Kyle Lowry scores career-high 43 as Raptors beat Cavaliers, 99-97

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TORONTO (AP) — Kyle Lowry had a big smile after capping off a career night by hitting the clinching basket in the closing seconds.

Lowry finished with a career-best 43 points to help the Toronto Raptors beat the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers 99-97 Friday night.

“My first game winner in my illustrious 10-year career,” he said, noting that he was at Villanova that last time he’d done that.

Terrence Ross added 15 for Toronto, which won its 10th straight at home to tie a franchise record previously set between March 24 and Nov. 4, 2002.

LeBron James, who scored 25, had a chance to win the game with a late 3-pointer, but his shot missed the rim completely as time expired.

Kevin Love added 20 for the Cavaliers, who had their lead over Atlantic Division-leading Toronto in the East cut to two games, and conceded the playoff seeding tie-breaker to Toronto, with the Raptors clinching the season series 2-1.

Lowry played down his individual effort though, which bettered the 41 he put up against Golden State on Dec. 5.

“The bigger deal is that we won the game, that’s all that matters,” he said. “I think we grew tonight but we’ve got the team to get better. Now we’ve put our efforts into Detroit and worry about Detroit.”

Lowry’s 15-for-20 performance also helped make up for an ineffective night from the team’s top scorer, DeMar DeRozan, who was suffering from flu-like symptoms and was held to a season-low six points.

Dwane Casey had insisted all day that this top-two matchup was just another game, and not a possible playoff preview, and he refused to change his tune following the victory.

“Again, it is just one game,” he said. “If we come back and stub our toe on Sunday (against the Pistons)what does it mean? Nothing, zero, it is one of 82.”

In the Cleveland dressing room, Love disagreed about the importance of the game.

“Anybody who says it wasn’t is lying to you,” he said when asked if it was a big game, particularly with the playoff tiebreaker on the line. “We knew coming in it was going to be a hostile environment away from home, they’re a very good team and had won nine in a row before tonight so we knew they were going to be tough to beat and it was no different.”

Despite leading for almost the entire game, Cleveland faltered down the stretch, allowing Toronto to tie the game with 3:03 left courtesy of a 9-0 run over 90 seconds. For James, it was the kind of performance the team has to learn from.

“It’s mental mistake after mental mistake and those hurt more than anything when you can play better mentally,” he said. “People get so caught up in the physical side of the game, we lack mental (strength) right now and we’ve got to continue to get better with it.”

THROWING THOMAS

Former NFL MVP and Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas was at the game, zipping signed footballs into the crowd with the kind of compact spirals that almost made you forget the Buffalo Bills great was a running back and not a quarterback.

BENCH MARK

The Raptors’ reserves combined to outscore the Cavaliers’ backups 37-23, highlighted by 15 from Ross and another 11 from Bismack Biyombo.

MILESTONE MAN

DeRozan appeared in his 500th game with Toronto on Friday, becoming the fourth Raptors player to reach the milestone – joining Morris Peterson, Jose Calderon and Chris Bosh. He received a video tribute and a standing ovation when the milestone was announced in the first quarter.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Mo Williams (left knee) sat out the game. … Cleveland is 43 of 86 from 3-point range against the Raptors this season, well above its season average of 10.1 made 3s per game. When asked if he looked for a certain number of 3s, coach Tyronn Lue said, “Not a number just open 3s. We don’t want to force shots and take really quick shots contested, but when we get our chance to get our shot and take our shot we want to take it.”

Raptors: With his two 3-pointers, Lowry tied Andrea Bargnani (579) for second on the franchise’s all-time list, and now trails only Peterson (801). … Valanciunas left game in third quarter after being elbowed in the ribs by James and headed to the dressing room for a rib/diaphragm exam. He returned to the bench later in the quarter and was back on the floor in the fourth. … Toronto has now won 26 consecutive games when holding opponents to fewer than 100 points, the second-longest streak in team history, and one shy of tying the franchise record.

 

Jonathan Isaac, Al-Farouq Aminu not expected to be back for Magic when games restart

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Jonathan Isaac was having a breakout season for Orlando. He had become a go-to defensive stopper for the Magic, a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He was going to get All-Defensive team votes this season and looked like a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. (On offense he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests, but he is still a project.)

He hyperextended his knee and suffered a bone bruise in January, but it looks like neither he nor veteran Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus) will be on the court for the Magic when games restart in July, reports Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel.

Injured forwards Jonathan Isaac (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee) most likely will not be healthy enough to return…

“Not a whole lot of news there,” [Magic president of basketball operations Jeff] Weltman said when asked about the possibility of Isaac or Aminu returning. “As always, we’re going to wait and see how they respond to rehab. They’re both working very hard.

“There’s a difference of being healthy and then being safely healthy. It will have been a long, long time since those guys played and you know organizationally that we’re never going to put our guys in a position where they’re exposed to any sort of risk of injury. So that being said, we’ll just continue to see how they progress.”

Put plainly, the risk is not worth the reward. Isaac is a key part of what the Magic want to build in the future and they do not want to push him too hard to return for this handful of games.

Come July, the Magic will head down the street to the Walt Disney World resort complex in Orlando as the eighth seed in the East with a 5.5 game lead over the ninth-seeded Wizards (who will not have John Wall back). If Washington can close that gap to four games or fewer during the eight “seeding games,” then there will be a two-game play-in series between the teams, with the Magic just needing to win one of the two to advance (assuming they are still the eight seed).

After that, it’s on to the first round of the playoffs and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Isaac’s defense would be helpful against Bradley Beal and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Magic are thinking bigger picture.

Winning percentage will determine final seedings in NBA restart; regular tiebreakers used

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Heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Trail Blazers are the nine seed in the West, followed by the Pelicans and Kings. All three of those teams are 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed, however, Portland gets the nine seed because it played two more games than either New Orleans and Sacramento, went 1-1 in those two games, and that gives Portland a slightly better winning percentage (.439 to .438).

That winning percentage matters because it’s how the league will determine seeding in a situation where teams have played a different number of games, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

In practical terms, this may not matter much.

In the West, if Portland and New Orleans both went 8-0 in the seeding games then winning percentage would play a role with the Blazers getting the higher seed. However, that scenario is highly unlikely. More likely is wins and losses in Orlando will decide this and other tiebreakers (New Orleans beat Sacramento in their one head-to-head meeting, but our projected schedule for those teams has them playing twice, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is still up in the air). Because of how the records shake out, tiebreakers are irrelevant to Portland — it will not tie any teams, winning percentage will decide their seed.

In the East, winning percentage is irrelevant for the playoff chase — either Washington gets within four games of Orlando hand forces play-in games for the final playoff spot, or it doesn’t and Orlando is in.

Eight teams not headed to Orlando considering mini-camps, summer games to help players

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Nine months is a long time to go without playing a basketball game.

That’s what the eight teams not going to the NBA season restart in Orlando — Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota, and New York — face. And for all of those teams except the Warriors, developing young players to be the future core of the franchise is their goal, and no games from March to December will set that effort back.

Which is why the teams are talking about “mini-camps” — think college spring football — with two teams at least playing each other during those camps, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Among the front-office ideas presented to the NBA, sources said:

• A combination of voluntary and mandatory workouts for two weeks in July.
• Regional minicamps in August that include joint practices for a period of days and approximately three televised games.

Those teams also want other “voluntary” team workouts and to start their training camps for next season earlier than the teams headed to Orlando.

The NBA isn’t going to grant teams everything on their wish list, but there should be some allowance for organized mini-camps and scrimmages/exhibitions. This would be particularly important to New York (and maybe Chicago), where a new coach will be installing a new system and trying to start a new culture.

Those eight teams missed out on 17 or so “meaningless” games with their season put on hold, games that would have meant something in terms of developing young players and giving guys key minutes. The league should — and almost certainly will — take steps to allow those off-season camps and scrimmages, helping teams get their player development programs back on track.

Gregg Popovich’s powerful statement: ‘Our country is in trouble and the basic reason is race’

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As protests continue across the nation — sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but really the culmination of decades of systemic and, sometimes, overt racism across the United States — NBA voices have spoken up. Players, coaches, and staff have done more than take to social media, they have participated in and led marches across the nation, and put their money where their mouth is.

One of those voices is Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

He had spoken to Dave Zirin at The Nation, and on Saturday he released a powerful video statement through the Spurs.

Popovich has been at the forefront of NBA voices willing to speak out on social issues and criticize President Donald Trump. Popovich’s voice carries a lot of weight, both as a leader of men, and as a former Air Force officer who underwent intelligence training and specialized in Soviet studies.

In addition to coaching the San Antonio Spurs, Popovich will coach the USA Basketball team in the Tokyo Olympics, now set for July of 2021.