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.

 

Gregg Popovich had reservations, sees bubble as safest place to be

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Gregg Popovich fondly remembers his freshman year at the United States Air Force Academy, even though as a first-year cadet he was extremely limited in where he could go and what activities were allowed.

Lockdown at Walt Disney World, he said, reminded him of those days.

“But two days, anybody can do that,” the San Antonio coach said Saturday.

He made it through that freshman year with ease, made it through the two days of in-room Disney quarantine as well, and now the longest-tenured and oldest active coach in the league is free to roam within the NBA bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have reservations about being part of the NBA restart, given the ongoing issues of racial strife, social inequality, and the coronavirus pandemic.

“If you’re thinking person, you’re going to look at all sides of a situation,” Popovich said. “And, especially being 71 years old, I thought, ‘Is this where I want to spend a lot of my time, doing this, under these circumstances?”‘

The answer was yes, and Popovich was running his first practice in more than four months Saturday as the Spurs began getting ready for a playoff push. When the season resumes July 30, San Antonio will be 12th in the Western Conference – only a half-game from ninth, where the Spurs would have to be and within four games of the No. 8 spot to force their way into a play-in series.

“I honestly do believe – it’s not just being a loyal soldier of the NBA, I’ve done my share of criticizing here and there when I thought it was necessary – I don’t know where else you would be as safe as we are right now,” Gregg Popovich said.

LeBron James completely agrees with that sentiment.

Like the Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers – the West leaders, with James leading the way back into title contention after six consecutive years of not even making the playoffs – took to the Disney practice courts for the first time Saturday. And James said the notion of not being part of the restart “‘never crossed my mind.”

“This beautiful game of basketball, that brings so many people together, that brings happiness, that brings joy to the households, to so many families … I’m happy to be a part of the biggest sports in the world,” James said. “And I’m happy to have a platform where not only people will gain joy from the way I play the game, from the way our team plays the game, but also from what I’m able to do off the floor as well.”

And on the health standpoint, James, like Popovich, raved about what NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and many others teamed together to make happen at Disney.

“They took all precautionary reasons, measures to make sure that we as a league are as safe as we can be,” James said. “Obviously, in anything that you do, there can be things that could happen, but we will cross that line if it happens.”

But Popovich’s age called into question whether he should be at the restart.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people 65 and over can be more vulnerable to the virus. The NBA has three head coaches who have celebrated that birthday; New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry, 65; Houston’s Mike D’Antoni, 69, and Popovich. Pelicans assistant Jeff Bzdelik, 67, and Los Angeles Lakers’ assistant Lionel Hollins, 66, are not at Disney for the restart.

“We have special guidelines and special things that we have to abide by,” Spurs forward Rudy Gay said. “I think going into this bubble, everybody has to take the proper precautions and do their own part … not just our team, but other teams. It’s definitely serious. It’s a serious issue. But we vow to do the right thing.”

Popovich points to rising virus numbers in Texas as proof that on the NBA campus, where players and coaches will be tested daily and exposure to the outside world is basically cut off, his health shouldn’t be more at risk.

And to him, this is much more than basketball. The NBA restart will be about raising awareness on social issues and combating racism, and Gregg Popovich wants to be a big part of that conversation.

“If this bubble works, I’m safer here than I would be in Texas,” Popovich said. “And since the decision was made to do this to start the season again, under these circumstances, with all the precautions, what a great opportunity.”

 

Home to three Pistons titles, the Palace of Auburn Hills demolished

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — One of Michigan’s most beloved sports and entertainment venues was turned into rubble on Saturday with a series of controlled explosions.

The shell and roof of the Palace of Auburn Hills, which was home to three championship Detroit Pistons teams and three Detroit Shock teams and played host to some of the world’s biggest musical acts during its nearly 30-year run, crumbled to the ground following a series explosive pops.

The rest of the arena had already been removed.

The Palace, which opened in 1988, held more than 22,000 people for NBA games and up to 23,000 for concerts and other shows, according to nba.com.

After the Pistons relocated in 2017 to downtown Detroit, the arena about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of the city continued to host concerts and music events, the last in September 2017 by rocker Bob Seger.

It also became the second suburban Detroit arena that found little real use after its main sports tenant took its games back to the city.

The Detroit Lions played at the nearby Pontiac Silverdome from 1975-2001 before moving to Ford Field in Detroit. The Pistons also called the Silverdome home for a decade before The Palace opened.

The Silverdome was taken down with a partial implosion in 2017.

William Hall, a project manager for Schostak Brothers & Co., told the Oakland Press of Pontiac that the Palace site should be cleared of debris by the end of the year.

A new mixed-use development project is planned for the site.

“There have been some companies we’ve already talked to about possible development of the property,” Hall said. “I would say we’ve had conversations with at least half-a-dozen people. This property is very interesting and for a lot of businesses, its proximity is very attractive.”

No social justice message, LeBron James going with his last name on jersey

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The NBA curated list of social justice messages players could put on the back of their jerseys didn’t resonate with everyone.

Add LeBron James to that list. He told reporters Saturday as the Lakers headed into their first practice he was going to go with his last name — “James” — on the back of his jersey. Just as it would be for a typical game.

“[The choices] didn’t seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal.” 

LeBron James didn’t like not being consulted on the jersey list, and he is not alone. Some players felt the list was a little too “corporate approved” and wanted to go with the names of victims or other things that did not get the NBA’s stamp of approval.

Of course the NBA — a multi-billion dollar international business — is going to put together a list that doesn’t step over the line with parts of its core audience. The list may bother some outside the core demographic, or people just trying to score cheap political points, but it’s a safe play with the heart of the NBA’s audience. Maybe a little too safe for some.

LeBron looked at the NBA’s game and decided the only winning move is not to play. He’s got other games he needs to focus on more.

Boston ‘going to move very slowly’ with Kemba Walker return to play

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For Boston and Kemba Walker, the target is the playoffs, not the eight seeding games running up to the postseason.

Which is why the Celtics are going to be cautious with Walker and his troublesome left knee, do a little load management early, and target the postseason for him to go all out, coach Brad Stevens told reporters, via A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

“We’re going to move very slowly with Kemba Walker and let him strengthen (the left knee),” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens following the team’s first practice in Orlando, Fla. on Friday. “And make sure that he’s all good to go as we enter the seeding games and obviously, the playoffs.”

Stevens suggested a minutes limit for Walker during the seeding games.

Walker missed 14 games this season and lingering left knee soreness was an issue — the team was already looking at getting him time off before the coronavirus put the season on hold. Walker said last week that four-month break gave his knee time to heal up and get healthy. Like a lot of players, Walker is eager to get back at it.

Stevens is smart easing Walker back into action, there is no need to push things. Boston needs Kemba Walker in the playoffs, the seeding games are not as vital (Boston just needs to not give up te 2.5 games to Miami and slide out of the three seed).

The Celtics enter the Orlando restart bubble as maybe the biggest threat in the East to Milwaukee. They bring an athletic and switchable lineup (Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward, with Marcus Smart off the bench) that was top five in the league defensively and can score. There is a lot to like if the Celtics can get their rhythm back, and if Tatum can keep up the All-NBA level of play he had the last month or so of the season.

Boston also will need a healthy Kemba Walker or that. So he will get eased back into play.