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Best of NBA: Champion Warriors outlast Lakers in overtime

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Best of NBA: Champion Warriors outlast Lakers in overtime

LOS ANGELES -- After struggling from long range all night, Stephen Curry hit two quick 3-pointers to open overtime and the Golden State Warriors outlasted the Los Angeles Lakers 127-123 on Wednesday.

The victory prevented the Warriors from losing two straight games for the first time this season.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 29 points, while Curry added 28 and Klay Thompson 20. Curry had 13 points in overtime.

Brandon Ingram scored a career-high 32 to lead the Lakers. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jordan Clarkson had 21 each, and Julius Randle scored 20.

Curry was 1 for 7 on 3-point attempts in regulation.

Los Angeles had a chance to win at the end of regulation when Randle rebounded Durant's miss with 5.3 seconds to play. The Lakers set up a play for Ingram, but he missed a driving 8-footer.

The Lakers trailed by 10 at the end of the first quarter, but charged back by shooting 71 percent in the second to take a 54-50 lead at halftime (see full recap).

Aldridge scores 41 as Spurs extend Grizzlies’ skid
SAN ANTONIO -- LaMarcus Aldridge set his San Antonio high with 41 points and the Spurs spoiled J.B. Bickerstaff's debut as Memphis coach, beating the Grizzlies 104-95 on Wednesday night to hand them their ninth straight loss.

Aldridge established a season best for the second consecutive game, topping his 33-point outing Monday against Dallas.

Tony Parker had 10 points and five assists while playing 18 minutes in his second game back since undergoing surgery to repair a torn left quadriceps tendon.

San Antonio, which became the first NBA team with 10 home wins this season, has won three straight overall.

The Grizzlies continued to play short-handed in their first game since coach David Fizdale was fired. Memphis was without Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, Mario Chalmers and Brandan Wright.

The Grizzlies still have JaMychal Green and Marc Gasol, but neither could stop Aldridge.

The 6-foot-11 forward scored 17 of San Antonio's first 19 points, going 6 for 7 from the field and 3 of 3 on 3-pointers. He finished 17 for 24 from the floor while falling three points shy of the career high he set with Portland.

Tyreke Evans led Memphis with 22 points and Gasol had 10 (see full recap).

Gordon’s monster night gives Magic victory over OKC
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Aaron Gordon had 40 points and 15 rebounds to help the Orlando Magic end a nine-game losing streak with a 121-108 victory over the struggling Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.

Russell Westbrook hit five 3-pointers and scored 20 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter for the Thunder, who lost for the fifth time in six games and dropped their seventh straight on the road. Westbrook shot 7 for 10 on 3s and added 11 rebounds, five assists and five steals.

Elfrid Payton had 19 points and Evan Fournier added 16 for the Magic, who shot 59 percent in winning for the first time since Nov. 10.

The Thunder went without a field goal for more than five minutes late in the third period, then went scoreless for the first 3 1/2 minutes of the fourth. They were outscored 28-5 during that span.

Fournier's free throw with 4:22 left in the third quarter put Orlando ahead to stay (see full recap).

Markelle Fultz says ball slipped out of hand on pump fake free throw

Markelle Fultz says ball slipped out of hand on pump fake free throw

A lot of positive things happened for the Sixers in Monday night’s 124-114 win over the Heat (see observations). 

The dominant Joel Embiid had his ninth 30-point game of the season, posting 35 points and 18 rebounds; after breaking his nose and suffering a facial laceration Tuesday, a masked Mike Muscala returned to action; Furkan Korkmaz scored a career-high 16 points and looks like he may be able to provide the shooting the Sixers need off the bench.

Markelle Fultz’s second free throw with 6:09 left in the second quarter does not fall into that positive category.

After making his first free throw, Fultz pump faked on his second. He jerked the ball out as if he was going to shoot, then lowered it a few inches before releasing it (see video).

Speaking to reporters in Miami after the game, Fultz had an explanation for the odd shot.

"I mean, the ball slipped out of my hand, so I had to do what I had to do,” Fultz said, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “But I’m not really worried about it. I work on my game. The ball just happened to slip. That’s what happened."

The noticeable hitch in Fultz’s free throws over the last couple games makes that explanation seem implausible. 

Brett Brown said he’s noticed the hitch on occasion. 

“Every so often you’ll see it,” he said. “Then all a sudden he’ll come back and he’ll take rise-up, fadeaway jump shots and look like a real sort of fluid type of player, real fluid type of motion in his shot. … And then you go and see other ones and you wouldn’t have any idea that there’s any problem at all. I thought that his defense was exceptional. We’re going to keep encouraging him and try to shoot more of those shots that we saw where his fluid side was really impressive, rising up over bigger people.”

While Fultz’s free throws Monday night certainly weren’t fluid, other parts of his game continue to progress. As Brown noted, his defense keeps improving, and he’s looked more and more confident attacking the basket. He shot a season-best 7 for 9 in Saturday’s loss against the Grizzlies. Fultz has also taken care of the ball very well for a 20-year-old guard — after Monday’s five-assist, zero-turnover effort, he has a 2.79 assist to turnover ratio.

However, his shot has not progressed. He hasn’t attempted a three-point shot in the past seven games, and he’s made 4 of his last 12 free throws.

On Tuesday, the attention will shift from Fultz’s shot to Jimmy Butler, who will be introduced as a Sixer in Camden. But, in all likelihood, the unusual shooting form of the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft will continue to be a major storyline for the Sixers.

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Sixers 124, Heat 114: Markelle Fultz's ugly free throw overshadows win

Sixers 124, Heat 114: Markelle Fultz's ugly free throw overshadows win

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers beat the Heat on Monday night, 124-114, in their final contest before the debut of Jimmy Butler on Wednesday night. 

Sadly, a second-quarter free throw by Markelle Fultz overshadowed everything else that happened in the game.

• Fultz’s free-throw form has not been trending in the right direction over the last couple games. What happened Monday night wasn’t exactly out of the blue, but it was still extremely alarming.

With 6:09 left in the second quarter, he made the first of two free-throw attempts. He then brought the ball up to shoulder height to take his second free throw and jerked it up as if he was about to shoot. The problem was, the ball didn’t come out. Fultz then lowered the ball a couple inches and finally released it. While a convincing pump fake, it was the opposite of how a free throw should look. 

Despite all the remedial work Fultz did on his shot this summer, there’s still something terribly wrong, whether it's the “yips” or something else. There’s no doubt he’d made progress with his shot after the bizarre tribulations of his rookie season, even making four three-pointers in the Sixers’ first seven games. His midrange attempts didn’t look too bad on Monday night. Still, that free throw was an ugly, painful step backwards.

• Brett Brown went with a starting lineup of Ben Simmons, Fultz, JJ Redick, Wilson Chandler and Joel Embiid. 

If you replace Fultz with Butler, that lineup makes a lot of sense for the Sixers.

Chandler has plenty of experience as a starter and as a small-ball four. Without Covington and Saric, the shooting (and spacing) Redick provides is essential.

As for Fultz, that free throw should unfortunately erase any possible consideration of him as a starter. Landry Shamet started in Fultz’s place in the second half.

• The Sixers’ first-round playoff matchup last season vs. the Heat was defined by sneaky elbows, not-so-sneaky slaps to the head (remember Goran Dragic on Ben Simmons in Game 5?) and constant contact off the ball.

Jimmy Butler is the kind of player who you want on your team in those feisty, physical series. Along with the shot creation and perimeter defense he brings to the table, his no-nonsense, ultra-competitive personality will be a welcome addition to the Sixers come playoff time. 

• A masked Mike Muscala returned after breaking his nose and suffering a facial laceration in a collision at practice Tuesday. He had 13 points and eight rebounds.

• Joel Embiid returned to form after an off night in Memphis, with 35 points and 18 rebounds. He's one of the best players in basketball right now, without question.

• Furkan Korkmaz has made a strong case that he’s deserving of a bench role in the Sixers’ last two games. He nailed three three-pointers in the second period, including a four-point play. He scored 16 points, topping his career high from Saturday. While his shot is currently his only plus NBA quality, it’s a skill the Sixers could use. 

• JJ Redick’s shooting slump is officially a thing of the past. After scoring 20 points against the Grizzlies, he went for 25 on 11 for 20 shooting in Miami. 

• Just about all of what I wrote feels irrelevant. Fultz’s free throw is a much more important story than this individual game. The Sixers probably thought most of the questions they’d be asked after this game would be about Butler, who has his introductory press conference Tuesday morning in Camden.

Instead, Fultz’s pump-fake free throw is all anyone will be talking about.

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