Shorthanded Raptors feast on reeling Cavaliers

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Shorthanded Raptors feast on reeling Cavaliers

TORONTO -- LeBron James and the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers absorbed their most-lopsided loss of the season when they were routed by the Toronto Raptors 133-99 on Thursday night.

The Cavaliers have dropped six of eight dating to a Christmas Day defeat at defending champion Golden State. James scored 26 points in this loss while Isaiah Thomas missed his first 11 shots.

After losing to Minnesota 127-99 on Monday, the Cavaliers fell by an even bigger margin. Toronto's 133 points were the most by any Cavaliers opponent this season, and marked the third straight game that Cleveland has allowed at least 127.

Fred VanVleet scored a career-high 22 points, Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and a season-high 18 rebounds and the Raptors overcame the absences of two starters.

C.J.Miles scored 16 points, Pascal Siakam and Norm Powell each had 14 and DeMar DeRozan 13 for the Raptors, who were without point guard Kyle Lowry (bruised tailbone) and forward Serge Ibaka (suspension). Jakob Poeltl had 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Raptors.

VanVleet made six of eight 3-point attempts as the Raptors connected on a season-high 18 shots from beyond the arc (see full recap).

Clippers hold off Kings after blowing lead
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Tyrone Wallace intercepted a pass at midcourt and drove in for a dunk with 10.9 seconds left, moments after what looked like a costly turnover by Lou Williams, and the Los Angeles Clippers held off the Sacramento Kings 121-115 on Thursday night after blowing a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter.

The Clippers, who lost DeAndre Jordan to a sprained left ankle in the second quarter, won their third straight over the Kings this season and their 11th in a row at Sacramento.

Williams finished with 30 points and six assists, one night after scoring a career-high 50 against defending champion Golden State. Blake Griffin had 18 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in his return to the Clippers after missing two games with a concussion, and Montrezl Harrell scored a season-best 25 -- including 16 in the second quarter when Los Angeles put up 43 points.

The Clippers led 106-92 early in the fourth before the Kings rallied to go ahead 113-112 on Bogdan Bogdanovich's layup with 2:10 remaining.

Griffin followed with a 3-pointer and Williams later scored on a short jumper, but the Kings pulled to 117-115 on George Hill's free throw with 24.9 seconds left (see full recap).

Ingram guides Lakers to 3rd straight win
LOS ANGELES -- Brandon Ingram scored 26 points, Lonzo Ball added 18 and the Los Angeles Lakers held off the short-handed San Antonio Spurs 93-81 Thursday night for their first three-game winning streak of the season.

Larry Nance Jr. had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, who blew an early 19-point lead before running away in the fourth quarter. Ball contributed 10 rebounds and six assists as Los Angeles snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Spurs at Staples Center since April 2013, the last time the Lakers made the playoffs.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 15 of his 20 points in the first half for the Spurs, who committed 21 turnovers while playing without injured starters Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Danny Green.

Bryn Forbes scored 18 points and Dejounte Murray added 14 points and 11 rebounds.

Ingram had an aggressive offensive game, and Ball hit four 3-pointers as the Lakers (14-27) hit the halfway point of what's looking like their fifth consecutive non-playoff season.

That would extend the longest postseason drought in franchise history for the 16-time NBA champions, but the Lakers' young roster has showed signs of life with three wins after a nine-game losing streak (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