Kurt Helin

Stephen Curry with behind-the-back, no-look dish to Klay Thompson for three (VIDEO)

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The Golden State Warriors are at their best when there is a little playground in their game.

Yes, that leads to turnovers — 20 percent of the Warriors’ possessions ended in a turnover Wednesday — but it also brings out the best in the team. For example, Stephen Curry‘s no-look, behind-the-back pass to Klay Thompson for a three during the Warriors win over the Raptors Wednesday night.

Curry has wanted the ball in his hands more, and Wednesday night he got that wish — and the Raptors defense couldn’t slow him on the pick-and-roll. But he may be at his best in transition, on plays like the one above.

Lopez on Lopez crime: Brook puts brother Robin in poster with dunk

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You would have to figure Robin Lopez has seen this move before. Maybe at San Joaquin Memorial High School. Maybe at Stanford. But somewhere.

Didn’t look like it Wednesday night. The Nets Brook Lopez put the ball on the floor, drove right past his brother Robin, and put the Bulls big man in a poster with a dunk. It was some Lopez on Lopez crime.

As for the game, Jimmy Butler‘s nailed the game winner lifting the Bulls past the Nets.

Three things we learned on Wednesday: Toronto is good, but not Golden State good

Associated Press
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Things could be worse for you: You could be the person printing the Christmas Day prayer and carol book for a church service in Sri Lanka, the person who substituted the traditional “Hail Mary” prayer with the words to Tupac’s 1997 “Hail Mary” — “I ain’t a killer, but don’t push me.” The Raptors may have had a rough night, but not one that bad. Here’s the Wednesday takeaways from around the NBA.

1) Toronto is very good, but was reminded of its place in loss to Warriors. The Warriors turn the ball over too much — they turned the ball over on 20 percent of their possessions Wednesday night. One in five trips down the court ended in a Warriors turnover. Kevin Durant had six of them himself.

But only Cleveland seems able to make the Warriors pay for it. Toronto certainly couldn’t. Toronto came into Golden State looking for a glimmer of hope that they could climb past that second tier in the NBA they are on — the Raptors had won 8-of-9 and were just a game back of Cleveland in the East. Surely this was a team that could run with one of the NBA’s two big dogs, right?

Golden State was up 42-17 after one quarter, and the Warriors shot 72 percent for that frame. Shot charts don’t look much better than the Warriors first quarter:

Warriors shotchart

The Raptors are scrappy and fought back to make it a five-point game in the second, then Toronto coach Dwyane Casey stuck with big man Jonas Valanciunas too long against the Warriors small lineups at the end of the second and the Warriors went on another run and led by 17 at the half. The Raptors turned all those Warriors turnovers into 26 points, which allowed them to make the game respectable at the end — 122-111 Warriors — and while Toronto made its late push to this game never really felt in doubt. Stephen Curry had 28 in the win.

Too many fans underestimate how good this Raptors team is — they won 56 games last season and went to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, this season they are on pace for 58 wins and the two-seed in the East (only Boston, as it starts to come together, looks like a team that would have the potential to keep the Raptors from a return to the ECF). Toronto has the best offense in the NBA this season (yes, better than the Warriors statistically) and the second best net rating (+9.5 points per 100 possessions). This is a very good team. But they are 0-3 against the Cavaliers this season and the Warriors offered the same assessment — the Raptors are on the second tier.

2) Trail Blazers snap six-game losing streak against Kings in battle of teams eyeing eight seed in West.
There is a lot of basketball to go this season, things can change, but the West seems to be shaping up with seven teams as playoff locks barring major injuries — the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, Thunder, Jazz, and Grizzlies — then there is a five game drop to anyone else. That could leave the Kings, Nuggets, and Trail Blazers fighting for the final playoff slot in the West (New Orleans can enter this discussion if it strings some wins together, but we need to see that first).

Which is why Portland snapping its six-game losing streak — and Sacramento’s four-game winning streak — on Wednesday night mattered. Portland won comfortably 102-89, which leaves Sacramento and Denver tied for the eight seed at 14-18, with the Blazers just one game back. There were no DeMarcus Cousins/Meyers Leonard fireworks this time around, although Leonard did have an impressive game with 16 points off the bench.

The Blazers strategy clearly was to make life difficult for Cousins and dare any other King to beat them. Without Rudy Gay (he’s missed seven of the last eight) they couldn’t — Kings players not named Cousins shot 38.3 percent overall and 6-of-22 from three. It wasn’t good enough, the Kings offense was entirely too stagnant against a Portland defense that has been the worst in the NBA this season.

Portland got 20 points out of C.J. McCollum, but it was more about balance as six Blazers scored in double figures, and as a team they shot 48 percent from three.

The race for the eight seed in the West could be very interesting the rest of the season, and it could well impact the trades the Blazers and Kings look to make — and don’t look to make — as the trade deadline starts to loom.

3) There was Lopez on Lopez crime. It’s easy to say the shot of the night was Jimmy Butler‘s game winner lifting the Bulls past the Nets. We don’t like to do things the easy way.

My favorite video of the night was from that same game: Brook Lopez putting brother Robin Lopez in a poster.

Wilson Chandler blocks Andrew Wiggins to preserve Nuggets win

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Minnesota doesn’t get stops like this. Which is why Denver is tied for the final playoff spot in the West and Minnesota is going to be watching the postseason on television. It’s about defensive habits.

The Nuggets were up 105-103, but the Timberwolves had the last shot coming, and Andrew Wiggins had the ball in his hands. He came off a Karl-Anthony Towns pick and got Wilson Chandler switched onto him and Wiggins saw that as a green light and attacked, got to the rim for the layup — and Chandler blocked it. Ballgame.

With the Kings’ loss in Portland, both Denver and Sacramento are tied for the eighth seed at 14-18, with Portland one game back. That race could continue all season.

Jimmy Butler scores 40, nails buzzer-beater lifting Bulls over Nets 101-99 (VIDEO)

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CHICAGO (AP) — Jimmy Butler matched his season high with 40 points and hit an 18-footer at the buzzer roughly five minutes after being helped off the court with an apparent injury Wednesday night to give the Chicago Bulls a 101-99 comeback victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

Butler scored nine points in the final 2 1/2 minutes to rally Chicago. He finished 11 for 11 from the free throw line and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Bulls overcame a seven-point deficit in the final three minutes for their second consecutive win.

With just more than five minutes left, Butler came down on the foot of Brooklyn guard Randy Foye and had to be helped off the court.

Dwyane Wade had 16 points before leaving early in the fourth quarter with a migraine.

Brook Lopez had 33 points – including a career-high five 3-pointers – as the Nets dropped their 12th straight road game.

Lopez had 19 first-half points to spark Brooklyn to a 49-46 halftime lead. The 7-footer was 4 for 5 on 3-pointers in the first 24 minutes and celebrated by holding up three fingers as he ran down the court following each one.

Brooklyn had a 97-90 lead with just more than two minutes to play and appeared headed for a comfortable win, but Chicago stormed back. Michael Carter-Williams tied the game at 97 with 1:22 left.

It was his first basket since returning Monday from a nearly two-month absence because of injuries to his left knee and wrist. He had missed his first 10 field goal attempts.

Following a Nets turnover, Butler gave the Bulls their first lead of the second half with a 15-footer with 27.7 seconds to go. Lopez, though, tied it with 12.6 seconds left on a dunk over his brother, Robin Lopez.

That set the stage for Butler.

TIP-INS

Nets: There’s no timetable yet for how long G Jeremy Lin (strained left hamstring) will be sidelined, but expectations are it’ll be a long absence. He missed 17 games earlier in the season with the same injury and has only played in 12 games this season. … G Joe Harris, who sat out with a hip pointer, is listed as day-to-day.

Bulls: F Doug McDermott returned after missing one game with a left shin injury. That meant all the team’s players were healthy for the first time since Oct. 31. “It’s good to have your full roster available to play,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’ll put the lineup out there that gives us the best chance to win.”