Timberwolves snap Blazers’ 6-game streak, 110-109

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) —  As Karl-Anthony Towns powered through Portland’s smaller frontcourt, the Trail Blazers found out just how much they’re going to miss big man Jusuf Nurkic down the stretch.

Towns had 34 points and 12 rebounds and the Minnesota Timberwolves snapped Portland’s six-game winning streak with a 110-109 victory over the Trail Blazers on Monday night.

It was the second game for Portland without Nurkic, who galvanized the team after coming over in a trade from Denver at the deadline.

He will miss at least the rest of the regular season with a fractured right leg, leaving the Blazers to battle big frontcourts in San Antonio, Utah and one more time against Minnesota without him and just a 1 1/2-game cushion on Denver for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

“There’s a lot of good bigs out there, and we’re thin right now. We’ve got Meyers (Leonard) and (Al-Farouq Aminu), who’s not really a five,” C.J. McCollum said. “So we’re in a tough position, but it’s not an excuse. We’ve got to go out there and play and make the best of it.”

Damian Lillard scored 25 points but made just 7 of 21 shots, including 3 of 11 3-pointers. His potential game-winning pull-up jumper at the buzzer glanced off the rim.

Andrew Wiggins scored 29 points and Ricky Rubio had 11 points, 16 assists and seven rebounds for the Timberwolves, who bounced back from an ugly home loss to Sacramento that eliminated them from postseason contention on Saturday.

“They’re playing small, we have a big who can guard smalls and play like a big at the other end,” Rubio said of Towns. “That’s big for us.”

Aminu scored 20 points and Maurice Harkless had 17 points, eight rebounds and a big block of a Rubio drive that gave the Blazers the ball back with 4.9 seconds to play.

Lillard got a clean look, but couldn’t knock it down and Portland missed a golden chance to pad its lead on Denver in a tense race.

The Blazers beat lowly Phoenix in their first game without Nurkic and went super-small on Monday against the Wolves with Aminu and Harkless seeing some time at center.

The sleek lineup put the Blazers in control with a 34-point second quarter, but the 7-foot Towns had his way in the fourth. He scored 14 points in the period, including a big dunk for a 110-106 lead with 35 seconds to go.

“We just had a hard time,” Lillard said. “Guys competed hard on him. We made it as hard as we could on him, but he’s very good and he’s going to score points. That’s what happened.”

TIP-INS

Trail Blazers: Terry Stotts was the Western Conference coach of the month and Lillard was the conference’s player of the month as Portland finished March at 13-3. … Lillard’s first 3 of the game in the third quarter gave him 200 for the season, the third time he’s done that in his career. Wes Matthews is the only other Blazers player to do it even one time.

Timberwolves: Brandon Rush scored 12 points, giving him back-to-back double-digit efforts for the first time since Jan. 11-13. … Rubio hit a technical free throw in the third quarter after the Blazers were whistled for defensive 3 seconds. It was his 49th straight technical free throw made, the longest active streak in the league.

MCCOLLUM STRUGGLES

McCollum struggled as well, scoring 17 points on 5-for-14 shooting and 0 for 3 on 3s. He scored 43 and 32 points in his first two games against the Wolves.

“I think I’ve got to be more aggressive at certain times,” he said.

MAKEUP GAME

Both teams are set up for difficult back-to-backs because this game had to be shoe-horned into the schedule. It was originally scheduled to be played on March 6, but an ice sheet that was placed under the court so Target Center could host a college hockey tournament started to melt due to unseasonably warm weather. That caused condensation on the court that could not be corrected, so the league postponed the game.

 

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.