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Masai Ujiri says city, fans, winning give Raptors chance to keep Kawhi Leonard

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The Toronto Raptors are going to try.

It’s not going to be easy — they have a steeper mountain to climb than Oklahoma City did with Paul George — but the Raptors are going to spend this season working to convince Kawhi Leonard to stay in Toronto as a free agent next summer. Leonard says he’s keeping an open mind, but right now few around the league think the Raptors have much of a chance. Toronto is going to try, it already hired one of his good friends into the staff, and the franchise believes it has some things going for it, as team president Masai Ujiri said on ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast.

“I think you want to be genuine, you want to be real. You know, this is who we are. We might not be the best ones in weather, but we might be the best ones in many other places: the diversity, the city, the uniqueness of a place like (Toronto), fans, the atmosphere. I think those things are so unique, it’s beginning to show everywhere. And then you have to put the basketball together. Maybe before the basketball wasn’t a part of it, but I know there’s a part of him that I’m sure thinks this team has a chance. With his teammates and seeing how hard these guys are working. We have to show who we are. There is no fake sales job here — this is what it is.”

Ujiri rolled the dice to get Leonard, sending fan favorite DeMar DeRozan, plus Jakob Poeltl and a first-round pick, to the Spurs for Leonard and Danny Green. However, it wasn’t as huge a roll of the dice as some may think — Raptors management had surveyed the Eastern Conference landscape, and even with 59 wins last season and LeBron having headed West, Toronto’s window was small because of Boston/Philly. There were legitimate questions about how far a DeRozan and Kyle Lowry lead team could go. Leonard, if healthy and all the way back to MVP-level form, can change that dynamic, putting the Raptors in the conversation. Then if he leaves, well, the rebuild was coming.

Leonard reportedly has looked good in workouts — with Kobe Bryant and LeBron/Durant — something Ujiri touches on in the podcast. But looking good in a summer pick-up run and structured workouts and being game ready are two different things. We’ll see where Leonard is on that spectrum starting in a month, when the NBA season tips off. Then we start to see what number Ujiri rolled with those dice.

Pelicans Elfrid Payton returns, starts, injured again

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) —The New Orleans Pelicans say point guard Elfrid Payton has a fractured finger on his left hand.

Payton injured his finger in the first quarter of his first game back on Friday night after he’d missed New Orleans’ nine previous games with a right ankle sprain.

Soon after, Payton was ruled out for the remainder of the game against the New York Knicks.

Acquired as a free agent this past offseason, Payton has played in six games for New Orleans. He entered Friday night’s games with averages 11.6 points and 6.4 assists through his first five games, but did not have a point or assist in eight minutes against New York before his latest injury.

 

Kyrie Irving scores 43, Celtics beat Raptors 123-116 in OT

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BOSTON (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 11 straight Boston points down the stretch and scored 17 in all in the last 8:06 of the fourth quarter.

Then in overtime, he really turned it on.

The Celtics guard made or assisted on every basket in the extra period, finishing with 11 assists and a season-high 43 points on Friday night to lead Boston to a 123-116 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

“Man, he made some shots tonight where you’re just like, `Wow,”‘ forward Gordon Hayward said. “You catch yourself being a fan. When he gets into that mode, the whole arena knew where we were going, and so did the Raptors. They just couldn’t stop him.”

It was the first time Irving has scored at least 40 points with 10 or more assists in a game. He was the first player do it in the NBA this year, and the first Celtics player since Antoine Walker in 2001.

“Kyrie did a great job in the fourth quarter knocking down shots,” said Kawhi Leonard, who scored 31 points and had a season-high 15 rebounds for Toronto. “We fought hard tonight, they played a better game and we’ve just got to keep playing better.”

Jayson Tatum had 21 points and seven rebounds for the Celtics, who evened the season series at one game apiece against the only team to finish above them in the Eastern Conference last season. The home team has won nine straight matchups.

Serge Ibaka scored 21 and Pascal Siakam had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors, who have lost three straight since opening the season with 12 victories in their first 13 games. Toronto never led in overtime.

“It was just a veteran game out there, just great competition for a Friday night in the NBA,” Irving said. “You’ve got to appreciate that, two great teams going at it. And I’m pretty sure we’ll see them down the road.”

 

Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid lead Sixers past Jazz 113-107

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jimmy Butler had the sellout crowd chanting his name and singing his favorite theme song.

Butler scored 28 points in his home debut, Joel Embiid had 23 and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Utah Jazz 113-107 on Friday night.

Butler, the four-time All-Star acquired Monday from Minnesota in a five-player trade, got a loud ovation during introductions and quickly made an impression as the Sixers built a 16-point lead in the first quarter.

Fans serenaded him throughout the game and he got to hear the team’s “1-2-3 Sixers” theme song after the win.

“I already knew this crowd would be excited,” Butler said. “Now that I have them on my side it’s better for me. Y’all, we, have some great fans. Y’all have the catchiest song. I used to sing it in my head when I came in here.”

The Jazz rallied after a rough first quarter and the teams went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter. Jae Crowder‘s put-back after Ricky Rubio‘s stole the ball and missed a lay-up gave Utah a 107-105 lead with 1:37 left. JJ Redick tied it on a pair of free throws. Ben Simmons‘ driving lay-up gave the 76ers a 109-107 lead.

Butler then hit a jumper to extend the lead and drew an offensive foul, sending the crowd into a frenzy as Hall of Famer Allen Iverson jumped up to celebrate from his courtside seat.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Embiid said.

The 76ers are 29-1 in last 30 regular-season home games.

Redick had 16 points and Simmons had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Embiid scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter after he played less than a minute in the third because he had four fouls.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 31 points.

“We competed but we have to be smarter,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We had some mistakes where we have to think more. They add up against a team like this.”

After the Jazz made the first basket, Butler scored on a reverse layup to begin a 12-0 run. He also nailed a 3-pointer during that stretch as Philadelphia dominated early.

But Utah closed to 54-52 at halftime following Derrick Favors‘ alley-oop dunk.

Redick and Mike Muscala hit consecutive 3s early in the third quarter. However, the Jazz came back and went up 81-80 on Mitchell’s jumper late in the quarter.

“Up until the end, we made a few mistakes, but we played passionate,” Mitchell said. “Honestly, they’re a great team, but we had the game in the bag except for a few mistakes. I think the game just got away.”

 

Report: Rockets lure assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement with ‘significant raise’

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After a slow start, the Rockets got assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik to come out of retirement.

How?

The usual way employers attract someone to a job.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Fertitta was alarmed enough to personally recruit defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik, who retired just before training camp, to return, offering what sources say was a significant raise that pushed his salary to a range that ranks among the NBA’s highest-paid assistant coaches.

Good for Bzdelik using his leverage. He looked like a defensive whiz last season, and Houston slipped without him. Of course, personnel matters, too. There’s no guarantee these Rockets – minus Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute – reach last year’s defensive level.

Bzdelik has been back around the team, but isn’t working full-time yet. It’ll take a while to assess his impact on Houston.

And good for Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta paying up. Fertitta is still trying to determine the right amount for him to spend, but the team is better off if he’s willing to pay what’s necessary to attract the most desirable coaches.