Vucevic scores 24 as Magic overwhelm Bulls, 102-89

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Nikola Vucevic scored 24 points, rookie Mario Hezonja added a career-high 21, and the Orlando Magic beat the Chicago Bulls 102-89 on Wednesday night.

Victor Oladipo scored 17 points and Aaron Gordon had 13 points and 15 rebounds as Orlando coasted to an easy win. Elfrid Payton had nine points and 12 assists.

Derrick Rose led Chicago with 16 points, all in the first half. Pau Gasol had 12 points and Doug McDermott was the only other Bulls player in double figures with 11.

Both teams were on the second game of back-to-backs and it looked it. Orlando hit only 40.2 percent, while Chicago shot just 38.4 percent from the field.

The Magic took a 17-point lead into the fourth quarter and were never seriously challenged. Rose and Gasol didn’t play in the final period and the closest the Bulls’ reserves could get to 90-74 with 8:14 left in the game.

The Magic hit five of six shots to start the third quarter, including a 3-pointer by Hezonja that helped Orlando take a 74-54 lead. Payton and Oladipo pushed the pace against the Bulls’ sluggish defense and the quick tempo provided plenty of open shots in the 15- to 18-foot range.

Vucevic, Hezonja and Oladipo made enough of them to keep Orlando comfortably ahead for the entire second half.

The Bulls’ offense also stayed on the perimeter, but without much success. Rose was 0 for 4 in the third quarter and Chicago hit only seven of 24 shots (29.1 percent). The Bulls had only one basket the final three minutes and trailed 84-67 going into the final period.

Oladipo and Hezonja had 12 points apiece in the first half when Orlando led by 15 before settling for a 60-50 halftime advantage. The Magic exploited the Bulls’ perimeter defense, hitting six of 12 3-pointers, most of them uncontested shots.

Rose was nearly a one-man show in the first half. The Bulls point guard weaved his way through the slow-reacting Magic defense to score 16 points and hand out four assists.

TIP-INS

Bulls: Aaron Brooks was ejected with 6:31 left in the game after receiving two technicals for arguing. … F Taj Gibson (hamstring) missed his first game this season. … G Jimmy Butler (knee) could rejoin the Bulls for practice Friday, but is not expected to play for another 10 to 12 days. … Chicago has given up 102 or more points in 15 straight games.

Magic: F Evan Fournier missed his third straight game with a sore wrist. … Elfrid Payton tied his season high with 12 assists. … Orlando is allowing opponents to shoot 47.8 percent and average 107.1 points in the last 27 games. … Vucevic made his second 3-pointer this season, just beating the shot clock at the 7:09 mark of the first quarter.

Karl-Anthony Towns shoots down trade rumors, and was that a dig at Jimmy Butler?

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Karl-Anthony Towns was back on the court for the first time in a month Friday night, dropping 27 on the Pacers and looking every bit one of the best big men in the game (even as he shook off a little rust).

Towns’ name was in the news while he was out, with reports about how the Knicks dream was to trade for him and Warriors were monitoring his situation. There has been zero Towns trade talk around the league — he is in the first year of a five-year contract extension and wants to give the new Timberwolves’ new management a chance to build around him — but that hasn’t squashed the speculation.

So Towns tried to do that after Friday night’s game — and takes a little dig at Jimmy Butler in the process. Via Chris Hine of the Star Tribune.

“I think you’ve been around me long enough to know I don’t go for all the s***,” Towns said. “I just do my job, go home and I know what the real story is. There’s a reason those stories are made because people need to sell papers, sell links and clicks, whatever the case may be. I’m here to be a Minnesota Timberwolf. Very fortunate I have a head coach like [Ryan Saunders], a President and friend like [Gersson Rosas]. I’m not worried about all that nonsense.

“Whatever we have to deal with in house, we’ll deal with in house, but this ain’t the circus like it used to be. This is something that’s going to be done as a family. If we have a problem or anything, we’ll deal with it internally. We won’t have any external forces here adding anything.”

The circus/family comments are clearly a little dig at Jimmy Butler.

The circus was at the start of the 2018-19 season, when Butler wanted out of Minnesota and went full diva to create a massive distraction and force then coach/GM Tom Thibodeau’s hand. Butler was traded to the Sixers, and then last summer left Philadelphia for Miami (where he has played at an All-NBA level). Butler may not have loved how he perceived Towns (and, more so, Andrew Wiggins) commitment to the game, but Towns was no fan of how Butler handled his business. Towns doesn’t like things dealt with that publicly.

Towns was playing at an All-NBA level himself this season before his injury, including shooting 41.5 percent on 8.5 threes a game — KAT has been an offensive force. Rosas, however, has a lot of work to do to build a quality team around Towns. Towns committed to Minnesota with this new contract and, while he may be frustrated with the losing this season, he’s not going Anthony Davis.

A couple of years from now… who knows? That’s a couple of lifetimes away in the NBA. Until then, teams will monitor Towns’ situation and mood, he will shoot down trade rumors, and the cycle will go on.

Somehow, Ja Morant highlights keep getting better (video)

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Ja Morant is special.

He has already produced a few amazing plays during his rookie year. He has even taken over full games with his flashy play.

But the performance he put on during the Grizzlies’ win over the Cavaliers last night was something else.

Thrice, Morant elevated for show-stopping dunks. He scored only once. But each time, something incredible happened.

First, Morant way up to catch a lob from Jae Crowder, adjusted mid-air and found Jaren Jackson Jr. for a dunk:

Then, less than a minute later, Morant finished a lob from Crowder with a beautiful one-handed slam:

Finally, Morant leaped to posterize Larry Nance Jr., realized that wouldn’t work then threw a spinning behind-the-back pass to Jackson. Though Alfonzo McKinnie blocked Jackson, Morant’s move was dazzling:

If Morant is going to keep putting on shows like this during games, maybe we can forgive him for skipping the dunk contest.

Trae Young gets ankles absolutely destroyed by Dejounte Murray (video)

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The Hawks got Trae Young his desired help, trading for Jeff Teague.

Maybe Young will do his part and step up on defense.

That didn’t happen on this possession against Spurs guard Dejounte Murry.

At least Young continued his breakout season on the other end, scoring 31 points and dishing nine assists in Atlanta’s rare victory in San Antonio.

Tristan Thompson slaps Jae Crowder’s rear end, gets ejected (video)

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What is it about Cleveland athletes slapping butts and getting in trouble?

Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. faces a simple battery charge for slapping a police officer’s backside in LSU’s locker room after the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Last night, Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson got ejected for slapping Grizzlies forward Jae Crowder‘s behind.

Thompson and Crowder got double technical fouls earlier in the game. So, Thompson got ejected with a tech for this incident between free throws.

Though the two are former Cleveland teammates, Crowder didn’t look amused. Crowder doesn’t play.

The Cavs rallied without Thompson, but Memphis won, 113-109.