76ers

A real fight (not an NBA one) breaks out in Magic win

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A real fight (not an NBA one) breaks out in Magic win

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Evan Fournier scored a season-high 32 points to help the Orlando Magic break a seven-game losing streak with a 108-102 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.

D.J. Augustin added 11 points and three assists in the fourth quarter, when the Magic scored 35 points after trailing by two through three.

Jimmy Butler had 28 points and seven rebounds for the Timberwolves, who had won five straight games by an average of 18.8 points.

Bismack Biyombo had 16 rebounds for the Magic, leading the team with the NBA's worst rebound percentage to a 51-37 advantage.

Fournier and Augustin hit 3-pointers during a 14-4 fourth-quarter run that put Orlando ahead to stay, and Augustin's three free throws with 2:10 left gave the Magic a nine-point lead, the biggest of the game for either team.

Jeff Teague and Karl-Anthony Towns answered with 3-pointers to keep the Timberwolves (29-17) in it, but Biyombo scored five straight Magic points to regain an eight-point lead with 50 seconds left.

A loss would have dropped Orlando (13-31) to the worst record in the NBA.

Magic guard Arron Afflalo and Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica were ejected with 7:58 left in the second quarter when they got into a fight while the game was being played.

Afflalo threw at least one punch in the fight, which came four minutes after both players had been assessed technical fouls (see full recap).

Davis scores 45 as Pelicans top C’s in overtime
BOSTON -- Anthony Davis had 45 points and 16 rebounds to lead the New Orleans Pelicans to a 116-113 overtime victory over Boston on Tuesday night, ending the Celtics' seven-game winning streak.

Davis, who scored 48 on Sunday in an overtime win in New York, had four points in overtime and blocked two shots for the Pelicans, who overcame a sluggish start to the fourth quarter and erased a five-point deficit in the final few minutes of regulation.

DeMarcus Cousins had 19 points and 15 rebounds, and Jrue Holiday added 23 points and seven assists. Ian Clark added 15 points for the Pelicans, whose size inside ended up prevailing in overtime when Boston's barrage of 3-pointers stopped falling.

Kyrie Irving led Boston with 27 points and Al Horford had 14 points and nine rebounds. Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown added 16 points apiece for the Celtics, who attempted a season-high 50 3-pointers.

Rather than challenge Davis and Cousins inside, the Celtics lived outside and it cost them in overtime when they went just 1 for 4. Horford's 3-pointer early in OT gave Boston a 107-106 lead and Boston went up 113-110 before the Pelicans away put the game.

A jumper by Cousins cut the lead to 113-112, then Holiday added two more field goals and Boston couldn't catch up from there (see full recap).

Jokic’s big night helps Nuggets slip past Mavs
DENVER -- Nikola Jokic scored 29 points and grabbed a season-high 18 rebounds, Gary Harris hit two late free throws and the Denver Nuggets led by as many as 23 points before holding on for a 105-102 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night.

Harris finished with 25 points and Will Barton added 22 for the Nuggets, who won for just the second time in six games.

The Nuggets led 82-59 with 4:04 left in the third before Dallas staged a massive comeback. The Mavericks cut the deficit to one on a three-point play by Dennis Smith Jr. with 10.4 seconds remaining. After Harris made two free throws, the Mavericks had a chance for a last-second shot, but Dwight Powell couldn't corral a long pass as the buzzer sounded.

Smith had 25 points for the Mavericks, while Harrison Barnes contributed 17.

Trying to address the issue of slow starts, Nuggets coach Michael Malone tweaked the starting lineup by inserting Barton and sending Mason Plumlee to the bench. The change worked as Denver led at halftime. That's significant because it halted a streak of seven straight games in which the Nuggets trailed at intermission (see full recap).

NBA stars taking notice of Sixers' rise

NBA stars taking notice of Sixers' rise

The Sixers have been rising steadily in the standings and players around the league are taking notice. 

The young squad improved to 31-25 with a victory over the Bulls Thursday. They have won six straight and have not lost at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018. That totals up to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, only two games behind the Wizards for the fourth spot and two games ahead of the Heat for the eighth. 

"I like them," Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler said at the All-Star break. "They've got a lot of great young talent. We do as well. But I think the way that they're going and how they play so hard and play so together, that's how you win basketball games. They're going to be really, really good for a long time."

The Sixers turned heads with a statement win over the Rockets in only their seventh game of the season. From there, they have defeated playoff teams, including a rare sweep of the Spurs, while struggling against sub.-500 opponents. 

They have 26 games remaining to make a postseason push. Of their upcoming opponents, only 10 games are against current top-eight teams in their conferences. Brett Brown has emphasized they can't take any team lightly. This is the time for the Sixers to maximize their schedule and show they learned from previous letdowns.

"They look good," Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard said. "Obviously as a young team, it takes time to learn how to win. ... The mature, really high-level teams, they find a way to get it done. I think for them, that's what their record shows. You play against them and it's hard to play against them. 

"They're really talented, they play hard, they play for a great coach. It's just those nights where you might not have it, having that understanding and that experience that'll lead you to more wins. I think once they get to that point, that's when maybe nine or 10 games that they've let slip, maybe they win those games."

The Sixers wrapped up the majority of their Western Conference schedule prior to the All-Star break. They have only the Timberwolves, Nuggets and Mavericks left to play. Those in the conference still are keeping an eye on the Sixers' progress, even if they may not face off again for months. 

"Everyone definitely sees the talent there," Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. "Any time you've got Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid to build around, they've got a very bright future. I think everyone had very high expectations, but it's hard to have high expectations with a team that's got a lot of first-, second-year guys that have never been in the playoffs. 

"But you can tell that they're going to be in the playoffs for, shoot, the next decade or so, probably be upper echelon pretty soon."

Leave the NBA playoffs alone

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Leave the NBA playoffs alone

You can't kill NBA commissioner Adam Silver for trying.

Last week, Silver announced to the media during All-Star weekend in Los Angeles that he's considering a change to the playoffs, where rather than the top eight seeds in each conference competing to determine a conference champ, playoff teams will be seeded 1 through 16.

More recently, ESPN reported that the league is kicking around a "play-in tournament" to determine the final two seeds in each conference.

Let's take these ideas one at a time:

Re-seeding the postseason may sound fun, and even kind of fair, but it completely dissolves conference rivalries that the league has celebrated for decades. Looking for the Warriors and Rockets in the Western Conference Finals? Sorry. Under the new format, there would be no more West Finals. Right now, those are the two best teams in the NBA. So you might see them in the Finals in that format — if they both get that far.

I could understand this argument in years when the disparity in balance of power is egregious. That's not the case this season. If the NBA season ended today, one team would reap the benefits of a 1-16 playoff format: the 9-seed in the West, the Clippers, who are a half-game better than Eastern Conference 8-seed Miami.

(Psst, right now the 5-12 matchup in a 1-16 format would be Sixers-Cavaliers. But let's stay on topic.)

As for the play-in tournament, this completely contradicts the re-seeding idea. The NBA wants the best teams in the playoffs, right? Is a Pistons-Hornets play-in game must-see TV? Or what's left of the Clippers vs. the Jazz?

And how long do you want the postseason to be? Last season, the playoffs lasted nearly nine weeks. It was only that "brief" because the Finals didn't go the full seven games. Adding another round could extend the NBA season into July (unless it corresponds with a shortening of the schedule). We have seen what happens in Olympic years when players don't get enough offseason rest and it ain't pretty.

I'm guessing this is a backhanded way for Silver to keep more teams from tanking for better draft picks. "Hey, you may be 11th in the conference, but you're one 3-game win streak away from a shot at the postseason!!"

I'm all for change, but in the case of the NBA playoffs, commish, I think we're good for now.