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Morning Coffee – Tue, Feb 9 – Raptors Republic



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Raptors struggle to contain Jonas Valanciunas, win anyway – The Athletic

And so it was here, with three minutes to go in the third, that the game swung on a pair of coaching decisions.

The first was that of Nick Nurse. Nurse received a technical foul in the first half but said the officials told him it was on Siakam, not him. Frustrated with a no-call on a potential Valanciunas travel, he earned a second and thereby an ejection. He was understandably confused, and apparently the first technical had been changed to his name. There is a larger underlying problem here: The Raptors lead the league with 28 technical fouls, and no other team has more than 20. That persistent lack of composure has, at times, derailed things. In this instance, the brief pause and Nurse’s walk of shame to the locker room to watch the game on mute while blaring The Doors had a rallying effect.

The second was Jenkins opting to only briefly play Dieng in Valanciunas’ spot. It’s true that Dieng had a few bad possessions, but he’s also leading the league in 3-point shooting and has generally been quite good in his backup role. Jenkins instead rolled with a smaller lineup with Kyle Anderson and Tillman as the frontcourt, with a splash of personal favourite John Konchar. That group was too light on shooting and athleticism to get the traditional full benefit of a smaller lineup, and a Fred VanVleet-led bench unit took full advantage, getting stops and getting out on the break.

The minutes Valanciunas was on the bench produced a 19-4 run for the Raptors. That’s not entirely the Valanciunas effect, of course, but even when the Raptors are still trying to find themselves, they’re not a team opponents want to let back in the game. VanVleet took over the lead initiator role on his way to 32 points and nine assists. Siakam found his 3-point shot — and the joy in his game, from the look of it — on his way to 32 points and six assists, his fourth 30-point game in the previous six. Norman Powell scored 29, too, nearly achieving the rare three-by-30 in the box score.

More important than the aggressive, opportunistic offence was a rediscovered level of defence. That defence had been quite shaky most of the night, to put it politely. The comeback and pull-away stretches were far more characteristic, forcing seven turnovers and holding Memphis to 7-of-26 shooting over the final 15 minutes. Siakam, in particular, was electric on defence, especially once he was moved closer to the interior to help Boucher after Valanciunas sealed him deep in the post on a couple of possessions. DeAndre’ Bembry did a terrific job on Ja Morant, too, leaving too much of the offence running through Anderson and Dillon Brooks, who cooled off late. (Brooks was quite good at both ends up to that point, a nice sign for the Canada Basketball side of things.) Boucher used his speed in transition to be a factor while being shifted some on defence.

VanVleet Siakam lead Raptors furious comeback win Grizzlies – Yahoo!

Four — Leader: VanVleet stepped up when the Raptors needed him most. He was relatively quiet early on, blanketed by the aggressive defense of Canadian forward Dillon Brooks, but he imposed himself with 12 points in the third quarter to assert control over the team. VanVleet amped up the pace of the game, and was personally looking for his shot in every way possible, whether it was through threes, midrange jumpers, or by getting to the foul line. VanVleet also punctuated the win with a driving layoff to Chris Boucher, who followed up the play with a two-handed dunk that was the highlight of the game. VanVleet’s insistence offensively paid off with 12 trips to the foul line, and he was also masterful in finding the open shooter once he sucked in the defense. It’s just yet another example of VanVleet stepping up as the Raptors’ most important player, and this is already the fourth time VanVleet has led the Raptors to victory in Lowry’s absence this season.

Recap: Toronto Raptors rally late and overwhelm Memphis Grizzlies, 128-113 – Raptors HQ

The defensive turnaround coincided with some offensive brilliance by Fred VanVleet, who added an excellent night of his own to join Powell and Siakam. VanVleet was masterful in the second half, getting to the rim, hitting tough mid-rangers, and finding his teammates for some easy buckets on his way to 32 points on only 14 shots and nine assists.

When it was all said and done, Powell, Siakam and VanVleet had combined for 93 points, and they all contributed in turning an ugly three quarters into a comfortable win in the fourth. From the moment Nurse was ejected until the final buzzer sounded, the Raptors outscored the Grizzlies 43-19.

The time after Nurse’s ejection served as a reminder of how good this team can be when they are locked in and communicating defensively. They overwhelmed the Grizzlies with speed and length, moving as one cohesive unit.

That said, they can’t rely on an external spark every night, and will need to bring that same intensity from the jump against quality opponents. For now, however, they have something to build on as they continue their road trip on Wednesday, taking on the Washington Wizards.

Quick Recap: Grizzlies lose their fourth in a row – Grizzly Bear Blues

The Raptors held all the momentum at the start of the fourth — Memphis took a quick timeout after Toronto obtained a four-point lead, culminating a 16-2 run that originated in the third. Unfortunately for Memphis, the Raptors lead continued to balloon from this point on. Toronto turned 15 Grizzlies mistakes into 26 points, a number that ultimately decided the outcome of this one. Norman Powell lit up Memphis for a season-high 29 points on 10-for-17 accuracy from the field. The Grizzlies got demolished in the fourth to the tune of 34-16 and fell 128-113.

LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, and the Charlotte Hornets are next up on the Beale Street Bears calendar. The point guard battle between Ball and Morant should make for some compelling basketball. Tune in on Wednesday at 7 pm CT.

Without Lowry, Raptors’ young leaders step up to earn challenge-filled win – Sportsnet

No matter what side of that argument you might fall on, there’s no denying that the Raptors were able to play better because they managed to tighten up their defence after Nurse was forced to watch the game from the visitors’ locker room, and it was largely thanks to Toronto’s young leadership stepping up in Lowry’s absence.

“We all challenge each other to play harder and be more into it and that didn’t just include the five guys that were on the floor,” said VanVleet. “That was also the guys on the bench. We definitely went out there and earned it after giving up 70 in the first half. A 27-point third and a 16-point fourth. You can live with that. You can survive that way. So hopefully we’ll build on that moving forward.”

Added Norman Powell: “It was focus. That was the main talk at halftime. Top to bottom, guys got on each other, holding each other accountable, making sure we weren’t blame shifting or anything like that. You made a mistake? You own it and do better the next time. And I think top to bottom we did that in the second half. We got stops and we played together.”

And Pascal Siakam: “I just think at half coach came in [asking for] a lot more energy just from the bench, all the coaches [said the same]. I just felt like it’s always on the players to bring energy, but it’s on all of us, the players, the coaching staff, the players on the bench, we all have to bring it.”

Bring it the Raptors certainly did — especially the aforementioned trio, who combined for 93 points and came a Powell-point shy of becoming the first Raptors trio to score 30 or more points each all in the same game.

And in particular, Siakam was great, scoring 32 points on 11-of-18 shooting, including a welcome 5-for-8 mark from three-point range, snapping a 9-for-47 funk from deep he’s been in for the last 15 games.

“Yeah, it’s been a while,” said Siakam. “I feel good, man. Finally making some shots. It’s about time.”

No regrets two years after trade, but Raptors sure miss Valanciunas –

Whatever sparked them – whether it was Nurse getting tossed, VanVleet’s impassioned speech during a huddle, or maybe they just got tired of watching Valanciunas bully them in the paint and flipped the switch – it worked. Boucher played the final 17 minutes and mostly held his own in a tough matchup with JV, though Toronto sent multiple defenders at the Grizzles centre when he caught the ball in the post and attacked him in the pick and roll on offence – a formula opposing teams used to use to neutralize Valanciunas when he was with the Raps.

In that regard, Monday’s game also served as a reminder of why Dwane Casey would often close games with Valanciunas on the bench, or why Nurse opted to platoon him with Ibaka. For all of his strengths offensively, there are still ways of exploiting his physical limitations on defence, especially late in games or when teams play small.

He’s not a perfect modern big, though he has worked hard to adapt his game over the years, but he makes up for that by excelling at the things he does well; rebounding, scoring efficiently around the bucket and getting to the free throw line – all things that the Raptors badly need from the centre position.

Baynes appeared to be turning the corner a bit after his rough start to the season, but there’s no way to sugar coat it – he’s been a major disappointment, even based on the relatively modest expectations the team had when they signed him to help fill the void at the five. Alex Len, the other traditional big man that they added, was waived after a forgettable nine-game stint with the team.

Outside of Boucher, who’s had a strong start to the campaign and gives them a different look, the Raptors are still searching for answers at the position. More and more, it’s looking like that answer isn’t currently on the roster.​

Kyle Lowry hurt, Nick Nurse ejected … and Raptors dig deep to rally past Grizzlies | The Star

The turnaround was shocking. The Raptors had been brutal defensively before the ejection, giving up 70 points in the first half while showing very little fight or toughness. But they had a string of eight consecutive stops to key the 28-6 run that put the game away. They held Memphis to 16 points in the fourth quarter and only 33 in the entire second half.

“We all challenge each other to play harder and be more into it, and that didn’t just include the five guys that were on the floor,” said guard Fred VanVleet, who had 32 points and nine assists. “That was also the guys on the bench. We definitely went out there and earned it after giving up 70 in the first half. A 27-point third and a 16-point fourth. You can live with that. You can survive that way. So hopefully we’ll build on that moving forward.”

The Raptors played the majority of the game without Kyle Lowry, who left with back spasms in the second quarter, and the entire game without OG Anunoby, still out with a calf injury. Lowry played fewer than eight minutes, making his only two field-goal attempts before he walked gingerly to the locker room.

“I just talked to him and he said he didn’t know when it happened,” Nurse said of Lowry. “(He said) ‘I hit those first two floaters and then it started bothering me.’”

The Raptors could recall Malachi Flynn from his G League assignment near Orlando, but he would have to spend at least a little time in COVID-19 quarantine before he would be allowed to play. The road trip concludes with games in Washington on Wednesday and Boston on Friday.

Norm Powell had a season-high six three-pointers as part of a 29-point night, while Pascal Siakam drilled five threes and scored 32.

Jonas Valanciunas was outstanding for Memphis with 27 points and 20 rebounds, the third 20-20 game of his career.

Raptors turn it around late to steal win in Memphis | Toronto Sun

Jonas Valanciunas, the former Raptor playing just his second game since a five-game absence due to a bout with COVID-19, almost won this one by himself returning to the starting five with 27 points and 20 rebounds.

Of those 20 boards, 10 were offensive rebounds as the Lithuanian who spent the first 6 1/2 years of his NBA career in Toronto wreaked early havoc on his former teammates.

But in the second half and most notably in that fourth quarter, the Raptors started sending multiple bodies towards Valanciunas preventing him from getting his team those second chances or simply scoring himself.

The game really seemed to turn with the ejection of Nurse for that second technical, a technical he assumed was his first only to find out after the game that an earlier tech he was told was issued to Siakam, was in fact given to him.

Suddenly the defensive energy that seemed to have been lagging since the win in Brooklyn picked up again as the Raptors went on a 26-8 run that at one point included eight consecutive defensive stops.

The Raptors got the lead back up to as many as 12 at one point before the Grizzlies found their rhythm again and made things tense for a while.

But that was the last push from the Grizzlies who lost for the fourth time in a row as the Raptors re-established their double-digit lead.

VanVleet led the comeback taking over from his point guard position but from a scoring standpoint he had plenty of support from his fellow veterans in Norm Powell and Siakam.

NBA Power Rankings – Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are figuring things out

This Week: 18
Last Week: 21
2020-21 record: 10-13

Toronto remains a team in flux. Since their 2-8 start, the Raptors have gone 8-5, posting the East’s third-best record — and the league’s sixth-best offense — during that stretch. But that still leaves Toronto under .500 at this point in the season and in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. Toronto is now dealing with starting forward OG Anunoby’s absence with a calf injury.

NBA Power Rankings: Can Anyone Catch the Lakers? – The Ringer

This Week: 13
Last Week: 17

Yuta Watanabe deserves your attention.
Few things make me happier in life than good help defense. That’s why Watanabe, a third-year undrafted forward, is becoming one of my favorite players to watch.

My friend William Lou, of Yahoo Sports Canada, clearly shares my passion. He’ll only have more clips for his video as the season moves forward, because Nick Nurse is having a hard time keeping Watanabe off the floor despite his offensive limitations because of his off-ball impact and his ability to contain opposing wings in man-to-man situations.

It’s been a long and winding road to get to this point. Watanabe was born in Japan and came to the United States at age 18 to pursue basketball. After four years at George Washington University and two years spending the majority of his time in the G League, he’s making the most of his chance in the NBA. “Coming into this season, I was only on a training camp deal. So I never knew if I was going to get an opportunity like this,” Watanabe recently told reporters. “In training camp I worked hard every day, and I was able to show what I can do to the coaches, front office, and my teammates. I got the two-way, and now I’m getting my opportunities. I’m really proud of myself, and what I’m doing right now.”

NBA Power Rankings: Revisiting preseason predictions – The Athletic

This Week: 14
Last Week: 18

10-13, +1.2 net rating
Weekly slate: Win at Magic, Win at Nets, Loss at Hawks

The preseason prediction: Aron Baynes hits 100 3-pointers.

The update: Maybe it’s the swampy Tampa Bay air (is it swampy there?), or maybe he’s just not hitting shots. Whatever it is, Baynes has not been the 3-point shooter we saw last season. He’s made just 11 3-pointers through 20 games played, shooting 23.4 percent from deep. Baynes would have to hit almost two 3-pointers per game while playing every game for the rest of the season to knock down 100. The Raptors could use his shooting a little, but mostly they’ve righted the ship without him turning into a Splash Brother.

Why this ranking? A 2-1 week for the Raptors, and I just love where they’re headed as they hit this long travel trip. They’re 8-5 in their last 13 games, which doesn’t sound spectacular, but it’s a good trend.

NBA Power Rankings: Lakers, Jazz battle for top spot; Bucks turn up the defense; scorching Kings make big jump –

This Week: 15
Last Week: 22

It was a strange game against the Nets with Kevin Durant in and out of the lineup, but give the Raptors credit for hanging on for a big win. The offense exploded for Toronto in a 2-1 week, as Fred VanVleet scored 54 points in Tuesday’s win over the Magic, the most ever for an undrafted NBA player. Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell each averaged 20 points for the week, while Kyle Lowry added 17.7 points, 7.3 assists and 6.0 rebounds on 42 percent 3-point shooting. Nick Nurse said OG Anunoby could return soon, which should only help Toronto on both ends.

Power Rankings, Week 8: Lakers return to No. 1; Jazz continue to rise |

This Week: 21
Last Week: 21

Record: 10-13
Pace: 100.2 (16) OffRtg: 112.5 (8) DefRtg: 111.1 (18) NetRtg: +1.3 (11)

The Fred VanVleet story just keeps getting better. From going undrafted to grinding his way into the rotation of one of the best teams in the league, catching fire to help that team win its first championship, turning into one of the most disruptive defensive players in the league, cashing in on his bets on himself, and now, setting the franchise record with 54 points in Orlando on Tuesday. Four days before Stephen Curry had his second 50-point game of the season, VanVleet looked a lot like the two-time MVP, shooting 11-for-14 from 3-point range, and, late in the game, leveraging his hot shooting to get a handful of layups.

Kyle Lowry’s triple-double in that game went under the radar, but Lowry had his fingerprints all over the Raptors’ win in Brooklyn on Friday. Lowry scored 30 points, with a run of 11 straight turning the game around in the fourth quarter. The Raps have had five of their seven most efficient offensive games of the season in the last 10 days, but they lost two of those five.

With their loss in Atlanta (in which Lowry shot 4-for-16 with no free throw attempts) on Saturday, the Raps are 0-3 in the second games of back-to-backs, having allowed more than 124 points per 100 possessions over those three games. They have three more back-to-backs left on the first-half schedule, including one on Wednesday and Thursday to close their six-game trip.

Are Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors Headed for a Divorce? | Bleacher Report

Toronto also discussed Lowry before the February 2019 trade deadline with Memphis, according to league sources, and almost added him to that eventual Jonas Valanciunas package, which would have landed Mike Conley with the Raptors alongside Marc Gasol. Those negotiations were so advanced, sources said, Lowry himself was made aware of the talks, and Grizzlies officials even told other front offices they were nearing a deal. Toronto sniffed the market for Lowry before the 2020 deadline as well, sources said.

Finding a destination for Lowry may be more complicated this season. He’ll turn 35 the day of the trade deadline, and his one-year, $30.5 million deal will be a huge number to introduce into a team’s cap sheet.

Toronto does not appear interested in rebuilding. You don’t rebuild after paying a combined $157 million to VanVleet and OG Anunoby the summer after inking Pascal Siakam to a $130 million deal. You retool. The Raptors have extended both Nurse and general manager Bobby Webster on multiyear deals. Regardless of Ujiri’s future—he’s in the last season of his own contract—Toronto prides itself on a tradition of winning and its seven straight playoff runs. The organization is committed to that core.

Moving Lowry will likely require a return which can both benefit the Raptors’ immediate postseason aspirations and their long-term ceiling. That could mean adding a young player while eating a veteran salary, or gaining a seasoned playoff performer plus a draft pick. Perhaps all three.

Lowry’s age and the length of his contract may limit his most likely suitors to championship contenders. And while they’ve been mired in their own slow start, the Heat still hold title aspirations and have long shown interest in Lowry. “He’s a very Miami-type player,” another Eastern team official said. “Gritty, tough.”

How Tom Brady and LeBron James together introduced a new kind of GOAT to the sports world – CBS Sports

Finding a trade partner would be a somewhat difficult undertaking from a cap perspective. Lowry will earn $30 million this season, and matching such a hefty number during a pandemic season won’t be easy. That is especially true given the number of likely suitors that are hard-capped. Of the 29 teams Toronto could possibly deal Lowry to, 17 are dealing with hard caps thanks to their offseason moves. Some of those teams have more than enough room below the line to make a move, but others, like the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks, are pressed up against the apron as is. That doesn’t preclude them from making a deal, but it makes aggregating multiple salaries to reach Lowry’s extremely difficult because room needs to be left over to fill out the roster.

But a player of Lowry’s talents will have plenty of suitors. The Clippers, lacking a traditional point guard, would make sense if they could make the money work, though their lack of tradeable first-round picks will also complicate a deal. The Miami Heat are in a similar position. Lowry’s hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers, could use a more traditional point guard, and unlike the Clippers and Heat, they are not hard-capped.

What Toronto would demand in such a deal remains unclear. In what is shaping up to be a seller’s market, Toronto might have the best available player on the board. They should therefore expect to extract a decent price for Lowry in terms of draft assets and young talent, should they decide to move him. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor reported Monday that they are interested in Andre Drummond. That would suggest a desire to remain competitive with players still in or near their primes.

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Warriors top Grizzlies for No. 8 seed



Stephen Curry scored a game-high 46 points en route to his second NBA scoring title and Jordan Poole stalled a rally with a late 3-pointer Sunday afternoon as the Golden State Warriors held off the visiting Memphis Grizzlies in San Francisco for a 113-101 win to claim the No. 8 position in this week’s play-in tournament.

With Curry scoring 17 of his 46 points, the Warriors appeared to take command of the game in the third quarter, but Dillon Brooks led a Memphis comeback. Before fouling out, Brooks contributed 13 points to a 22-5 flurry that made it 91 all with 6:32 still to play.

The Grizzlies went up by two twice after that, before Poole nailed his momentum-changing 3-pointer.

The loss ended Memphis’ five-game winning streak and landed the Grizzlies in the No. 9 spot in the play-in, where they will host 10th-seeded San Antonio on Wednesday.

Lakers 110, Pelicans 98

LeBron James scored 25 points as Los Angeles won in New Orleans on the final day of the regular season, but was unable to avoid the play-in round.

James left the game midway through the fourth quarter, slightly favoring the injured right ankle that sidelined him 26 games down the stretch.

But the victory wasn’t enough for the defending NBA champions to avoid the Western Conference play-in tournament. Portland defeated Denver to claim the sixth seed so the seventh-seeded Lakers will host eighth-seeded Golden State in a play-in game Wednesday.

Jazz 121, Kings 99

Jordan Clarkson scored 33 points and made six 3-pointers and Bojan Bogdanovic added 18 points to lead Utah past Sacramento and the league’s best regular-season record.

Rudy Gobert added 13 points and 16 rebounds. Mike Conley chipped in 11 points, nine assists and six rebounds. Utah clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and will have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Terence Davis scored 20 points to lead the Kings. Damian Jones chipped in 19 points. Buddy Hield added 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for Sacramento, which rested several key players: De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes

Timberwolves 136, Mavericks 121

Anthony Edwards closed his push for NBA Rookie of the Year with 30 points, and Minnesota dominated Dallas nearly wire-to-wire for a season-ending win in Minneapolis.

Edwards capped his debut season with his eighth game of 22 or more points over the final nine. He is in contention to be Minnesota’s first Rookie of the Year since teammate Karl-Anthony Towns, who won the award in 2016.

Dallas, which locked up the No. 5 seed and will play the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs, shot 16-of-38 from 3-point range, including Kristaps Porzingis making 4 of 5. Porzingis finished with 18 points.

Heat 120, Pistons 107

Precious Achiuwa had 23 points and 10 rebounds to lead Miami to a road win over Detroit in the regular-season finale.

With little to no incentive to win the game, each team rested several starters. Miami already had the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs clinched going into the game, while Detroit was looking to clinch the league’s second-worst record and enhance its odds of winning the first pick in the NBA draft lottery.

Saddiq Bey scored 22 points and Josh Jackson scored 17 points off the bench for Detroit.

76ers 128, Magic 117

Tyrese Maxey had 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists to lift host Philadelphia over Orlando in game in which the 76ers rested all of their starters.

Since the Sixers have had already secured the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Danny Green, Seth Curry and Tobias Harris sat the game out.

Isaiah Joe scored 17 points, rookie Paul Reed added season highs of 17 and 12 rebounds, and Shake Milton contributed 15 points and nine assists for the Sixers, who improved to 49-23. George Hill added 14 points.

Nets 123, Cavaliers 109

Kevin Durant totaled 23 points, a season-high-tying 13 assists and eight rebounds in three quarters as Brooklyn Nets secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference with a wire-to-wire win over Cleveland in New York.

The Nets ended the season on a five-game winning streak and edged out the Milwaukee Bucks for the second seed. A loss by Brooklyn and a Milwaukee win over the Chicago Bulls would have pushed the Nets into the third seed due to losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bucks.

Kyrie Irving added 17 points on 7 of 11 from the field for the Nets and became the ninth player in NBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line.

Knicks 96, Celtics 92

RJ Barrett scored a game-high 22 points as New York completed a resurgent regular season and clinched the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference by hanging on for a win over visiting Boston.

The Knicks, who are headed for the playoffs for the first time since 2013, will open the quarterfinals at home next weekend against the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks.

The Celtics already were locked into the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference and the first seed in the play-in tournament. Boston, which needs to win just once to advance to the playoffs, will play the eighth-seeded Washington Wizards on Tuesday.

Pacers 125, Raptors 113

Canadian-born Oshae Brissett exploded for a career-high 31 points against his country’s displaced team, and Indiana earned a home game in the NBA’s play-in tournament with a thrashing of host Toronto.

Brissett completed a double-double with 10 rebounds, while Domantas Sabonis had one of his own with 25 points and 16 rebounds, as the Pacers snapped a two-game losing streak to clinch a tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Indiana assured it would finish tied with either Charlotte or Washington, who were playing each other in a contest that finished after the Pacers-Raptors game had ended. The Wizards secured the win 115-110 over the Hornets.

Wizards 115, Hornets 110

Bradley Beal made a go-ahead layup with 2:53 remaining as host Washington beat Charlotte to secure the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Russell Westbrook collected 23 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists and Beal added 25 points in his first contest after a three-game absence for the Wizards.

Robin Lopez posted 18 points and Rui Hachimura had 16 for Washington, which will visit the seventh-seeded Boston Celtics in the play-in round on Tuesday. Charlotte, which owns the No. 10 seed, will face the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday in Indianapolis.

Suns 123, Spurs 121

E’Twaun Moore poured in 22 points, including the deciding 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds to play, to lift visiting Phoenix past San Antonio.

Phoenix was without Devin Booker (rest), Chris Paul (rest) and Deandre Ayton (knee) as the Suns opted to keep key players on the bench despite the chance to earn the top spot in the Western Conference.

San Antonio pulled its starters at the end of the third quarter, allowing the two teams’ bench players to decide the contest. The Suns’ reserves had just enough to secure the win that forced Utah to win in Sacramento later Sunday in order to finish atop of Phoenix in the West.

Hawks 124, Rockets 95

Led by rookie Onyeka Okongwu’s career bests of 21 points and 15 rebounds, Atlanta tuned up for its first trip to the playoffs since 2017 with a win over visiting Houston in the regular-season finale on Sunday.

Okongwu, who posted his second double-double, was 10-for-13 from the field and added three assists, two steals and two blocked shots. The Hawks had eight players in double figures, including Skylar Mays with 16, John Collins with 15 and De’Andre Hunter with 14. Trae Young (sore big right toe) was limited to 16 minutes and scored 10 points with nine assists.

The Hawks will be the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference and face off with the No. 4 New York Knicks in the first round.

Bulls 118, Bucks 112

Thaddeus Young finished with 20 points and seven rebounds to help host Chicago finish its season with a victory over playoff-bound Milwaukee.

Young was one of six Bulls who scored in double figures. Coby White totaled 19 points, five rebounds and five assists, and Lauri Markkanen had 17 points and five rebounds.

Locked into the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference after the Brooklyn Nets’ victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier in the evening, the Bucks rested all of their starters — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Jrue Holiday and Donte DiVincenzo.

Thunder 117, Clippers 112

Aleksej Pokusevski scored a career-high 29 points to lead Oklahoma City to a win over Los Angeles in the final night of the NBA regular season.

The loss sent the Clippers to the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. They’ll face Dallas in the first round of the playoffs.

Pokusevski got off to a hot start and then hit a 3-pointer to break a tie in the final minute and snap the Thunder’s nine-game losing streak. He hit his first six shots and finished 10 of 19 from the floor, hitting six 3-pointers.

Trail Blazers 132, Nuggets 116

CJ McCollum scored 24 points and Portland clinched a Western Conference playoff spot with an easy victory over visiting Denver.

Damian Lillard recorded 22 points and 10 assists and Jusuf Nurkic added 20 points and 13 rebounds in the wire-to-wire victory that allowed Portland to avoid the play-in round and claim the No. 6 spot in the West.

Nikola Jokic scored 21 points in the first half before exiting for the Nuggets, who landed the third seed in West despite the setback because the Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Denver owned the tiebreaker with the Clippers.

–Field Level Media

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Djokovic outlasts Sonego to set up Rome final with Nadal



Defending champion Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal will clash for the Italian Open title after the top two seeds advanced to the final of the Masters tournament on Saturday.

Djokovic, who beat Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas 4-6 7-5 7-5 in a rain-delayed quarter-final earlier in the day, was also stretched to three sets in the semi-final before overcoming local favourite Lorenzo Sonego.

Sonego, the first Italian to make the semi-finals in Rome in 14 years after he beat world number seven Andrey Rublev earlier on Saturday, had his dream run ended by Djokovic who triumphed 6-3 6-7(5) 6-2.

Djokovic failed to convert two match points in the second set that lasted 91 minutes as Sonego forced a tiebreak, where the Serb lost a 4-2 lead.

However, the world number one controlled proceedings in the decider and advanced after Sonego’s return on match point found the net.

Earlier, Nadal beat Reilly Opelka 6-4 6-4 to move into the final in Rome for the 12th time.

The match was Nadal’s 500th on clay where he has a formidable 458-42 record and the Spaniard advanced after twice breaking the big-serving American.

“When you play these kind of matches, you know it’s not going to be a beautiful match… you’re not going to find rhythm in the match. You’re going to have just a few chances to break,” Nadal told reporters.

“It’s important not to suffer much with your serve because if you are… you feel the stress all the time. So the positive thing today, I just faced break points in one game during the whole match.”

Djokovic was trailing Tsitsipas 6-4 2-1 when Friday’s quarter-final was halted by rain but the Serb raised his game at key moments to twice come back from a break down in the deciding set.

Djokovic has a 29-27 career record against Nadal but the Spaniard has won five of their eight matches in Rome.

(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru and Sudipto Ganguly in Berhampore, India; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ed Osmond)

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New York Rangers get OK to interview Gerard Gallant for coaching job



The New York Rangers plan to interview Gerard Gallant for their head coaching job, TSN reported.

The Vegas Golden Knights, who fired Gallant during the 2019-20 season, reportedly have granted permission.

A first conversation between the Rangers and Gallant was expected to take place quickly, before Gallant heads to Latvia to coach Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship, which runs from May 21-June 6.

Gallant, 57, was the first coach of the expansion Golden Knights and led them to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. The Washington Capitals won in five games.

He was fired 49 games into his third season when the team was 24-19-6, and he had an overall record of 118-75-20 with Vegas.

He also coached the Columbus Blue Jackets (2003-07) and Florida Panthers (2014-17) and has a career record of 270-216-4-51 in 541 career games as a head coach.

The Rangers are in the midst of an overhaul. They fired head coach David Quinn and three assistant coaches on Wednesday, following the dismissal last week of team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton.

The Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth straight season after posting a 27-23-6 record in 2020-21. They finished in fifth place in the East Division.

Quinn, 54, compiled a 96-87-25 record during his three seasons as coach of the Rangers after taking over for Alain Vigneault on May 23, 2018.

–Field Level Media

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