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After years of anguish and accomplishment, Kyle Lowry finally in NBA Finals

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TORONTO – Each player’s press conference at NBA Finals media day began the same way. A player sat down. NBA communications director Jim LaBumbard immediately called on a reporter for a question.

Except Kyle Lowry‘s.

Lowry sat down smirking at LaBumbard, who previously worked for the Raptors.

“You ready?” LaBumbard asked.

“Sure, go ahead,” Lowry said.

Lowry has been preparing a long time for this moment.

He has spent most of his career just trying to prove himself as a full-time starter, getting bounced from the Grizzlies to the Rockets to the Raptors. He found a home in Toronto and developed into a star. But that just set him up to be tormented by LeBron James nearly annually in the playoffs.

Now, Lowry has finally reached the pinnacle of his sport, the NBA Finals.

“He’s been hit upside the head from every different angle and every different angle in the world – whether it’s personal, everything,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said, “and he survives it.

“There’s something about that guy that I just believe in. It’s incredible. We have been through so much, and he’s a winner. There’s no other way to put it. He’s a winner.”

Lowry is a five-time All-Star in his 13th season. Just seven players have hit that honor-longevity combination then played in their first NBA Finals:

  • Tracy McGrady (2013 Spurs)
  • Mitch Richmond (2002 Lakers)
  • Kevin Garnett (2008 Celtics)
  • Alonzo Mourning (2006 Heat)
  • Reggie Miller (2000 Pacers)
  • Chris Mullin (2000 Pacers)
  • John Stockton (1997 Jazz)

Only Garnett, Miller and Stockton were still stars by their Finals debuts. Mourning was a role player. McGrady, Richmond and Mullin were deep reserves.

Lowry is still a star.

He’s an unconventional one who does so many little things to help his team. He takes charges, sets screens, tips loose balls, makes extra passes, directs teammates. Of course, he scores and assists plenty. But traditional box-score stats don’t fully capture his impact on the court.

They certainly don’t capture his impact off it. Lowry, who spent a while moping about his close friend DeMar DeRozan getting traded, has become an ally of Kawhi Leonard. Though not facing his own contract-year speculation, Lowry understands the pressure stars face. He also relates to younger teammates just tryin to establish themselves in the league, a predicament he faced early in his career.

“He’s a better teammate than he is a player,” Fred VanVleet said.

But for everything Lowry did right, postseason success eluded him.

His individual performances were up-and-down through the playoffs. He wasn’t as bad as his critics made him out to be, nor did he sustain the high level of play he demonstrated in the regular season. But Toronto consistently struggled.

So, when he finally won the East, Lowry – who’s often brooding publicly – became uncontrollably overjoyed:

Yet, as the NBA Finals approach, he’s locked back in.

“Getting here doesn’t do anything but getting here,” Lowry said. “We still want to try to win this.”

It’s the right approach and of course the won Lowry would take. He’s a true competitor. A championship would be so satisfying.

But, after all he’d been through, getting here did mean something to him. You could see it all over his face.

Pacers All-Star Domantas Sabonis has 20 and 11, leads Pacers past Blazers

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INDIANAPOLIS — Domantas Sabonis had 20 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 106-100 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night.

Malcolm Brogdon had 17 points, eight assists, and six rebounds while T.J. Warren and Victor Oladipo scored 15 points each for the Pacers, who have four of their last five.

CJ McCollum had 28 points and eight assists, Gary Trent Jr. had 20 points, and five rebounds, and Hassan Whiteside had 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Trail Blazers, who have lost five of six.

The Pacers were able to hold off the Blazers’ late push.

After Brogdon made a jumper to give Indiana a 103-93 lead with 1:54 remaining, Portland went on a 7-0 run. McCollum’s floater made it 103-100 with 30 seconds to go.

Myles Turner drilled a 3-pointer with 9 seconds remaining to seal it.

The Trail Blazers went on a 10-1 run late in the first half to push ahead.

McCollum made a 3-pointer to give Portland a 42-40 lead with 3:13 to go in the second quarter. After a free throw by Oladipo, McCollum made another three and then a fadeaway to put the Trail Blazers in front 47-41.

Portland led 49-43 at halftime.

Report: Magic and Pistons talked trading for Nets Spencer Dinwiddie

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Leading up to the NBA trade deadline, at least two NBA teams talked about making a trade for Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie. SNY’s Ian Begley reports that the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic had internal discussions about trading for Dinwiddie.

Dinwiddie started his NBA career with Detroit before being traded to the Chicago Bulls. After being waived following his only training camp with the Bulls, Dinwiddie signed later that season with the Nets.

That signing has proven to be one of the best finds of Sean Marks’ diamond mining process in Brooklyn. With the Nets, Dinwiddie has become a key rotation player. Last December, Brooklyn inked Dinwiddie to a three-year contract extension that started with this season.

This past summer, Dinwiddie was a key part of the recruiting process to bring free agent Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn. Dinwiddie did that recruiting even though the addition of Irving cost him a spot in starting lineup.

Oddly enough, it’s the presence of Irving on the roster that could lead Marks to consider trading Dinwiddie. With Irving, Durant and Caris LeVert, that’s three players who need the ball a lot. And there is a lot of overlap in position there as well. With a hole at power forward, Begley posited that a Dinwiddie for Aaron Gordon swap might make sense for both Brooklyn and Orlando.

While no trade agreement was reached prior to the deadline, it’s possible that either Detroit (who projects to have $34 million in cap space this summer and needs to add talent) or Orlando (who needs offensive creators) could engage Brooklyn in trade talks this summer. It’s much easier to make a deal that involves big salaries in the summer when teams have more roster flexibility.

Report: Joel Embiid out at least one week with shoulder sprain

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NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters reports that Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid will be out at least one week due to a sprained left shoulder.

Embiid underwent further evaluations Thursday after being injured the previous night in a game at the Cleveland Cavaliers. Those evaluations showed no structural damage. Embiid will be re-evaluated in one week.

That timeline makes it likely that Embiid will miss the entirety of the Sixers upcoming west coast trip, including games against both Los Angeles teams. Embiid’s absence, combined with that of Ben Simmons, will make it hard for Philadelphia to improve upon their woeful 9-21 road record.

With Simmons out due to an impingement in his back, and Embiid joining him on the sidelines, the 76ers have returned Al Horford to the starting lineup. Horford started with regulars Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson, and fill-ins Glenn Robinson III and Shake Milton in Philadelphia’s home victory over New York on Thursday. That group is likely to continue to open games for Brett Brown until he gets his All-Star duo back in the lineup.

Report: Clippers would like to re-sign Montrezl Harrell and Marcus Morris as free agents

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The Los Angeles Clippers will have to focus on building their roster around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George moving forward. They locked up several role players to long-term contracts over the summer, but face two critical free agent situations this offseason with Montrezl Harrell and Marcus Morris. Jovan Buha of The Athletic reports that the Clippers would like to re-sign both players.

Harrell has blossomed into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate while with the Clippers, and will be one of the better big men on the market this summer. Only six to seven teams project to have cap space this summer, but all of them have a need for a player like Harrell. That means LA will likely need to pony up this summer to keep their reserve big man.

The Clippers likely face the same sort of situation with Morris. They acquired him at the trade deadline and gave up a first-round pick to do so. With several picks and swap rights pending to the Oklahoma City Thunder from the Paul George trade last summer, that was a heavy price for Los Angeles to pay.

With the team capped out and lacking draft picks moving forward, LA has little ability to replace either Harrell or Morris if they leave. On the other hand, it could push the Clippers deep into the luxury tax if they retain both Harrell and Morris. Steve Ballmer has the deepest pockets in the NBA, but every owner has their limits. In the end, everything might come down to just how the Clippers season ends. Winning a title, or at least making the NBA Finals, would make it a lot easier to pay to keep the team together.