Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Three things we learned Sunday: As losses, worries pile up in Toronto big trade may follow

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It was a slow day on the court in the NBA, but we had a trade, and with the trade deadline looming everything gets viewed through that prism. Here are our takeaways from the day.

1) Raptors blow 16-point lead to lose again, Kyle Lowry is among the worried. Is it time for a desperate move in Toronto? A couple of months ago, Toronto was the clear-cut No. 2 team in the East. They couldn’t get by Cleveland, but Boston and everyone else was well back in the rear-view mirror. The Raptors were on pace for more than 50 wins, a trip back to the conference finals, and then who knows?

Then the calendar flipped to 2017. The Raptors are 9-13 in 2017, have fallen to fourth in the East behind Boston and Washington, and have lost five-of-seven after blowing a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter to fall to the Pistons 102-101 Sunday. It was Detroit’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who had the final five points including the game winner.

This game was a microcosm of all that has gone wrong in Toronto. Their once-stout defense (fourth in the NBA in December) was shredded by sh Smith, Tobias Harris, and Caldwell-Pope. The Raptors offense down the stretch was very heavy on DeMar DeRozan isolations, which the Pistons knew how to defend. After the game, Kyle Lowry was frustrated and cryptic and wants to see a move.

That something could well be a trade, ideally one for a power forward. After Atlanta has pulled back on moving Paul Millsap — which may not be the smartest move, as Sean Deveney and I discussed in the latest PBT Podcast — a Serge Ibaka trade with Orlando has moved to the front burner (there are other possible moves, such as Denver’s Danilo Gallinari). On paper, Ibaka is an upgrade and what the Raptors need because he can defend the rim on defense and both score inside or space the floor on offense. He’s not what he was in Oklahoma City, and teams are worried about paying him long-term as his body ages (his knees are a concern), but as a rental he works. The problem is the cost. Remember Orlando gave up Victor Oladipo and the first-round pick that became Domantas Sabonis to Oklahoma City for Ibaka, now they want to recoup their losses since it’s unlikely Ibaka re-signs with them this summer as a free agent. Nobody, including the Raptors, want to overpay for a rental. The price has to come down, and it should because Orlando has no choice.

Will that trade or another solve the Raptors’ problems? Not by itself, but it could be the shakeup the team needs. However, Masai Ujiri is not under pressure from Raptors ownership to make a move — the ownership group sees this as a golden age of Raptors basketball, last season was the best record and deepest playoff run in franchise history, and they are making money. Yes, they’d like a title, but there is not a “win at all costs” pressure to make a move. Ujiri can be patient. He doesn’t need to be desperate.

But the Raptors need something to turn the ship around this season.

2) Portland kind of wins trade of big men with Nuggets.
We did have a trade of big men Sunday: Portland sent center Mason Plumlee and a 2018 second round pick to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first round pick, according to reports. The trade will be finalized Monday.

Who won? I don’t love this deal for either side, but I think Portland came out on the better end.

In Plumlee, Denver gets another big to pair with rising star Nikola Jokic — Nurkic was not that guy (coach Mike Malone tried early in the season but it was a disaster at both ends with Denver being outscored by 15.6 points per 100 possessions). Plumlee is a good playmaker who could play a little four with Jokic if they want to go big, although I have serious questions about how that combo would defend. Plumlee’s best role might be as a backup big who plays when Jokic sits — Plumlee could help Denver’s second unit make significant strides. Either way, this was a move designed to win more games now and help Denver hold on to the eighth seed and a playoff slot in the West. The challenge is Plumlee is a free agent this summer, and how much is Denver willing to pay a backup center? More than other teams that covet Plumlee’s passing?

Portland is going to miss Plumlee’s playmaking short term, but they were not going to be able to pay him this summer what the market will bear, so rather than let him go for nothing they got quality back. It may not help them in the short-term chasing Denver in the eight seed this season, but it’s a good long-term play. Nurkic could be a good center, although his post-up heavy style could be an odd fit in the quick, guard-dominated Blazer offense. He’s still on his rookie deal for another year, the Blazers have time to figure it out. They also got a first-round pick — that’s three Portland has this June in a deep draft. Portland could keep them although the more likely move by GM Neil Olshey is to flip them, either at the deadline or on draft night, into something else he wants. Portland isn’t done dealing. The bottom line is the Blazers got a couple of quality assets for a guy they were going to have to let walk this summer anyway.

3) Upset of the day, the Knicks beat the Spurs. Off the court, there was no subtlety to what the Knicks were doing, even Sean Spicer would think this is a little obvious and on the nose. After owner James Dolan got destroyed in the public relations battle with Charles Oakley following the latter’s ejection and arrest last week, surprise but Latrell Sprewell, Larry Johnson, Bernard King, and Bill Bradley were all on hand at Madison Square Garden Sunday and all got video tributes. Dolan looked 2 a.m. at the bar by yourself desperate with all this.

But that wasn’t a surprise — the Knicks beating the Spurs? That was a surprise. On the fourth game of their long, annual rodeo road trip the Spurs played like a team that really enjoyed Friday night out on the town in New York. They were listless. Well, except for the one-man show and MVP candidate that is Kawhi Leonard, who had 36 points. Right now, he’d be third on my MVP ballot for the season, he has been nothing short of brilliant.

However, the Knicks had balance. Derrick Rose and Kristaps Porzingis played well (KP seemed to have some of his missing confidence back), as did new starter Willy Hernangomez with 12 points and a few key defensive plays. But this was a game Carmelo Anthony clearly wanted on his way to 25 points and seven rebounds. He keyed the Knicks win.

LeBron James drops 27 points on Nuggets in win (VIDEO)

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Like 28 other teams, Denver didn’t have an answer for LeBron James. And it cost them.

The Cavaliers’ star had 27 points and a dozen dimes as Cleveland knocked off Denver 125-109. LeBron was 11-of-16 shooting on the night, doing most of his damage at the rim — he was 8-of-8 shooting inside the restricted area.

Cleveland’s midseason swoon seems to be over as they have won 5-of-6.

Report: Jahlil Okafor sat Saturday’s Sixers game due to ramping up trade talks with Bulls, Pelicans

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Trade rumors have been swirling around Jahlil Okafor since last summer, the presence of them is nothing new.

However, the talks got serious enough that Okafor was held out of the Sixers’ 117-109 win over Miami that snapped the Heat’s 13-game winning streak. Players are often held out of games right before they are traded — so they don’t get injured and ruin the plan — and that was the case with Okafor, reports Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

No deal is imminent, according to league sources, but trade talks have been progressing and are more advanced than previous discussions with the Bulls and Pelicans.

“There were trade rumors that were happening before the game,” Brown said after the Sixers’ 117-109 win over the Heat. “I was aware of those. In those situations, I felt that it was best to not complicate things and not play Jahlil. We talked about it together before the game and I explained to him that this was going to happen for this reason. That’s why I made the decision.”

Other reports after the game had Okafor shaking hands and hugging locker room staff in Philadelphia as if it would be the last time he was in the building. That’s often the sign of a trade coming down, and this is the Sixers final home game before the trade deadline.

The Bulls and Pelicans are in similar spots — teams fighting to make the playoffs with a sense of urgency from management — and both could use more scoring inside. The Pelicans are looking for the right big man to fit next to Anthony Davis, the Bulls want more scoring inside to balance out the slashing of Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. Both the Pelicans and Bulls also need better perimeter shooting to space the floor more than they need a big man, but here we are.

The Sixers have games Monday in Charlotte and Wednesday in Boston, then are off for the All-Star break, which runs the week after that game and through the Feb. 23 trade deadline. Brown said Okafor could sit those games as well, depending on the situation, but there has been no decision.

Damn. Giannis Antetokounmpo takes off from the free throw line, thows it down


Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s strides have half the league thinking he traveled when he didn’t.

If you want an example of those strides, check out this dunk from Saturday night where he takes off a few feet inside the free throw line and dunks like it’s nothing.

The Bucks got the win, too, 116-100 over the Pacers.

Without Joel Embiid, 76ers snap Miami’s 13-game winning streak

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Nerlens Noel, Robert Covington and Dario Saric each scored 19 points to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 117-109 victory Saturday night over Miami, snapping the Heat’s winning streak at 13 games.

Goran Dragic had 30 points for the Heat, whose winning streak was the longest in the NBA this season, the third-best in team history and tops in league history by a sub-.500 team. Miami, which fell 1 1/2 games back of idle Detroit for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot, hadn’t lost since Jan. 13 at Milwaukee.

Philadelphia center Joel Embiid missed his ninth straight game and 12th in the last 13 due to a bone bruise on his left knee. Team president Bryan Colangelo also revealed before the game that Embiid has a slightly torn meniscus in the same knee.

But the 76ers, perhaps smarting after a 125-102 drubbing at Miami a week earlier, played inspired basketball with their Rookie of the Year candidate watching.

Philadelphia put seven players in double figures.

James Johnson‘s three-point play with 4:44 left cut it to 100-96 but Philadelphia scored 10 of the next 11 points, capped by T.J. McConnell‘s three-point play that made it 110-97 with 3:04 left.

Noel put an exclamation point on the Sixers’ second straight victory with an alley-oop dunk off a feed from McConnell with 27 seconds to play.

James Johnson matched his season high with 26, Tyler Johnson scored 17 and Hassan Whiteside had 12 points and 19 rebounds for Miami.

Behind 12 first-half points from Ersan Ilyasova, the 76ers led 54-48 at the break.


Embiid’s absence came one night after cellphone video captured him dancing on stage at a Meek Mill concert in Philadelphia.

The video caused a mini firestorm in Philadelphia on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters at Saturday morning’s shootaround at the team’s practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, the 22-year-old rookie said his dancing was all about having fun.

“Meek invited me to the stage,” Embiid said. “I had fun. That’s what I’m about, just enjoying life.”

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown deflected questions about Embiid in Saturday’s pregame meeting with reporters, saying he had a conversation with Embiid about it and that he wanted to keep that talk private.

But Colangelo later acknowledged that dancing on stage might not have been the best choice for Embiid to make given his injury.

“Being at the concert was not disappointing,” Colangelo said. “Probably being on stage and dancing was a little bit given the circumstances and given the potential reaction.”

Colangelo also revealed that in addition to a bone bruise on his left knee Embiid has a minor tear in his meniscus. Colangelo said the latter injury isn’t thought to be serious nor is it believed to be causing any symptoms.

After sitting out his first two seasons with a foot injury, Embiid injured his knee on Jan. 20 in a 93-92 home victory over Portland.


Heat: Dion Waiters (sprained left ankle) missed his third straight game. . The teams wrap up their four-game season series on March 1 in Miami. The host 76ers won 101-94 on Nov. 21, and the Heat routed Philadelphia 125-102 Feb. 4 in Miami.

76ers: Jahlil Okafor did not play. … Colangelo said it was unlikely that Embiid would play in either of the team’s two remaining games before the All-Star break, Monday at Charlotte and Wednesday at Boston. He added that it was “very unlikely” that Embiid, who was selected to participate in the Rising Stars game and Skills Challenge, would participate in All-Star festivities. . Richaun Holmes returned to the lineup after missing two consecutive games due to the flu. Holmes had six points and four rebounds.