Associated Press

This time Lakers’ can’t climb out of hole, Magic execute down stretch to win

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LOS ANGELES — For a few games now, the Lakers have been winning the way LeBron James teams have won for years: They may not execute on one end for long stretches of the game (Los Angeles played some terrible defense in the second and much of the third quarter) but when it gets to crunch time LeBron and company take over and that’s enough.

The Lakers were down 12 early in the fourth to Orlando Sunday afternoon and still trailed by 10 with 6:30 to go, but then the comeback came: A LeBron three, a JaVale McGee hook shot, a couple of LeBron dunks, then a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope three, all while the Lakers played a more physical and aggressive defense, and it was a tied game, 104-104. The Lakers had the momentum…

And then they didn’t.

LeBron missed a three and the Lakers stopped getting shots at the rim, while the Magic got their final buckets — a Terrence Ross layup and an Aaron Gordon dunk — inside the restricted area.

“We didn’t have the focus and energy at the end of the game,” Laker forward Brandon Ingram said. “I think we had too many bad cuts and our individual defense wasn’t as good. We have to do a better job of just staying in front of our guys.”

“We got stops down the stretch,” Gordon said. “We got stops and we rebounded.”

Orlando swept the season series with Los Angeles with this win. Magic coach Steve Clifford credited the guy who was Orlando’s best weapon on the night, Nikola Vucevic (31 points and 15 rebounds). On Ross’s shot, Gordon served the same purpose pulling Tyson Chandler out 18 feet from the rim to defend.

“That’s the advantage of having Vuc out there,” Clifford said. “Normally, if you don’t have a range shooting center, they’re going to have somebody in the paint there. He’s so involved, especially at that point in the game, there’s a lot of room to drive the ball.”

Laker coach Luke Walton focused less on the end of game flaws than on the hole they had dug earlier in the game.

“We spent the third [quarter] trying to find different groups that would bring that energy we needed to compete in an NBA game,” Walton said. “And eventually we got ourselves back out there doing it and got ourselves back in it. I’m happy with that effort, but just not a long enough stretch of good basketball tonight.”

 

Somehow, Ja Morant highlights keep getting better (video)

Ja Morant
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
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Ja Morant is special.

He has already produced a few amazing plays during his rookie year. He has even taken over full games with his flashy play.

But the performance he put on during the Grizzlies’ win over the Cavaliers last night was something else.

Thrice, Morant elevated for show-stopping dunks. He scored only once. But each time, something incredible happened.

First, Morant way up to catch a lob from Jae Crowder, adjusted mid-air and found Jaren Jackson Jr. for a dunk:

Then, less than a minute later, Morant finished a lob from Crowder with a beautiful one-handed slam:

Finally, Morant leaped to posterize Larry Nance Jr., realized that wouldn’t work then threw a spinning behind-the-back pass to Jackson. Though Alfonzo McKinnie blocked Jackson, Morant’s move was dazzling:

If Morant is going to keep putting on shows like this during games, maybe we can forgive him for skipping the dunk contest.

Trae Young gets ankles absolutely destroyed by Dejounte Murray (video)

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The Hawks got Trae Young his desired help, trading for Jeff Teague.

Maybe Young will do his part and step up on defense.

That didn’t happen on this possession against Spurs guard Dejounte Murry.

At least Young continued his breakout season on the other end, scoring 31 points and dishing nine assists in Atlanta’s rare victory in San Antonio.

Tristan Thompson slaps Jae Crowder’s rear end, gets ejected (video)

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What is it about Cleveland athletes slapping butts and getting in trouble?

Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. faces a simple battery charge for slapping a police officer’s backside in LSU’s locker room after the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Last night, Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson got ejected for slapping Grizzlies forward Jae Crowder‘s behind.

Thompson and Crowder got double technical fouls earlier in the game. So, Thompson got ejected with a tech for this incident between free throws.

Though the two are former Cleveland teammates, Crowder didn’t look amused. Crowder doesn’t play.

The Cavs rallied without Thompson, but Memphis won, 113-109.

Kyle Lowry flings in wild 3-pointer (video)

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Kyle Lowry had the ball in his left hand when he felt contact. Not only did he try to sell a foul by flailing his arms, the right-hander tried to draw a shooting foul by hurling an off-balance 31-footer toward the basket.

No continuation. No whistle at all.

But Lowry made the shot, anyway.

Lowry and the Raptors will take it, but they didn’t need a break like that against the Wizards’ dismal defense last night. Toronto won, 140-111.