Associated Press

Kyle Lowry, Raptors hold off Suns, spoil Watson’s coaching debut

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PHOENIX (AP) — The Toronto Raptors expected a spirited effort from the Phoenix Suns. That happens when a team changes coaches.

However, the Raptors had enough to hold on for a 104-97 victory Tuesday night, spoiling the debut of Suns interim coach Earl Watson.

Kyle Lowry scored 26 points, including five 3-pointers, and DeMar DeRozan added 22 for the Raptors, whose franchise-record 11-game winning streak ended Monday in Denver,

“We knew they would come out and play extremely hard and try to do their thing” Lowry said. “We kind of weathered the storm, paced ourselves though the whole game and found a way to win the game.”

The Raptors led the entire second half but had to hold on at the finish.

“The energy was there,” Watson said. “It’s not really physical with our team, it’s more mental and mental toughness is a fragile, unique path that you have to take.”

Markieff Morris had 30 points and 11 rebounds, both season highs, for the Suns, who fired coach Jeff Hornacek on Monday and promoted the 36-year-old Watson to the interim job.

Morris has had a difficult season, his playing time diminished after he said in the offseason he wanted traded after the Suns dealt his twin brother Marcus to Detroit.

But Watson considers Morris a major part of the team.

“I had a feeling if I gave him positive encouragement and let him know that no matter what, we love him no matter what happened beyond basketball,” Watson said, “and give him an opportunity to play and let him know he is going to play, he is going to get big minutes.”

MORRIS PRAISES HORNACEK

“Jeff was my guy,” Morris said. “Me and him were was here for three years together and he was a great coach. I really liked him a whole lot. It is just how the league goes. we are definitely going to miss him but coach told me before the game I was going to get my shots and I just got hot.”

Phoenix rookie Devin Booker added 27 points, matching his career best with six 3s. Archie Goodwin had 18 points and a career-best 12 assists for the Suns, who have lost five in a row and 20 of their last 22.

Terrence Ross scored 16 and Jonas Valanciunas 14 for Toronto in the Raptors’ second stop on a six-game road trip.

Morris scored 14 in the first quarter and Goodwin banked in a 35-footer at the buzzer to give Phoenix a 32-28 lead after one. It didn’t last long.

Ross scored five and Bismack Biyombo four in a 15-1 run that put the Raptors up 46-35 with 4:23 left in the half, and they never trailed again. The Suns scored the next eight to cut the lead to 46-43 but two late baskets by DeRozan gave Toronto a 52-45 lead at the break.

Phoenix almost caught the Raptors with an 8-0 spurt in the third quarter, Mirza Teletovic‘s 3-pointer cutting Toronto’s lead to 71-70 with 2:50 left in the period. But the Raptors outscored the Suns 7-1 the rest of the quarter.

Phoenix made it interesting late when Booker’s driving layup cut Toronto’s lead to 99-94 with 1:59 to play but DeRozan sank his only 3-pointer of the night with 51.9 seconds to play and the Raptors held on from there.

“They came out with a lot of enthusiasm, juice, energy, which we felt usually happens and comes after a coaching change,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “They played as well as they played for a while but we kept at it. We grinded it. (There were) some of the mental mistakes down the stretch we have to clean up. `’

TIP-INS

Raptors: Toronto improved to 7-8 in the second of back-to-back games. … James Johnson sat out the game after spraining his left ankle Monday night in Denver. … On Tuesday, Lowry and DeRozan were named Eastern Conference co-players of the month for January. … Lowry made four of his first five 3-point tries.

Suns: Goodwin’s previous career best in assists was six. … Newly hired assistant coach Bob Hill was on the bench. … T.J. Warren is out for the season with a broken right foot. … Phoenix opened a seven-game home stand. … At 36, Watson is the youngest coach in the NBA, three months younger than Houston interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

 

Kemba Walker stops personal losing streak to LeBron James at 28, Celtics top Lakers

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BOSTON (AP) — Kemba Walker finally beat LeBron James, and he did it by helping the Boston Celtics send the Los Angeles Lakers to their biggest loss of the season.

Walker ended a career-long losing streak against James, scoring 20 points to beat him for the first time in 29 tries and lead the Celtics past the rival Lakers 139-107 on Monday night.

“I’m happy I got one at least, before he goes,” Walker said with a laugh after the Celtics snapped their three-game losing streak. “Who knows how long he can play, because he’s just incredible. But you know, it’s only one. One and 28.”

Jaylen Brown scored 20 points, drawing a taunting technical after dunking over James, and Enes Kanter had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Boston.

“I ain’t going to lie, that was pretty nice, pretty awesome,” Brown said. “LeBron, he’s gotten so many other guys. Just to be out there against one of the best players to ever play the game is an honor. I always like that matchup and it gives me a little extra boost.”

James said there was no shame in getting beaten — this time.

“Why would I take it personally? It’s part of basketball,” he said. “It’s not the first time I got dunked on. It might not be the last time I get dunked on. But Jaylen’s been playing exceptionally well this year. It was a good play.”

The Celtics gave up the first eight points of the game but turned things around when Anthony Davis, playing for the first time in almost two weeks, went to the bench with a pair of fouls 49 seconds apart early in the first quarter.

“The less he plays, the better for everybody else,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.

James had 15 points and 13 assists for the Lakers, who had won 10 of their previous 11 games. But the Celtics made 13 of their first 22 3-point attempts to open a 103-75 lead in the third quarter — the biggest against Los Angeles all season until Boston made it a 34-point game in the fourth.

“We were fortunate to put the ball in the basket quite a bit,” said Stevens, whose team shot 56% overall. “The ball going in masks some things.”

Walker’s 28 games without a win against James was second in NBA history only to Sherman Douglas’ 0-30 head-to-head record against Michael Jordan.

“If anybody: him. The guy I couldn’t beat, it’d be him. He’s such a great player, he’s done so much in this league,” said Walker, who spent the first eight years of his career in Charlotte. “He’s beaten a lot of guys. I bet you there’s a lot of people who don’t have a winning record against LeBron James.”

 

Lakers, 76ers reportedly interested in trade for Derrick Rose

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Derrick Rose‘s renaissance has come to the point this season he is in the running for Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 18.3 points, 5.9 assists, and 2.4 rebounds per game (before Monday’s game against the Wizards).

The Pistons are in the mix for a playoff spot in the East — three games back of the eighth-seed Nets, who are finally getting healthy — but with Blake Griffin out for the season they are expected to be sellers at the deadline. That means Rose, a guy who could help a number of contending teams.

The Lakers and 76ers are among those interested, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

The Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and multiple teams with championship aspirations have expressed interest in trading for Detroit Pistons guard Derrick Rose, league sources told Yahoo Sports…

The Lakers and Sixers are in search of point guard assistance for the stretch run, sources said.

The Lakers need a second playmaker as their offense falls by 9.8 points per 100 possessions when LeBron James is off the court. To make the deal work, the Lakers would have to dangle Kyle Kuzma plus someone to fill the salary (Avery Bradley would work but that would cost Los Angeles another starter; DeMarcus Cousins and Quinn Cook works, too, but why would the Pistons want them?). The Lakers are limited in picks they can send out after the haul they sent to New Orleans in the Anthony Davis deal.

The 76ers need a playmaking point guard to go next to Ben Simmons at points, ideally one who can stretch the floor (Rose is shooting just 31.8 percent from three). The Sixers would likely dangle Zhaire Smith and maybe Mike Scott to make the salaries work.

Expect the Pistons to listen to offers up to the deadline, playing teams off each other to get the best possible deal. But Rose may well be on the move before Feb. 6.

Chris Paul scores 28, leads Thunder rally to hand Rockets fourth straight loss

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HOUSTON (AP) — Chris Paul scored 28 points and Danilo Gallinari added 25 as the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat cold-shooting James Harden and the Houston Rockets 112-107 on Monday.

Paul scored 27 of his 28 points in the first half against his former team. Gallinari and Dennis Schroder, who scored 17 of his 23 points after halftime, carried the Thunder after the break.

Former Thunder player Russell Westbrook had 32 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds for Houston. Harden had 29 points but was astonishingly inefficient, making 1 of 17 3-point attempts, as the Rockets’ losing streak stretched to a season-high four games.

Oklahoma City used a 6-0 run, highlighted by a dunk from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander after he stole the ball from Harden, to put the Thunder up 108-105 with about a minute left.

Harden made a layup for Houston to cut the lead to one, but Schroder made a jump shot with 28 seconds remaining to make it 110-107. Russell Westbrook missed a 3-pointer on the other end and Gilgeous-Alexander added two free throws to secure the victory.

Houston had a 15-point lead before the Thunder scored 13 straight points to get within 100-98 with 4 1/2 minutes to go. Gallinari led the way for Oklahoma City in that stretch, making two 3-pointers and adding three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt.

Harden made one of two free throws after that but Gallinari struck again seconds later with another 3 that tied it at 101-all. Gilgeous-Alexander then made one of two free throws to give the Thunder their first lead since the first quarter.

Westbrook made Houston’s first field goal in more than four minutes with a layup with just more than three minutes left. He then added another layup after a steal seconds later to give the Rockets a 105-102 lead with about two minutes to go.

The Thunder trailed by 16 points after three quarters, but a 9-2 run, with five points from Schroder, got them within 91-82 with about 9 1/2 minutes left.

Houston trailed by as many as 10 in the first half but led by seven at halftime and used a 9-3 run to open the third quarter and push it to 73-60. P.J. Tucker had a 3-pointer in that stretch and Westbrook added four points.

Houston scored the last four points in a third quarter where Oklahoma City scored just 14 points to make it 87-71 entering the fourth.

 

J.J. Redick: Players more concerned with Instagram than winning

J.J. Redick
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J.J. Redick transformed himself from bust to NBA success.

He changed his habits and outlook. He worked hard and learned how to optimize his fit. That partially explains why the Pelicans signed the veteran last summer.

Why aren’t more players so diligent in their work?

Redick on “The JJ Redick Podcast With Tommy Alter“:

There’s just too much stuff going on. There’s too many people in your ear. There’s not enough time in the day, probably, for some guys. They’ve got Fortnight to go to. They’ve got to worry about getting a fit off for pregame. This is an issue. I really believe this. I think there’s more guys concerned with getting a pregame fit on Instagram than they are worrying about the win and loss of a basketball game. I stand by that statement.

Maybe some players are more concerned with Instagram than winning. That’s tough to evaluate from afar. I’m not sure Redick – who’s obviously not in anyone’s mind but his own – is close enough to make that evaluation, though he obviously has more access to see how NBA players act.

But players have always held interests outside basketball. They always will. Redick doesn’t need to look far to consider that. This quote comes from his podcast.

That Redick gripes about this modern technology – Fortnight, Instagram – makes him sound like an old grump. Why not rail against players who party too much? There are surely players who indulge in that classic distraction.

Not every player is obsessed primarily with winning. Yet, I’m unconvinced that’s any more or less true now than with a prior generation.