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LeBron James, Cavaliers beat East-leading Raptors … again

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CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James scored 27 points, the last coming on a sensational layup, and the Cleveland Cavaliers gave the Toronto Raptors another reminder of what could lie ahead in the playoffs with a 112-106 victory on Tuesday night.

James added nine rebounds, six assists and helped put the Raptors away down the stretch with an artistic three-point play.

It was Cleveland’s second win in two weeks over the Eastern Conference’s top team, whose lead over second-place Boston continues to shrink. This time, the Cavaliers were much healthier than when they beat the Raptors on March 21 despite missing five rotational players and coach Tyronn Lue.

Jose Calderon added 19 points and Kevin Love had 18 points and 15 rebounds for the Cavs, who are 9-1 since March 17.

DeMar DeRozan scored 19 and Jonas Valanciunas 17 for Toronto, which will host Boston on Wednesday. The Raptors didn’t quit and scored eight points in 34 seconds before the Cavs put it away with four free throws. Kyle Lowry scored only five on 2-of-11 shooting.

Toronto was still within 11 in the fourth when James drove the baseline, hung in the air and spun in a reverse layup while being fouled. He pounded his chest and screamed as he walked near Toronto’s bench and coach Dwane Casey, who has seen the three-time champion make that kind of play so many times before.

The Cavaliers still aren’t at full strength. Starting point guard George Hill missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle and Lue was in attendance but only in an advisory role as he remains on medical leave.

The Raptors are in the midst of a grueling three-game stretch against Boston, Cleveland and the Celtics again that Casey believes will toughen his team.

“It’s good for us,” Casey said. “Last year we were playing against some teams that were so-called rebuilding and we were winning by 15-20 points. It did not get us ready for the playoffs. These games, playing against a good team like Cleveland, a good team like Boston will help us get ready, harden us, showing some things we need to be better in.”

They still need to be better against the Cavs, who have eliminated them from the past two playoffs.

Cleveland’s ball movement was excellent in the second quarter and so was its accuracy.

The Cavs made their first five 3-pointers – in less than four minutes – and opened a 16-point lead. Love dropped three of the 3s with the others by Rodney Hood and Calderon, who made his first six field-goal attempts and scored 14 in the opening half.

TIP-INS

Raptors: Lowry attended Monday night’s NCAA title game in San Antonio and the proud Villanova alum wore a championship cap to Tuesday’s shootaround. … Remain one win shy of matching the franchise record of 56 wins set in 2015-16. … Dropped to 3-5 since winning 11 straight from Feb. 26-March 16.

Cavaliers: James passed Kobe Bryant with his 942nd 20-point game, third-most in league history. … Won their seventh straight home game. … Kyle Korver played for the first time since March 19. He was excused to be with family following the death of his 27-year-old brother and had been slowed by a sore right foot. … Hill should be back soon. He did conditioning and shooting drills following shootaround and wasn’t favoring his ankle.

UP NEXT

Raptors: Host Boston on Wednesday.

Cavaliers: Host Washington on Thursday.

Rumor: Timberwolves bypassed Stephen Curry in draft because Minnesota is too cold for year-round golf

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Timberwolves general manager David Kahn infamously drafted two point guards – Ricky Rubio No. 5 and Jonny Flynn No. 6 – before the Warriors took Stephen Curry No. 7 in the 2009 draft.

Curry, as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“My guy David Kahn. I don’t know where he’s at right now,” Curry said on The Bill Simmons Podcast. “I don’t know if that ever came out — there’s a story. Everybody knows how much I love golf — play it in my spare time and what not.

“I think the word on the street was that he didn’t draft me because in Minnesota it’s cold and I wouldn’t be able to play as much golf so I would have been miserable.”

A shocked Simmons asked Curry: “Is that true?”

“I hope it’s true because that’s hilarious (laughter),” Curry said. “That’s hilarious.”

If this is why Minnesota passed on Curry, it was a huge mistake. Better to take the best prospect available and hope for the best. Curry probably would have learned to appreciate Minnesota. There’s plenty of room to golf elsewhere in the offseason. Remember, Golden State was seen as a low-rung destination just a few years ago. Curry helped transform the franchise’s perception.

Mostly, though, I’m with Curry. This would be a hilarious story if true.

But that doesn’t mean we should just assume it’s accurate. Plenty of teams underestimated Curry, who looked like an undersized score-first guard when he entered the NBA. He just beat the odds and made everyone who passed on him look silly.

Orlando not getting 2023 All-Star game

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The next three NBA All-Star hosts are set:

  • 2019: Charlotte Hornets
  • 2020: Chicago Bulls
  • 2021: Indiana Pacers

Beyond that? The Orlando Magic want an All-Star game, but they apparently struck out with upcoming selections.

Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins said Sunday the Magic put in a bid to host the 2023 All-Star Weekend and have been informed by league officials that another location will be selected for that year.

The league asked for bids for the 2022 and 2023 All-Star Weekends, but Martins said the Magic couldn’t bid for the 2022 game because a major convention will be held in Orlando that same weekend, leaving the city with too few hotel rooms to also host All-Star Weekend.

Orlando hosted All-Star games in 2012 and 1992. I bet one will return there soon enough. It’s a warm-weather city with the infrastructure to host.

It just won’t be within the next half decade.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer: ‘I think we got higher expectations on us than the long, hard five, six years of absolute crap like the 76ers put in’

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The Clippers will probably miss the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference. But they’re also even further from landing a high draft pick. They’re in that middling position some teams find perilous.

But not Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times:

Ballmer also vowed that the Clippers won’t tank to get a better draft pick. “That ain’t us. Nuh-uh, no way,” he said. “People can do it their way. We’re going to be good our way. We’re not going to show up and suck for a year, two years. I think we got higher expectations on us than the long, hard five, six years of absolute crap like the 76ers put in. How could we look you guys in the eye if we did that to you?”

The 76ers missed the playoffs five straight seasons, but they emerged from that self-inflicted drought with two franchise cornerstones – Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – and multiple other helpful pieces. The Process worked as intended.

But this is also why the NBA needn’t freak out about other teams replicating Sam Hinkie’s plan. Few have the stomach for it.

Ballmer doesn’t. The Clippers are trying to attract free agents. The better they are in the interim, the more credibility they’ll build.

Jordan Clarkson, Yao Ming keen observers at Asian Games basketball

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson watched from the bench, not quite able to make it to the Asian Games in time to play in the opening game for the Philippines.

Yao Ming was there, too, also keeping a close eye on the Philippines’ opening 96-59 win over Kazakhstan.

After getting a special exemption from the NBA to play for the Philippines in Jakarta, the US-born Clarkson should be ready to suit up for the next game against China. And that has the attention of ex-Houston Rockets and Chinese all-star center Yao.

Clarkson, one of three NBA players given an exemption by the league to play in Jakarta, said he had a frustrating time while his status for the tournament was being considered. The NBA also granted exemptions to Houston Rockets 7-foot-1 (2.17-meter) center Zhou Qi and Dallas Mavericks forward Ding Yanyuhang to play for China.

“We went back and forth so many times, saying I was going to play, then I wasn’t going to play,” the 6-5 (1.96-meter) Clarkson told Philippines’ reporters after Thursday’s game. “Now, being able to participate is awesome.

“I’m very excited to know that I’m finally getting to do this, being able to play … for the country. It’s definitely something that I’ve been looking forward to.”

Clarkson, who qualifies to play for the Philippines through his maternal grandmother, has four days to get familiar with “fun style of play.”

“I feel the support, the love all the time,” he said. “My grandma is real proud I’m able to do this now.”

The Philippines is playing a tournament for the first time since 10 players and two coaches were suspended following a wild brawl in a World Cup qualifier against Australia on July 2. Three Australian players were also suspended.

Video of the brawl was widely played around the world, with punches thrown, chairs tossed at players, and security needed to restore order.