Kurt Helin

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry drives to the basket as Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin tries to block during first half NBA basketball action in Toronto on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Raptors down Clippers for eighth straight win, 112-94

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TORONTO (AP) — Kyle Lowry scored 21 points and Jonas Valanciunas had 20 as the Toronto Raptors beat the Los Angeles Clippers 112-94 on Sunday for their season-high eighth straight win.

DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross both added 18 points each for the Raptors. Ross shot 5 for 7 on 3-pointers and totaled at least 10 points off the bench for the fourth straight game.

Chris Paul had 23 points and 11 assists for the Clippers, and DeAndre Jordan had 15 and 13 rebounds. JJ Redick scored 17 points for Los Angeles.

The Raptors beat the Clippers for the fourth straight time, completing a second straight season sweep. It also marked the first time in franchise history the Raptors swept both Los Angeles teams in the same season, having beaten the Lakers in both meetings already.

The Raptors’ winning streak is the second-longest in franchise history, one short of the team-record set in the 2001-02 season.

Even without star forward Blake Griffin, who has now missed 14 consecutive games with a strained left quad, the Clippers came in with 12 wins in their last 14 – including 11-2 in Griffin’s absence.

Toronto’s depth proved decisive on Sunday though with the Raptors’ reserves outscoring their Clippers counterparts 51-29.

Seven Raptors players scored in double figures, with Lowry and Ross going a combined 8 for 13 from beyond the 3-point line. The Raptors shot 54.5 percent from beyond the arc Sunday, in contrast to the Clippers’ 30.8 mark.

After topping 30 points in each of the last three games, DeRozan’s hot hand showed no signs of slowing down early as he connected on his first four shots from the field and another two from the free-throw line. He finished the first quarter with 13 points, but no other teammate had more than four.

A more balanced offense saw the Clippers shoot 58.3 percent from the field and 4 for 6 on 3s to take a 34-27 lead.

A 17-3 run to start the second quarter pushed Toronto back in front, and 26 points from the reserves and 5-for-7 shooting on 3s helped the Raptors take a 62-49 lead at halftime.

It was the sixth time this season the Raptors have put up at least 60 points in the first half.

Toronto started the third quarter slowly, missing seven of its first 10 shots, but after allowing the Clippers to get within four points at one point the Raptors surged late on to take a 83-71 lead into the fourth.


Clippers: The newest Clipper, Jeff Ayres played five minutes and registering two points on free throws. Ayres signed a 10-day contract on Saturday. He had previously been playing for the Idaho Stampede of the NBA Development League, averaging 16.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists while appearing in 23 games. The power forward has previously played in 220 NBA games with Portland, Indiana and San Antonio, winning a championship with the Spurs in 2013-14. … Before Sunday’s game, Chris Paul has averaged 10.6 assists per game against the Raptors, the most of any player against Toronto in the franchise’s history.

Raptors: Toronto is now 9-7 against Western Conference teams this season, including six wins against four of the top five teams in the conference (San Antonio and Oklahoma City once each, and the Clippers and Dallas twice each).


Dirk Nowitzki announces retirement from German national team

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Germany is not going to play in the 2016 Olympics basketball tournament — they didn’t qualify out of EuroBasket for the games, or even this summer’s pre-Olympics last-chance qualifying tournaments (Germany had hoped to host one of those tournaments, but no such luck).

With that, Dirk Nowitzki has announced he is walking away from the German national team and international basketball.

He made the announcement to Bild of Germany, our translation comes via Agence France-Presse.

“The last match at Euro 2015 was my last match for Germany,” the 37-year-old Nowitzki told Bild newspaper….

Nowitzki, a power forward who won an NBA title with the Mavericks in 2011, played 153 times for his country, making his debut in February 1997 and he amassed a points total of 3,045. He played in the German teams that took third place in the 2002 World Championships in the United States and second place in the 2005 European Championships in Serbia.

At age 37 you can’t blame Nowitzki. He’s had a bounceback NBA season, scoring 17.7 points per game and leading the Mavericks to the five seed in the West currently.

What active NBA player will carry the German team flag now? Dennis Schroder of the Hawks is the best player, but Tibor Pleiss of the Jazz also could help.

Harden’s triple-double leads Rockets over Mavericks 115-104


HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden had 23 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, Trevor Ariza scored a season-high 29 and the Houston Rockets rallied for a 115-104 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.

The Rockets trailed by one entering the fourth quarter, but they used 14-4 run, highlighted by consecutive 3-pointers by Ariza, Jason Terry and Josh Smith, to take a 98-89 lead with about nine minutes left.

Chandler Parsons made a layup for the Mavericks before Houston scored five straight points to push the lead to 103-91. Terry started that stretch with a 3-pointer and Smith juked Dirk Nowitzki to get open for a hook shot, and the Mavericks didn’t threaten again.

Parsons had a season-high 31 points for the Mavericks, who dropped their second straight game.

Smith, who was acquired in a trade with the Clippers on Friday, scored a season-high 16 in his second game back with the Rockets.

Houston led by 13 midway through the fourth quarter when the Rockets scored four points in a row, including a two-handed dunk by Ariza, to make it 112-95 with about four minutes remaining.

Harden collected his second triple-double of the season and eighth of his career when he dished to Clint Capela for an alley-oop dunk with 1:26 remaining, putting the Rockets up 115-102.

Houston played without Dwight Howard, who missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle.

Dallas led by 11 after a 3-pointer by Nowitzki before Houston used a 13-6 run, with the first seven points from Harden, to cut the lead to 76-72 with 4 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter.

Raymond Felton made a 3-pointer with about 34 seconds left in the quarter to put Dallas up 85-84 entering the fourth.

Ariza made his first six shots, including four 3-pointers, to finish the first quarter with 16 points. He cooled off in the second quarter and the Mavericks outscored Houston 29-14 to take a 58-50 halftime lead.


Mavericks: C Zaza Pachulia missed the game with a right leg injury. … Nowitzki scored 19 points. … Matthews finished with 15 points.

Rockets: Ariza made a season-high six 3-pointers. … F/C Donatas Motiejunas missed his 12th straight game with back soreness. … G Patrick Beverley returned after missing two games with a sprained left ankle. … Corey Brewer had 13 points and four steals. … Ty Lawson finished with 10 points.


Spurs’ quiet star Kawhi Leonard ready for Curry, Warriors

San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard runs up the court after scoring during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in San Antonio. San Antonio won 106-92. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)
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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — On a team that prides itself on humility, efficiency and selflessness, Kawhi Leonard is the most Spur-like of them all.

Tim Duncan‘s stoicism has been spoofed in commercials and memes, but Leonard makes the veteran seem positively animated in comparison. A big dunk or key play? Leonard might give a small fist pump, maybe a slight clap of his hands.

“It’s very rare for him,” guard Tony Parker said, “even less than Timmy.”

The soft-spoken Leonard is a lot like Duncan on the court, too, quietly putting together a season that has him in the early MVP discussion. The Spurs are right there near the top of the Western Conference standings, behind the defending champion Golden State Warriors, and the teams will play each other for the first time this season on Monday night in Oakland. Duncan will be out with soreness in his right knee, the Spurs said Sunday.

“He’s probably the best two-way player in the league now,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You have to deal with him in all kinds of different ways. He’s a terror on defense. Offensively he’s gotten better and better. It’s kind of slowly but surely become his team in a lot of ways.”

If everyone else is excited about it, that will have to do. You won’t hear much buzz from Leonard. His focus is singular.

“Just wanting to win, really,” Leonard said. “That’s it. That’s all I think about.”

The 6-foot-7 forward is clearly the best player on a team with a trio of future Hall of Famers in Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili, and the offseason’s biggest free-agent acquisition in LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs were hopeful, if uncertain of Leonard’s potential when they traded away team favorite George Hill to Indiana in 2011 for the dynamic, raw talent out of San Diego State. Leonard has rewarded San Antonio’s forward thinking by meticulously becoming one of the game’s elite players, staying late and coming early to hone his game.

“He’s a young player and he’s just trying to be the best basketball player he can be,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “That encompasses playing both ends of the floor and everything that entails.”

It’s a drive that led Popovich to proclaim in 2012 that Leonard was “going to be a star” and “the face of the Spurs.” As usual, he was right.

“He looks phenomenal,” Lakers star Kobe Bryant said. “His game has grown leaps and bounds from when he first came in the league. He’s done nothing but continued to add. Three-point shot, pull-up shot, left, right, post game, handling the ball. He looks great.”

From stripping the sure-handed Stephen Curry of his dribble at midcourt last April to holding Indiana All-Star Paul George to a career-worst seven points last month, Leonard continues to prove himself an elite defender. A 7-3 wingspan helps, but there’s more to it.

“He’s tenacious,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “It starts with a level of pride and intensity. Physically, he is so long and strong I think that combination makes him really unique from a physical standpoint. But there are a lot of guys that have physical tools. It’s the fact that he takes pride in them and also within what they do.”

George called his matchup with Leonard “a game with a game” that he enjoys. Added LeBron James: “Kawhi has some of the best hands, he’s a great defender. I love going against him.”

Leonard’s defense is no surprise. He won Defensive Player of the Year last season. But he’s doing more on the offensive end, too – averaging career bests in scoring, rebounds and assists – all while guarding the team’s best perimeter player, regardless of size and position.

“His confidence is up there, obviously,” Duncan said. “He’s playing as well as anyone in this league right now and it shows. He knows what he can do and he’s confident in what he can do. You see it in every game out there. The shots he’s taking, the role he’s taking with the team and the way he’s leading.”

After signing a five-year, $90 million contract in July, Leonard was eager to leave, though not for a celebration or a shopping spree. Leonard was rushing to return to the court for the second of his three daily workouts in the offseason. The NBA Finals MVP trophy from 2014? On a table, collecting dust.

“It’s not my goal this year to be MVP,” he said. “I said I wanted to be a player that was on an MVP level. That’s not a goal of mine. I do want to be recognized as one of the best when I retire.”

AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley in Oakland contributed to this report.

Tim Duncan out for Spurs’ Monday showdown with Warriors

San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan hugs the ball prior to the Spurs' NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press

Well, this sucks.

Despite the hype, we know that Monday’s showdown between the Spurs and Warriors is only going to be a window into the playoff series we hope to get this May. But we’re going to be able to see a little less through that window now.

Is Duncan actually sore or is this Popovich gamesmanship? Who knows. It doesn’t matter, the result is the same.

Duncan’s scoring numbers may be down — 8.9 points, 7.5 rebounds a game — but he remains a vital part of what the Spurs do, particularly on defense. The Spurs are 3.7 points per 100 possessions better when Duncan is on the court. Using ESPN’s real plus/minus (an adjusted +/- taking into account other players on the floor, and other variables) Duncan has the best defensive numbers in the NBA. He still plays efficiently.

Expect the Spurs to play David West, Boris Diaw, and Boban Marjanovic more with Duncan out.