76ers

Controversial no-call aids Bucks' last-second win

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Controversial no-call aids Bucks' last-second win

OKLAHOMA CITY — Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 23 points, including the questionable game-winning basket with 1.3 seconds left, and the Milwaukee Bucks ended Oklahoma City's six-game winning streak, beating the Thunder 97-95 on Friday night.

Replays clearly showed Antetokounmpo stepped out of bounds on his drive, but officials Derek Stafford, Ben Taylor and Leon Wood refused to review the play after the buzzer sounded, despite the pleas of Thunder coach Billy Donovan and several of his players.

Russell Westbrook led Oklahoma City with 40 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. The Thunder had gone 11-3 in December before playing Friday without one of its stars, Paul George, who sat out with left knee soreness.

Khris Middleton scored 20 points and John Henson added 18 points for the Bucks, who completed a sweep of the Northwest Division's top two teams on consecutive nights. Milwaukee rallied from 20 points down in the third quarter on Thursday to beat Minnesota, then jumped to a 22-point first-half lead against Oklahoma City and held on (see full recap).

Dennis Smith Jr.'s first triple-double helps Mavs beat Pelicans
NEW ORLEANS — Dennis Smith Jr. had his first career triple-double and the Dallas Mavericks made a franchise-record 22 3-pointers in a 128-120 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday night.

Smith had 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He was 5 of 7 from 3-point range and 8 of 12 overall. Wesley Matthews made 4 of 7 3-pointers and scored 18 points, and Devin Harris hit 5 of 7 3-pointers and added 17 points to help Dallas win three consecutive game for the first time this season. Dwight Powell scored 15 points, J.J. Barea had 14 and Harrison Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki 13 each.

Anthony Davis led the Pelicans with 33 points. DeMarcus Cousins had 32 points and 20 rebounds, Jrue Holiday added 23 points, and E'Twaun Moore had 16.

The Mavericks made 13 of 18 3-pointers as they built a 17-point halftime lead (see full recap).

Markkanen scores career-high 32 points as Bulls beat Pacers
CHICAGO — Nikola Mirotic came in and started firing away. Lauri Markkanen took over for Chicago in the second half.

The sharp-shooting big men just overwhelmed the Indiana Pacers.

Markkanen scored a career-high 32 points, Mirotic finished with 28 and the surging Bulls beat the Pacers 119-107 on Friday night for their third consecutive win.

"We just keep believing in each other and playing for each other," Markkanen said.

Led by Mirotic and Markkanen, Chicago made 18 of 39 3-point attempts in its 10th win in 12 games. Robin Lopez and Bobby Portis each scored 12 points, helping the Bulls to their seventh straight victory at home for their longest such streak since a seven-game run spanning two seasons in 2013 (see full recap).

Porter scores 26, Wizards hand Rockets 5th straight loss
WASHINGTON — The Houston Rockets won 25 of their first 29 games to notch the NBA's best record, then quickly entered their worst tailspin in nearly five years.

Otto Porter Jr. scored 26 points, Bradley Beal and Kelly Oubre Jr. had 21 each, and the Washington Wizards beat the Rockets 121-103 Friday night for Houston's fifth straight loss. It's the longest skid for the Rockets since dropping seven straight from Jan. 9-19, 2013.

NBA scoring leader James Harden matched his season low with 20 points for the Rockets. Chris Paul returned after missing three games with a strained groin and had eight points and six assists in 26 minutes.

Houston had completed a 14-game winning streak before the alarming slide (see full recap).

Report: Sixers trade No. 39 pick to Lakers for 2019 2nd-rounder, cash

Report: Sixers trade No. 39 pick to Lakers for 2019 2nd-rounder, cash

The Sixers didn’t wait until draft night to start their wheeling and dealing.

According to a report Wednesday by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Sixers have traded the No. 39 pick to the Los Angeles Lakers for a 2019 second-round pick (via the Chicago Bulls) and cash.

With the Sixers previously holding six total selections in Thursday’s 2018 NBA draft and 11 players already under contract for next season, the team was never going to be able to use all of its picks.

The Sixers now enter the draft with picks Nos. 10 and 26 in the first round and Nos. 38, 56 and 60 in the second round.

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NBA draft profile: Villanova G Jalen Brunson

NBA draft profile: Villanova G Jalen Brunson

Jalen Brunson

Position: Guard

Height: 6-2

Weight: 198

School: Villanova

As Mikal Bridges cements his status as a consensus lottery pick and Donte DiVincenzo’s name becomes hot enough to reportedly receive an invite to the green room of the draft, their Villanova teammate who was the consensus national player of the year has seen his stock remain static.

Jalen Brunson was the leading scorer on Villanova’s national title team last season, pouring in 18.9 points per game while dishing out 4.6 assists. Bunson, a three-year starter and two-time national champ, was also highly-efficient, shooting 52.1 percent from the floor, 40.8 percent from deep and 80.2 percent from the free throw line. And as a result of his remarkable junior season, the Villanova point guard took home a ton of hardware in sweeping the major national player of the year awards.

But, Brunson isn’t considered a surefire first-round pick.

Two of the main reasons for this? His position and age. The point guard position has the greatest depth in the NBA so lead guards don’t tend be high draft picks unless they have All-Star upside. If Bridges was five inches shorter, he wouldn’t have the same kind of value. Teams are starving for rotation three-and-D wings and not so much for high-floor/low-ceiling point guards. 

With Brunson set to turn 22 years old in August, he doesn’t possess the tantalizing upside of the top point guards in this draft like Trae Young, Collin Sexton and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Even so, there's still a place for Brunson in the NBA.

Strengths
As a three-level scorer, Brunson can fill it up in a variety of ways. He has a smooth jumper that extends beyond the three-point line. In the mid-range area, he makes up for his lack of quickness with crafty moves to create separation for pull-ups. On drives, Brunson can initiate contact to draw fouls, contort his body to avoid contests and has good touch around the rim. And believe it or not, the 6-2 guard utilizes his craftiness to be an effective post player as well. 

When Brunson has the ball in his hands, he carries a calming force with him. He plays at his own pace and just always seems in control, rarely committing egregious turnovers or taking bad shots. He's also a willing, talented passer who will make the unselfish extra pass and can also fit the ball into a tight window to a cutter/roller.

Weaknesses
Brunson’s weaknesses have less to do with his skills and more with his physical traits and tools. He’s not an explosive athlete with crazy bounce and doesn’t possess game-changing speed or quickness. So will he be able to create enough space against more athletic wing defenders to penetrate to the rim or get off his pull-up jumper? 

Defensively, Brunson works hard and isn't way undersized as a point guard. But he doesn't have the size to switch across multiple positions and the one position he will defend is deep with high-level talent. He can survive against backups, but how will he fare against quality starters and stars?

NBA comparison
Lefties tend to get compared to other lefties, but I'm passing on the Derek Fisher comp and going with fellow Big 5 alum Jameer Nelson. The St. Joe’s product is shorter and had a little more quickness during his prime, but was a solid starter capable of scoring at all three levels despite some physical limitations. Brunson projects more as a backup but has the ceiling of a player like Nelson.

How’d he fit with the Sixers
Let’s look at the Sixers’ current guards beyond Ben Simmons. Markelle Fultz is an unknown. T.J. McConnell is set to be an unrestricted free agent next summer. And the only others under contract are Jerryd Bayless, Timothe Luwawu-Caborrot and Furkan Korkmaz.

This team needs guard depth, specifically ball handlers and shot creators/makers. While it may not come at an elite level, Brunson could fill both of those needs. And because of his shooting ability, he could also play off the ball as a spot-up shooter and secondary creator alongside Simmons and Fultz.

Draft projection 
A fringe first-rounder, Brunson's range will start right around the Sixers’ second pick at No. 26. If they pass on him there, they shouldn’t count on him still being on the board at their next pick at 38.

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