D.J. Augustin

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What a relief: Markelle Fultz shows progress in preseason

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DETROIT – Markelle Fultz left Washington as the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft. By the time he worked out for the 76ers, warning signs of a major problem had emerged.

Fultz spent the next 535 days – which were full of ugly shooting, finger pointing, surgery, deeply analyzed workout videos, biting reactions, blunt evaluations, yips talk, rumors, contradictory health assessments, distrust and even family drama – until Philadelphia announced last December he had been diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

“Just being injured and not knowing what it is was probably one of the most stressful things,” Fultz said. “Then, finding out what my injury was probably the biggest relief I ever had.”

The alleviation of tension is palpable.

Fultz beamed in the locker room after the Magic’s preseason win over the Pistons last night, joking with teammates and flashing big smiles. He talked about his passion for playmaking and relished this dunk:

The Magic’s two preseason games have been a coming-out party for Fultz, who hadn’t played an NBA game since November. Though his TOS diagnosis soothed him, outsiders still didn’t know what to make of it. There was initially word Fultz would return in 3-6 weeks. Fultz’s agent said the guard would return that season. Instead, Fultz missed the rest of the season, about four months. The 76ers traded him to Orlando during that absence. Another long offseason invited more questions.

But Fultz is back on the court showing signs of life. He had another big dunk against the Spurs, and his confidence appears to be growing as he goes. Even just against Detroit, Fultz played with more verve as the game progressed:

The bigger-picture outlook is in the eye of the beholder.

Fultz no longer looks overwhelmed on the court. He’s 0-for-3 on 3-pointers, but at least he’s taking them. That’s encouraging progress.

Sans a reliable outside shot, Fultz has taken to probing inside the arc. He dislodges and twists by defenders. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Fultz gets to his spots. He looks for short, sometimes turnaround, jumpers just outside the paint or sometimes tries to get all the way to the rim. He also keeps his head up, taking advantage of the passing angles his size and bumping create.

“He can throw every pass,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said, “which not that many guys can.”

Fultz has 11 assists in 38 minutes this preseason despite often playing with another point guard (Michael Carter-Williams or D.J. Augustin).

It’s an enjoyable style for someone who grew up watching a lot of And1 and misses the physicality of old-school basketball.

It’s not a style that lends itself to stardom.

Fultz was the top pick in large part because of his outside shooting. That’s a major missing piece of his game. Defenses will adjust in the regular season, let alone the postseason. Already, Fultz has eight turnovers in his 38 preseason minutes while dealing with tight spacing. Beyond those highlight slams, Fultz is also just 5-for-13 inside the arc. That won’t cut it.

This preseason, Fultz has yet to attempt a free throw – a prior bugaboo. That’ll be yet another test.

Fultz said he must manage his TOS the rest of his career – through strengthening, rehab, rest and massages. It’s too early to say what limitations he’ll face long-term. Maybe the Fultz we see now will resemble the player he’ll be the rest of his career. Maybe this is just the start until he rediscovers a full toolkit of skills.

He’ll get plenty of time to work on his game. The Magic exercised his $12,288,697 team option for 2020-21 more than a month before necessary, a move that looks justified two games into the preseason.

It’s far too soon to know how this story concludes, but after so many painful episodes, a happy ending is at least back on the table.

“I never doubted myself,” Fultz said. “I know the talent I had. I knew I had an injury. So, for me, all the outside noise of people talking, it never got to me, because I knew what I could do.”

Kawhi Leonard has 27 as Raptors clinch series over Magic

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TORONTO (AP) Kawhi Leonard scored 27 points, Pascal Siakam added 24 and the Toronto Raptors used another stifling defensive effort to beat the Orlando Magic 115-96 on Tuesday night, winning their first-round playoff series in five games.

Kyle Lowry scored 14 points as the Raptors finished off the Magic with ease, bouncing back from a Game 1 defeat to win by double-digits in three of the next four. Toronto led by as many as 37 in the clincher, their biggest-ever margin in a playoff game.

It’s the fourth straight year the Raptors have reached the second round.

Leonard made 8 of 11 shots, including 5 of 5 from 3-point range, as the Raptors jumped on Orlando early and never trailed. Leonard also made all six of his free throws. He checked out to cheers of “MVP, MVP” with 8:05 to play and Toronto up 105-75.

D.J. Augustin scored 15 points, Terrence Ross had 12 and Aaron Gordon 11 for the Magic, who won 104-101 on Augustin’s late 3-pointer in Game 1 but never again topped 96 points against Toronto’s dominant defense, and twice finished with 85 or fewer.

Orlando made 32 of 83 shots, including 9 of 34 from 3-point range.

The Magic hadn’t reached the postseason since 2012. That year, Orlando won its opener on the road against Indiana, then lost four straight. The Magic haven’t advanced past the opening round since 2010, when they lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Lowry scored Toronto’s first nine points and had 12 in the opening quarter. Orlando missed 10 of its first 11 shots and went 0 for 7 from 3-point range in the first. Toronto was up 35-19 after one.

The Magic missed 11 straight from long range before Fournier connected at 7:55 of the second. Toronto answered with a 6-0 spurt, opening a 50-29 lead with 6:48 to go until halftime. Leonard and Siakam each had seven points in the second and the Raptors held a 67-47 lead at the intermission.2

Lowry left at 2:41 of the second and headed to the locker room after appearing to jam a finger on his right hand. He returned to start the second half.

Toronto took a commanding 99-70 lead into the fourth.

TIP-INS

Magic: Vucevic missed his first four shots and had three fouls in a scoreless first quarter, playing only five minutes. Vucevic scored his first basket at 9:54 of the third, when Orlando trailed by 26. He shot 3 for 10 and scored six points. … Khem Birch led Orlando with 11 rebounds.

Raptors: Toronto had 10 assists on 13 made baskets in the first quarter, and 19 on 23 baskets in the first half. The 19 assists set a Raptors record for a single half of a postseason game. … G Fred VanVleet led Toronto with 10 assists while Lowry had nine. … Five games is the quickest Toronto has ever won a seven-game series. … F Chris Boucher (back) was not available.

UP NEXT

Toronto will host Philadelphia or Brooklyn in Game 1 of the second round.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Kawhi Leonard scores 37, Lowry has 22 as Raptors rout Magic (VIDEO)

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TORONTO (AP) Kept off the scoreboard in a Game 1 defeat, Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry was “at his finest” in Game 2, at least in the eyes of coach Nick Nurse.

Fellow All-Star Kawhi Leonard wasn’t too bad, either.

Leonard scored 37 points, Lowry bounced back with 22 and the Raptors routed the Orlando Magic 111-82 on Tuesday night, evening their Eastern Conference first-round series at one win apiece.

Pascal Siakam had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Raptors, who never trailed and led by as many as 34.

Game 3 is Friday night in Orlando.

Leonard said Lowry “led us in intensity,” helping the East’s No. 2 seed avoid a 2-0 hole.

“He did a great job of bouncing back,” Leonard said. “He’s a pro. That’s what pros do, they know it’s just one game and they come in the next game ready to play.”

Lowry, who missed all seven attempts in Game 1, shot 8 for 13 and led his team with seven assists.

“He was big time tonight,” Nurse said. “That’s him at his finest.”

Siakam said Lowry was visibly more tuned in Tuesday than he was Saturday.

“From the jump he had that fire in his eyes,” Siakam said. “That’s the Kyle we know.”

Despite playing in foul trouble for much of the night, Leonard finished with a career playoff-high 15 field goals. He made his first nine attempts from inside the arc before missing a layup.

Leonard shot 15 for 22 before leaving to a standing ovation with 4:46 remaining and Toronto ahead 104-73.

“Leonard was great,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “What are you going to do? He was great.”

Leonard’s career playoff high is 43, set with San Antonio against Memphis on April 22, 2017. He made 14 baskets in that game.

“Tonight he was just in a groove, getting downhill, getting to his spots,” Lowry said. “He’s a player who knows where he wants to be on the floor and when he gets to those spots, he’s pretty tough to guard.”

Aaron Gordon scored 20 points, Terrence Ross had 15 and Evan Fournier 10 for the Magic, who won the opener 104-101 on a tiebreaking 3 by D.J. Augustin with 4.2 seconds to go.

Nikola Vucevic, who shot 3 for 14 in Game 1, struggled again in Game 2, going 3 of 7 and scoring six points.

“They did a good job taking away a lot of my strengths,” Vucevic said. “I’ve just got to figure out a way to be more aggressive, be more efficient offensively.”

Augustin, who had 25 points Saturday, shot 1 for 6. Seven of his nine points came at the free throw line.

Orlando didn’t score for almost five minutes to start the game, missing its first six shots and four straight free throws. The drought ended when Gordon rebounded and scored on Vucevic’s miss from the line at 7:14 of the first, answering an 11-0 Toronto run.

Leonard scored 12 points in the opening quarter as the Raptors led 26-18 after one.

“Their defense set the tone for the game in the first quarter,” Clifford said.

Lowry scored 11 points in the second and Siakam added six, putting Toronto up 51-39 at halftime. Orlando shot 13 for 40 in the opening two quarters.

Leonard connected of seven of nine attempts in the third, scoring 17 points. The Raptors outscored the Magic 39-27 to take a 90-66 lead into the fourth.

“At halftime, I thought we had settled down,” Clifford said. “Then, at the beginning of the third quarter, they were good and, frankly, we were awful.”

TIP-INS

Magic: Orlando missed its first five free throw attempts before Ross made two of three at 2:11 of the first. The Magic shot 8 for 16 at the line in the first half and finished 13 for 24. … Ross had 15 of Orlando’s 17 bench points in the first half. … The Magic were outscored 52-36 in the paint. … Orlando has outrebounded Toronto in all six meetings this season.

Raptors: Lowry snapped his scoring slump by splitting a pair of free throws at 10:48 of the first, leading to thunderous applause. He was cheered again after hitting a 3 at 6:52. … Only four players scored in the first half. Leonard had 17, Lowry 15, Siakam 12 and Serge Ibaka 7. … Toronto has won nine straight playoff games in which it makes more 3-pointers than its opponent. Toronto shot 11 for 35 Tuesday, while Orlando was 9 for 34. … G Patrick McCaw (sprained right thumb) was not available despite practicing the previous two days. … Toronto is 8-8 all time in Game 2s.

TURNED OVER

Orlando had just 11 turnovers in Game 1 but gave the ball away 27 times in Game 2, including on both of its opening two possessions.

“If we’re going to make this a long series, and hopefully we will, we’re going to need to be stronger with the ball,” Gordon said. “Simple as that.”

HOME SWEET HOME

Orlando has won nine straight at home and is unbeaten on its own court since a Feb. 22 loss to Chicago.

“We feed off the crowd, we like their energy,” Gordon said.

UP NEXT

Game 3 is Friday night in Orlando.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Upset Saturday leaves Sixers, Raptors, Nuggets in hole

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The NBA playoffs are underway and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Maybe there is something to having to win down the stretch of the regular season — to basically have your playoffs start early — when it comes to being ready for Game 1.

1) Joel Embiid is not himself and Sixers earn boos from fans in a loss to Nets. Sixers fans suffered through the losing of “The Process” for this? They know good basketball when they see it, but Sixers fans didn’t see it on Saturday in Game 1… well, not true, they saw it from a scrappy Nets team that picked up a 111-102 Game 1 win on the road.

Philadelphia fans didn’t see it from their hometown Sixers, who looked tight. So the fans booed.

Ben Simmons did not appreciate that, saying “If you’re a Sixers fan and you’re going to boo, stay on that side.”

Simmons earned those boos, however, with his nine-point, seven-rebound, three-assist night where the Nets dared him to shoot jump shots and he passed on those invitations. Simmons was not the playmaker Philadelphia needed him to be.

Joel Embiid was not the player the Sixers needed him to be. The Sixers best player was a game-time decision with knee pain but decided to play through it and wasn’t himself, except in flashes. Embiid put up numbers — 22 points on 5-of-15 shooting, 15 rebounds, and five blocks — but he wasn’t able to impact the game the way he was used to. He started the game shooting 1-of-9 and was not moving well at points.

In what seemed to symbolize the Sixers approach to the night, Amir Johnson and Embiid were caught checking texts on a phone during the loss. Johnson was fined by the team for that.

Brooklyn, a team of underdogs and cast-offs, played harder and with more passion than the star-studded Sixers. The Nets had a we-have-nothing-to-lose attitude that seemed to free them. D’Angelo Russell, in his playoff debut, was 3-of-15 shooting in the first half, but was 7-of-10 in the second half and finished with 26. Russell made sure there would be no comeback.

Philly did get 36 from Jimmy Butler.

One of the questions for Philadelphia this playoffs was how the team would handle adversity. We’re going to find out starting Monday night in Game 2.

2) The more things change, the more they stayed the same for Toronto in Game 1 loss. This was the year that was going to be different. They have Kawhi Leonard. They have a deeper roster. They have a coach who focused on preparing them for the playoffs along each step of the 82-game season. These Raptors were ready for the playoffs…

And they lost Game 1 at home 104-101 after D.J. Augustin did this.

Kyle Lowry had zero points. Raptors fans have seen this movie from him before in the playoffs, but check out this shot chart

Kawhi Leonard was up and down, and the Raptors went as he did. When he was 4-of-4 shooting for 11 points in the first quarter, Toronto was up five and seemed to be in control. When he was 0-of-5 and didn’t score in the second quarter the Raptors were outscored by 13. And so it went, right down to the final shot of the game, Leonard’s “answer” to Augustin’s shot.

The Magic have been in playoff mode for a while, they had to close the season 22-9 just to make the playoffs. Orlando was ready. Toronto, not so much.

This series is far from over, but now it falls to the Raptors to prove that this season will be different from the last few.

3) Nikola Jokic has a triple-double in playoff debut but it’s not enough as San Antonio wins. The last guy to get a triple-double in his playoff debut? You might not remember him because he’s not in the playoffs this season, but it was LeBron James back in 2006. Nikola Jokic did it on Saturday with 10 points, 14 rebounds, and 14 assists. He also played solid defense all game.

But in crunch time the Nuggets lacked a scorer who could take over. Denver and Jokic tried to play the team game they had all season, giving up good shots looking for great shots, when what they needed was someone to just take and make a few shots.

Nobody was making shots, the Nuggets shooting woes from the end of the regular season followed them into the playoffs. Maybe Mike Malone needs to put Rocky in the game.

The Spurs were poised under pressure. Shocking, I know. They played like a franchise that has been to the playoffs for 22 straight years. Derrick White was the best Spur on the floor, with 16 points on offense and defense that smothered Jamal Murray on the other end. The Spurs needed that on a night DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge combined to shoot 33.3 percent.

The Spurs were the trendy first-round upset pick and in Game 1 they showed why — they knew how to execute under pressure.

Now the pressure is ramped up on the Nuggets for Game 2, we’ll see how they respond.

Watch D.J. Augustin’s game-winning three, Magic upset Raptors 104-101

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TORONTO — For the Orlando Magic, the first game of the playoffs felt a lot like the final few weeks of the regular season: high stakes, small margins, and a big win at the end of the day.

D.J. Augustin scored 25 points, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left, and the Magic beat the Toronto Raptors 104-101 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series on Saturday.

Kawhi Leonard got a final shot for Toronto, but missed the rim with his 3-pointer from the top.

Orlando went 22-9 over the final 31 games of the season to clinch its first playoff berth since 2012.

“I think it helps,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said of his team’s tough regular-season finish. “We’ve been playing games that we had to win and were meaningful games for a while.”

Nikola Vucevic, who scored 11 points, said Orlando’s stretch drive help the team’s mental preparation for the grind of the postseason.

“Throughout this last month, we were able to fight through a lot of different adversity and it has kind of prepared us for the playoffs,” Vucevic said.

And, when crunch time arrived in Game 1, Orlando was entirely unfazed.

“We made a bunch of big plays in the last three or four minutes,” Clifford said.

Aaron Gordon had 10 points and 10 rebounds, Evan Fournier scored 16 points and Jonathan Isaac had 11 as the No. 7-seeded Magic became the latest team to beat Toronto in the opening game of a playoff series. The Raptors are 2-14 in playoff openers.

“We know who we are and this is one game,” Toronto’s Kyle Lowry said. “We’ve got to make sure we know who we are and execute what we can do. When we do what we are supposed to do, we are really, really good.”

Leonard scored 25 points, Pascal Siakam had 24 and Fred VanVleet had 14 for the second-seeded Raptors, who reclaimed the lead after trailing by 16 points in the second quarter, but couldn’t hold on down the stretch.

Toronto got 13 points apiece from Danny Green and Marc Gasol, but Lowry finished scoreless, missing all seven of his attempts. Lowry did have eight assists and seven rebounds.

“He had some really good looks that he’s normally going to knock down,” coach Nick Nurse said. “I’m sure he’ll bounce back and play a little better in the next game.”

Leonard hit a tying 3 with 1:35 left, then put Toronto up 101-99 with a jumper at 1:02. Augustin made a layup to tie it again with 44 seconds left, then connected from long range for the fourth time to win the game.

Gasol said he and Leonard got their defensive assignments mixed up on Augustin’s decisive shot, leaving the guard wide open.

“It was a mistake made on that play,” Gasol said. “We miscommunicated and he made a good shot.”

Augustin’s 3 was the seventh lead change of the final quarter and the 13th of the game.

“When I saw the opening, I shot the ball with confidence and it went in,” he said.

Augustin made 9 of 13 attempts, going 4 of 5 from beyond the arc.

Leonard made all four of his attempts in the first and added a pair of free throws. He scored 11 points in the opening quarter as Toronto led 30-25.

Leading 42-41 with 3:46 remaining in the second, Orlando got 10 points from Augustin in a 15-0 run that put the Magic up 57-41 with 55 seconds left. Siakam stopped Toronto’s drought with a jump shot, and Gasol and Green added 3-pointers but the Raptors trailed 57-49 at halftime.

Leonard scored five points as Toronto used a 12-2 spurt at the start of the third, reclaiming the lead on Gasol’s 3 at 8:19. Siakam scored eight points in the third, while Leonard and Green each had seven, as the Raptors took a narrow 76-75 lead to the fourth.