O.J. Mayo helps Mavericks bounce back to hand Suns fifth straight loss

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PHOENIX — Dallas barely showed up for their game against the Clippers on Wednesday, falling behind by double-digits early and then never really competing while the second half turned into nothing more than extended garbage time.

Things began similarly in Phoenix on Thursday, with the Suns getting out to an 11-1 lead in the game’s first three minutes. But whether due to the level of competition or due to finding an inner will to fight, Dallas came back strong to build a 15-point lead of its own, before ultimately hanging on for a much-needed 97-94 victory.

“We played one of our strongest-willed games of the year,” Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said afterward. “Difficult situation, coming off the back-to-back and a rough one [Wednesday night], but everybody really played with a lot of heart and a lot of guts.”

Dallas got a big offensive game out of O.J. Mayo, who finished with 23 points, five rebounds, and five assists in 40 minutes of action. Mayo turned the ball over six times, so his night was far from perfect. But with the game tied at 87 with 34 seconds left, he hit what was effectively the game-winner — a tough 21-foot jumper over Sebastian Telfair, who was right there defending and in pretty good position.

Mayo said that his previous ventures into the lane made him look for space to take the jumper in this situation.

“I was trying to get into an area where I could just elevate over Bassy, who’s a good defender with his hands and feet,” he said. “I went [into the lane] one time and got a charge, another time I got my shot altered by [Markieff Morris]. So I just wanted to get into an open area around the foul line so I could elevate over him.”

Goran Dragic had a chance to tie on the following possession, and got right to the rim after getting past Mayo, but couldn’t convert the left-handed layup. It was fouls and free throws the rest of the way, and former Sun Vince Carter made four of those free throws to help seal it.

“I live for those moments,” Carter said. “I would’ve been mad if I missed ’em. Believe me.”

The Suns fought hard themselves to get back into this one and even have a chance near the end, considering the brutal 23-4 run they endured to open the second half — one that lasted over eight minutes, and turned their four-point lead into a deficit of 15.

It’s been the pattern in Phoenix all season, where the Suns have fallen behind by double-digits in eight of their nine home games, and have come back to at least tie the game every single time. The excitement created by the wild swings on this night was likely enough to send fans home feeling satisfied — or at least, the folks behind the money-back guarantee promotion that was in effect for this one would certainly hope so.

Phoenix got a nice performance from Markieff Morris, who grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds. And Luis Scola worked his tail off all night long, defending and taking charges while knocking down six of his 10 shots in 24 minutes. But with Michael Beasley continuing his inconsistent play, and Marcin Gortat being similarly ineffective offensively, Phoenix doesn’t have a lot of other places to look for reliable sources of production.

This was a physical contest, with plenty of players getting dinged up along the way. Chris Kaman left with an ankle sprain, Shawn  Marion went down with a groin strain, Jermaine O’Neal left after getting poked in the eye, and P.J. Tucker suffered a sprained MCL.

Dallas won the battle of attrition, and Carlisle couldn’t have been more pleased afterward. Though he did promise the team would continue to work on its deficiencies, while using an interesting analogy in the process.

“We’re going to keep working to eliminate mistakes,” Carlisle said. “We still missed blockouts, we still turn it over. Sometimes we make hard work out of sex. And it’s tough in this league when you do that, when you shoot yourself in the foot. But we’ve got good guys, and they really stuck together tonight, and it was big for us.”

Jeremy Lin says “at times it kind of sucks” being only Asian-American in NBA

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When Jeremy Lin landed in Toronto — after being bought out and waived by the Hawks, clearing the way for him to sign with the Raptors for the playoff push — the number of cameras and reporters in the Raptors locker room instantly ballooned. Lin remains one of the most popular players worldwide in the NBA, he’s a social media phenom, and there are cameras there to track his every move and send it around the world, particularly back to Asia.

Lin isn’t in the NBA because he’s famous and sells tickets — he’s a quality guard who can help a team, there’s a reason the contending Raptors picked him up — but he inhabits the role of both player and groundbreaker.

Lin talked about that (and Asians in popular culture) with Cary Chow of the Undefeated in an interesting Q&A at The Undefeated, where he said being the only Asian-American in the NBA is not easy.

At times it kind of sucks. At other times it’s amazing. Amazing because you get to challenge everyone’s viewpoints and perspectives. I’m rooting for so many more Asians to come in. Last year, when I was with Brooklyn and we had Ding [Yanyuhang] on the summer league team, I was like, ‘Dude, please make the team. We’d have so much fun together during the season.’

On the feeling that he has to represent an entire race.

Yeah. At first it was something I ran from and really struggled with. Now I embrace it way more and am more equipped to handle it. I’m not perfect, but I kind of know who I want to be at this point in my career, so I keep trucking along and doing things the right way and stay above all the distractions.

Lin has handled his fame deftly over the years. He has challenges and opportunities not open to other players, and that’s the balancing act. It takes someone smart, but also grounded and balanced to pull it all off. The Raptors got all that, along with the extra cameras around the team.

Mostly, though, the Raptors got a player who is going to help them make a deep playoff run.

 

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.