Streaking Raptors narrowly avoid disaster

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Streaking Raptors narrowly avoid disaster

TORONTO -- DeMar DeRozan scored 27 points, Kyle Lowry had 22 and the Toronto Raptors beat the Miami Heat 115-112 on Tuesday night for their sixth straight win.

Toronto (40-16) improved its NBA-best home record to 24-4 and ensured it will be the top team in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break. The Raptors lead Boston (40-18) by 1 1/2 games. Both teams play their final game before the break on Wednesday night.

Serge Ibaka had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Raptors, who also won six straight between Nov. 25 and Dec. 10 and again between Dec. 13 and 23.

C.J. Miles added 11 points, but the Raptors failed to extend its franchise-record five-game streak of winning by 15 or more points.

Goran Dragic scored 28 points and James Johnson had 16 for the Heat, who lost for the sixth time in seven games. Dwyane Wade had 10 points and 11 rebounds and Hassan Whiteside collected 10 points and 10 boards (see full recap).

New-look Cavs ride LeBron’s 37 points to victory
OKLAHOMA CITY -- LeBron James scored 37 points, and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers got a much different result this time against the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 120-112 victory on Tuesday night.

It was Cleveland's second straight win since adding George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. in trades, and their fourth straight victory overall.

J.R. Smith added 18 points for the Cavaliers, who lost to the Thunder 148-124 on Jan. 20 with a very different roster.

Paul George scored 25 points and Carmelo Anthony 24 for the Thunder. Steven Adams added 22 points and 17 rebounds, and Russell Westbrook scored 21 points. Westbrook and Anthony had missed the past two games with sprained ankles.

James scored 14 points in the first five minutes of the third quarter, including two 3-pointers, to give Cleveland a 78-68 lead. He was 6 for 6 from the field during that stretch. The Thunder responded with an 8-0 run to get back into the game. Cleveland took a 91-87 edge into the fourth quarter.

The Cavaliers took control in the fourth, and a layup by James after driving on George pushed the Cavaliers ahead 115-106 with 49 seconds to play.

The Thunder trimmed their deficit to five in the final minute and could have come closer, but Alex Abrines missed a 3-pointer, and Nance got free for a dunk to seal the win for Cleveland (see full recap).

Middleton, Bucks notch sluggish win over Hawks
MILWAUKEE -- Khris Middleton had 21 points to lead a balanced attack for the Milwaukee Bucks, and All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo hit two key buckets in the final three-plus minutes to spark a 97-92 win on Tuesday night over the Atlanta Hawks.

Tyler Zeller added 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting in his first game in Milwaukee since joining the team on the road before the trade deadline last week. The Bucks improved to 9-2 since Joe Prunty took over as interim coach following the firing of Jason Kidd, getting back in the race for a top-four playoff seed in the East.

Dennis Schroder scored 18 points for the Hawks, and Ersan Ilyasova had nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. Ilyasova spearheaded a late rally in which Atlanta erased a 12-point deficit and tied it at 84 on Kent Bazemore's 3-pointer with 3:30 left.

Antetokounmpo, who finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds, answered with a mid-range jumper and layup to open an 8-0 run. Schroder and Bazemore then whiffed on open layups following a steal with less than a minute left that could have helped the Hawks mount one last comeback (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