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New culture Raptors, same old result: Cleveland wins big to take 2-0 series lead

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This was not the same ol’ Raptors.

Toronto’s vaunted “cultural reset” this season had two parts. One was the offense being more egalitarian and less isolation — and we saw that in Game 2 Thursday. The ball moved, they had 26 assists and put up 110 points, their shot selection was good, and overall they had an efficient night with a net rating of 119 (points per 100 possessions).

But does it matter if it’s old or new if the result is the same?

The second part of the “reset” was the defense — Toronto had the fifth-best defense in the NBA this season, allowing 103.4 points per 100 possessions. They have steadily climbed the NBA rankings on that side of the ball in recent years. This season the Raps were fifth in the league in halfcourt defense and didn’t allow a lot of transition opportunities (ninth fewest in the league). However, that had slipped after the All-Star break (11th best defense after that February date) and that slide continued into the playoffs.

Toronto’s defense took Thursday night off and it all but ended the series.

The Cleveland Cavaliers put up 128 points with an insane 138.9 offensive rating (points per 100), led by LeBron James’ 43 points and 14 assists, and Kevin Love’s 31 points. The result was a comfortable 128-110 Cleveland win where the game was never in doubt in the fourth.

“They got hot offensively and that drained us a little bit,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after the game.

Cleveland is now up 2-0 in the series and is heading home with Game 3 Saturday. The Raptors’ demons are all back and as a team they looked demoralized. Beaten. We may not have another game in the Air Canada Centre this season.

All-game long the Cavaliers seemed to get whatever shot they wanted — and what they wanted early was to get Kevin Love going.

“Kevin Love was phenomenal, gave us a double-double,” LeBron said. “The All-Star that we know and have grown to love, he was wonderful man.”

In the first game, Cleveland did a poor job of exploiting the Love’s quickness advantage when Jonas Valanciunas on him (which led to calls to start Tristan Thompson at the five, something Tyronn Lue ignored). In Game 2 the Cavaliers started attacking, running corner picks for love that got him across the lane for dunks. Then the Cavs started going at the Raptors’ weakest links in pick-and-rolls and forcing Valancinuas to cover a lot more ground (the Love/LeBron pick-and-rolls were particularly effective). All of this led to Love getting open — and this time he knocked the shots down.

“We were able to get some shots, we’re making some shots, playing with more pace, and I think our offense has just picked up,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

In the third quarter, LeBron took over and looked every bit the best player on the planet, leading an 18-5 surge to start the quarter. He had 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting plus six assists in the third alone, hitting tough shots all the while. Even when the Raptors defended them well it didn’t matter.

“That drains you mentally and physically,” Casey said of LeBron hitting tough fadeaway after tough fadeaway in the second half.

While that happened, the Cavaliers tightened their defense in the paint, taking away some of the easy buckets Toronto was getting in the first 24 minutes. While the Raptors still scored well, it wasn’t enough to keep up.

The Cavaliers won the third quarter 37-24, were up by 11 at the end and in control. You could feel the energy of the fans and the confidence of the Raptors players drain away. The fourth quarter felt like a lot of decided NBA regular season games where it might not formally be garbage time but the game was decided.

Toronto should look back at their first half as a blown opportunity.

It was a fairly close first half where the Raptors were the better team but the Cavaliers hung around. Cleveland was running Love off picks and attacking the rim on offense — the Cavaliers were 9-of-11 at the rim in the first quarter and didn’t have a bucket outside the paint. Toronto had a small lead most of the quarter, but could not extend it when LeBron sat at the end of the first.

That continued into the second — the Raptors were moving the ball, playing with pace, taking better shots and being efficient on offense. But they couldn’t get stops (Love had 18 in the first half, LeBron was attacking off the pick-and-roll) and it was a two-point game at the half, 63-61.

Then the third happened. And that might have been the series.

Lakers headed to second straight Summer League title game

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Josh Hart scored 37 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 112-109 double-overtime victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday in the semifinals of the NBA Summer League.

Los Angeles advanced to the championship game for a second straight year after winning the 2017 title behind game MVP Kyle Kuzma and league MVP Lonzo Ball.

The Lakers will play Portland, which knocked off Memphis in the other semi-final.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes made the play of the game when he snatched a loose ball and fed Jeff Ayres with a pretty touch pass under the basket with 45 seconds left in the second overtime. Rathan-Mayes followed Ayres’ lay-in with a slashing lay-up to put the Lakers up 110-106 with 22 seconds left.

Cleveland’s Billy Preston missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Svi Mykhailiuk scored 31 points for the Lakers (6-0), while Ayres added 20.

Collin Sexton led the Cavaliers with 27 points, while Jamel Artis and John Holland each scored 17.

Trailing 105-102 in the first overtime after Sexton made a short jumper, Rathan-Mayes buried a 3-pointer to tie the score. Hart made it 106-105 by hitting the second of two free throws with 5.7 seconds remaining. Sexton did the same at the other end, splitting two free throws and tying it at 106 with 3.3 seconds left.

The Cavaliers (5-2) erased an early 11-point deficit and tied the score at 95, when Vladimir Brodziansky buried a 3-pointer with 2:00 left in regulation.

After Mykhailiuk made one of two free throws to give the Lakers a 96-95 lead with a little more than a minute left, Hart grabbed a defensive rebound and at the other end dished to Mykhailiuk, who hit a running jumper just above the free throw line to push the lead to 98-95.

But Sexton answered with a 3-pointer to tie the score with 26 seconds left. Hart missed a 3-pointer with 3.0 seconds left, and Sexton missed one from long range at the buzzer.

The Lakers went on an 18-2 run to take a 28-17 lead led by Mykhailiuk, who was 4-for-4 from long-range in the first quarter. Los Angeles shot 50 percent (9 of 18) in the opening period and was 5 for 9 (55 percent) from beyond the 3-point line.

Hart took over in the second quarter, scoring 10 of his 14 first-half points to help the Lakers take a 50-47 lead at halftime.

USA Basketball to host World Cup qualifier vs. Uruguay on Sept. 14 in Las Vegas

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (AP) — USA Basketball’s quest to qualify for next year’s FIBA World Cup will resume Sept. 14 in Las Vegas, where the Americans will face Uruguay.

That will be the first U.S. game in the second qualifying round for next year’s world championships in China.

Like the first round, the U.S. will continue being coached by Jeff Van Gundy and will have a roster made up primarily of G League players. The Americans went 5-1 in the first round.

The U.S. and Uruguay are among 12 teams from the Americas zone vying for seven World Cup spots. The others are Argentina, Panama, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The United States is a heavy favorite to qualify, then will send NBA players to China for the World Championships (there is a workout for some of those players coming up in Las Vegas in a week).

Second-round qualifying ends in late February. The World Cup begins in August 2019.

Mavericks sign second-round pick Jalen Brunson to first-rounder style contract

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Dallas is excited about the potential of Jalen Brunson.

The point guard who led Villanova to a national championship last April fell to the 33rd pick in the draft last June, high in the second round, and Dallas traded up a spot to get him from Atlanta. The Mavericks were ecstatic, and to the surprise of nobody they have reached terms on a contract with him.

What is a bit of a surprise is the Mavericks gave him a first-rounder style contract — four years with some guaranteed money for the first three of them — reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

At Summer League in Las Vegas Brunson showed the qualities that Dallas liked in him — he’s a high IQ player with polish, and he’s a pass-first floor general — but his weaknesses were also exposed. He has to shoot better (23 percent in Summer League) and his defense needs to improve.

Both of those can happen, Summer League is more of a chance for teams to benchmark players than make decisions about them. Brunson reportedly has a great work ethic, he can figure the NBA game out.

Dallas is betting that he will.

Kemba Walker: “As far as seeing me in New York, I doubt it”

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Kemba Walker is an All-Star level point guard who is heading into a contract season — he is a free agent in 2019. Walker is also a New York native, born in the Bronx he attended Rice High School in Harlem.

Combine all that with the fact both the Knicks and Nets will have enough cap space for a max (or more than one max) contract next summer, and you’ve got yourself a rumor.

One Walker shot down talking to Michael Scotto of The Athletic.

“As far as seeing me in New York, I doubt it,” Walker replied. “I’m a Hornet, and I’m planning on being a Hornet for a long time, so, yeah, I’m not sure about that (New York).”

Walker has said many times he wants to stay in Charlotte (providing they pay the market rate and are trying to compete).

That said, this is the NBA, so never say never.

A lot of NBA teams have been poised, waiting to see if new Hornets’ GM Mitch Kupchak — with the approval of Michael Jordan — decided to go full rebuild and trade Walker this summer. He has not, talking only about keeping this squad together. The Hornets are a solid team with Walker and Nicolas Batum leading the way, one that could make the playoffs in the East if things break right for new coach James Borrego. However, they will not be anywhere near contenders and if things don’t fall their way they may well miss the playoffs next season. Again. The Hornets also are not a bad team, meaning they are not going to get a high pick (without some lottery luck). They are stuck in the NBA’s middle ground, a place most GMs want to avoid.

Trading Walker could jump-start the rebuild in Charlotte, but the Hornets don’t seem to be going that direction. Yet. This summer they signed Tony Parker, Malik Monk looked good in Summer League, and they got Dwight Howard out of the locker room. They say they are a team poised to make a playoff push.

If that push falls apart early in Charlotte, watch and see if their plans change. And what that could mean for Walker. And the Knicks.

However, as of now, Walker wants to remain a Hornet, and they want to keep him. Which crowds New York out of the picture.