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.

 

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.

Under new anti-tampering rules, Adam Silver empowered to suspend execs, take away picks, void contracts

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LeBron James publicly courted Anthony Davis. Many free agents seemingly struck deals before free agency even began. Kawhi Leonard‘s uncle/advisor reportedly sought prohibited extra benefits from teams.

The NBA finally reached its breaking point on tampering and circumvention.

After late apprehension, the league will enact stricter enforcement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m not surprised this passed unanimously. NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted this to happen and wasn’t going to have owners vote unless he knew it’d pass. At that point, any protest-voting owners would just put themselves at odds with the commissioner. Not worth it.

We’ll see how long this crackdown lasts. I think that anonymous general manager represents many. If nobody is tampering, it’s fine not to tamper. But if some teams tamper, nobody wants to be at a disadvantage.

This could slowly creep back toward the old status quo. But if there’s a clear violator early, Silver will have an opportunity to send a message. We’ll see whether he takes it.

This should be less about which communication is or isn’t allowed. It’s about fairness.

That’s why it’s important the NBA has rules it will enforce and only rules it will enforce. That hasn’t been the case. If it is now, this will be a success.