PBT’s Sunday NBA Winners/Losers: Luol Deng loving life in Miami

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Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while spending your hard-earned money on Derek Jeter dirt

source:  Luol Deng. He’s fitting in very well in Miami, thank you very much. The Heat went into American Airlines Arena — the one in Dallas, not the one in Miami — and beat the Mavs behind a big game from Deng: 30 points on 13-of-19 shooting, five rebounds and four assists. On the season he’s averaging 15.6 points a game on 55.7 percent shooting. The Heat are 5-2 and look like a team with real cohesion and chemistry led by Chris Bosh, getting solid play from Dwyane Wade nightly and playing the space and pace system well.

source:  Los Angeles Lakers. They got one. And they played better defense to get it (well, that and Charlotte’s lack of shooting was exposed as they were 3-of-14 from three). Kobe Bryant did what he does and had 21 points on 20 shots, but the Lakers got an offensive boost from Jeremy Lin who had 21 points on 12 shots, hitting 3-of-6 from three.The Lakers got really hot in the second half, hitting 64.1 percent of their shots overall — Carlos Boozer was 5-of-6, Ed Davis 3-of-3 and even Robert Sacre made both his shots. Good win for the Lakers, who needed this one because the schedule gets really tough for the next couple weeks and there are not a lot of obvious wins on the horizon. After the game there were a lot of “Charles Barkley can eat” jokes on twitter (he joked about going on a hunger strike until the Lakers won), and Ed Davis got in on the action.

source:  Charlotte Hornets. It’s not just the loss to the Lakers, it’s the lack of offense highlighted in that loss and the rest of the season that is an issue. The Hornets were counting on continuity plus adding Lance Stephenson to boost what was a dismal offense last season, but so far this young season the Hornets offense is 4.3 points per 100 possessions worse than last season. They desperately need outside shooting, hitting just 29 percent from three as a team. They also are heavy on the midrange shots (fourth most in the NBA) and are shooting just 39 percent on those. All of that has the Hornets just 3-4 this young season. There’s plenty of time to turn it around, but this is a disappointing start for a team expected to take a step forward this season.

source:  Toronto Raptors. It’s not the win over the Sixers Sunday, it’s that the Raptors are off to a fast 6-1 start and are on top of the Eastern Conference. Part of that winning is the top 10 defense they have been playing this season. But more impressive is the top five offense led by DeMar DeRozan, at 22.7 a game. Plus DeRozan is doing this.

source:  Denver Nuggets. Coming into the season they were a team a lot people thought could get it together and compete for a playoff spot in the West, but after their loss to the Trail Blazers they are 1-5 to start the season, tied with the Lakers for the bottom of the West. I spoke to Kenneth Faried last week and he said the slow start was just so many guys coming back from injury and missing time in camp, they are just not all on the same page yet on either end of the floor (they are ranked 22nd in both offense and defense using points per possession). He also said the team understands that in the West they have to get it together sooner rather than later.

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.

Spurs playoffs hopes remain alive with 123-105 win over Rockets

Spurs playoffs
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — The Spurs aren’t out of it yet.

Keldon Johnson had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and San Antonio kept alive its chances of becoming the first team in NBA history to make 23 consecutive playoff appearances with a 123-105 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.

San Antonio has won three straight and five out of seven since arriving in the Florida bubble.

DeMar DeRozan added 23 points. Jakob Poeltl finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds.

Johnson said his mindset since the season restarted has been to fill in whatever role is asked of him.

“Whether it’s hustling, running the floor – just doing whatever I need to do to help us win,” he said. “Help from my teammates has definitely helped the game slow down for me.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Johnson is playing with the confidence they saw when they drafted him 29th overall last year.

“That’s what he does,” Popovich said. “He’s a high-energy guy. He’s very physical. Very competitive. Very coachable. He’s just a winner.”

The Western Conference is guaranteed to have a play-in for its final playoff spot, with Memphis beginning the day with just a half-game over Portland and one game ahead of Phoenix and San Antonio.

The Spurs will need help to be one of the teams playing this weekend for the final spot in the Western Conference, but made sure they couldn’t be eliminated Tuesday with their win.

Russell Westbrook had 20 points and seven turnovers in his first game back in the lineup for Houston after missing two games with a bruised right quadriceps. Jeff Green had 17 points. Ben McLemore added 16.

The Rockets played without guards James Harden (rest) and Eric Gordon (ankle).

The Spurs took control in the second quarter, outscoring the Rockets 35-24. San Antonio led by as many as 29 points.

San Antonio built a 19-point lead in the first half. DeRozan set the tone with 15 points in the opening 24 minutes, with Lonnie Waker IV, Poeltl and Johnson each scoring 10.

Regardless of whether the Spurs make the playoffs or not, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is proud of how his young players have stepped up in during their time in the bubble.

“Part of it is you have to be realistic,” Popovich said. “I don’t think our chances of winning the championship were great at the beginning of this, nor are they now. If that’s a fact, then you need to do everything you can to develop and be prepared for next season.

“The development has been off the charts. We’re thrilled with it. So it’s a win-win no matter what.”

Popovich said it would be “thrilling” to get some help and have a chance to extend their season, but he’s not using it as a measuring stick for the season.

“We’ve already accomplished what we thought we were capable of accomplishing, that’s what’s important. If we got in now it would be icing on the cake.”