Bulls survive Knicks in 2OT

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Bulls survive Knicks in 2OT

NEW YORK -- Rookie Lauri Markkanen scored a season-high 33 points, Kris Dunn shook off a nightmarish shooting night to make the tiebreaking basket in the second overtime, and the Chicago Bulls beat the New York Knicks 122-119 on Wednesday night.

Dunn had missed 14 of his first 17 shots before banking in a runner with just under a minute left in the second extra period, and Markkanen finished it off by making two free throws with 6.8 seconds remaining.

Robin Lopez and Denzel Valentine each scored 20 points for the Bulls in their third narrow victory over the Knicks this season. Markkanen made eight 3-pointers though his highlight play was at the rim, when he threw down a dunk over Knicks center Enes Kanter.

Michael Beasley 26 points and 12 rebounds off the bench for the Knicks, who lost for the eighth time in 10 games. Kristaps Porzingis finished with 24 points, including a dunk at the buzzer to force the second OT.

Lopez then had the first two baskets of the second OT, and after the Knicks got the next two, Dunn made his shot to make it 118-116.

Jarrett Jack had 16 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Knicks, but threw away a pass after coming up with a steal with the Knicks down two late in the second OT (see full recap).

Paul scores season-high 37 in Rockets’ victory
HOUSTON -- Chris Paul scored a season-high 37 points, and Eric Gordon added 30 as the Houston Rockets withstood a late run to get a 121-112 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

The Blazers used a big run to cut a 14-point deficit to three with about three minutes left. Houston responded with a 6-2 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Paul, to make it 111-104 about a minute later.

Damian Lillard made a layup on the other end, but Paul cut through three defenders to make an off-balance layup to push the lead to 113-106.

The Blazers couldn't get the ball in after a timeout, Houston got the ball back and Clint Capela added two free throws to secure the victory.

The Rockets won their second straight and improved to 3-2 in five games without James Harden, who is out for at least two weeks with a hamstring injury.

Lillard scored 29 in his return after missing the last two games with a strained right calf, and C.J. McCollum added 24 points as the Blazers saw a three-game winning streak snapped (see full recap).

Butler stars as Timberwolves cruise past Thunder
MINNEAPOLIS -- Jimmy Butler scored 26 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had eight assists for the Minnesota Timberwolves in a 104-88 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.

Andrew Wiggins added 19 points, and Karl-Anthony Towns had 18 points and 12 rebounds as Minnesota pulled away in the second half to win its third game in a row at home and 10th in its last 13 overall.

Russell Westbrook had 38 points and 10 rebounds, but Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Thunder had a tough time shooting. Westbrook was 15 of 23 from the field, while his teammates were 17 of 56 (30.3 percent).

Anthony scored 15 points on 5-of-19 shooting, while George finished 5 of 14 for 13 points for Oklahoma City, which has lost five of seven.

The first three games between the teams were decided by a combined nine-point margin. Minnesota won the first two games by a total of five points. The Thunder came back with a four-point win at home on Dec. 1 as George scored 36 points (see full recap).

Who needs Kawhi? Aldridge drops 45 in Spurs' OT win

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Who needs Kawhi? Aldridge drops 45 in Spurs' OT win

SAN ANTONIO -- LaMarcus Aldridge had a career-high 45 points, helping San Antonio overcome Donovan Mitchell's 35-point performance for Utah in the Spurs' 124-120 overtime victory over the Jazz on Friday night.

The Spurs won their sixth straight and beat the Jazz for the first time in four meetings this season.

Utah's 12-game road winning streak came to an end, but only after Mitchell had 14 points in the fourth quarter, including three 3-pointers in the final two minutes to force overtime.

San Antonio remained sixth in the Western Conference with the same record as fifth-place New Orleans, a half-game behind Oklahoma City for fourth. Utah remained eighth in the West.

After free throws by Spurs guards Manu Ginobili and Patty Mills and a dunk by Jazz center Rudy Gobert put San Antonio up 114-111, Mitchell drained his third 3-pointer of the fourth with 3.6 seconds remaining to force overtime.

Mills, who finished with 23 points, had six points in overtime as the Spurs capped an undefeated six-game homestand.

Pacers use late run to edge Clippers
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bojan Bogdanovic scored 28 points and the Indiana Pacers used a late 9-0 run to hold on for a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, putting them on the precipice of clinching a playoff spot.

The Pacers won for only the second time in five games but can clinch a playoff berth with one more win or a Detroit loss.

Los Angeles' fading playoff aspirations were dealt another blow. The Clippers are now three games behind Utah for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. Utah was playing later Friday.

Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 27 points and DeAndre Jordan finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Clippers lost for the fifth time in six games (see full recap).

Jokic, Murray lift Nuggets over Wizards
WASHINGTON -- Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray each scored 25 points to keep the Denver Nuggets' playoff hopes alive by beating the Washington Wizards 108-100 on Friday night.

The one-two punch of Jokic and Murray plus outside shooting from Will Barton allowed the Nuggets to withstand a third-quarter charge from the Wizards and maintain their sights on one of the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. Denver went into the night two games back of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz and shot 50 percent from 3-point territory to stay very much in the race with nine games remaining.

Bradley Beal led Washington with 24 points as it failed to gain ground in a competitive East where five teams are separated in the standings by four games (see full recap).

Brett Brown's top competition for Coach of the Year

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Brett Brown's top competition for Coach of the Year

The Coach of the Year award in every sport typically comes down to: 

1. Which team overachieved the most?

2. Which team increased its win total the most?

3. Which team that fits both descriptions has a media-friendly coach?

Brett Brown is a deserving candidate this season. Not saying he'll win, or even that he stands out as the most deserving, but he's more than just "in the conversation."

Before getting to the other candidates and their likelihood of winning, let's acknowledge why Brown deserves serious consideration. 

We all knew the Sixers would be better this season. A second year of Joel Embiid and the first of Embiid and Ben Simmons. Finally, a good veteran shooter in JJ Redick.

But did you expect the Sixers to up their win total by 20 games? Currently, that's what they're on pace to do.

Did you expect them to pick up wins over the Rockets, Spurs, Celtics, Raptors, Cavs and Spurs again? Yeah, the Sixers have laid some eggs this season, but they have just as many high-quality wins.

Factor in the continued development of players like Dario Saric and T.J. McConnell and it should be clear that Brown has gotten a whole lot out of this team.

Now, on to the other candidates. The way I see it, there are six in addition to Brown: 

• Dwane Casey (Raptors)
• Nate McMillan (Pacers)
• Brad Stevens (Celtics)
• Mike D'Antoni (Rockets)
• Quin Snyder (Jazz)
• Doc Rivers (Clippers)

Just being realistic here, I think Casey wins it. The Raptors will be the 1-seed in the East and may even end up with the NBA's second-best record given the Warriors' injury report.

It goes beyond that, though. Toronto revamped its system to place less stress on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The result has been the emergence of the NBA's best bench. DeRozan is also now shooting threes, a big benefit to the Raps' spacing.

Lastly, Casey is a media darling. He's done the podcast circuit this season, and his long tenure as a personable NBA assistant will help him with voters.

Nate McMillan
McMillan's Pacers have overachieved, but that has so much more to do with Victor Oladipo than anything else. That's not meant to discredit McMillan, but the gap between expectations and reality for Oladipo is the reason the Pacers have surprised. Unless the Pacers finish several games ahead of the Sixers, I can't see McMillan finishing ahead of Brown.

Brad Stevens
The Celtics have faded of late, mostly because of mounting injuries to their backcourt. Stevens deserves a ton of credit for keeping this team 25-plus games over .500 with so many young pieces, but he won't finish ahead of Casey.

Doc Rivers
Rivers' case is dependent on whether or not the Clippers make the playoffs. The Clips, based on talent alone, have no business being 38-33 in a loaded West. They just play extremely hard and have been maybe the hungriest NBA team this season — so many contributions from guys on two-way contracts.

But LA is now 2½ games out of the 8-seed, so we can almost close the book on Rivers for COY.

Mike D'Antoni
The Rockets have been the best team this season and D'Antoni is a huge reason why. The Chris Paul addition is a bigger reason why, but the Rockets are where they are because of how Paul has been integrated into D'Antoni's system, and because Houston is finally focused on defense. D'Antoni should finish in the top three of the Coach of the Year voting, but it's hard to win when you add a veteran superstar in the offseason.

Predicted order of finish: Casey, Brown, Snyder, D'Antoni, Stevens, McMillan, Rivers