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DeRozan gets FT record; Raptors beat Lillard, Blazers

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TORONTO (AP) DeMar DeRozan set an NBA record by making 24 straight free throws on his way to a season-high 38 points and the Toronto Raptors overcame a huge game from Damian Lillard to beat the Portland Trail Blazers 117-115 on Friday night for their franchise-record 12th straight home win.

Lillard scored 50 points, one shy of his career high set last month in a 137-105 win over Golden State.

DeRozan went 24 for 25 from the free-throw line, both career highs. Kyle Lowry had 28 points and Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Toronto.

Portland lost the season series to Toronto for the first time since 1996-97. C.J. McCollum added 24 for Portland, but he and Lillard were the only Blazers in double figures.

Despite carrying a 90-77 lead into the fourth quarter, the Raptors allowed Portland back into the game when they missed eight of their first 11 shots from the floor. Portland went on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to just three points with 6:18 left.

The Trail Blazers cut the lead to two points on a couple of occasions, but the Raptors went shot for shot to stay in front. Gerald Henderson cut the lead to 108-105 with 2:08 to play, but Patrick Patterson responded with a 3-pointer 21 seconds later to push the lead out to six.

Lillard’s 3-pointer with 20 seconds to go brought the Trail Blazers to within three, but Lowry converted 1 of 2 free throws right after. Alan Crabbe made a finger roll with 8.3 seconds remaining, but Toronto responded with two free throws from DeRozan.

Another 3-pointer from Lillard, his sixth of the night, made the last 2.2 seconds uncomfortable for the Raptors, but DeRozan was sent to the free-throw line once again, registering his only miss of the night, to close out the game.

DeRozan started at small forward instead of shooting guard for the first time this season to accommodate Nick Powell, but he didn’t let it affect his rhythm, scoring 17 points in the first quarter. Lillard responded with 12 of his own, including a 40-foot basket at the buzzer to close Toronto’s lead to 31-30 after 12 minutes.

The Trail Blazers’ scoring touch deserted them somewhat in the second quarter. They missed 12 of their first 16 shots from the floor in the quarter, while 10 points from Lowry helped the Raptors establish a 58-52 lead at the half.

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Lillard has now scored at least 30 points in nine of his last 11 games, and he averaged 29.8 points during the month of February. He wasn’t selected for the All-Star Game in Toronto. Raptors coach Dwane Casey put Lillard’s recent hot streak down to the All-Star snub. “He’s playing with a huge chip on his shoulder,” Casey said. “He won’t admit it, but he is.”

Raptors: Jason Thompson, who signed with Toronto on Tuesday, saw his first action as a Raptor on Friday night, playing 1:12 in the second quarter. … The Raptors are now just one win from tying the franchise record for victories against Western Conference teams (16), a mark achieved three times previously. … DeRozan became the third player in Raptors history to score 9,000 points, following Vince Carter and Chris Bosh.

UP NEXT

Trail Blazers: Visit Detroit on Sunday.

Raptors: Host Houston on Sunday.

C.J.McCollum, Eric Gordon both withdraw from USA Basketball for World Cup

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First Anthony Davis. Then James Harden.

Now add C.J. McCollum and Eric Gordon to the list, as reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Don’t be surprised if a couple of new players are added to the USA roster for training camp.

The loss of those four stars strips the Team USA of some international experience. As pointed out by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, now only four members invited to USA camp have played in the World Cup or Olympics: Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, and Kyle Lowry — and Lowry just had thumb surgery and is questionable for the playing in China.

USA Basketball can still roll out this starting five:

Damian Lillard
Bradley Beal
Khris Middleton
Tobias Harris
Andre Drummond

Then off the bench have Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Lowry, Jayson Tatum, P.J. Tucker, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez.

That’s still enough talent, coached by Gregg Popovich, to win the World Cup. The USA remains the heavy favorites for a reason.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

James Harden reiterates it was ‘false talk’ he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.

Report: Kyle Korver reaches one-year deal to join Milwaukee Bucks

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The Bucks can never have enough shooting around a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Enter Kyle Korver. The veteran sharpshooter will be headed to Milwaukee on a one-year contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a quality pickup at the minimum (it is a veteran minimum contract). Korver averaged 8.6 points per game last season, taking 72 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and knocking down 39.7 percent of them. The man has gravity and pulls a defender because even at age 38 defenders cannot leave him. Shooting is a skill always in demand.

The Bucks will start Wesley Matthews at the two and have Sterling Brown behind him. They have Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton at the three. Now they have some reliable veteran depth at those spots and a guy who can hit the big shot for them.

James Harden buys piece of MLS Houston Dynamo

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NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.

James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”

Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.

The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.

Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.