Associated Press

Round 2: Raptors, Thunder meet in Toronto after wild one in OKC

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The Toronto Raptors needed overtime to win at Oklahoma City on Wednesday night after squandering a 19-point lead.

Now they see what they can do at home when the teams meet again on Friday night.

The Raptors, who led by as many as 19 points during the third quarter, still led the Thunder by 11 with less than 2:30 to play in regulation on Wednesday. But the Thunder tied it at 110 on Russell Westbrook‘s driving layup with 4.8 seconds to play.

The Raptors, however, rebounded to dominate the overtime 13-4 as the Thunder’s Paul George watched from the bench after fouling out with 19.9 seconds left in regulation. Toronto won the game 123-114.

“You’ve got to finish regardless of the circumstances or whatever is going on,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse told reporters after the game. “You just have got to keep playing. A lot of times when you blow a big lead and go to OT that momentum has already gone to the team that got it to OT and you go flat. We didn’t. We came out and really played, especially on the defensive end and that’s a really good sign.”

The Thunder will be trying for a better start Friday night.

“We were playing from behind too much,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said after the game Wednesday. “I mentioned about the adversity and the challenges. This is a really, really good team, and you just can’t really have lapses for a quarter or coming out of the locker room because you end up having to play from behind.”

The Thunder got 42 points and 11 rebounds from Westbrook. Pascal Siakam led Toronto with 33 points and 13 rebounds while Fred VanVleet scored 23 points starting at point guard for Kyle Lowry, who was out with a right ankle injury. Lowry has been declared out of the game Friday.

The Thunder have lost four games in a row.

“The start of the third we did not do a good enough job defensively,” Donovan said. “We had turnovers, possessions that were not great offensively. We made enough plays to get ourselves back in the game. I give our guys a lot of credit. We were out of the game with two minutes to go.”

The Raptors have won two in a row and are coming off a solid defensive effort Wednesday.

“Everyone talked, everyone was in the gaps, everyone was unselfish,” Raptors center Marc Gasol said. “They are going to make shots but we have got to finish it off. … It’s a learning lesson and later on in the playoffs that can cost you a game and you don’t want that happening in the playoffs.”

In the overtime, Gasol said “we picked it up a little more.”

“We had that lead late in regulation and then we didn’t make stand. They made some tough shots at the same time,” he added.

A key factor in the outcome was the poor free-throw shooting by the Thunder (15-for-29, 51.7 percent).

“We’ve got to shoot better than 51.7 percent from the free-throw line,” Donovan said. “I think we’re getting answers to things that we’re going to have to do at a high level.”

The Raptors had Serge Ibaka back in the lineup Wednesday after he served a three-game suspension for fighting. He had six points and nine rebounds in a reserve role with Gasol starting and scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds. The Raptors have yet to determine who will be the regular starting center.

 

Rumor: Jeremy Lin, open to playing in China, now in talks with Beijing Ducks

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Jeremy Lin does not appear to be on the radar of any NBA teams at this juncture. It has been an up-and-down summer for Lin, who won a championship with the Toronto Raptors back in June but finds himself a free agent here in August.

Lin has already said that it’s been extremely tough for him to go without a contract this offseason, and it was reported that he turned down a deal with CSKA Moscow to pursue further NBA opportunities.

Now there are murmurs that Lin could be headed to China to play for the Beijing Ducks. According to Sportando, Chinese reporter Sonx Xiang is saying that Lin and the Ducks are closing in on a deal.

NBA players can go on to have lucrative careers in the CBA. Lin is still a decent enough scorer at the NBA level, and it’s most likely he would fit into the Chinese game quite well.

As a branding and personal opportunity, China could fit Lin nicely. He’s currently on his annual tour of Asia, helping kids across several countries with basketball camps and charitable concerns.

The South China Morning Post has reported that Lin said he would be willing to play in the CBA. Lin also told website Radii of his trips to China that, “When I go there, I feel the most at home.”

Make no bones about it, Lin would much rather play in the NBA this season. Looking at his numbers on Synergy, it’s sort of surprising that nobody would want him as a third point guard on a minimum deal. But in the meantime, Lin has spent a significant amount of time in China and feels a kind of purpose when he’s there.

If he’s got to be away from home — and away from the NBA — this might be the best option for Lin available right now.

Victor Oladipo says Pacers “definitely” a playoff team, maybe more in wide-open East

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With a number of new faces — Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. McConnell, Justin Holiday, T.J. Warren — and star Victor Oladipo out until mid-season, predicting where the Indiana Pacers will land in the East next season is difficult.

Oladipo himself has a good idea where, as he told J. Michael of the Indy Star.

“Playoffs, for sure. Definitely.”

And maybe more.

After Milwaukee and Philadelphia at the top, the East is wide open. Last season the Pacers were an impressive defensive team — third-best in the NBA, anchored by Myles Turner — but a middle of the pack offense (before Oladipo tore the quad muscle near his knee and was out, after that they fell off to bottom 10). The challenge was that after Oladipo the Pacers did not have a lot of shot creation options on the roster (Bojan Bogdanovic did well picking up the slack, he’s good but not elite in that role).

Ths season Brogdon can create, Lamb can create for himself, both can play off the ball, and there are just more options, especially once Oladipo returns and everyone gets on the same page.

A team that had difficulty with execution because it had a dearth of ballhandlers should score more on offense and be able to switch more on defense…

“We have the ability now to play that way. We have the personnel to play that way,” he said. “We have a lot of guys who can do things with the ball. Not only me. I don’t think we’ve had that before. It’s going to be a lot of opportunities for guys to go out there and make things happen.”

That kind of team could be very dangerous in the East.

Before that, however, there are a lot of new pieces to fit together in Indiana. Then mid-season their best player in Oladipo returns and there will be another round of adjustments, with guys needing to accept changing roles.

If it all comes together for Nate McMillan and crew, the Pacers are a playoff threat, but there are a lot of “ifs” to get to where the Pacers want to ultimately be.

For now, get to the playoffs, get healthy, and then we will see just what this team is capable of.

Gilbert Arenas thinks Carmelo Anthony should join the Lakers

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The Lakers have 14 guaranteed contracts on their roster and now need to go out and add another traditional center to the mix after DeMarcus Cousins tore his ACL. (Dwight Howard is in consideration for that slot.) The Lakers eventually can get a Disabled Player Exception for Cousins (saying he is not likely to play this season) to create another roster spot.

Gilbert Arenas thinks Carmelo Anthony should go to the Lakers as a 15th man.

Here is what Arenas told Landon Buford in a phone interview:

I remember the reports named Houston as a possible destination for him to land. I said ‘Hell no’ don’t go there it is going a disaster and it is not going to work. You just for the first time in your career played with two ball-dominant players and it made you the third option. So, to go right back to a team that is going to make you again the third option is a disaster.

Go to the Lakers where you might come off the bench, but you are going to be the first option in the fourth quarter because that is what they are going to need from Melo. They need a 6’9 guy that can open up the floor, play your iso basketball, and that helps the rest of the Lakers. LeBron passes to everyone else, and you play iso basketball it all works. He goes to Houston and after ten games he is gone. Melo needs to me in a position where the last five minutes of the game he is the go-to guy. If you are not the go-to guy what are you on the court for because don’t have any other skill to be used. You are a fourth-quarter last five-minute iso guy that is your skill.

A few things here:

On a team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Arenas thinks ‘Melo would be the go-to guy in the last five minutes of a game? Um… no. Not exactly how that would work.

The reason Anthony is not on a roster is not a question of skills or if he can still get buckets — he can, no doubt — but if he could accept a role and do that on a team for 15 minutes a night coming off the bench? That’s where his game is now but is that where his head is? Would Anthony be happy in a Sixth Man role, or maybe a seventh or eighth man role? Anthony has said he can do whatever is needed to help a team, but that’s not what he showed in Houston last season. If teams believed Anthony could accept a bench role and not be disruptive he’d have an NBA contract by now.

Anthony will eventually get picked up. Somewhere. And if LeBron pushed for it that could happen in Los Angeles. A team will bet on him because he can still get buckets and at the end of the day putting the ball through the basket is the name of the game. But it’s just hard right now to see what team around the league is going to make that bet. Things will shift and some team will, but for now, Anthony will have to wait.

Lakers reportedly interested in Dwight Howard as possible Boogie Cousins replacement

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DeMarcus Cousins was a big part of the Lakers’ plans this season, but he is now out until next year with a torn ACL.

That leaves a big hole at center — the Lakers don’t want to play Anthony Davis extended minutes at the five — so the Lakers are looking at the free agent center market. Which is pretty slim.

One guy they want to talk to is former Laker Dwight Howard, currently on the Grizzlies roster (but expected to be bought out), reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The first question to think about here: Who benefits from this report being out there? I’m in no way questioning the validity of the report — Charania is one of the best-connected reporters around the NBA — but things are told/leaked to media members with perception and spin in mind. In this case, who benefits from this being out there? Draw your own conclusions, it’s just something to consider.

Howard’s last time in a Laker jersey did not exactly go well. In the same way the Titanic’s maiden voyage did not exactly go well. Howard rushed his return from back surgery to join a perceived superteam (with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant) but never got healthy and right, and it showed on the court. Plus, Howard’s “I want to have fun, joke around, and eat Skittles” approach to the game at that time clashed with Kobe’s “I am Batman” approach. Howard became the scapegoat in Los Angeles for a disaster of a season.

Some Lakers fans will not want to hear this but… Howard is not a bad option to seriously consider. For the three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18 Howard was a solid, above-average NBA center, who efficiently averaged low 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, plus was a big body on defense. Most importantly, he played at least 71 games in all of those seasons, he was healthy and reliable. Not great, certainly nothing near the Defensive Player of the Year and perennial MVP candidate he was early in his career (the guy the Lakers thought they were getting the first time around), but a solid NBA big who could play 28-30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use right now.

However, Howard played just nine games for the Wizards last season following another back surgery and some hamstring issues. He was not healthy. The Lakers have to seriously assess Howard’s health because both LeBron James and Davis are going to get plenty of DNP-Rest nights and the Lakers need role players they can count on to absorb minutes. Can Howard be that guy? Do the Lakers want to bet he can be?

Joakim Noah, who has had his health issues but impressed a lot of people around the league with his solid 41 games for Memphis the second half of last season, also is mentioned in the report. Noah is a free agent, brings a defensive mindset, is a good passer, and will not demand touches on the offensive end.

Also on the free-agent market is Kenneth Faried, who played well for 25 games in Houston last season when Clint Capela was out. Faried hustles, can get buckets (he averaged 12 points a game with the Rockets) but is not much of a defender at this point in his career.