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Jazz’s 3-point shooting does in Spurs, 106-91

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Utah point guard George Hill used the lessons he learned in three seasons with San Antonio to hand his former team a rare home loss.

Hill had 22 points and the Jazz made a season-high 15 3-pointers, handing the Spurs their first loss of the season 106-91 on Tuesday night.

“He had a great game,” San Antonio veteran Manu Ginobili said. “For three quarters they played good solid basketball and in the fourth he just took over. Made some big shots, good plays off the pick-and-roll. He’s a great player, we know he can do it.”

Utah handed San Antonio only its second home loss since March 2015. The Spurs didn’t lose their first home game last season until April 10 and finished 40-1 at the AT&T Center.

“Every loss is disappointing to me,” said Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, who had a game-high 30 points. “Just disappointed in our defensive effort. Our energy wasn’t there in the first quarter. They were knocking down shots in the fourth quarter. They scored 33 in the fourth and that’s not good either.”

Hill made four straight baskets starting with about 6 minutes left in the fourth, scoring 10 points to give the Jazz a 96-88 lead with 4 minutes remaining.

The Spurs rallied from an anemic first quarter to capture the lead, but Hill helped steady the young Jazz with a court presence he learned under San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.

“Play like you’ve been there before,” Hill said. “Coach Pop always instilled that into me my first three years here. Don’t show really that much emotion, unless it’s part of the game, but act like you’ve been there before. That’s what I try to instill in the guys, move onto the next play every time.”

Utah needed that serenity after nearly blowing a dominant first quarter.

“We definitely allowed them to play too comfortable and get into a rhythm early on,” San Antonio center Pau Gasol said. “They were executing well, give them credit, but we didn’t put enough pressure on their offense to force them to take tougher shots.”

The Jazz built a 12-point lead in the opening quarter by shooting 72 percent from the field and 88 percent on 3s. Utah made seven 3-pointers in the first quarter, one more than their previous season high for a game.

“Some of it’s just basketball gods,” Jazz coach Snyder said. “There are nights like that and then there are nights like tonight. The biggest thing for our guys is that they don’t get discouraged when they miss and keep shooting.”

Rodney Hood finished with 19 points, Trey Lyles 15 and Shelvin Mack 14 for Utah, which finished 15 for 31 from 3-point range.

It didn’t matter if the Spurs contested the shots or not, Utah’s shots were falling in the first quarter. San Antonio didn’t panic, sticking to their rotations and sets.

The Spurs erased a 47-31 deficit, going on a 15-0 run over a 6-minute span. Leonard’s 16-foot jumper pulled San Antonio within 47-46 and LaMarcus Aldridge‘s 18-footer tied the game at 48.

Aldridge finished with 21 points on 8-for-16 shooting.

But Lyles revived Utah’s offense, scoring all but two points during a 10-0 run in the third quarter that gave the Jazz a 70-63 lead they would never relinquish.

Lyles finished 2 for 7 on 3-pointers and Hood was 4 for 8.

TIP-INS

Jazz: Mack was 0 for 4 on 3-pointers this season before making his only two attempts against the Spurs. . F Boris Diaw missed his first game of the season, sitting out against his former team with a bruised right leg. Diaw, who played with San Antonio from 2012-2016, received a loud ovation when his image was shown on the video boards. Hill, who played three seasons in San Antonio, also received a loud ovation. … Utah was winless in its two road games this season, losing by an average of 11 points.

Spurs: San Antonio has a winning record in the regular season for all but 48 days since 1997. … Jonathan Simmons made his first start of the season. Filling in for Danny Green, Simmons had two points in 29 minutes. Green is sidelined by a strained left quadriceps. … Tony Parker is 73rd in league history with 1,084 games played, breaking a tie he had with Antawn Jamison and Dell Curry.

FAVORS RETURNS

Derrick Favors started for the first time this season after being limited due to a sore knee.

Favors had six points and three rebounds in 16 minutes for the Jazz. He did not play in the second half as a precaution.

“He’s on a minutes restriction,” Snyder said. “We’re being smart with Fav and making sure that we bring him back the right way. I think he was ready to play. I think he got a little cold when we put him back in. He wasn’t quite the same, but that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

STILL A FAVORITE

Hill remains one of Popovich’s favorite players ever, even after he helped Utah hand San Antonio a double-digit loss.

“He played great, especially down the stretch,” Popovich said. “He was very controlled, ran the show, obviously made shots. He was great.”

Hill made sure to hug Popovich after the game and let the veteran coach know how much he still means to him.

“Pop is one of the best people that came into my life,” Hill said. “I just asked him how his wife is doing, how he’s doing and to tell him I love him.”

Report: There is mutual interest between the Knicks, Julius Randle

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The Knicks priority this summer is big game hunting: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, maybe Kyrie Irving (if one of those first two come). They have the cap space (or can get to it easily) and the lures of New York and Madison Square Garden. They want to be players.

Whether they land a superstar or not — and right now “not” seems the more likely outcome, reading the tea leaves around the league — they will need to round out the roster with good players to fit next to rookie R.J. Barret and young prospects such as Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson.

Enter Julius Randle.

From Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated:

Other free agents on the Knicks’ radar include their own free-agent center DeAndre Jordan, Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins and twins Markieff and Marcus Morris. New Orleans Pelicans forward Julius Randle and the Knicks also have mutual interest, according to sources.

“We are going to have the opportunity to meet with the guys we want to meet with,” [Knicks president Steve] Mills said without offering details or confirming names.

Randle, just 24, has seen his stock go up in recent years and averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Pelicans last season. His game is a throwback, he uses his strength and athleticism to bully his way to buckets. He also shot 34.4 percent from three, forcing teams to respect him from the arc.

Randle could fit well with the Knicks. The question, as always, is at what price.

As for the others mentioned in the report, DeAndre Jordan may well land wherever Kevin Durant signs (they are good friends). Cousins and the Morris twins are second-tier players, meaning once the stars make their picks teams will be looking to round out rosters and those guys will start getting more and more calls. (The Warriors can only offer Cousins a little more than $6 million to return, another team will likely come in higher, but what worries teams more is the years, he very well may not get more than two.)

Drew Brees sent Zion Williamson a signed jersey that said “Passing the torch to you”

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New Orleans is a football town.

The Pelicans are trying to carve out their space in that market — and landing Zion Williamson with the No. 1 pick in the draft has helped generate the kind of excitement they need — but the Big Easy is all about the Saints. Quarterback Drew Brees is treated like a deity in that town.

Brees welcomed Williamson to town Tuesday by giving him an autographed jersey, one that read, “Passing the torch to you.” It also came with a card that said, “Zion, welcome to the family. Let’s dance.”

The best part of this is Williamson’s reaction — he is genuinely in awe. Much like when he teared up on the night of the draft (when we all knew he was going to be taken No. 1 for months), Williamson just seems humble and taken aback by everything through this process.

Masai Ujiri ‘confident’ Kawhi Leonard will return to Toronto Raptors

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TORONTO (AP) Still absorbing the magnitude of his team’s accomplishment, Raptors President Masai Ujiri is confident Kawhi Leonard and the rest of Toronto’s core will reunite next season in a bid for another title.

“We’re on to the next issue, which for us is coming back and being champions again,” Ujiri said Tuesday in his first news conference since Toronto won its first title nearly two weeks ago. “We want to experience this moment here again and again and again.”

Retaining Leonard is the most pressing issue. The two-time finals MVP is expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent. Toronto can offer a five-year deal worth about $190 million – one year and some $50 million more than any other team.

“I know what we’ve built here,” Ujiri said. “I’m confident, and you see how these things go.”

Ujiri stressed the main selling points of his pitch to Leonard: health, trust, success.

“I said we have to be ourselves, and we were ourselves for the whole year,” Ujiri said. “I think he saw that. I think we built a trust there.

“I believe winning a championship, him seeing who we are, working with his medical staff combined with our medical staff and getting him to where he wanted to be,” Ujiri added.

Injured for all but nine games in his final season with San Antonio, Leonard played 60 games this season and another 24 in the playoffs. After averaging career bests of 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in the regular season, Leonard raised his averages to 30.5 and 9.1 in the playoffs.

Ujiri says he and Leonard have had multiple talks the past several days, discussions he called “positive.”

The Raptors will stay in touch and meet formally once free agency begins Sunday. After that, Ujiri is not worried about how long Leonard takes to decide.

“I texted Kawhi last night, I talked to his uncle this morning,” Ujiri said. “For us, there’s that trust regardless of wherever it goes, and there’ll be constant communication.”

Center Marc Gasol also has a player option for next season, and guard Danny Green is a free agent.

“I think they know what the effect of Kawhi’s decision is, but we’re really approaching it like we want to bring everybody back on this team,” Ujiri said. “That’s a priority for us.”

Less urgent is a potential extension for forward Pascal Siakam, a runaway winner of the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. The parties plan to meet during the summer league.

“Pascal has gotten to a place where he’s definitely a priority for us and it’s definitely going to be a conversation that we’ll have,” Ujiri said.

Ujiri said little about his confrontation with a deputy following the Game 6 clincher. The deputy’s lawyer, David Mastagni, says his client is on medical leave with a concussion and jaw injury and is considering a lawsuit.

Ujiri says his lawyers are updating him about the investigation.

“I am confident about who I am as a person, my character and as a human being,” Ujiri said. “For now, I’ll just respect their process there and wait for the next steps.”

Asked to address reports linking him to NBA job offers, Ujiri stresses that his family loves Toronto.

“My kids are Canadians,” he said. “For me, the blessing is being wanted here and finding a place that makes you happy and finding challenges that really make you grow as a person.”

As for celebrating the NBA title with political leaders, Ujiri says the team has yet to decide on a White House visit if invited. He adds that seeing Canada’s prime minister would be a “priority.”

Ujiri did have one regret Tuesday – not bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy with him. But minutes before the news conference ended, the golden trophy arrived and was placed on the table next to him. Ujiri carried it out as he left.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

PJ Tucker says Chris Paul-James Harden rift is ‘fake news’

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There have been reports out of the Houston Rockets organization that both James Harden and Chris Paul are upset with each other. The situation has reportedly become untenable, with Harden as the franchise cornerstone apparently hoping that general manager Daryl Morey will be able to ship Paul off somewhere else.

It was already expected that Morey would be trying to move Paul’s contract this summer. Paul has fallen off, and the rift between the two players was noticable. Still, it’s a tall task to move CP3’s deal — it’s enormous, and his skills are clearly in decline.

But at least one player things that all of this talk is just… talk.

According to Rockets swingman PJ Tucker, there aren’t big issues between Paul and Harden. In fact, speaking to The Athletic Sam Amick this week, Tucker called the supposed conflict “fake news” and that the tension after the team’s Game 6 loss to the Golden State Warriors wasn’t anything out of the ordinary given the circumstances.

Via The Athletic:

“I’m sick of the fake news man. It’s fake. Everybody – I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue.

“It was what it was. Everybody’s mad. Everybody’s pissed. You can’t – I’m sick of all the highlight of whoever this person is trying to come up with all this crap, like I argue with Chris and James more than Chris and James argue with each other. Like, I’m the center, focal (point) of the argument because I’m always yelling at somebody and they’re yelling at me. So for me, it’s like ‘If you’re not arguing…’ You don’t think Kobe and Shaq argued?”

The problem here is that reports have said that Harden is sick of Paul trying to coach the team. Meanwhile, Paul has found that Harden’s ability to generate offense for himself isn’t necessarily what he thinks is best for the squad. It’s an impasse.

And of course, Kobe and Shaq hated each other so much they broke up a dynasty. Paul and Harden don’t compare to that tandem in their prime right now, and Tucker’s example is ignoring the fact that Shaq got shipped off to the Miami Heat.

It’s possible that Tucker is giving out the information he knows to be true. It’s also possible that he’s simply being a good teammate for the Rockets. And, begrudgingly, I will admit it’s also possible that the discourse between Paul and Harden is par for the course for stars of their stature and competitive nature.

Still, I won’t hold my breath for things to get smoothed over in Houston.