Bobby Portis

Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Trae Young both lucky, good with latest game winner

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Trae Young is both lucky and good with game-winner against Milwaukee. Maybe it is better to be lucky than good, but in an ideal world you’d want to be both.

That’s what Atlanta’s Trae Young was on Sunday.

Young was not having a great night — 4-of-18 shooting for 10 points — but he and the Hawks had pushed a Bucks team resting everyone (Greek Freak, Middleton, Bledsoe all out) to overtime. In the extra period, the Hawks were down one, 135-134, with 1.1 seconds remaining, but Atlanta had the ball and time for one last inbounds play to get the win. Coach Lloyd Pierce ran a down screen to try to free Young moving toward the ball, but just as Young comes free inbounder, Kevin Huerter, decided he could lob the ball to John Collins at the rim for a dunk. However, Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez read it perfectly, deflected the lob, and… there’s Mr. Lucky, Young.

Give Young credit — the body control it takes to grab that in the air and get it back up on the rim is impressive. It is one of the best game-winners of the season.

It took a little bit of luck.

2) Night of ejections: DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Jokic, Gregg Popovich all get tossed from their games. What was in the Gatorade in NBA arenas Sunday? There seemed to be ejections everywhere.

Let’s start with Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. There was some history in this game between Jokic and Bobby Portis, they had been going back and forth all night, including Jokic getting a bloody nose on this play.

Through it all, Jokic felt he wasn’t getting the calls. Then in the fourth Jokic wanted a foul call on his putback bucket, didn’t get it and snapped.

That wasn’t the end of it, Jokic’s brother got into it with Bobby Portis and Jordan McRae after the game.

None of this is good, but let’s focus on Jokic’s ejection. He has lost his cool a couple times recently — remember the ejection vs. Indiana — where he lost his composure and in the process cost his team. Jokic cannot do that.

I get he was frustrated, but he is the best player on the Nuggets and the fulcrum of their offense, and in this case there was 3:47 left in a game where his team was down two. In a close game, the Nuggets need him on the court. He simply has to have more control than he has shown. Watch the video and you can see the referee gives him a quick tech, but then gives Jokic a chance to back off and move on to the next play. Jokic kept coming hard. He got tossed, and the Nuggets lost. Denver coach Mike Malone needs to sit Jokic down and get on him about his composure on the court. It matters.

Let’s move on.

DeMarcus Cousins also got ejected, although his was for a Flagrant 2 foul, an elbow to the head of Willy Hernangomez.

The NBA is quick with flagrant fouls for blows to the head, intentional or not. Was this worthy of a Flagrant 2 and an ejection? I don’t think so, I’d say Flagrant 1 and move on. But this is DeMarcus Cousins and he does not get the benefit of the doubt with officials.

Finally, watch Gregg Popovich lose his… um, cool (this is a family-friendly website) and get ejected. You don’t see this every day.

3) Duke is done, Zion Williamson is on to the NBA, and by the way, R.J. Barrett is not falling down draft boards. The next time you see Zion Williamson play, it will probably be in Las Vegas at the NBA Summer League.

(Or maybe the Utah or Sacramento pre-Vegas Summer Leagues, depending upon who drafts him.)

The NBA was buzzing about the same thing fans everywhere were on Sunday, that Duke got into one too many close games and screwed up your bracket (although those of us who picked Virginia to win it all feel pretty good today). This is a stacked Duke team with the presumptive No. 1 pick in Williamson and two other players — R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish —  who are expected to go in the top five or six. Michigan State earned the win. Duke had been living on the edge for a couple of games in a row, this time someone else stepped up with the big play and made the shot.

Zion Williamson will be the No. 1 pick and teams across the league are setting up altars and offering rum to Jobu in order to please the gods and land that pick — Williamson looks a franchise cornerstone player. The best prospect in the eyes of many scouts since Anthony Davis. Williamson is an insane athlete, already has an NBA body, can leap out of the building, shows a point guard’s feel for the game and can defend at the rim. But what some scouts like best is how hard he works and plays. He doesn’t just coast on all that natural talent.

In the Duke loss, Barrett was 7-of-17 with six assists but seven turnovers. Not a good outing on a huge stage. That, of course, led to overreaction from some on Twitter, people who have watched three of his games now saying “his draft stock is falling.”

No, it isn’t. Barrett likely goes No. 2 or 3 (depending on who gets the pick).

Scouts from interested team watched every game he played (most multiple times) and that team’s GM has now and/or will have seen many games also, on tape and in person — they have a much better and broader picture of the player. Teams with good scouting departments do not get swayed much by the NCAA Tournament or one game. They already know who the player is. That is certainly the case with Barrett, who has been seen as a top pick in this class for years.

Teams that like Barrett’s playmaking (which should look better in the NBA when there is more shooting around him). His decision making has improved over the course of the season, to the point that on this loaded roster Barrett became the guy Coach K trusted to run the offense through. He was incredibly efficient this season: He averaged better than 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists in a game. Whether he can make an All-Star level in the NBA is up for debate, but after Williamson there may not be a player of that level in this draft.

Barrett will be just fine. And get drafted very high, one off night or not.

Otto Porter valued in Chicago

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DETROIT – Bulls guard Zach LaVine summarized the scouting report on the Wizards the last couple years.

John Wall and Bradley Beal: “A lot of the shots were going that way.”

Otto Porter: “He was just stuck in the corner.”

Porter is spreading his wings now. After getting traded to Chicago last month, Porter is filling a bigger role on a team pleased to have him.

The Bulls, especially after trading Justin Holiday, were desperate at small forward. Denzel Valentine has missed the entire season due to injury. Chicago’s option for a bigger wing were oversized (Jabari Parker), undersized (LaVine, Wayne Selden) or inexperienced (Chandler Hutchison).

“Every team needs a guy like Otto,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. “But we definitely did.

“He comes in, and it’s like a calming of the sea.”

Chicago is 7-6 with Porter and 12-44 without him. Even just since acquiring Porter, the Bulls have outscored opponents by 1.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and gotten outscored by 9.0 points per 100 possessions without him.

Importantly, Porter has thrived with Chicago’s other healthy core players. The Bulls are +6.6 points per 100 possessions when Porter, LaVine and Lauri Markkanen share the court.

Effectively, Porter was an early free agent addition for Chicago. The Bulls dealt two players with expiring contracts – Parker (who definitely wasn’t returning) and Bobby Portis (who might’ve returned) – and a 2023 second-rounder to Washington.

The reason Porter was available: His large contract. He’s earning $26,011,913 this season and due $55,739,815 the next two years.

The tax-dodging Wizards were ready to move on. After stumbling with Parker, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo as big additions in free agency recently, Chicago wanted the known quantity.

Porter’s $26,011,913 salary is now the third-highest by a Bull. Only Michael Jordan ($33,140,000 in 1997-98 and $30,140,000 in 1996-97) earned more.

Here are the highest salaries by anyone on Chicago’s roster in the given season:

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The Wizards’ financial commitment to Porter was brief and forced upon them. Porter signed a four-year max offer sheet with the Nets in 2017. Coming off its best season in nearly four decades, Washington matched.

Yet that same offseason, Wall openly courted Paul George as an upgrade over Porter. This January, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said his team wouldn’t trade Porter then obviously did anyway.

Porter said the Wizards never told him their intentions had changed before trading him.

“It was all business,” Porter said. “It was nothing personal.”

Porter seems more welcomed by Chicago. LaVine lights up when discussing Porter. Asked whether Porter appears to be enjoying his expanded role, LaVine offered an enthusiastic “Hell yeah!”

In Washington, Porter contributed quietly. He shot well from the perimeter and spaced the floor. He avoided mistakes. He usually played sound defense. Teams need someone to create, but Porter looked like an ideal complementary player.

Porter has been tasked with much more in Chicago. He’s averaging 18.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game with the Bulls. His usage percentage (21.7) is 3.3 percentage points higher than it ever was with the Wizards. He has already finished more plays as pick-and-roll ballhandler in Chicago (75) than he did in Washington (64) this season.

“Anything that I can bring to this team, I’m going to do it,” Porter said. “There’s no holding back.”

I’m not sold on Porter having the ball in his hands so much long-term. It makes sense with these Bulls, but better teams will likely have other players more suited for creating shots. Still, this experience should at least aid Porter’s development for Chicago’s next phase – whatever that is.

The Bulls are in line for a high draft pick and project to have about $20 million in cap space this summer. Nail those opportunities – especially by upgrading at point guard, where Kris Dunn hasn’t been the answer – and Chicago could be onto something.

Porter said he loves playing for the Bulls. He has gotten a fresh start and a leadership position.

The 25-year-old Porter has played more playoff games (31) than any other Bull. Heck, he has played nearly as many as the rest of the roster combined. Robin Lopez (28 games), Wayne Selden (six games) and Cristiano Felicio (six games) are the only other Bulls with postseason experience.

“I don’t have all the answers,” Porter said. “But the thing that it is, we can grow together, learn together.”

The Bulls needed a competent small forward. They got one much better.

Porter doesn’t solve all Chicago’s problems, but he has already improved the team’s dynamic. Young players develop better in steadier situations. The addition of Porter should help now and down the road.

“He’s a winning person and a winning player,” Boylen said, “and we’re really thankful for him.”

Bradley Beal’s late surge lifts Wizards to 121-115 win over Kings

Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Bradley Beal scored 21 of his 27 points after halftime, helping the Washington Wizards beat the Sacramento Kings 121-115 on Monday night despite twice giving back double-digit leads.

Beal added nine rebounds and nine assists on the night.

With the win, the 11th-place Wizards moved within 3 1/2 games of the eighth Eastern Conference playoff spot currently held by idle Miami.

Jabari Parker added 18 points off the bench and Bobby Portis had 17 points and 13 rebounds as Washington began a five-game homestand.

De'Aaron Fox scored 23 points for the Kings, who started Monday four games back of three teams tied for the last three Western Conference playoff spots.

Reserve Nemanja Bjelica added 15 points and 12 rebounds for Sacramento, which has lost six straight in Washington dating back to 2013.

After erasing all of the Wizards’ 14-point, first-half lead by the break, the Kings did the same to the Wizards’ 12-point edge in the second.

Buddy Hield‘s transition layup gave Sacramento its first lead after halftime with 3:41 to play, capping a 6-0 spurt and making it 112-111.

Jeff Green and Beal each hit a pair of free throws to answer before Beal followed with a tough contested layup to stretch it to 118-112 with 51 seconds left.

The Kings hit just one of their last seven shots after Hield’s layup.

 

Optimism with the Wizards? Thomas Bryant supplies it

Rob Carr/Getty Images
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DETROIT – Thomas Bryant is usually cheery.

“I don’t like being upset, sad, mad about anything,” Bryant said. “I always want to be happy. I always want people around me to be happy.”

So much so, it could seem the attitude comes naturally to him.

“Hell no,” Bryant said. “It ain’t easy at all.”

It didn’t come easy when Bryant slipped to the second round of the NBA draft in 2017, a year after he returned to Indiana for his sophomore season despite looking like a probable 2016 first-round pick. He went No. 42 to the Lakers.

It didn’t come easy when the Lakers assigned him to their minor-league affiliate much of his rookie season. “You start getting overseas people following you on Instagram and DMing you,” Bryant said. “Like, ‘Hell nah.'”

It didn’t come easy when he barely played while with the Lakers. When got on the court, he usually struggled.

And it especially didn’t come easy when the Lakers waived him last summer.

“That one really got to me,” Bryant said. “I felt like I did everything right. I felt like I gave it my all, and then I went down like that.”

Bryant didn’t know what it meant for his future. He spoke to his agent, trying to get answers. But in those trying moments, he really likes to get away from basketball and watch cartoons like “Family Guy,” “Rick and Morty,” and “Tom and Jerry.”

He also gave himself a pep talk.

“C’mon, you gotta keep swinging, man,” Bryant said he told himself. “There’s a lot more left in the tank for you. You’re young. So, you’ve got to keep trying to get through it.”

The Wizards claimed Bryant off waivers, and he has brought his positivity – and far more production than expected – to Washington. Bryant has been one of the biggest bright spots in the Wizards’ dismal season.

Washington entered the year shooting for 50 wins and the conference finals. Instead, the Wizards (25-36) are barely hanging in the sad Eastern Conference playoff race.

Among the many reasons Washington has disappointed: Starting center Dwight Howard has missed nearly the entire season due to injury. But that opened the door for Bryant.

Bryant has been a revelation. He’s an aggressive rim-runner who converts the numerous close opportunities he creates. His 81% shooting at the rim leads the NBA (minimum: 100 attempts). He has also shown range, making 21-of-55 3-pointers (38%).

In 43 starts, Bryant was averaging 10.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in 21.0 minutes per game. He recently got pulled from the starting lineup because, as Wizards coach Scott Brooks said, “We have to see what we have” in Bobby Portis, who was acquired for Otto Porter shortly before the trade deadline. But in the two games since, Bryant’s minutes (25.3), points (20.5) and rebounds (8.5) per game are up. This doesn’t seem like a big demotion.

Which should keep Bryant in strong consideration for Most Improved Player ballots.

In arguing De'Aaron Fox should be running away with the award, I cited his increase in box plus-minus from -4.4 to +0.8 – a jump of 5.2. Bryant’s box-plus minus increase has been even larger – from -4.2 to +1.8, a jump of 6.0.

But Bryant played just 72 NBA minutes last season. That’s not a reliable sample. Fox fully demonstrated how bad he was last year.

Still, limited playing time usually indicates inadequacy. Bryant seizing a larger role shows just how much he has improved.

Bryant’s increase in win shares of 3.8 (0.1 to 3.9) is the fourth largest in the NBA this season, behind only Monte Morris (another Most Improved Player-ballot candidate), Fox and Malik Beasley.

Here are the biggest increases in win shares (middle) from a prior career high (left) to the current season (right):

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Bryant’s contributions are especially surprising, because the Wizards might have had an ulterior motive to claim him off waivers. Sure, the 21-year-old Bryant had basketball potential. But because he signed his current contract as a draft pick, he also counts less toward the luxury tax than a minimum-salary free agent would have. Washington has shown its tax leeriness by keeping roster spots vacant throughout the season then making trades to dodge the tax entirely.

Bryant will become a restricted free agent this summer. Though he has shown great progress, there are still major questions about him long-term – particularly defensively.

The Wizards are one of the NBA’s worst rebounding teams. It’s a whole-roster problem, but they aren’t much better with Bryant on the court. A solid individual rebounder, he isn’t diligent about boxing out.

With Bryant on the floor, Washington allows opponents to get 38% of their shots at the rim and shoot 67% on them. Essentially, Wizards’ opponents turn into the Bucks, the league’s best team near the basket. It’s hard to build a sound defense when the center provides such little rim protection.

Still, Bryant’s flaws rarely stem from laziness. He’s kinetic on defense, just often flying to the wrong spot.

Bryant is nothing if not energetic.

In describing why it’s important for him to set a tone for his team, Bryant winds up going through the entire roster. He wants to lift the veterans because they can get fatigued by a long season. He wants to lift the benchwarmers because he has been there before. Most of all, he wants to lift Bradley Beal because the star has carried the largest load.

“It’s great,” Beal said. “I tell him every game I need it.”

Beal especially appreciates Bryant’s pre-game routine in the locker room.

“He has his headphones on, and he’s jumping up around, dancing back and forth through the locker room,” Beal said. “So, imagine a 6-10 dude doing all the latest dances. So, it’s pretty fun and funny to watch, but it gets everybody going.”

Bryant knows he’s making his mark.

“They start dancing sometimes, too, and smiling,” Bryant said. “So, it’s all positive.”

Pascal Siakam scores 44 in Raptors’ win over Wizards (video)

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TORONTO (AP) — Pascal Siakam scored a career-high 44 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, OG Anunoby scored a career-best 22 points, and the Toronto Raptors beat the Washington Wizards 129-120 on Wednesday night for their sixth straight win.

Serge Ibaka had 10 points and 13 rebounds, and Kyle Lowry had 14 points and 13 assists as the Raptors used a big third quarter to overcome a 12-point deficit and post their fifth straight victory over the struggling Wizards.

Jeremy Lin played 25 minutes in his Toronto debut after signing earlier in the day. He was recently waived by the Atlanta Hawks.

Toronto won without All-Star Kawhi Leonard, who sat for the second time in four games because of a sore left knee. Leonard also missed last Thursday’s win at Atlanta. Coach Nick Nurse said he would’t mind if Leonard played in Sunday’s All-Star Game in Charlotte.

Bradley Beal scored 28 points, Jeff Green had 23 and Jabari Parker 22 as Washington lost for the fifth time in seven games.

Siakam made a career-best four 3-pointers, and Anunoby also had a season-high four.

Down 103-93 to begin the fourth, Washington cut it to 112-111 on a 3-pointer by Bobby Portis with 4:55 left. Lowry replied with a 3 for Toronto and Siakam made back-to-back baskets, putting Toronto up 119-111 at 3:44.

Toronto faced its biggest deficit, 80-68, at 8:48 of the third. The Raptors answered with a 15-0 spurt, reclaiming the lead at 83-80 before Washington called timeout at 4:43. Siakam scored 19 points in the third, and Toronto closed the quarter on a 35-13 run, taking a 103-93 lead into the final quarter.

Washington led 65-59 lead at halftime.

LINSANITY IN THE NORTH

Lin received a brief ovation when he checked in for Norman Powell at 4:05 of the first. He finished with eight points, five assists and five rebounds.

Lin can expect plenty of action when play resumes after the All-Star break. Before the game, the Raptors said guard Fred VanVleet had surgery in New York to repair ligament damage in his left thumb. VanVleet, who was hurt in Saturday’s win at New York, is expected to miss at least three weeks.

TIP-INS

Wizards: G Tomas Satoransky was inactive because of personal reasons. … The Wizards missed nine of their first 10 attempts from 3-point range.

Raptors: F Patrick McCaw was inactive because of a sore right shoulder. … Ibaka has scored at least 10 points in 20 straight games, the second-longest streak of his career. He did it in 21 games in 2014.

UP NEXT

Wizards: Visit Charlotte on Friday, February 22.

Raptors: Host San Antonio on Friday, February 22.