Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Three things we learned on Monday: Otto Porter, Wizards figuring out how to win

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We know you didn’t keep up on all 11 NBA games Monday night because you were busy checking on a meat pie floating out in space, so we’ve got you covered with the big stories.

1) Otto Porter drops 32, Wizards win and starting to look like a playoff team. This July, you will be able to tell people who follow the NBA closely from the casual fan by how they react to what Otto Porter gets paid. Because he’s going to get PAID. Like north of $20 million a year, near the $24 million max number. People who follow the league closely know it’s coming.

Porter is having a breakout season, averaging 14.1 points per game, shooting 43.5 percent from three, and grabbing 7.1 rebounds a night. His PER has jumped to 18.1. He’s become the steady glue guy on a Wizards team where John Wall is the star and Bradley Beal is paid to get buckets.

Monday night Porter was the man keeping the Wizards close to the Bucks for three quarters — he had 26 points in the first 36 minutes of the game, and with that the Wizards hung around with a team that blew them out just before Christmas. Porter was getting most of his looks (13 touches) as a floor-spacing spot up guy, and he’s a dangerous catch-and-shoot threat from three, but he also now has the handles to spend time as a pick-and-roll ball handler (as he did eight times Monday, according to Synergy Sports). Porter was also the guy guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo most of the night and he did as good a job as could be expected (the Greek Freak finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists). Milwaukee stretched their lead to double digits early in the fourth — the Wizards bench strikes again — but Beal had 10 of his 22 in the fourth, Wall was dishing out assists (16 for the game and was mostly driving and kicking in the fourth), Porter added another six — including a key three — and the Wizards got the 107-102 win.

That was exactly the kind of win the Wizards need if they are to make the playoffs, beating one of the teams they are chasing in the crowded third tier of the East — just three games separate Charlotte as the four seed and Orlando at 12. Washington has won 7-of-10 and at 14-16 on this season has turned around their slow start to be just half a game out of the playoffs. The Wizards are all offense right now, but the defense has picked up to average, and that has been good enough most nights.

Washington can be a playoff team if they can stay healthy and keep playing this way. And if Porter can continue to be the glue that holds the odd-fitting Wizards roster together.

2) Jeremy Lin injures hamstring again, but Randy Foye steps up and saves the day.
Jeremy Lin had played seven-of-eight games for the Nets since returning from a left hamstring injury that sidelined him for 17 games.

Which is why Nets fans (and Lin fans) got a punch to the gut when Lin left the third quarter of the Nets game against Charlotte with a left hamstring problem. Lin had driven the lane, was fouled, and landed awkwardly in the third and limped after that point. He stayed in the game for a play, but quickly took himself out of the game. There are not a lot of details yet, but expect Brooklyn to be cautious with their star point guard, not rushing him back.

Lin on the sidelines meant Randy Foye was getting run and was in on the final play of the game, with the Nets down one to Charlotte. Foye had taken and missed one shot all game, until this happened.

The Nets have scored more than 100 points in 11-of-12 games (and they scored 99 in the other) but haven’t been winning because they struggle so much on the defensive end. For one night, that didn’t matter and Brooklyn celebrated.

3) DeMarcus Cousins, Joel Embiid mutual admiration society expressed through butt slaps. It was some old school basketball down low in Sacramento Monday — DeMarcus Cousins and Joel Embiid where pushing, bodying up, and going at each other in the post. Cousins likes what he sees in the young Sixers star.

Cousins and Embiid expressed that admiration through slapping each other’s behind.

Of course, when it mattered Cousins was sinking threes.

And blocking Embiid’s attempted game winner (Embiid and the Sixers wanted a whistle on this one, they may have a point).

Bonus thing we learned, stat of the night: ESPN’s researchers with an interesting nugget pointing to LeBron James’ importance (after the Cavaliers lost with him resting Monday).

Pistons rout Cavaliers 106-90 while LeBron James rests

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) LeBron James took the night off, and that was exactly the break the Detroit Pistons needed.

Tobias Harris scored 21 points to help the Pistons snap a five-game losing streak by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 106-90 on Monday night while James sat out resting.

“Any time you go through a stretch like that, you’re just fighting for a win,” Harris said. “It could change a lot, so hopefully we take this one and move forward and continue to build some consistency.”

James missed his third game of the season, and Cleveland has lost all three. The Cavaliers had their five-game winning streak snapped on a night they never led.

Cleveland was playing its fifth game in seven days and coming off a thrilling win Sunday over Golden State. So James sat, and the Pistons took advantage.

“They haven’t played since Friday and they’ve been sitting here waiting for us. Give them credit, because that’s what they are supposed to do,” Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving said. “They knew we were flying in here after the Golden State game, and they were resting up and waiting for us. They jumped on us early, but it might have been different if they were coming off a back-to-back and we had two days of rest.”

The Cavs were also playing their fourth game without starting guard J.R. Smith, who is expected to miss three months because of a broken right thumb.

Detroit scored the first eight points, led 50-44 at halftime and took control near the end of the third quarter. Harris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made 3-pointers early in the fourth, and the Pistons led 82-65.

Kevin Love had 17 points and 14 rebounds for Cleveland.

There was some booing when James was announced as a scratch before the game. Although the crowd was certainly happy to see the Pistons play well, the atmosphere wasn’t quite as raucous as it surely would have been had Detroit routed the Cavs with Cleveland’s top player in the lineup.

“LeBron is obviously a great player who opens up the floor for his teammates, so other guys have to step up,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “I thought we tried to do that tonight, but it didn’t happen.”

The Pistons went 16 of 28 from 3-point range, and Andre Drummond had 11 points and 17 rebounds.

NEW LOOK

Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy changed his starting lineup Friday in an attempt to shake the Pistons out of their funk, starting Jon Leuer in place of Harris. Detroit played decently in that game but lost to Golden State before ending the skid Monday.

“It’s two games,” Van Gundy said. “I’m not going to go crazy, like, deciding that that’s the great move. We didn’t win both games. We’re 1-1. We’ll see how it goes, but I’ve been happy with the two games.”

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson became the first player in franchise history to play in 400 consecutive regular-season games. … Irving had 18 points and eight assists.

Pistons: Detroit fell one 3-pointer short of the franchise record of 17. … The Pistons scored 29 points off 22 Cleveland turnovers. Detroit turned the ball over only 12 times.

FAMILIAR FACE

Cleveland G Kay Felder, a rookie who played collegiately just a few minutes away at Oakland University, scored 11 points in his return to Michigan.

“I thought we played hard. We just gave some young guys a chance to play and looked at a few different things,” Lue said. “The biggest factor in the game was them hitting 16 out of 28 3s. That’s just great shooting.”

Follow Noah Trister at http://www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

Kyle Lowry leads Raptors to 95-91 win over skidding Trail Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Kyle Lowry scored 27 points and the Toronto Raptors won their franchise-best seventh consecutive road game Monday night with a 95-91 victory over the skidding Portland Trail Blazers.

Lowry, coming off a season-high 36 points last Friday at Utah, had 20 in the second half as the Raptors (22-8) handed Portland its sixth consecutive loss.

Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan nearly had his first triple-double of the season, with 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Patrick Patterson scored 15, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 12 rebounds.

C.J. McCollum scored 27 points to lead the Blazers (13-20), who have lost 10 of 11.

Portland guard Damian Lillard sat out with a sprained ankle. Lillard, averaging 27 points per game, was injured last Friday against San Antonio.

Mason Plumlee had his fifth double-double of the season with 13 points and 15 rebounds.

Valanciunas gave Toronto the lead for good at 82-81 on two free throws with 5:50 remaining, but the Raptors were unable to shake the Blazers. Toronto finally put the game away at the free throw line, where Cory Joseph and DeRozan made four foul shots in the final 16 seconds.

Neither team could find an offensive rhythm in the first half. Toronto grabbed a 43-42 halftime lead on a free throw by DeRozan with two seconds left in the second quarter. The 43 first-half points given up by Portland tied a season low.

Toronto got it going in the third quarter, hitting seven 3-pointers, but Portland nearly matched the Raptors point for point, trailing 73-68 heading into the fourth.

Neither team led by more than six points in the game.

TIP-INS

Raptors: DeRozan moved within 14 points of tying the franchise record. Chris Bosh holds the mark with 10,275 points. Patterson hit a season-high five 3-pointers, three in the third quarter. Toronto has won three consecutive games against Portland. Before that, the Raptors were 1-12 against the Blazers.

Trail Blazers: Lillard missed his first game since Jan. 3 last season, when he was out for two weeks with a foot injury. During that stretch, the Blazers went 4-3, including a 105-76 win over eventual NBA champion Cleveland. Former Blazers star Brandon Roy, the sixth pick of the 2006 NBA draft and a three-time All-Star, returns to Portland this week as a first-year high school coach. Roy’s team, Nathan Hale of Seattle, plays in the Les Schwab Invitational, one of the country’s top holiday high school basketball tournaments.

 

Randy Foye’s drains game-winning three, lifts Nets past Hornets (VIDEO)

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Randy Foye likely would have been glued to the Brooklyn bench for the final play of the game, but Jeremy Lin suffered a strained left hamstring and left the game in the third quarter not to return.

That opened the door for Foye, who had taken and missed one three in the game before the ball was in his hands with 2.3 seconds remaining and the Nets down one. Foye had set screens under the basket to free up others, which didn’t work, then sprung out to about 30 feet straight away as a release valve for the play, Foye got the ball then took a dribble and, with Kemba Walker crowding him, drained the three.

Then he was mobbed by teammates.

The Nets have put up more than 100 points in 11-of-12 games but haven’t been winning because they struggle so much on the defensive end. You could sense the relief with the win in this one.

With new CBA approved, big winner could be retired players

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A new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) doesn’t get approved more than half-a-year before any lockout could start unless both sides could claim victory. The owners got to keep the revenue split from the last CBA, plus they got a way to make it harder for superstar players to leave the team that drafted them; the players got more money for the elite players at the top of the market, and they got a larger piece of the pie and control over player image licensing.

But maybe the biggest winner are the NBA’s former players.

Part of the new CBA sets up medical benefits for retired players, part of a much larger and improved player retirement package.

What spurred this was the surprise deaths of Darryl Dawkins’ and Moses Malone, both to heart issues that were undiagnosed. Several players spoke to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN about the retirement package.

“I’ve said it a number of times: the biggest thing is the health insurance that we got for some of our former players and stuff like that,” said Paul, the NBPA executive committee president. “No question. That was a huge priority. Well, I mean, it was a huge priority to keep the game going, first and foremost, for the fans. But at some point, one time or another, everybody out here is going to be a former player. You know what I mean? I think that shows how connected we are as a body of NBA players.”

“(Malone’s and Dawkins’ deaths) sent shock waves through the whole basketball universe,” said Dwight Davis, who played for the Cavaliers and Warriors in the late 1970s and now serves as vice chairman for the National Basketball Retired Players Association. “Some of the deaths of retired players could have been avoidable because guys didn’t have insurance and weren’t doing yearly checkups.”

“This is the first time in professional sports that this has happened,” Davis added of the NBA providing medical benefits for retired players and their families. “What it means, dollar-wise for a guy like me who is 67, steadily employed for a while, on Medicare, with this new plan, I am going to save thousands of dollars — in co-pays a minimum of $4,000 to $5,000 a year.

While some fans and media like to focus on players who made and blew 10s or 100s of millions of dollars, that is not the norm for retired pro athletes. There are a lot of guys that played three or four seasons, made good but not “retire forever on a beach” money, and now have jobs teaching, coaching, selling cars, or a thousand other jobs that pay close to what the rest of us all make. For those guys — for this majority — the insurance is life changing.

For all the other stuff in the CBA that we have focused on, that document tweaks the status quo for current players. There are not radical changes.

But this insurance is a change that matters.