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76ers, Mavericks to play two preseason games in China

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NEW YORK (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki‘s 21st NBA season will include a trip in China.

His Dallas Mavericks will play a pair of preseason games against the Philadelphia 76ers there, 10 years after Nowitzki played for Germany in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He will become the first player in NBA history to play 21 seasons with the same franchise.

The league announced Tuesday that the Mavericks and 76ers will meet Oct. 5 in Shanghai and then Oct. 8 in Shenzhen.

The 76ers, who are back in the playoffs this season, have a large international fan base. They are led by Joel Embiid, a native of Cameroon, and Australian rookie Ben Simmons.

Dallas and Philadelphia both will be playing in China for the first time. The games will be the NBA’s 25th and 26th in China, which is passionate about basketball and will host the 2019 Basketball World Cup.

Raptors set records, exorcise demons in Game 2 rout of Wizards

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Maybe the pessimistic Toronto fan base is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe the sports talking heads that watch NBA basketball on Christmas and during the playoffs expect a meltdown.

But the Toronto Raptors have started to believe in themselves.

Toronto set records and exorcised demons in Game 2 against Washington Tuesday night. Here are just a few highlights:

• They set the franchise playoff record for most points in the first quarter (44), the first half (76), and the game (130).

• They set the franchise playoff record for most threes made in a half with 11 (on 22 shots).

DeMar DeRozan looked completely comfortable in the postseason spotlight with a career playoff high 37 points on the night.

• When John Wall led a Wizards comeback to cut what had been a 23-point deficit to 10 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Raptors got back to executing and defending and quickly put the game out of reach again.

• Most importantly the Toronto Raptors had never been up 2-0 in a playoff series.

They are now after a 130-119 rout of the Wizards Tuesday night in Toronto.

Game 3 is in Washington on Friday night — the Wizards better bring a real sense of urgency to that game.

Because they didn’t on Tuesday night. This game was effectively over in the first quarter.

From the opening tip it was all Toronto, racing out to a 14-4 lead, hitting threes, with OG Anunoby getting seven fast points. And the run just kept going and going and going, soon it was 34-13 Toronto. They are getting shots at the rim and if the Wizards defense collapsed they kicked it out for an open three. The Wizards had no defensive answers.

On the other end, the Wizards stuck primarily with a Wall/Marcin Gortat pick and roll, which the Raptors defended well with two players so they could stay home on shooters. Energized by their offense, the Raptors were making defensive plays, Kyle Lowry in particular. The Wizards were the opposite. The Raptors just kept getting open threes.

Meanwhile, DeRozan just got to his spots on the floor, attacked, and tore the Wizards up.

“He’s grown a lot (in reading the game),” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “Two years ago, I don’t know what he would have done, but he did an excellent job of reading what the defense was doing to him and making them pay.”

Washington made it a little interesting, cutting the lead to 10 after three quarters behind John Wall’s 22 points, but the Raptors had answers to every Wizards push.

For the Wizards, there are a lot of questions to answer going home to effectively a must-win situation.

How can a team down 0-1 in a series come out flat, without any sense of urgency in Game 2? How can they find some urgency before Game 3?

How can they get Bradley Beal going? He has averaged just 14 points per game on 39.5 percent shooting through two games, and hitting just 27.3 from three.

“The Raptors are doing a job with him, they’re being physical,” Wizards’ coach Scott Brooks said of Beal.”He’s missed some open shots, he hasn’t been able to get into the lane and to the free throw line…. We need him. We’re going to have trouble beating this team if he doesn’t play better. He will.”

How can Washington get Marcin Gortat going?

However, by far the biggest issue is Washington’s defense, which has allowed an average of 122 points per game through the first two in this series. The Wizards’ lazy defensive habits from the regular season have come home to roost in this series — the Raptors are moving the ball, cutting off the ball, penetrating into the paint then kicking out to wide-open shooters and the Wizards are being caught flat-footed on all of it.

Ty Lawson, signed just before the playoffs after having been in the Chinese league this season, played his first game for the Wizards and provided a little spark (especially with Wall in foul trouble at points). He had 14 points on 10 shots with eight assists. But Lawson was never a great defender, and he literally just joined this team — he has no defensive chemistry with his teammates. He’s not a long-term answer.

Washington has been a Jekyll and Hyde team all season. The other team had better show up Friday or this series is all but over.

Report: Suns to interview Spurs assistant James Borrego for coaching vacancy

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The Suns started the search for their new coach early.

Interim coach Jay Triano is going to get an interview. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer got permission from his current bosses to talk to Suns management. Jason Kidd lives in the Phoenix area and his name has been rumored. There was rumored interest in Villanova’s coach Jay Wright, but he shot that down.

Add Spurs assistant James Borrego to the list, reports Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic.

The Suns will have to wait two or three more games until the Spurs are eliminated from the playoffs to do the interview as San Antonio is just two games into its first-round series with Golden State. There are reports the Magic may also be interested in talking to him.

Budenholzer appears to be the favorite… if owner Robert Sarver is willing to open his purse strings and spend.

If that falls through, Borrego is a good choice, a highly respected assistant who was the runner-up in Memphis when David Fizdale got the job. He was one of the final three when the Rockets hired Mike D’Antoni. Borrego started in the NBA as an assistant video coordinator and worked his way up, catching Popovich’s eye. He went to New Orleans under Monty Williams and was in Orlando as the lead assistant to Jacque Vaughn, before coming back to the Spurs. He’s a guy who deserves a shot.

The big question with the Suns: How much are they willing to pay to get a coach? Owner Robert Sarver is not known as a spender, to put it kindly. Will he spend what it takes to get a Budenholzer or Kidd? If he wants to pay first-time coach money, Borrego could be a good fit (but Borrego may look at this situation and owner and decide to stay put).

Paul George, Donovan Mitchell questionable for Game 2 of Thunder-Jazz

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) —Thunder forward Paul George and Utah guard Donovan Mitchell, the leading scorers for their respective teams in their first-round playoff series, are questionable for Game 2 on Wednesday.

George scored 36 points in the opener and set a team playoff record with eight 3-pointers in Oklahoma City’s 116-108 win, but he missed the last minute to get treatment for a bruised right hip. Thunder coach Billy Donovan said he’d wait until Wednesday to determine George’s status. He said George was limited in practice and did not do contact work.

Mitchell suffered a left foot bruise in Game 1, and a Jazz spokesman said he is questionable. The rookie went through portions of Tuesday’s practice. He had 27 points and 10 rebounds in the opener after averaging 20.5 points in the regular season.


Tanking stories from Woj: Owner ‘berated’ coach for late-season win

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The NBA wants to do away with the perception of teams tanking and all the talk that goes with it. They see it as a public relations black eye and bad for the sport that the Chicago Bulls might sit Robin Lopez for a late-season game to increase their chances of losing, therefore helping their draft lottery odds, so the league warned the Bulls. Marc Gasol got the same treatment in Memphis. There were others as well.

What the league office really can’t stand is hard-core fans openly rooting for their team to lose. That attitude was all over social media with the Bulls, Suns, and just about every other team in the top nine in the lottery.

It wasn’t just the fans — owners were saying the same thing, too. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN had front office insider Bobby Marks on his podcast and told this story (at around the 30-minute mark, hat tip NBA Reddit).

“I never heard more talk from front office executives frustration with coaches who were winning games they didn’t want them to win.

And owners, I know of an instance of an owner berating, really berating his coach here in the last several weeks of the season for going in and beating a pretty good team on the road, going ‘what are you doing?’ And think about that, that should not be going on.”

Woj is right should not. While the front office can decide to focus on the future, telling the coach to the youngsters and essentially tank, it is all kinds of wrong to have the coach or players take the court and try not to win. There’s a line there. Limit the coach’s resources (go ahead and sit Lopez or Gasol, so what?) but don’t ask the coach or players not to try to win once they get between the lines.

That said, the league is not going to stop tanking.

Starting next season, the lottery odds will change and flatten out, the teams with the worst couple of records in the league will be less likely to get the No. 1 pick. However, that will only change the inflection point of when a team considers it wise to tank vs. make a run at the eighth seed.

The reason is the game. In basketball in general, and in the NBA in particular, talent wins out. If a franchise wants to win a lot of games and consistently make the playoffs, it needs All-Star level talent on the roster. If said franchise wants to contend for a title, it needs a Top-10 level, franchise cornerstone player to build around (and 10 may overestimate how many of those players there actually are). Occasionally a player of that caliber switches teams — most recently Kevin Durant — but by and large the only way to get one of the league’s elite players is to draft them. If a GM of a weak team thinks that Deandre Ayton is a franchise changer in this draft, then he should target getting a good shot at that pick. Through the draft is the only way the vast majority of NBA franchises can land that level of superstar.

Changing the lottery odds next year makes it less likely another team goes full, deep Sam Hinkie/Philadelphia “process.” Starting with the 2019 draft, it’s not an advantage to completely bottom out (the three teams with the worst records have a 14 percent chance of winning the lottery, the fourth worst team has 12.5 percent, etc.). Although, after the pressure the Sixers got from the league (which the NBA denies but everyone knows happened), other owners, and the fact that Hinkie lost his job, no other GM was going to follow that model the same way again anyway. Even if the process worked.

Tanking, however, is going nowhere as long as an elite player can change a franchise’s fortunes and the draft is the best way to get one.