Dwight Howard scores 27 as Hawks end Raptors’ 4-game win streak

Associated Press
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TORONTO (AP) — Embarrassed by the Toronto Raptors 13 days ago, the Atlanta Hawks made up for that poor performance in the rematch.

Dwight Howard had 27 points and 15 rebounds for his 17th double-double of the season to lead the Hawks to a 125-121 victory over the Raptors on Friday night.

Toronto had a franchise-record 44-point victory over its Eastern Conference rival on Dec. 3. In this one, Atlanta responded with a season-high scoring effort and shot a season-best 53.5 percent from the field.

“I thought our energy was better tonight,” Howard said. “We locked in on defense and we forced some of their guys to take tough shots. I thought last game they just got any shot they wanted.”

The Raptors made the game close down the stretch with 39 points in the fourth quarter, closing to within three on DeMar DeRozan‘s layup with 10.6 seconds left. However, Dennis Schroder converted a free throw with 6.7 seconds to re-establish a four-point Atlanta edge, and Kyle Lowry‘s miss on a 3 with 1.9 seconds left ended Toronto’s comeback effort.

Despite the frantic finish, overall Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer was pleased with his team’s defensive effort.

“The first half I thought the defense was very good, there’s maybe some slippage in the second but anytime you can come in here and get a win, you are doing something on both ends of the court,” he said.

Kyle Korver did his best to help on the offensive end with a season-high 19 points, including a season-high six 3-pointers, while Schroder added 24 points.

For the Raptors, DeRozan had 34 points, his third straight 30-point outing and 14th of the season to tie a career high, with Lowry adding another 24, including a season-high-equaling six 3-pointers, as Toronto saw its four-game winning streak come to an end. The defeat to Atlanta was Toronto’s fourth against an Eastern Conference club, but its first to someone other than Cleveland.

After allowing an opponent season-high 69 points in the first half, and getting outrebounded 44-26, Toronto coach Dwane Casey was less than impressed with his team’s defensive effort. That’s something he has preached even as his team has scored 100 points in 13 consecutive games, the second longest streak in team history and the longest active one in the NBA.

“We scored enough points, 121 points, shooting 54 percent, 47 percent from the 3,” Casey said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where our problem is.”

While Lowry agreed with his coach’s assessment, he was also happy to give credit to Atlanta, particularly given the 128-84 score the last time the two teams met.

“They played aggressive and they played like they wanted to win,” he said. “Tip our hats to them, it’s one game for us and they beat us fair and square. We will look at the film; they beat us tonight, they really beat us.”

TIP-INS

Hawks: G Tim Hardaway remained in the starting lineup for the third straight game even as usual starter G Kent Bazemore returned after missing the last two games with right knee soreness.

Raptors: C Lucas Nogueira returned to the starting lineup after missing Wednesday’s game with a sore right knee. … The crowd at Air Canada Centre observed a moment’s silence in memory of late TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager. … In defeat, the Raptors scored at least 120 points for the eighth time this season, one shy of the franchise record of nine, set in the 2014-15 and 2005-06 seasons.

SWEET 16

With his second of two free throws with 1:15 to go in the first half, Howard became the NBA’s newest member of the 16,000-point club. The shot gave him a first-half high 18 points.

 

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.

Watch Lakers fan drain half-court shot to win $75,000

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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It might have been the loudest the crypto.com Arena was all night.

Between the third and fourth quarters, Lakers fan Jamie Murry of Downey won $75,000 draining a half-court shot — and he got to celebrate with Anthony Davis.

Murry’s celebration is the best part — with Anthony Davis coming out to celebrate with him (and seeming a little shocked by the hug).

One other big shot fell at this game, but Lakers’ fans didn’t like it as much — Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard drained a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.