Top 10 standout players from NBA Summer League

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LAS VEGAS — For NBA teams, Summer League is less about whether a young player is good or not, and far more about benchmarking where they are and seeing what areas that player needs to work on going forward. It’s a first step.

But some of those first steps are more impressive than others.

After watching a dozen days of Summer League games — in person in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas — here are 10 players who stood out to me. This list is not all-inclusive by any means — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Grayson Allen, and Trae Young would get an honorable mention here — nor is it just a list of the best players I have seen. Instead, this is a list of players that turned my head, or those of scouts/team executives that I spoke with, because of their success and what they have shown in Summer League. It’s a list of guys who caught my eye.

Here is my Top 10 for 2018:

1) Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies). From the minute he stepped on the court in Salt Lake, he looked like the future of the NBA five — he can drain threes, runs the court, is strong and physical inside, and can get up and block shots. In Utah he averaged 15.7 points per game and five boards a night. Interestingly, through much the summer games the Grizzlies tried to pair him with a true center, seemingly getting him used to playing the four next to Marc Gasol come next season. Jackson looked a little tired and struggled some in Las Vegas — especially the night he battled Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba on his fifth game in seven days — but he worked hard and still made plays. The Grizzlies may have something special with him.

2) John Collins (Atlanta Hawks). Everyone already knew he was  good — he made NBA All-Rookie second team and averaged 10.5 points and 7.3 rebounds a game shooting 57.6 percent last season. However, after watching in Las Vegas and Salt Lake, he has shown the potential to be a future star, his game is improving. He’s averaging 24 points and 8 boards a game in Vegas, playing good defense in the paint, but more importantly he has shown improved three-point stroke and handles. He’s done for the summer, but in limited games he showed he should be on this list.

3) Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns). Yes, the No. 1 pick should be good, but he has looked like a man among boys going up against some of the other rookie big men in Las Vegas. Ayton pushed Bamba around all game long, for example. He’s averaging 16 points a game on 67 percent shooting, plus 11 boards a contest, and he’s got versatility to his game. There’s work to do on defense and passing, but he has the potential to be special.

4) Kevin Knox (New York Knicks). He’s looked like a rookie at points, he’s blown everyone’s doors off at others. Tuesday’s game against the Lakers was the perfect example: He started 0-of-6 from the floor and finished the night with seven turnovers. He’s got work to do. However, he finished that Laker game with 22 points and was 5-of-7 from three, he’s got the athleticism to get by guys with a first step and he can finish. And he’s just 18. The Knicks may have another crucial rebuilding block with Knox.

5) Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic). He was a roll of the dice at No. 6 in the 2017 draft, a guy with a lot of potential but a project, then he missed most of his rookie season with injuries. Nobody seemed exactly sure what Orlando had. In Vegas he has turned heads with his play —14.3 points and 7 boards a game, he’s physically a lot stronger and his shooting stroke is smooth. He has banged inside and held his own with Memphis’ Jackson, and has just been a better athlete than everyone he’s gone up against. Pair him along the front with Bamba and Aaron Gordon, and that is an interesting team in Orlando. And when was the last time we said that?

6) Josh Hart (Los Angeles Lakers). He might be the MVP of Summer League so far, averaging 23.3 points per game and just running the team like a pro. Which he is — he showed he could do this with the Lakers last season, but asked to take on more of a scoring role in Vegas he has stepped up. Bottom line, there’s a reason every time a team talks to the Lakers about a trade they want Hart thrown in the mix. He’s got a lot of fans around the league, and that has only grown this summer.

7) Wendell Carter Jr. (Chicago Bulls). I will own it: I was not high on Carter Jr. coming into the draft, but he has impressed in Las Vegas. As expected, he has a versatile and polished offensive game with a nearly unstoppable turnaround from the post, ability to score with either hand, range on his jumper, plus he is a surprisingly good passer. The book on him coming into the draft was defensive questions, but he has been better on that front than expected — he works hard and is athletic enough to be disruptive. We will see how he fares against NBA-level competition on that end, but the work ethic and tools are there.

8) Harry Giles (Sacramento Kings). He was a low-risk gamble pick by the Kings at No. 20 in 2017, a guy who was maybe the top player in his class as a high school sophomore until the injuries hit (ACL, MCL and a meniscus tear in his left knee, plus another surgery on his right knee). The Kings took him and red-shirted him last season, but in Vegas he has been impressive and solid (12 points and 7 rebounds a game in Sin City). He looks like he could be a rotation NBA big man (at least, the Kings think he can be more than that), someone Sacramento can count on besides Marvin Bagley III. Giles has been a pleasant surprise.

9) Jordan Bell (Golden State Warriors). He’s only on this list for one reason. Yes, he’s looked good in limited Summer League run — the guy was playing serious minutes in the NBA Finals a month ago, of course he looks good going against a bunch of non-NBA players. What got him there was this one moment against the Jazz.

(To be clear, Bell and Donovan Mitchell are tight, and Mitchell thought this was funny.)

10) De'Anthony Melton (Houston Rockets). He could end up being a second-round steal for the Rockets. Melton didn’t play last season at USC (he was the guy at the heart of the FBI probe) so he slid down to 46th overall. In Vegas he has looked like a quality rotation guard, averaging 16.3 points, 7 rebounds, and 2.7 steals a game. Guard minutes are tight to come by on the Rockets this season, but he’s going to make the opening night roster and will get his shot.

Complete list of 2019 NBA draft early entrants

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Who’s the best senior in the 2019 NBA draft?

Washington’s Matisse Thybulle? North Carolina’s Cameron Johnson? Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield? Villanova’s Eric Paschall? Belmont’s Dylan Windler?

They’re all only borderline first-round picks. Though I think at least one will get picked in the opening round, this could be the first NBA draft without a senior selected in the first round.

Like most drafts in this era, the top prospects are largely underclassmen. They had to declare for the draft by Sunday. Some will definitely stay in. Others will withdraw by the NBA’s deadline (June 10) or, more importantly, the NCAA’s deadline to retain eligibility (May 29). Unlike previous years, players can hire agents while retaining college eligibility. But they had to enter the pool by now to stay in.

Here are all 2019 early entrants, players who came through the American system followed by international players:

Player Team Height Status
Milan Acquaah California Baptist 6-3 Sophomore
Bryce Aiken Harvard 6-0 Junior
Nickeil Alexander-Walker Virginia Tech 6-5 Sophomore
Al-Wajid Aminu North Florida 6-7 Junior
Desmond Bane TCU 6-5 Junior
RJ Barrett Duke 6-7 Freshman
Charles Bassey Western Kentucky 6-11 Freshman
Tyus Battle Syracuse 6-6 Junior
Troy Baxter Jr. FGCU 6-8 Sophomore
Darius Bazley Princeton HS (OH) 6-9 Post-Graduate
Kerry Blackshear Jr. Virginia Tech 6-10 Junior
Phil Bledsoe Glenville State (WV) 6-6 Junior
Bol Bol Oregon 7-2 Freshman
Marques Bolden Duke 6-11 Junior
Jordan Bone Tennessee 6-3 Junior
Ky Bowman Boston College 6-1 Junior
DaQuan Bracey Louisiana Tech 5-11 Junior
Keith Braxton St. Francis (PA) 6-4 Junior
Ignas Brazdeikis Michigan 6-7 Freshman
Oshae Brissett Syracuse 6-8 Sophomore
Armoni Brooks Houston 6-3 Junior
Charlie Brown Jr. St. Joseph’s 6-7 Sophomore
Moses Brown UCLA 7-1 Freshman
Nico Carvacho Colorado State 6-11 Junior
Yoeli Childs BYU 6-8 Junior
Brandon Clarke Gonzaga 6-8 Junior
Nicolas Claxton Georgia 6-11 Sophomore
Amir Coffey Minnesota 6-8 Junior
RJ Cole Howard 6-1 Sophomore
Tyler Cook Iowa 6-9 Junior
Anthony Cowan Jr. Maryland 6-0 Junior
Jarrett Culver Texas Tech 6-5 Sophomore
Jarron Cumberland Cincinnati 6-5 Junior
Tulio Da Silva Missouri State 6-8 Junior
Caleb Daniels Tulane 6-4 Sophomore
Aubrey Dawkins UCF 6-6 Junior
Silvio De Sousa Kansas 6-9 Sophomore
Javin DeLaurier Duke 6-10 Junior
Mamadi Diakite Virginia 6-9 Junior
Alpha Diallo Providence 6-7 Junior
James Dickey UNCG 6-10 Junior
David DiLeo Central Michigan 6-7 Junior
Davon Dillard Shaw (NC) 6-5 Junior
Luguentz Dort Arizona State 6-4 Freshman
Devon Dotson Kansas 6-2 Freshman
Jason Draggs Lee College (TX) 6-9 Freshman
Aljami Durham Indiana 6-4 Sophomore
Carsen Edwards Purdue 6-1 Junior
CJ Elleby Washington State 6-6 Freshman
Steven Enoch Louisville 6-10 Junior
Bruno Fernando Maryland 6-10 Sophomore
Jaylen Fisher TCU 6-2 Junior
Savion Flagg Texas A&M 6-7 Sophomore
Daniel Gafford Arkansas 6-11 Sophomore
Darius Garland Vanderbilt 6-2 Freshman
Eugene German Northern Illinois 6-0 Junior
TJ Gibbs Notre Dame 6-3 Junior
Quentin Goodin Xavier 6-4 Junior
Tony Goodwin II Redemption Christian Acad. (MA) 6-6 Post-Graduate
Kellan Grady Davidson 6-5 Sophomore
Devonte Green Indiana 6-3 Junior
Quentin Grimes Kansas 6-5 Freshman
Jon Axel Gudmundsson Davidson 6-4 Junior
Kyle Guy Virginia 6-2 Junior
Rui Hachimura Gonzaga 6-8 Junior
Jaylen Hands UCLA 6-3 Sophomore
Jerrick Harding Weber State 6-1 Junior
Jared Harper Auburn 5-11 Junior
Kevon Harris Stephen F. Austin 6-6 Junior
Jaxson Hayes Texas 6-11 Freshman
Dewan Hernandez Miami 6-11 Junior
Tyler Herro Kentucky 6-5 Freshman
Amir Hinton Shaw (NC) 6-5 Junior
Jaylen Hoard Wake Forest 6-8 Freshman
Daulton Hommes Point Loma Nazarene (CA) 6-8 Junior
Talen Horton-Tucker Iowa State 6-4 Freshman
De’Andre Hunter Virginia 6-7 Sophomore
Ty Jerome Virginia 6-5 Junior
Markell Johnson North Carolina State 6-1 Junior
Keldon Johnson Kentucky 6-6 Freshman
Jayce Johnson Utah 7-0 Junior
Tyrique Jones Xavier 6-9 Junior
Mfiondu Kabengele Florida State 6-10 Sophomore
Sacha Killeya-Jones NC State 6-11 Junior
Louis King Oregon 6-9 Freshman
V.J. King Louisville 6-6 Junior
Nathan Knight William & Mary 6-10 Junior
Sagaba Konate West Virginia 6-8 Junior
Martin Krampelj Creighton 6-9 Junior
Romeo Langford Indiana 6-6 Freshman
Cameron Lard Iowa State 6-9 Sophomore
Dedric Lawson Kansas 6-9 Junior
A.J. Lawson South Carolina 6-6 Freshman
Jalen Lecque Brewster Academy (NH) 6-3 Post-Graduate
Jacob Ledoux Texas-Permian Basin 6-3 Junior
Nassir Little North Carolina 6-6 Freshman
Tevin Mack Alabama 6-6 Junior
Malik Maitland Bethune-Cookman 5-9 Guard
Trevor Manuel Olivet (MI) 6-9 Junior
Jermaine Marrow Hampton 6-0 Junior
Naji Marshall Xavier 6-7 Sophomore
Charles Matthews Michigan 6-6 Junior
Skylar Mays LSU 6-4 Junior
Jalen McDaniels San Diego State 6-10 Sophomore
Davion Mintz Creighton 6-3 Junior
EJ Montgomery Kentucky 6-10 Freshman
Ja Morant Murray State 6-3 Sophomore
Andrew Nembhard Florida 6-5 Freshman
Kouat Noi TCU 6-7 Sophomore
Zach Norvell Jr. Gonzaga 6-5 Sophomore
Jaylen Nowell Washington 6-4 Sophomore
Joel Ntambwe UNLV 6-9 Freshman
Jordan Nwora Louisville 6-8 Sophomore
Chuma Okeke Auburn 6-8 Sophomore
KZ Okpala Stanford 6-9 Sophomore
Miye Oni Yale 6-6 Junior
Devonte Patterson Prairie View A&M 6-7 Junior
Reggie Perry Mississippi State 6-10 Freshman
Lamar Peters Mississippi State 6-0 Junior
Filip Petrusev Gonzaga 6-11 Freshman
Jalen Pickett Siena 6-4 Freshman
Shamorie Ponds St. John’s 6-1 Junior
Jordan Poole Michigan 6-5 Sophomore
Cletrell Pope Bethune-Cookman 6-9 Junior
Nik Popovic Boston College 6-11 Junior
Kevin Porter Jr. USC 6-6 Freshman
Jontay Porter Missouri 6-11 Sophomore
Myles Powell Seton Hall 6-2 Junior
Payton Pritchard Oregon 6-2 Junior
Neemias Queta Utah State 6-11 Freshman
Brandon Randolph Arizona 6-6 Sophomore
Cam Reddish Duke 6-8 Freshman
Isaiah Reese Canisius 6-5 Junior
Naz Reid LSU 6-10 Freshman
Nick Richards Kentucky 6-11 Sophomore
LaQuincy Rideau South Florida 6-1 Junior
Austin Robinson Kentucky Christian 6-2 Sophomore
Isaiah Roby Nebraska 6-8 Junior
Ayinde Russell Morehouse 6-3 Junior
Kevin Samuel TCU 6-11 Freshman
Paul Scruggs Xavier 6-3 Sophomore
Samir Sehic Tulane 6-9 Junior
Josh Sharkey Samford 5-10 Junior
Simisola Shittu Vanderbilt 6-10 Freshman
Nike Sibande Miami (OH) 6-4 Sophomore
Justin Simon St. John’s 6-5 Junior
D’Marcus Simonds Georgia State 6-3 Junior
Ja’Vonte Smart LSU 6-4 Freshman
Justin Smith Indiana 6-7 Sophomore
Derrik Smits Valparaiso 7-1 Junior
Lamar Stevens Penn State 6-8 Junior
Jalen Sykes St. Clair College (Canada) 6-5 Junior
Marlon Taylor LSU 6-6 Junior
Ethan Thompson Oregon State 6-5 Sophomore
Killian Tillie Gonzaga 6-10 Junior
Donnie Tillman Utah 6-7 Sophomore
Tres Tinkle Oregon State 6-8 Junior
Obi Toppin Dayton 6-9 Freshman
Rayjon Tucker Arkansas-Little Rock 6-5 Junior
Justin Turner Bowling Green 6-4 Sophomore
Nick Ward Michigan State 6-8 Junior
PJ Washington Jr. Kentucky 6-8 Sophomore
Tremont Waters LSU 5-11 Sophomore
Kaleb Wesson Ohio State 6-9 Sophomore
Coby White North Carolina 6-5 Freshman
Jimmy Whitt Jr. SMU 6-3 Junior
Joe Wieskamp Iowa 6-6 Freshman
Lindell Wigginton Iowa State 6-2 Sophomore
Kris Wilkes UCLA 6-8 Sophomore
Charles Williams Howard 6-6 Junior
Emmitt Williams LSU 6-7 Freshman
Grant Williams Tennessee 6-7 Junior
Zion Williamson Duke 6-7 Freshman
Holland Woods II Portland State 6-0 Sophomore
Kenny Wooten Oregon 6-9 Sophomore
Dikembe Andre Paulistano (Brazil) 6-9 1999 DOB
Felipe Dos Anjos Melilla (Spain) 7-2 1998 DOB
Darko Bajo Cedevita (Croatia) 6-10 1999 DOB
Aleksander Balcerowski Gran Canaria (Spain) 7-1 2000 DOB
Goga Bitadze Buducnost (Montenegro) 7-0 1999 DOB
Vrenz Bleijenbergh Antwerp (Belgium) 6-9 2000 DOB
Adrian Bogucki Radom (Poland) 7-1 1999 DOB
Leandro Bolmaro Barcelona (Spain) 6-6 2000 DOB
Ognjen Carapic Mega Bemax (Serbia) 6-4 1998 DOB
Leo Cizmic Girona (Spain) 6-8 1998 DOB
Digue Diawara Pau Orthez (France) 6-9 1998 DOB
Nenad Dimitrijevic Joventut (Spain) 6-1 1998 DOB
Sekou Doumbouya Limoges (France) 6-8 2000 DOB
Henri Drell Baunach (Germany) 6-9 2000 DOB
Paul Eboua Roseto (Italy) 6-8 2000 DOB
Osas Ehigiator Fuenlabrada (Spain) 6-10 1999 DOB
Biram Faye Avila (Spain) 6-9 2000 DOB
Ivan Fevrier Levallois (France) 6-9 1999 DOB
Aleix Font Barcelona (Spain) 6-4 1998 DOB
Philipp Herkenhoff Vechta (Germany) 6-10 1999 DOB
Dalibor Ilic Igokea (Bosnia) 6-8 2000 DOB
Matas Jogela Dzukija (Lithuania) 6-6 1998 DOB
Panagiotis Kalaitzakis Holargos (Greece) 6-6 1999 DOB
Mate Kalajzic Split (Croatia) 6-2 1998 DOB
Lukasz Kolenda Trefl Sopot (Poland) 6-5 1999 DOB
Marcos Louzada Silva Franca (Brazil) 6-5 1999 DOB
Andrija Marjanovic Mega Bemax (Serbia) 6-8 1999 DOB
Gytis Masiulis Neptunas (Lithuania) 6-9 1998 DOB
Jonas Mattisseck Alba Berlin (Germany) 6-5 2000 DOB
William McDowell-White Baunach (Germany) 6-5 1998 DOB
Nikita Mikhailovskii Avtodor (Russia) 6-6 2000 DOB
Nikola Miskovic Mega Bemax (Serbia) 6-10 1999 DOB
Adam Mokoka Mega Bemax (Serbia) 6-5 1998 DOB
Muhaymin Mustafa Tofas (Turkey) 6-5 1999 DOB
Abdoulaye N’Doye Cholet (France) 6-7 1998 DOB
Toni Nakic Sibenik (Croatia) 6-8 1999 DOB
Tanor Ngom Ryerson (Canada) 7-2 1998 DOB
Joshua Obiesie Wurzburg (Germany) 6-6 2000 DOB
David Okeke Fiat Torino (Italy) 6-8 1998 DOB
Louis Olinde Brose Baskets (Germany) 6-9 1998 DOB
Zoran Paunovic FMP (Serbia) 6-7 2000 DOB
Dino Radoncic Murcia (Spain) 6-8 1999 DOB
Sander Raieste Baskonia (Spain) 6-8 1999 DOB
Neal Sako Levallois (France) 6-10 1998 DOB
Luka Samanic Olimpija (Slovenia) 6-10 2000 DOB
Yago Dos Santos Paulistano (Brazil) 5-10 1999 DOB
Tadas Sedekerskis Baskonia (Spain) 6-8 1998 DOB
Njegos Sikiras Tormes (Spain) 6-9 1999 DOB
Borisa Simanic Crvena Zvezda (Serbia) 6-11 1998 DOB
Deividas Sirvydis Rytas (Lithuania) 6-7 2000 DOB
Khadim Sow ASVEL (France) 6-11 1999 DOB
Filip Stanic Mega Bemax (Serbia) 6-10 1998 DOB
Michael Uchendu Coruna (Spain) 6-10 1998 DOB
Bastien Vautier Nancy (France) 6-11 1998 DOB
Arnas Velicka Tartu Ulikool (Estonia) 6-4 1999 DOB
Warren Woghiren Cholet (France) 6-10 1998 DOB
Arturs Zagars Joventut (Spain) 6-3 2000 DOB
Yovel Zoosman Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel) 6-7 1998 DOB

LeBron James denies that Lakers must repair relationship with him

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Lakers president Magic Johnson reportedly planned to fire coach Luke Walton and wanted to fire general manager Rob Pelinka. Instead, Johnson resigned with a stunning public announcement without first telling owner Jeanie Buss. Pelinka, who has many detractors throughout the league, is now in charge of the front office. The Lakers reportedly offered to keep Walton, but he bolted for the Kings. The Lakers have no coach. They do have a roster LeBron James described as “[fart noise].” Johnson will reportedly help the team recruit free agents.

Nearly one year after signing LeBron James, the Lakers are a mess.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

I think it’s very precarious right now. I think the trust that LeBron James has in the Lakers organization has been damaged – maybe irrevocably. I’m not saying it can’t be repaired. But right now, there’s a tough bridge that has fallen that’s going to be need to be put back together. And that’s going to have to be a proving ground for Jeanie Buss, for Rob Pelinka, for Kurt Rambis, for Linda Rambis – whoever else is involved in this process now. And there’s going to be an initial thing proven with whoever is hired as the coach and then this summer.

LeBron, via Instagram:

Even if LeBron has lost confidence in the Lakers, his denial is important. It means he doesn’t want to escalate this issue.

LeBron, for good reason, holds extreme confidence in himself. I’m sure he believes, as long the Lakers have him, they’ll be alright.

But he can’t do everything, and he knows that, too. He often held the Cavaliers’ feet to the fire. He signed a series of short-term contracts, creating the threat of departure. He demanded Dan Gilbert spend more. He, often passive-aggressively, called on executives, coaches and teammates to perform better.

LeBron hasn’t shown that same urgency in Los Angeles, starting with locking in for three years – longer than any contract in his return to Cleveland.

Maybe this is an older and more mature LeBron trying to present steadiness amid chaos.

Or maybe this is yet another sign LeBron went to Los Angeles with priorities other than winning. After all, the Lakers’ shoddy operation won’t prevent him from enjoying his L.A. lifestyle and Hollywood proximity.

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts makes Russell Westbrook ‘next question’ jokes (video)

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Damian Lillard took a well-deserved victory lap after his buzzer-beating 3-pointer sunk Russell Westbrook – who seemingly took a shot at Lillard last year – and the Thunder.

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts had fun at Westbrook’s expense, too.

Westbrook has repeatedly answered questions from Berry Tramel of The Oklahoma with, “Next question.” Though Westbrook shifted to variants of “not sure” after the last couple games of the series, he still didn’t meaningfully answer Tramel’s questions.

Stotts interjected himself into Westbrook’s feud with Tramel before Game 3.

Clay Horning of The Norman Transcript:

Also, when former Sooner standout Terry Stotts, who is head coach of the Trail Blazers, entered the pregame interview room on Friday, the first thing he said was, “Go ahead, I’ll answer your question, Berry.”

Then, Stotts really laid it on thick after Game 5 last night, as shown in the above video. He specifically called on Tramel to ask a question then joked how badly he wanted to answer with “next question.”

Stotts landed on the hot seat after Portland got swept in the first round last year. He kept his job and did a fantastic work with the Trail Blazers this year. It’s great to see him enjoying himself.

I also can’t help but wonder how Westbrook feels about Stotts.

Kyle Lowry’s ring finger “popped out” during Game 5, he will be ready for Game 1 vs. 76ers

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In the second quarter of the Raptors’ close-out win against the Magic, Kyle Lowry injured his finger, apparently dislocating the ring finger on his right hand, his shooting hand.

However, it’s the playoffs, he was back in the game quickly and he will certainly be ready to go Saturday when Toronto begins a second-round showdown against Philadelphia. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN has the details.

Lowry jammed the finger while deflecting a ball in the second quarter. During the subsequent timeout, the Raptors’ medical staff attended to Lowry’s hand on the bench. He returned to play but went back to the locker room with 2:41 remaining in the first half.

Lowry, who was wearing a splint on the finger during the postgame news conference, started the second half for the Raptors and finished with 14 points, 9 assists and 4 rebounds in 26 minutes.

“It popped out, but it’s fine,” Lowry said. “I popped it back in. Got a couple days to get it back and recover, and hopefully it will be better by Game 1. Well, it will be better by Game 1.”

It needs to be because the Raptors can’t have another 0-of-7 shooting start from him, which is what they got in an ugly Game 1 loss to Orlando. The 76ers are not the Magic, Toronto can’t have another dreadful start in Game 1 and dig themselves a hole at home.

Lowry’s shooting and playmaking will be a big part of that next series.