76ers avoid NBA record for losses in a season

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PHILADELPHIA — These 76ers are relieved not to be part of history.

Carl Landry scored 22 points to lead Philadelphia to a 107-93 victory over the injury-depleted New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night, ensuring that the 76ers won’t tie their own league record for fewest victories in an 82-game season.

“We didn’t want to be a part of that,” Landry said. “We tried to do whatever it took to lock in, in practice, in film sessions and just have a carryover to each and every game.”

Philadelphia improved to 10-68 and now is one win clear of the 1972-73 76ers, who set an NBA mark for futility with a 9-73 mark. The 76ers have four games remaining.

“We hope to get a few more before our season ends,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said, adding he was happy for his players.

“They’re good people, they genuinely care (and) they put in a fantastic day’s work,” he said. “Our record wouldn’t indicate that, but they do. And so to get a win and just move on, they deserve that.”

Isaiah Canaan added 16 points for the 76ers, who snapped a 12-game losing streak while winning for just the second time in the last 27 contests.

Landry made his first nine shots before finishing 9 for 10 from the field, including tying a career high with two 3-pointers.

Dante Cunningham led the Pelicans with 19 points and Alexis Ajinca chipped in 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Data curated by PointAfter

The game had more of a D-League feel to it.

The Pelicans started five players who have combined to start just 76 games this season. And only Tim Frazier, whom the Pelicans signed on March 16, entered averaging more than 7.6 points. Joining Frazier in New Orleans’ starting five were Luke Babbitt, Toney Douglas, Ajinca and Cunningham.

The Pelicans were missing nearly 100 points of scoring without injured players Anthony Davis (left knee), Ryan Anderson (sports hernia), Tyreke Evans (right knee), Eric Gordon (fractured right ring finger), Jrue Holiday (right inferior orbital wall fracture) and Norris Cole (lower back).

“We don’t have any excuses,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “You have to make do with what you have. There’s no sympathy in this league.”

Helped by Landry’s 10 third-quarter points in just 4 1/2 minutes, Philadelphia took an 88-73 lead into the final period.

The 76ers used a 10-3 run to open the final quarter to go in front 98-78 with 9 minutes remaining. T.J. McConnell capped the spurt with a spinning, driving layup that drew fans in the crowd of 10,978 to their feet.

“I didn’t see it tonight,” Gentry said. “I thought we were trying, but we just didn’t have that energy we usually have.”

M-V-P! M-V-P!

The fans serenaded Landry with chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P” late in the game, something not heard on Philadelphia’s home court since the days of recent Hall of Fame inductee Allen Iverson.

Even Landry was surprised by the crowd’s reaction.

“I was like, `What? MVP? Me?”‘ he said. “It was funny. It definitely put a smile on my face, and it makes me feel good.

“It definitely made me feel good that the fans of Philly, blue-collar people, the majority of them, appreciate the effort that I put in, each and every day.”

VILLANOVA PROUD

Cunningham, a member of Villanova’s 2009 Final Four team, wore his Final Four jersey and a Wildcats hat in the visiting locker room after the game.

He’s been connecting with former teammates and coach Jay Wright over the last 24 hours.

“I haven’t been able to keep my phone charged,” he said. “I’ve been texting the whole time. It’s been awesome.”

Along with his Pelicans teammates, Cunningham watched the championship game from a private room in a Philadelphia steakhouse.

“I was screaming the whole time,” he said. “It was good.”

He hoped to catch up with Wright and the Wildcats upon their return to Philadelphia on Tuesday, but their arrival didn’t match the Pelicans’ schedule.

Cunningham received cheers during pregame introductions.

TIP-INS

Pelicans: The Pelicans beat the 76ers 121-114 on Feb. 19 in New Orleans. … The Pelicans, who entered on a two-game winning streak, last won three straight games Jan. 19-23. … Frazier averaged 5.7 points and 7.2 assists in six games with the 76ers last season. He finished with 12 points.

76ers: The crowd erupted in loud cheers in the first quarter when the 76ers replayed Kris Jenkins’ game-winning shot from Villanova’s national championship victory over North Carolina on Monday night. … Canaan strained his left shoulder in the third quarter but later returned. … Elton Brand made his first start in his 15th game for the 76ers. Brand finished with two points.

UP NEXT

Pelicans: At Boston on Wednesday night.

76ers: Host Knicks on Friday night.

Report: Making 2020 NBA Finals could swing whether Giannis Antetokounmpo signs super-max extension with Bucks

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The honeymoon between Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks is over.

Milwaukee’s superb season ended tonight with a Game 6 loss to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. Already, attention is turning to the 2020 offseason, when Antetokounmpo can sign a five-year super-max extension that projects to be worth $250 million. If he doesn’t, the pressure will turn way up as he approaches unrestricted free agency in 2021.

Antetokounmpo is already applying some.

Malika Andrews of ESPN:

a source close to Antetokounmpo said that getting to the NBA Finals is not just an ambition, it could tip the scales as he weighs his contractual future.

And if they can reach the NBA Finals next season, the Bucks can improve their chances of signing Antetokounmpo to the supermax in the summer of 2020.

Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon will be free agents this summer. It’s unclear how much luxury tax Milwaukee is willing to pay.

This leak could be Antetokounmpo trying to convince the Bucks to pay to keep this team intact.

Would he actually leave Milwaukee? At every turn, he has praised the city and organization. But the Bucks have also been on an upward trajectory for years. As they get closer to the top, it becomes more difficult to maintain that positive momentum. They’re now entering a crucial season with the clear goal of a conference title. That doesn’t leave much room for error.

The Lakers are rumored to be plotting to get Antetokounmpo. If there are signs he’ll actually become available, many other teams will line up just for a chance to sign him. Antetokounmpo is a special player, a superstar at age 24.

He also needed this loss. Having never advanced past the first round before this year, he didn’t fully grasp the high level of play and intensity this deep into playoffs. He hadn’t felt the heartache of coming so close and falling short, a highly effective motivator. Raptors like Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol had already faced these tests, and that had a lot to do with Toronto winning.

I have no doubt this experience will make Antetokounmpo even better.

Antetokounmpo wants to ensure the Bucks match his desire to win. If they do, he and Milwaukee will remain committed to each other. The honeymoon isn’t the end.

But this is when it gets real.

Raptors’ summer gamble pays off with trip to Finals after Game 6 win over Bucks

Associated Press
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Toronto’s big gambles paid off.

Last summer, after five years of winning at least 48 games and looking impressive in the regular season only to stumble in the playoffs, Toronto’s team president Masai Ujiri went all in. He fired the NBA’s Coach of the Year in Dwane Casey to hire his assistant Nick Nurse with the hope of installing a more creative offense.

Then they traded fan favorite and (at least to that point) the greatest Toronto Raptor in franchise history DeMar DeRozan to get Kawhi Leonard, a guy coming off an injury that essentially sidelined him for a season. A guy who would be a free agent after one season. Leonard could bolt — like other stars had done north of the border — and leave the Raptors high and dry.

It was all a massive roll of the dice.

Toronto hit their number with that roll — the Raptors are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Toronto stormed from 15 points down in the third behind another monster game from Leonard — 27 points, 17 rebounds, 7 assists — and held on to win Game 6 in front of a raucous home crowd, 100-94.

Toronto will host Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors.

The Raptors may not be familiar with that stage, but Leonard knows both the Finals stage and that opponent (recall that the last time he faced them Zaza Pachulia slid under his foot on a jumper, spraining Leonard’s ankle and ending San Antonio’s playoff hopes that season). Thoughts about July 1 are banished for now in Toronto, the party is on.

“It means a lot,” long-time Raptor Kyle Lowry said about making the Finals. “It’s taken a long time to get here in my career, 13 years, seven years here [in Toronto]….

“But I’m not satisfied.”

This series changed in Game 3 when Nurse mixed things up and had Leonard as the primary defender on Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak still got his, but everything became harder, and as the Raptors slowed the pace their halfcourt defense locked in. On the offensive end, Leonard just made plays when he needed to.

“He’s a great player, he made some very special plays, give him a ton of credit,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Leonard.

For the Bucks, who had the best record in the NBA this season and a likely MVP in Antetokounmpo, this was a learning experience about their shortcomings — both his and the Milwaukee roster. He had 21 points and 11 rebounds, but he was not able to dominate the game like Leonard did in crucial moments, and when he couldn’t get to the rim at will his lack of a jump shot he has confidence in showed. Those kinds of lessons come with being just 24 and making a deep playoff run.

“In our minds, we feel he’s going to get a lot better,” Budenholzer said of the Greek Freak. “At 24 some guys are… I don’t want to say they are who they are, but at 24 some of the great ones were the same at 30 and 32 and so forth. Giannis we feel has a lot of room to grow.”

So does the roster around the Greek Freak. Antetokounmpo sat just 7:28 in this game, and that proved to be too much — the Bucks were -9 in those minutes. They lost by six.

Eric Bledsoe struggled again, with 8 points on 9 shots. Khris Middleton — who is a free agent this summer — had 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

Still, this is a good team on a learning curve. One with some tough decisions ahead for the front office, but a team on the rise.

They showed that early.

Milwaukee came out playing with a sense of desperation — it showed in their energy and second efforts on defense — and they raced out to a 15-point lead early in the second quarter mostly because they just hit shots. In the first half, the Bucks did not get the ball inside (only seven shots at the rim) but were 9-of-18 from three and hit 50 percent of their shots from the midrange. Antetokounmpo had 10 points and seven rebounds and Ersan Ilyasova surprised with nine points in the first 24.

That had the Bucks up 50-43 at the half, but it felt precarious. Then in the third, Milwaukee had an 8-0 run and the lead was pushed to 15 at one point. The Raptors were stumbling. Pascal Siakam hesitated on shots, not trusting himself. Danny Green trusted himself but couldn’t hit anything.

The tide turned thanks to Leonard. The Raptors finished third on 10-0 run — with Leonard scoring or assisting on every bucket — and the lead was down to 5 after three.

Early in the fourth was when Antetokounmpo sat again, and the Raptors went on a 7-2 run to tie the game at 78-78. That lead kept growing in a run that got to 26-3 for Toronto, then Leonard did this.

Milwaukee would not go away down the stretch, but Leonard kept making plays while Antetokounmpo and company got tight. Milwaukee could never get back in front.

For the Bucks, it’s a lesson.

For the Raptors, it’s the trip to the Finals they bet big on.

Watch Kawhi Leonard dunk all over Giannis Antetokounmpo, highlight of 26-3 Toronto run

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For most of the first three quarters of Game 6, the Milwaukee Bucks were in control of the game and looked to be on the way to forcing a Game 7.

But Kawhi Leonard sparked a 10-0 run for Toronto to end the third, scoring eight and assisting on a Serge Ibaka bucket.

That run carried over into the fourth and became a 26-3 run that was highlighted by this insane dunk by Leonard over Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Insane.

I’d say that’s Leonard’s best shot as a Raptor if not for the series winner against Philadelphia.

The Bucks responded with a 7-0 run and this game is going to go down to the wire.

Bucks play with desperation, lead by as many as 15 in first half

Associated Press
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If you think a 15-point lead is safe, go talk to a Portland Trail Blazers fan and get back to me.

The Bucks will still take it. Milwaukee has come out with a sense of desperation, but more importantly got to play with some pace and couldn’t miss early from three — they started 4-of-6 and were 7-of-13 from three as of this writing — and what we saw were play after play from the Bucks, the kinds of things we haven’t seen the last three games. They led by 13 after one, and the lead got as high as 15.

Can the Bucks sustain this, or will they cool down as the Raptors heat up? It’s going to be a wild rest of the game in Toronto.

The Raptors are up 3-2 in the series and playing for their first ever franchise trip to the Finals. The Bucks are playing to force a Game 7 Monday back in Milwaukee.