven points and never trailed in dealing the Mavericks’ playoff hopes a damaging blow.

Harrison Barnes scored 23 points for Dallas, which missed 18 of its first 22 3-pointers and finished just 7 of 28 from behind the arc.

Patrick Patterson added 14 points for Toronto, including a perfect 4 for 4 on 3-pointers.

The Mavericks fell four games behind Denver for the final playoff spot in the West.

Toronto led by as many as 16 points in the first half and by 15 early in the fourth quarter before a 10-0 Dallas run made things more interesting.

Dorian Finney-Smith‘s free throws with 7:57 to go brought the Mavs within 79-74, the closest they had been since 7-2 early in the game. But Ibaka made consecutive jumpers to restore a nine-point lead, and Dallas got no closer than six after that.

The Raptors had their biggest lead at 42-26 in the first half. Barnes scored Dallas’ last 11 points of the half to help cut into the lead, but Toronto led 54-44 at the break.

J.J. Barea‘s long 3 at the third-quarter buzzer again brought Dallas within 10 at 74-64.

TIP-INS

Raptors: Coach Dwane Casey said he was hopeful that guard Kyle Lowry would return from wrist surgery before the end of the regular season. “I know he’s doing a lot of conditioning, a lot of work to keep his body in shape,” Casey said. “Just let him rehab, let him do his thing and trust our medical people.” Lowry has missed the last 16 games. . Toronto was also without starting forward DeMarre Carroll due to a sore lower back. P.J. Tucker started in his place.

Mavericks: Seth Curry with 11 points and Yogi Ferrell with 10 were the only other Mavs in double figures. . Nerlens Noel started his second game in a row at center for the Mavericks, who have gone to a big lineup. They’ve moved Dirk Nowitzki to power forward, Barnes to small forward and Curry to point guard.

STREAK IN JEOPARDY

The Mavericks took their 41st loss of the season. Their next loss will end the NBA’s second-longest streak of .500 or better seasons – currently at 16 seasons. Their last sub-.500 season was 1999-00, when they finished 40-42 and Mark Cuban became owner of the team in January 2000.

San Antonio has the longest streak of .500 or better seasons with 20, including this season.

ABOUT THURSDAY NIGHT

Cuban couldn’t resist giving his opinion on Barea’s ejection from the Mavericks’ victory over the Clippers on Thursday night. Barea was called for a flagrant 2 foul for pushing Blake Griffin, a player with a 10-inch height advantage over Barea.

“I just feel bad for Blake,” Cuban said. “It’s hard to come back from a knockout like that. We sent flowers to his family, condolences. I can only guess that he’s going to be drinking through a straw for a long, long time.”

 

Three Things We Learned Thursday: DeMar DeRozan is getting buckets, leading Raptors

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If you were too busy to catch the NBA Thursday night, what between the NCAA tournament and watching birds get high, it’s alright, we’ve got your back. Here are the three big takeaways from Thursday night around the league. 

1) DeMar DeRozan is developing into more than just a scorer, but he still does that too. With Kyle Lowry out, the Raptors are asking a lot more of DeMar DeRozan. He is delivering. He is leading. He had 14 of the Raptors first 20 points Thursday night, shot 67 percent in the first half, and dropped 40 on Heat in Raptors win. This is the second straight 40-point game for DeRozan.

With Dion Waiters out, the Miami Heat are asking a lot more of Goran Dragic. They are not getting it, the team lacks a leader (Hassan Whiteside did have 16 points and 14 boards). That led Heat to a loss Thursday and going 3-2 on a homestand, now they head out on the road for six of their last 10 and the schedule gets tougher.

Miami still has the eight seed in the East, but they are just one game up on Chicago (which has a much easier schedule the rest of the way) and Detroit. If the Heat are going to make the postseason, they need wins on the road. And leadership. And scoring, because Waiters is still in a walking boot.

Toronto remains just half a game back (one in the loss column) from the Washington Wizards in the battle for the three seed. It matters, whichever team ends up fourth gets Cleveland in the second round. Nobody wants that.

2) Clippers fall to Mavericks, that’s gotta sting. Dallas has been a solid team since getting healthy, they are 9-6 since the All-Star break with a top-10 defense in that stretch. They’ve got some fight in them — especially J.J. Barea, who got tossed for a Flagrant 2 Thursday night for going to the head of Blake Giffin.

Still, if you’re the Clippers and trying to rack up wins and get home court in the first round (and make sure the Thunder don’t pass you in the standings in the final 10 games) this is the kind of game you need to win. That’s not going to happen with a sloppy, turnover-filled performance. Not when Devin Harris is atoning for his mistakes by picking Blake Griffin clean on the penultimate possession of the game, sealing the win.

Dallas played with some fire, the Clippers were not sharp, and the Mavs get a 97-95 win that is a blow to the Clippers.

3) Break up the Nets, they have won two in a row.
The Brooklyn Nets aren’t playing terribly. For them. Since the All-Star break, they are 6-9 with an offense ranked in the middle of the pack in the NBA (which is a big step forward), and with a 126-98 win over the Suns the Nets have won two in a row.

Maybe the most interesting thing in this game is the Suns’ rolled out the youngest starting lineup in NBA history: Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Derrick Jones Jr., Marquese Chriss, and Alex Len combine to have an average age of 21 years, 14 days (via the Elias Sports Bureau). So for Suns fans looking at a high draft pick this fall, there is that bit of hope.

The Nets were never going to be good this season, but injuries — to Jeremy Lin in particular, but Brook Lopez and others have battled them as well — have robbed them of some wins and dignity. Finally healthy, the Nets are playing decent enough hoops to be respectable. That said, don’t worry Celtics fans, they are still five games worse than the Lakers, Brooklyn will have the most ping-pong balls in the lottery.

Carmelo Anthony on playing for Clippers: “There was an opportunity during the deadline”

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If Phil Jackson had been direct with Carmelo Anthony and his people, come to them back in January and said, “we want to go another direction, and we want to help you find a trade destination that works for both of us” this whole thing could have been avoided. Instead, Jackson played mind games trying to get Anthony to waive his no-trade clause, and Anthony dug in his heels. So Anthony is still in NYC, and the wheels have come off the team.

Could there have been a deadline trade with the Clippers, a destination Anthony would reportedly accept? He suggested so in a conversation with Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“Nah, don’t start,’’ Anthony said when asked if he envisions making L.A. his workplace. “I haven’t thought about it. There was an opportunity during the deadline. There was always talk the last couple of seasons being connected to Clippers or Lakers. Somehow always been connected. First it was the Lakers. Now it’s the Clippers situation. I try not to think about it — especially now when I’m still playing with the New York Knicks and got to prepare to play against these guys.’’

There are 13 games left before Anthony’s critical exit meeting with Knicks president Phil Jackson. According to a source, Jackson hopes Anthony is at least open to seeing if the Knicks can find an agreeable trade in the summer.

There are two things here.

The big one is about the potential of Jackson asking Anthony if he is open to a trade this summer. That has been kind of expected, and Anthony sounds like a guy ready to move on, but Jackson needs to go through the process and work with ‘Melo and his team on this. I expect we will see Anthony moved this summer.

Maybe to the Clippers, which brings me to the second thing out of Anthony’s comments. At the deadline the Clippers were making a lowball offer — no Chris Paul, no Blake Griffin, and not even J.J. Redick were part of a trade. It was Jamal Crawford (at age 37), Austin Rivers, and whatever else is left at the end of the Clippers roster (they don’t have a first-round pick they can trade for three years). Jackson should never have taken that offer.

The Clippers very likely will have a lot of questions to answer this summer, especially after they get bounced in the first round (by the Jazz, that is a toss up series) or the second round by the Warriors. Paul, Griffin, and Redick are all free agents, how much is owner Steve Ballmer willing to pay to bring them all back? Should they bring them all back? Should Doc Rivers give up his GM role and focus on coaching? There is a lot of soul searching for the Clippers to do, and where Anthony does or does not fit into all of that is a separate topic.

Rumor: If Clippers get bounced in first or second round, Doc Rivers could be headed to Orlando

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The Los Angeles Clippers, in the words of J.J. Redick, are playing like s—. They are going to start the playoffs on the road, if they can hold on to the five seed they will get a good Jazz team (which beat Los Angeles last week), then survive that and the Clippers face a Warriors team that has beaten them up consistently for the past few years. If they keep slipping, Oklahoma City could pass Los Angeles, meaning the Clippers get the Rockets in the first round.

If the Clippers get bounced in the first or second round of the playoffs again, that will be six years into the Blake Griffin/Chris Paul era where the Clippers have not advanced past the second round. Griffin, Paul, and Redick are all free agents this summer, does Steve Ballmer want to fork out all that money and keep paying Doc Rivers for a team that remains in the second tier in the West? How do they get better if they don’t bring them back? There will be a lot of soul searching to do for Los Angeles.

All of this has led to speculation around the league about the fate of the Clippers — and the fate of Doc Rivers. Marc Stein of ESPN sums that up.

There has been persistent chatter for weeks over the NBA’s front-office grapevine that the Orlando Magic and Rivers will explore a reunion down the road.

Now, you’re certainly not alone if you’re wondering whether “down the road” in this case should be measured in months or years….

The Magic, meanwhile, appear headed for their own sooner-rather-than-later shake up. League sources say without hesitation that Orlando general manager Rob Hennigan finds himself on the hot seat and is increasingly likely to be dismissed at season’s end, with the Magic on course for a fifth successive losing season under Hennigan’s watch.

The Magic just hired Frank Vogel as coach this year on a five-year deal, and he is not going anywhere in the short term. Or, he shouldn’t be. The Magic should hire a GM/president who can work with Vogel to turn the quality young players the Magic have — Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier (if you’re sold on him, he’s played much better of late) — into a team that can compete. Is Doc Rivers that guy, or is he a coach and GM (the power he has in Los Angeles) that the Magic may want. It should be noted Rivers has a home in Orlando.

The one sure thing in Los Angeles is the Clippers will bring Chris Paul back, that’s considered a lock around the league. Griffin likely returns to, although if someone gets traded it’s him. The question is, in talking to CP3, does he want Rivers or does he want another voice as coach? Is coaching really the answer for the Clippers? They need to stay healthy, but it’s certainly not Rivers’ workload that is the problem there (no team gets as much time off, as many practices canceled as the Clips).

It’s very likely the Clippers are gone in the first two rounds of the playoffs, which after a 14-2 start to the season where it seemed they turned the corner will come as a major disappointment. And it will leave a lot of questions to be answered.

Chris Paul fakes shot, fakes pass, sends Plumlee spinning (VIDEO)

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One more highlight from Thursday night we just had to pass along.

With Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, it was a bit of Chris Paul against the world when the Clippers took on the Nuggets. In this case, Mason Plumlee got switched on to CP3, who shot faked, then faked a pass, all of which got Plumlee spun around and gave Paul room to knock down the jumper.

Denver went on to get the win 129-114, and it wasn’t even that close.