John Wall and Bradley Beal push around Raptors, help Wizards take 2-0 series lead

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The Wizards turned an early 10-point deficit into an 11-point halftime lead, and Bradley Beal had a message for the Raptors:

“They think that we’re some punks. They think that they can push around,” Beal said. “But we’re not rolling.”

Beal backed up his words in the fourth quarter, going out of his way to throw a shoulder into Kyle Lowry while they ran up court. The ref called a double technical, and Lowry held up his arms in protest.

“I didn’t do anything,” Lowry said. “I didn’t do anything.”

No, Lowry didn’t. But Washington – which started hostilities with Paul Pierce’s “it” comment – sure is doing something.

The Wizards – led by John Wall (26 points and 17 assists) and Beal (28 points) beat the Raptors, 117-106, Tuesday to take a 2-0 series lead. For the second straight year, Washington has begun the playoffs with consecutive road wins.

Now, the Raptors are on the defensive, where they really struggle.

After a slow start that included settling for too many mid-range jumpers, the Wizards moved – both the ball and themselves without it – better and pushed the pace to generate efficient offense. Wall (whose scoring and passing numbers are unmatched in a playoff game since Chris Paul in 2008) dictated everything, and Beal played the high-scoring sidekick.

Pierce (10 points) spaced the floor, especially in his minutes at power forward. Otto Porter (15 points on 6-of-8 shooting and nine rebounds) stepped up, and Marcin Gortat (16 points, eight rebounds and three blocks).

The Wizards look like a complete package.

The Raptors, on the other hand, were too often missing their most important piece: Lowry.

Toronto actually outscored Washington by nine points when the All-Star point guard played, but he was limited to just 26 minutes by foul trouble and a leg injury that knocked him out midway through the fourth quarter. It’s unclear whether Lowry will return for Game 3 Friday, and the injury was obviously just tough luck. But, in a tightly officiated game, Lowry was too sloppy with reaching and getting himself into foul trouble.

The Raptors just don’t have the margin of error to play without Lowry, because their defense is dismal. Once the Wizards stopped settling, they torched Toronto – and that’s not something than will be fixed by Friday. Only the Nets reached the playoffs with a worse defense than the Raptors.

Still, Toronto showed heart. After falling behind by 23 in the fourth quarter, the Raptors fought back through most of the final period.

But unlike Game 1, when Washington blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead before winning in overtime, the Wizards hung on in regulation. This was not passive end, though.

Washington has sent its message.

LeBron James: “I suck from the free throw line right now”

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LOS ANGELES — With the Lakers down one at home and just :21 seconds left in the game, LeBron James drove the lane and was fouled by rookie Omari Spellman. LeBron walked up calmly to the free throw line…

And the first shot clanked off the rim and bounced out.

Then LeBron missed the second free throw, too.

The Lakers escaped with the win thanks to Kyle Kuzma keeping the ball alive with offensive rebounds, eventually allowing LeBron to make up for his misses with a putback dunk that proved to be the game winner (aided by a Tyson Chandler dunk).

But LeBron missing clutch late free throws is a thing this season.

LeBron is owning it.

“I’m garbage,” LeBron said sitting in front of his locker postgame. “I suck from the free throw line right now. I’ll get my rhythm back but I thank Kuz [Kuzma] for giving us another opportunity. He gave me another shot so I tried to get him another shot.”

LeBron has had free throw and shooting slumps before, and he will snap out of it. The Lakers have won three in a row in spite of that, but against teams they should beat right now (stumbling Minnesota, Sacramento, and Atlanta). Things get tougher Wednesday against Portland and heading out on the road after. The Lakers margins are slim right now and if LeBron doesn’t shake out of this slump at some point it will come back to bite them. Of course, he knows that better than anyone.

Watch Jimmer Fredette’s 75-point game in China

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BEIJING (AP) — Former BYU star Jimmer Fredette scored 75 points in a Chinese Basketball Association game Sunday, the last 40 in the fourth quarter of the Shanghai Sharks’ 137-136 loss to the Beikong Fly Dragons.

Fredette gave Shangai a two-point lead on a layup with 7.2 seconds left, but Pierre Jackson countered with the winning 3-pointer for Beikong. Jackson had 63 points.

Fredette was 24 of 34 from the field, going 7 of 10 from 3-point range, made 20 for 21 free throws and had eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals in 43 minutes. He set a league record with the 40-point fourth quarter.

Fredette is in his third season in China. His previous career high of 73 came in a double-overtime game in his first year with the Sharks. He played for Sacramento, Chicago, New Orleans and New York in the NBA.

Report: Pelicans rebuffed Wolves on Jrue Holiday in Jimmy Butler trade talks

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The Minnesota Timberwolves finally found a trade partner for Jimmy Butler in the Philadelphia 76ers. The league is expected to finalize the deal early this week and get Butler on his way back to the Eastern Conference.

Before everything went down with Philadelphia, the question on the lips of just about everyone in the NBA was why something hadn’t happened sooner regarding Butler. Between the Houston Rockets and the Miami Heat, there appeared to be suitors abound.

Rumored offers notwithstanding, one team that reportedly tried to get into the mix was the New Orleans Pelicans.

According to a report from ESPN, the Pelicans tried to get Butler in conversations with the Wolves, but rebuffed when Minnesota asked for Jrue Holiday back in return.

Via ESPN:

Minnesota desperately tried to cobble together trade offers in the past week, including extensive discussions with New Orleans, league sources said. The Pelicans are limited on tradeable assets, but desperate to find star power to keep Anthony Davis for the long run. The Pelicans wouldn’t include point guard Jrue Holiday in its offer, nor multiple draft picks, league sources said.

Robert Covington and Dario Saric were the eventual package that the Timberwolves got in exchange for Butler, which is completely reasonable and helps Minnesota be less top-heavy with their rotations moving forward.

Asking for Holiday and multiple picks seems like a bit of a stretch, but it’s not surprising given the rumored negotiating tactics by the Timberwolves front office over the course of this entire saga.

Good for New Orleans for not budging on Holiday, even as the rumor of Anthony Davis potentially exiting their franchise via a trade demand seems to be ramping up lately.

I don’t know how Butler will fit with the Sixers, but I’m glad this story appears to have reached its final chapter.

Report: Wolves considered firing Tom Thibodeau, Scott Layden this summer

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Tom Thibodeau should have never been given front office responsibilities when he was made head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2016. Wolves owner Glen Taylor didn’t pay attention to countless examples in NBA history of the dual positions of executive and head coach coming with poor results.

Now things have turned horribly sour in Minnesota and it’s hard to see how Thibodeau keeps his job much longer. The former Chicago Bulls coach will likely remain with the team through end of the season, but it’s been so tumultuous leading up to the Jimmy Butler trade with the Philadelphia 76ers that a future between Thibodeau and Minnesota seems unlikely.

According to a report from ESPN, there was even some consideration given to firing both Thibodeau and general manager Scott Layden earlier this summer.

Via ESPN:

Taylor considered firing Thibodeau and Layden in the summer — well before the Butler situation escalated — and has continued to consider possibilities to eventually replace both of them, league sources said. There’s immense pressure on Minnesota’s management structure to see dividends on this trade.

This seems like a perfectly professional way to say that both Thibodeau and Layden could be on their way out after the Wolves fail to make the playoffs come April.

It’s entirely possible that the players Minnesota gets back in a trade with Philadelphia could help them make a push post-Butler. Robert Covington and Dario Saric are both guys who can help space the floor and bolster a top-heavy Timberwolves lineup. It was a reasonable return.

But we don’t know how the remaining players on Minnesota’s roster feel about Thibodeau, and whether the situation is salvageable. Is Karl-Anthony Towns going to stop quitting mid-game? Is Andrew Wiggins going to hone his shot selection?

These items are still of concern as we watch this Wolves team rise from the creaking embers left behind after the Butler situation’s extinguishment.