DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan destroys Chris Boucher and Spurs bench can’t watch

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DeMar DeRozan was back in his old stomping grounds in Toronto, and decided to remind the fans there he could do more than nail pull-up midrange jumpers.

DeRozan can still dunk. Chris Boucher paid the price.

That. Was. Nasty.

Boucher had the right attitude about it.

By the way, San Antonio went on to win that game 105-104 behind 25 from DeRozan.

Three Things to Know: Vintage Kyrie Irving gives Brooklyn offense much needed spark

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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) Vintage Kyrie Irving gives Brooklyn offense much-needed spark. The Brooklyn Nets offense has been as grey as their court in recent weeks. The Nets are just coming off a recent seven-game losing streak where their offense scored less than a point per possession (95.1 points per 100 possessions through those seven) and the team had a net rating of -12.

Enter Kyrie Irving and his handles and sharpshooting on Sunday night.

Back on the court after missing 26 games, Irving had 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting (in 20 minutes of action), he fit in well next to Spencer Dinwiddie at guard, and the Nets rolled the Hawks 108-86.

Irving looked sharp, essentially getting wherever he wanted on the court and taking whatever shot he wanted — not looking like a player who had just missed two months due to right shoulder bursitis (Irving admitted as much), an injury that required a cortisone shot to get him back on the court (just a week ago Irving would not rule out season-ending surgery). To be fair, the Nets gave Irving a soft landing spot to return, at home against the Hawks and their 27th ranked defense (and Atlanta was without Trae Young for the night).

The tests get tougher for Irving with Brooklyn’s next games being a back-to-back against red-hot Utah (skip ahead to No. 2 of our three things) then Philadelphia. Two outstanding defensive teams.

Brooklyn needs Irving’s spark, and to get used to playing with a more ball-dominant player. The Nets had fallen three games below .500, which is still good enough for the seven seed in the East, but they didn’t look at all like a threat. It may be difficult for the Nets to climb any higher than seventh — they are 5.5 games back of a good six-seed Indiana team that will get Victor Oladipo back — but with Irving having the ball in his hands, the Nets become a much more dangerous team, especially in a seven-game playoff series.

Also, well done by the Brooklyn fans giving former Net Vince Carter a standing ovation in his final game against his former team. Maybe one day Carter’s number will be retired and hanging in the rafters over Nets games.

2) Jazz win ninth in a row, Nuggets beat Clippers, and seeds 2-5 in the West are insanely tight. Sunday morning, the Los Angeles Clippers woke up in second place in the Western Conference, trailing only that team down the hall. They went to bed Sunday night fifth in the West, opening the playoffs on the road if they started today.

The two through five seeds in the West — four teams — are separated by just half a game right now. With a little more than half a season to go, the race for seeding at the top of the West is going to be must-watch television.

The Jazz are on a nine-game win streak after knocking off the Wizards 127-116 Sunday. Over the course of those nine games, the Jazz have the best offense in the NBA, averaging a ridiculous 121.9 points per 100 possessions (against a decidedly soft schedule, but still). On Sunday, it was Bojan Bogdanovic’s 31 points leading the way, but it should be noted the Jazz are undefeated since adding Jordan Clarkson to their bench.

Combine that with a balanced Nuggets attack — seven players in double figures — knocking off the Clippers (without an injured Paul George) and you have the Nuggets jumping up to the two seed and the Jazz are third. At least for today.

The battle for seeding at the top of the West is going to be intense through the second half of the NBA season.

3) DeMar DeRozan detonated on Chris Boucher. This dunk by DeRozan — back in his old stomping grounds in Toronto — is amazing. However, the best part is the reaction of the bench.

The Spurs went on to win that game 105-104 behind 25 from DeRozan.

Three Things to Know: Jimmy Butler blowing kisses, lobbing verbal bombs at T.J. Warren

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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) Jimmy Butler was stirring the pot by blowing kisses, lobbing verbal bombs at Pacers’ T.J. Warren. Jimmy Butler is not just an All-Star but also an All-NBA level…

Pot stirrer.

And player. Butler likely starts in the All-Star Game in Chicago next month, and if not he’s certainly in the game. As things stand now, Butler is highly likely to make an All-NBA team at the end of the season. He’s earned all of that, averaging 20.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 6.6 assists a game to lead Miami and make them the surprise No. 2 seed in the East.

Butler, however, does not shy away from mixing it up. He likes a little tension around him, and he’s comfortable when other people are uncomfortable. Just ask Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Or, the Pacers’ T.J. Warren. Butler and Warren were barking at each other for much of the game Wednesday night, and it was building up to something. This is the play where everything really got started and the referees jumped in the mix.

The play was reviewed and the referees left as a common foul. Which was the right call, but did not ease the tensions. Soon after, the duo was matched up again, and Warren drew the offensive foul on Butler — then walked behind him, clapping his hands and taunting him. That got Warren a technical and an ejection.

Butler’s reaction? He blew Warren kisses.

Butler was not done. After the game, Butler ripped Warren, dropping an F-bomb as an adjective to emphasize his point.

Then Butler took the fight to social media.

Suddenly that March game looks like must-see TV. Because Butler likes to stir the pot.

2) Cleveland coach John Beilein called his players “thugs” — he says on accident, he meant to say “slugs.” When speaking to a room of mostly African-American young men, the term “thug” is a loaded one. It’s full of implications (the kind David Stern tried to sweep under the rug with a dress code).

Cleveland coach John Beilein called his players “thugs” during a film session on Wednesday. In showing the players clips of their defense, he tried to pay his team a compliment by saying they were no longer playing like “thugs.”

That silenced the room and was leading to some growing frustration among players — and the Cavaliers have had their fill of frustration lately. Made aware of what he said, Beilein contacted his players to apologize and say he meant to say “slugs.” This is the money quote of what Beilein told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I meant to say slugs, as in slow moving. We weren’t playing hard before, and now we were playing harder. I meant it as a compliment.”

Do you believe him? While that will become a sports talk radio topic all day, it doesn’t really matter.

Do his players believe him? That will decide Beilein’s fate. Was this a one-time, fluke thing, and the players know their coach well enough to take him at his word? Or, is there a little more to this, and will other stories leak out in the coming days?

I don’t know the answer. What I do know is Beilein left the University of Michigan at age 66 to take over the Cavaliers job this season, signing a five-year contract, and he hasn’t impressed. The Cavaliers are 10-27, there is no team identity, nor have we seen the young Cavs players — such as Collin Sexton and Darius Garland — developing under his guidance. Players are acting out and don’t seem on the same page with the coach.

The coaching questions are not enough to get Beilein fired in the first year of a five-year contract. However, if he loses the players over this “thug” comment then the dynamics are very different. This story is not over by a long shot.

3) James Harden, Trae Young make history as first opposing players in NBA history to record 40-point triple-doubles in one game. James Harden and Trae Young were putting on a show.

Harden scored 41 points with 10 assists and 10 rebounds (although he wasn’t efficient shooting 9-of-34 on the night, including 4-of-20 from three). Young had 42 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

It’s an interesting bit of history and a fun show for everyone watching. By the way, the Rockets got the win, in case anyone still cares about the outcome of games.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Kemba Walker was ejected from an NBA game for the first time in his career. KYP — know your personnel. NBA coaches say it to players all the time. It means to know that Giannis Antetokounmpo will go to the spin move in the paint on a drive, be prepared for it (and good luck). Don’t bite on DeMar DeRozan’s pump fake. Certain players only want to go left. The list could go on, but the idea is clear — know the players and their tendencies.

Referees need to do the same thing. For example, Kemba Walker is not a hothead, which is why he’s never been thrown out of an NBA game.

Until Wednesday. Midway through the third quarter of a Celtics loss to the Spurs, Walker got pancaked by LaMarcus Aldridge. Just flattened. Walker thought it was a foul and popped up angry walked over to rookie referee Evan Scott to protest the call — and got a quick ejection.

Here is the official explanation from the referees.

That was a bad call and the league should rescind the second technical. The first one, with Walker cussing at the referee, that’s an earned technical. The second one, without trying to have a conversation with Walker, was an overreaction. There needs to be more dialogue between referees and coaches, and some understanding of the situation. Basketball is an emotional game, Walker just got flattened, the officials have to give the player some space to vent (this is a two-way street, the players need not to fire up the crowd — Walker didn’t — and give the referees some respect, too). This felt like when refs put up the “stop sign” hand before the player has even gotten to them to say something — that’s not the way to deal with players or coaches. Have a conversation.

Those technical fouls did not cost the Celtics the game, but they did help change momentum. The Celtics were on a 20-7 run and had cut the Spurs lead to seven. This call led to five three throws for San Antonio — two for Walker’s two technicals, one for a Brad Stevens technical, and two for the shooting foul called on the play — and when the Spurs hit four of them it stretched the lead back up to double digits.

NBA Power Rankings: Bucks, Lakers hold on to top two spots heading into showdown

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The Bucks and Lakers both dropped a game this week but kept the top two slots in these power rankings heading into their showdown Thursday night. Dallas has climbed to third, but it will be tough to stay there with Luka Doncic out for a couple of weeks.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (24-4, Last Week No. 1). Their 18-game win streak came to an end with an off night against Dallas, but they got that win streak with elite play on both ends: The second-best defense and the second-best offense in the NBA over the last 15 games. Even with that, Thursday night against the Lakers is the real measuring stick. Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. LeBron James in a potential Finals preview (except for Eric Bledsoe, Kyle Kuzma, and others out injured, plus the fact both teams will evolve a lot before the playoffs even start).

Lakers small icon 2. Lakers (24-4, LW No. 2). If anyone needed evidence of what Anthony Davis means to this Lakers team, watch the video of the loss to Indiana from Tuesday night (which snapped the Lakers 14-game road win streak). Indiana grabbed the offensive rebound on 30% of their missed shots without Davis there to clean up the glass, and without those rebounds Los Angeles couldn’t get out and run to transition points like it normally does. Their spacing was off, too. We could go on, but you get the idea. If the Lakers want to prove they belong on top of this ranking, they get the chance Thursday night against the Bucks.

Editor’s note: Tickets to Bucks-Lakers? Click here

Mavericks small icon 3. Mavericks (18-8, LW 4). No Luka Doncic for two weeks (at least, due to a sprained ankle) is a huge test for Dallas — they passed the first part beating Milwaukee on the road. The Mavs offense will not be the same without the guy giving them 29.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game, the guy who runs their pick-and-roll based game. Where Dallas can make up for it is on the defensive end (they are 6.1 per 100 better defensively when he sits this season), and with Kristaps Porzingis stepping up.

Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (21-8, LW 5). Paul George has become as dangerous a three-point shooter as there is in the league. PG13 is hitting 40.3% from three on 9.8 attempts from beyond the arc per game (only James Harden and Buddy Hield attempt more). The Clippers face the Rockets Thursday night in what will be an interesting chess match: Last time these teams met the Clippers doubled and trapped Harden out near the mid-court line, and while the Clippers won the game (122-119) Harden still had 37 points and the Rockets’ offense was not slowed. What strategy does Doc Rivers test out this game?

Sixers small icon 5. 76ers (20-8, LW 6). Philadelphia is Jekyll and Hyde when it comes to being in the Wells Fargo Center or on the road. Philly is 14-0 at home, 6-8 on the road, and the real difference is on defense — the Sixers allow less than a point per possession (98.9 defensive net rating) and play with more emotion and energy at home. The Sixers have a +12 net rating at home and -2 net rating on the road. The Sixers have 4-of-5 coming up at home including the Bucks on Christmas Day.

Celtics small icon 6. Celtics (17-7, LW 3). How much Marcus Smart means to the Celtics defense was evident in losses last week to Indiana and Philadelphia, games where they gave up at least 115 points to teams outside the top 12 offenses in the league. Those games — particularly against the Sixers — exposed the lack of bench depth outside Smart on this team, the challenge is the Celtics do not have great options to trade for more depth at the deadline. Boston also doesn’t have a good answer for Joel Embiid (few teams do), and that will be a playoff challenge if they meet.

Pacers small icon 7. Pacers (19-9, LW 10). The Myles Turner/Domantas Sabonis big man combo is starting to work: In the last 15 games, they have played nearly 300 minutes together and the Pacers have an impressive 100.3 defensive rating and an impressive +9 net rating in those minutes. How well it worked showed up against the Lakers (without AD) when Turner was switching onto LeBron an others late and holding his own defensively, while Sabonis scored 26. The Pacers have won four in a row and have a fun showdown with the Bucks on Sunday.

Rockets small icon 8. Rockets (18-9, LW 7). Once again, James Harden is right at the front of the discussion for MVP, scoring 38.9 points per game. Once again, he scoffs at the idea of load management and taking a night off. And, once again, he is second in the league in total minutes played (only he and Devonte' Graham are over 1,000 already) and usage rate (38.6, tied with the Greek Freak for the most). That’s a lot on his shoulders and it’s fair to wonder if he will be able to hold up physically. The Rockets have 5-of-6 coming up on the road, starting with the Clippers Thursday.

Nuggets small icon 9. Nuggets (17-8, LW 11). Denver is a team to watch heading into the trade deadline, with them trying to package players such as Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez to get an upgrade to their rotation. Both of them are expiring contracts, if there’s a team seeking some cap relief, but finding a deal that gets them quality back will not be easy. After losing 5-of-6 and struggling on the road, Denver came home and has strung together three straight wins (against a soft schedule, but still wins). Good test in Los Angeles Sunday against the Lakers.

Heat small icon 10. Heat (19-8, LW 8). Bam Adebayo is on a tear and is putting up All-Star numbers of late: 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 7.4 assists a game over his last five, all while shooting 58.1% from the field. There are no moral victories in the NBA, but the Heat’s three-point loss to the Lakers where they hung with an elite team all game was a good sign for this team heading forward. Another good test Wednesday night in Philadelphia (where the Sixers remain undefeated).

Raptors small icon 11. Raptors (18-8, LW 9). After losses in the past weeks to quality teams (Heat, Rockets, 76ers, Clippers), Toronto may want to step back, assess where they are in the East (and NBA pecking order), and see if they can make deadline trades for Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka. The challenge is the money — Gasol makes $25.5 million, Ibaka $23.2 million — because teams don’t have cap space, but expect Toronto to be active and at least talking to teams. Good test next Monday against Indiana.

Nets small icon 12. Nets (15-12, LW 12). Kyrie Irving has been out 16 games now, the Nets are 11-5 with a top-10 defense in the league during that stretch. Wilson Chandler is back from his 25-game PED suspension, and while he has come off the bench and played a limited role, he ads some much needed veteran depth at the forwards spots.

Jazz small icon 13. Jazz (16-11, LW 13). Donovan Mitchell took over late against Orlando Tuesday, which bailed out another rough performance by the Utah bench (Royce O’Neale had 11 points but the bench as a total had just 14, and they are wildly inconsistent night to night). Winners of three in a row (against a soft part of the schedule) the Jazz now head on the road for 7-of-9. Away from home the Jazz are 5-8 and are getting outscored by 2.4 PPG.

Thunder small icon 14. Thunder (12-14, LW 16). Billy Donovan doesn’t go to a three-guard lineup of Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all that much — he’s used it in 26 games but for fewer than six minutes a game — however, when he does, they destroy teams. That trio holds teams to less than a point per possession and has a net rating of +25.9 points per 100 possessions. Expect a lot of Danilo Gallinari trade rumors between now and the deadline, he is going to be on the move.

Pistons small icon 15. Pistons (11-16, LW 14). We learned this week that Andre Drummond has a strong Avocado allergy and some ceviche in Mexico sidelined him for a few days. Throw in Blake Griffin’s painful knee and you have a team that has lost two-of-three. Derrick Rose is trying to keep them afloat, averaging 16.6 points and 6.1 assists a game off the bench, and keeps making his case for Sixth Man of the Year.

Magic small icon 16. Magic (12-15, LW 15). The Magic have dropped 4-of-5 through a difficult part of the schedule, with games at Denver and at Portland still ahead. Orlando is banking n the return of All-Star center Nikola Vucevic to start their lowly offense (25th in the league). Even with all that, the Magic sit as the current eight seed in the East.

Kings small icon 17. Kings (12-15, LW 19). De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III are back in the lineup, and while that didn’t mean a win in Charlotte Tuesday it does mean Sacramento is close to whole again. Even with the loss, Sacramento has won 4-of-6, they got their best players back, and starting Dec. 23 (against Houston), the Kings have 10-of-12 at home. Make a run there and the Kings can start to solidify a playoff spot in the West (for the first time in 13 years).

Blazers small icon 18. Trail Blazers (11-16, LW 20). Carmelo Anthony’s defensive reputation was both well earned and the thing that made other teams slow to sign him this summer. However, watch him play now and he is putting in the effort on that end of the floor — he had three blocks and two steals against the Suns on Monday night. He’s active and trying, and that’s a good start. Portland starts a run of 6-of-7 at home on Wednesday against Golden State, if the Blazers are going to turn their season this is the time to do it.

Hornets small icon 19. Hornets (13-17, LW 22). Charlotte remains the team playing the most over its head this season, Cleaning the Glass has them as a 10-win team (9.6, to be specific) but the Hornets keep winning close games. Charlotte is 4-1 in their last five but they are just +8 in those games (and have a 1.2 net rating). Devonte’ Graham continues to impress every time he steps on the court, including dropping 40 on Brooklyn a week ago.

Suns small icon 20. Suns (11-15, LW 17). Deandre Ayton returned from his PED suspension Tuesday and put up 18 points and 14 rebounds in loss to the Clippers. It’s a good start, they need his offensive production in the paint. The Suns have lost four in a row and 5-of-6, with their struggling offense being the main reason for the slide.

Spurs small icon 21. Spurs (10-16, LW 21). Nobody on the Spurs was happy making history by playing in four straight overtime games, but the Spurs won three of them. Even with that it looks like they will miss the playoffs for the first time in 22 years this season, which leads to the next question: Will San Antonio be a seller at the trade deadline? Even if they want to be, is there much of a market for the big contracts of DeMar DeRozan ($27.7 million) or LaMarcus Aldridge ($26 million, but only $7 million guaranteed next season)?

Grizzlies small icon 22. Grizzlies (10-17, LW 24). Ja Morant returned to the lineup and the Grizzlies have won 4-of-5 (with the only loss coming to Milwaukee. Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. are -6.4 per 100 possessions when paired together this season, and not particularly strong on either end of the court. That comes with being a young team. Morant’s dunk over Aron Baynes may be a week old, but you can’t see this one enough.

23. Timberwolves (10-15, LW 18). Losers of seven in a row, with a frighteningly bad 123.5 defensive net rating over that stretch. Just for some context, the Wizards have the worst defense in the league this season and their net rating is 116.7. Minnesota has slid back so far they might become sellers at the trade deadline, but the play of Robert Covington during this stretch — on both ends of the court — is going to make teams hesitant, and if nothing else will lower what they could get for him.

Bulls small icon 24. Bulls (10-19, LW 23). Looking for a bright spot on a team that is stumbling along, having lost 5-of-7, a team that keeps blowing big leads? Zach LaVine has added to his offensive arsenal, becoming a far more consistent three-point shooter this season, hitting 40.5% from beyond the arc on 7.6 attempts per game.

Wizards small icon 25. Wizards (8-17, LW 25). New GM Tommy Sheppard is going to get a lot of calls before the trade deadline about the availability of Davis Bertans, who was a steal from the Spurs this past summer. He’s averaging 15.4 points a game, shooting 45.7% from three as a stretch four, and is on an expiring contract. Sheppard has said he doesn’t plan trade Bertans, but if a good enough offer comes through he has to consider it.

Knicks small icon 26. Knicks (7-21, LW 30). The Knicks got Elfrid Payton back seven games ago and the Knicks are 3-4 in those games with an offense that just looks smoother (in part because rookie R.J. Barrett doesn’t have to play out of position at the point). Their defense is still dreadful, but at least New York is competitive. Marcus Morris trade rumors are going to heat up fast as we get closer to the deadline, a lot of teams could use his toughness and shooting.

Hawks small icon 27. Hawks (6-22, LW 26). Losers of five in a row, there is disappointment and frustration in the Atlanta locker room, which has led to questions about the job safety of coach Lloyd Pierce. For now he is safe, according to reports. But there were expectations Trae Young (who has been streaky this season), John Collins (suspended for PEDs), and company would take a step forward this season. If anything, it feels like their regressed, and the defense is a disaster. Not living up to expectations is often what leads to a coach being let go.

Cavaliers small icon 28. Cavaliers (6-21, LW 29). Cleveland’s only win his their last 11 games was in overtime against the Spurs. The Cavs will be one of the most discussed teams in the run-up to the deadline, but Kevin Love’s contract makes him very difficult to trade. Tristan Thompson makes more sense for a lot of teams, if he is made available.

Warriors small icon 29. Warriors (5-23 LW 28). Looking for a positive? Alan Smailagic, the No. 39 pick in the last draft, just had a 29-point game for Santa Cruz in the G-League. Expect a lot of D’Angelo Russell trade discussion in the run up to the deadline in February, but I keep hearing from sources that is far more likely a summer trade, not one rushed in February.

Pelicans small icon 30. Pelicans (6-22, LW 27). Brandon Ingram has played his way into a max contract this summer: 24.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Sources say he is not available via trade (J.J. Redick and Jrue Holiday, however, are). Is Ingram someone the Pelicans, or any other team, should feel comfortable maxing out? No. But in a down market, a guy who can get buckets the way he can is going to get paid. Also, nobody should blame the Pelicans for not extending him, considering health risks (blood clots last season) and they weren’t sure how he would fit next to Zion Williamson (and still aren’t).

With chance to win in OT Kings miss. And miss. And miss. And miss. Spurs win. (VIDEO)

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You can’t say the Kings didn’t have their chances to beat the Spurs in San Antonio.

Sacramento was up three with time running out in regulation, meaning the defensive plan is simple — guard the arc. Instead, two defenders follow DeMar DeRozan almost all the way into the paint, meanwhile Buddy Hield losses Marco Belinelli, and…

We get five minutes of free basketball in San Antonio.

It’s not exactly a pretty five minutes — you get what you pay for — but a Dejounte Murray bucket eventually puts the Spurs up one. The Kings come down for their final possession, get a good look, and missed. Four straight times.

All that sequence needs is the Benny Hill Yakety Sax music behind it.