Associated Press

Kyle Lowry leads Raptors to 95-91 win over skidding Trail Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Kyle Lowry scored 27 points and the Toronto Raptors won their franchise-best seventh consecutive road game Monday night with a 95-91 victory over the skidding Portland Trail Blazers.

Lowry, coming off a season-high 36 points last Friday at Utah, had 20 in the second half as the Raptors (22-8) handed Portland its sixth consecutive loss.

Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan nearly had his first triple-double of the season, with 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Patrick Patterson scored 15, and Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 12 rebounds.

C.J. McCollum scored 27 points to lead the Blazers (13-20), who have lost 10 of 11.

Portland guard Damian Lillard sat out with a sprained ankle. Lillard, averaging 27 points per game, was injured last Friday against San Antonio.

Mason Plumlee had his fifth double-double of the season with 13 points and 15 rebounds.

Valanciunas gave Toronto the lead for good at 82-81 on two free throws with 5:50 remaining, but the Raptors were unable to shake the Blazers. Toronto finally put the game away at the free throw line, where Cory Joseph and DeRozan made four foul shots in the final 16 seconds.

Neither team could find an offensive rhythm in the first half. Toronto grabbed a 43-42 halftime lead on a free throw by DeRozan with two seconds left in the second quarter. The 43 first-half points given up by Portland tied a season low.

Toronto got it going in the third quarter, hitting seven 3-pointers, but Portland nearly matched the Raptors point for point, trailing 73-68 heading into the fourth.

Neither team led by more than six points in the game.

TIP-INS

Raptors: DeRozan moved within 14 points of tying the franchise record. Chris Bosh holds the mark with 10,275 points. Patterson hit a season-high five 3-pointers, three in the third quarter. Toronto has won three consecutive games against Portland. Before that, the Raptors were 1-12 against the Blazers.

Trail Blazers: Lillard missed his first game since Jan. 3 last season, when he was out for two weeks with a foot injury. During that stretch, the Blazers went 4-3, including a 105-76 win over eventual NBA champion Cleveland. Former Blazers star Brandon Roy, the sixth pick of the 2006 NBA draft and a three-time All-Star, returns to Portland this week as a first-year high school coach. Roy’s team, Nathan Hale of Seattle, plays in the Les Schwab Invitational, one of the country’s top holiday high school basketball tournaments.

 

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.