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.

 

Watch highlights from France taking bronze at World Cup, beating Australia 67-59

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Just as they did five years ago at the last World Cup, France has come away with the bronze medal.

The French came from 15 down at one point to beat Australia 67-59 and win the third-place game at the FIBA World Cup in China. Former Spur Nando De Colo led the way for France with 19 points, Orlando’s Evan Fournier added 16 but on a rough shooting night (5-of–17), and Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum added nine points and six assists. You can see the game’s highlights above.

After the game, Fournier was talkative, including slamming the travel and schedule of this World Cup, spread all across China.

Utah was led by 17 points from Utah’s Joe Ingles and 15 from San Antonio’s Patty Mills.

Michael Jordan sells portion of Hornets to two new partners

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan is adding two partners to the Charlotte Hornets’ ownership group, selling them each a portion of the NBA franchise.

Gabe Plotkin, founder and chief investment officer of Melvin Capital, and Daniel Sundheim, founder and chief investment officer of D1 Capital, have joined the Hornets as partners, pending NBA approval.

Jordan, a six-time NBA champion, will remain the majority owner.

Jordan said in a statement released by the team Saturday that he’ll continue to be the man making decisions about the direction of the Hornets.

“I’m excited to welcome Gabe and Dan as my partners in Hornets Sports & Entertainment,” Jordan said. “While I will continue to run the Charlotte Hornets, make all decisions related to the team and organization, and remain the team’s NBA Governor, Gabe and Dan’s investment in the franchise is invaluable, as we continue to modernize, add new technology and strive to compete with the best in the NBA. Both Gabe and Dan are industry standard-setters and proven leaders, with a belief in philanthropy and a passion for the game of basketball. They share my commitment to Charlotte and the Carolinas, and I look forward to working with and learning from them.”

Marc Gasol goes for history when Spain meets Argentina in World Cup final

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BEIJING (AP) — Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Lamar Odom, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving.

Those are the only five players to win an NBA title and a gold medal in the same year, whether it was in FIBA or Olympic competition, with Pippen doing it twice.

It is an exclusive club – one that Marc Gasol is on the cusp of joining.

A mere three months after helping the Toronto Raptors win the NBA Finals, Gasol has led Spain to the gold medal game at the World Cup. It’ll be Spain against Argentina on Sunday, with both nations looking for their second title. Spain won the world championship in 2006 when Gasol was a 21-year-old backup, and Argentina won the inaugural tournament in 1950.

“I’m so deep in the rabbit hole right now that I don’t get to see much light,” Gasol said. “You’re so focused on your opponent, your next rival, recovering, doing whatever’s necessary to win games that you don’t look at the big picture. It’s been great. I’m very fortunate.

“I knew that committing to the national team this summer would not be easy physically. But it’s so worth it, and not just because we’re in the final game.”

He simply willed Spain into the final game.

Gasol scored 33 points – his career-high for any of the 18 FIBA-sanctioned or Olympic tournaments he’s played over the last 18 years – in Spain’s double-overtime win against Australia in the semifinals. He gave up his NBA offseason to be part of this team, a group that failed to medal at the last World Cup in Spain five years ago, and knows he might not have too many more years left on the international stage.

“It’s the responsibility of passing along that commitment, that loyalty to the team,” said Gasol, who still remembers the thrill of getting invitation letters from the Spanish federation to be part of youth teams when he was 11 or 12. “Those values that we were taught so many years with the older players, now it’s our turn to pass on the legacy to the next generation. And that’s not talent, that’s just commitment.”

Argentina has one of those passing-legacy-on players, too.

Luis Scola, 39 years old, was part of the team that won gold for Argentina at the 2004 Athens Olympics – and he’s been the best player for his team at the World Cup. He scored 28 points in the semifinal win over France, and on a team that has flashy guards who aren’t afraid to throw behind-the-back passes in any situation Scola has been the steadying force in the biggest moments.

“I’m only 27,” France center Rudy Gobert said as he lauded Scola after the semifinal matchup. “Maybe when I’m 39, I’ll know the secrets that Scola knows.”

Here’s some of what to know going into Sunday’s final:

DOUBLING UP

Pippen’s double-gold years came in 1992 and 1996 with Chicago. Jordan’s was in 1992 with the Bulls, James’ was in 2012 with Miami and Irving’s was in 2016 with Cleveland – all of those being Olympic years. Odom played on the U.S. world championships team in 2010, after his Los Angeles Lakers won that year’s NBA Finals.

OTHER DOUBLES

There have been 14 U.S. women who won a WNBA title along with a World Cup or Olympic gold medal in the same year, led by Sue Bird – who did it three times (2004 Olympics, 2010 world championship, 2018 World Cup).

UNBEATENS

Spain and Argentina are the only unbeaten teams left in the World Cup, each 7-0 so far. This is the fourth time that the gold medal will be decided in a game between unbeaten teams. The others: U.S. over Turkey (both 8-0 entering) in 2010, Spain over Greece (both 8-0) in 2006, and Argentina over the U.S. (both 5-0) at the first world championship in 1950.

NBA players’ union, agents, send letter to NCAA saying no to its power grab

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NBA agents are already certified, either by the National Basketball Players Association (the players’ union) and in some cases by states.

Now the NCAA thinks it should be the certification body for agents who want to talk to college players, something the organization came up with as part of recent reforms (which included the quickly dropped “Rich Paul rule”). Agents are pushing back against the NCAA’s decree in a letter through the National Basketball Players’ Association, as Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports, and here is part of that letter:

“While we refuse to subject ourselves to these regulations, our biggest concern is that the process itself undermines the ability of student-athletes to truly receive the most competent representation when they are testing the waters. By continuing to legislate in a manner that ignores the realities of the world that student-athletes with professional prospects live in, the NCAA is only entrenching an ecosystem that cultivates and fosters an atmosphere of distrust among the student-athletes whom the NCAA is supposed to protect, thus pushing these kids out of school far before they are ready.

“Every year, men’s basketball student-athletes continue to make poor decisions on whether to remain in the NBA Draft or return to school. We share in the NCAA’s goal of wanting to correct this problem, yet NCAA legislation continues to demonize and marginalize agents and furthers a negative stigma instead of making strides toward working cooperatively to ensure that student-athletes get the most accurate and competent counsel to make great career and life decisions.

“Competent, established, and experienced agents have no incentive to subject themselves to this legislation, and its overly burdensome procedures and oversight. As such, men’s basketball student-athletes who are testing the NBA Draft waters will be forced to listen to people who do not have the experience, knowledge, and network to truly help them make the best decisions. While we do not want to see this happen, it is inevitable under the proposed process.”

This is about power and control — the NCAA wants to be the body who has power over deciding which agents can reach out to college players. The agents aren’t going to play along. They might agree to a bi-annual seminar according to the report, but the agents aren’t looking to have a new body in charge of regulating them. That already exists.

The NCAA and players’ union are talking to find a compromise, and they may well get there, but it will not be on the just the NCAA’s terms. The NCAA’s rule, as they laid it out, would essentially give the body subpoena and investigative powers (which one can argue it has already shown it does not handle well).

Expect this to drag out for a while, because the NCAA is not good at knowing the limits of its power.