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Pacers edge skidding Bucks in jumbled East standings

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Pacers edge skidding Bucks in jumbled East standings

MILWAUKEE -- Victor Oladipo had 21 points, and the Indiana Pacers nearly blew a 17-point lead in the middle of a mistake-laden fourth quarter before holding off the Milwaukee Bucks for a 103-96 win Friday night.

With his team trailing by five, Milwaukee's Khris Middleton missed a corner 3-pointer off an inbounds play with 8.9 seconds left. Bojan Bogdanovic hit two foul shots at the other end to seal it and hand the Bucks their fourth straight loss.

The Bucks nearly stormed back from a 93-76 deficit with 6:34 left. Indiana committed four turnovers during a 12-0 Milwaukee run that tightened what looked to be a blowout.

But the Pacers held on for a key road victory against a fellow Eastern Conference playoff hopeful, erasing the bitter taste of back-to-back losses to 40-loss teams Atlanta and Dallas during the first two stops of a four-game road trip.

Oladipo hit a runner in the lane with 1:13 left for a 98-92 lead to slow Milwaukee's momentum. He also scored six straight Indiana points during a 14-1 spurt in the third that helped the Pacers build a double-digit edge in the fourth.

Lance Stephenson added 16 points for Indiana, and Bogdanovic had 14 after going 12 of 13 from the foul line.

Middleton led all scorers with 30 points, and Giannis Antetokounmpo added 24 points and 10 rebounds for the Bucks. Milwaukee looked out of sorts at times offensively and alternated near-misses with out-of-control possessions until the near-comeback in the fourth quarter (see full recap).

DeRozan, Miles lead surging Raptors to victory
WASHINGTON -- DeMar DeRozan scored 23 points, reserve CJ Miles added 20 and the Toronto Raptors beat the Washington Wizards 102-95 on Friday night.

The Raptors have won 10 of their last 11 games, including a season-high four straight on the road.

Miles scored 11 points in the second half and was 6 of 9 from 3-point range in the game as the Raptors' bench outscored the Wizards' reserves 50-15.

Jonas Valenciunas and Fred VanFleet added 12 points apiece for Toronto.

Otto Porter Jr. led Washington with 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting and Bradley Beal rebounded from an eight-point effort Wednesday against Golden State to finish with 23.

Eighteen Washington turnovers led to 27 Toronto points.

Neither team led by more than four points in the fourth quarter until Miles' 3-pointer from the corner made it 94-88 with 3:06 left.

Beal's free throws cut the lead to four, but DeRozan scored four straight points and his layup gave the Raptors a 98-90 lead with 56 seconds remaining. The Wizards got no closer than five points in the final minute (see full recap).

Magic beat free-falling Pistons in OT to snap 7-game skid
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Aaron Gordon had 27 points and 13 rebounds to help the Orlando Magic stop a seven-game losing streak with a 115-106 victory against the Detroit Pistons in overtime Friday night.

Nikola Vucevic added 22 points and 12 rebounds, and D.J. Augustin had 20 points and nine assists for the Magic. Evan Fournier scored 17, including seven in the extra period.

James Ennis and Reggie Bullock led Detroit with 21 points apiece. Blake Griffin, Dwight Buycks and Anthony Tolliver had 12 each for the slumping Pistons, who have lost seven of nine.

Fournier scored the first six points in overtime, giving Orlando a 110-104 lead going into the final two minutes.

Detroit, which had only one field goal in the final 5:57 of regulation, missed all eight shots from the field and its first three free throws in overtime. Tolliver's two free throws with 32 seconds left were the only points the Pistons scored in the extra period.

The Magic could have won it in regulation. Fournier drilled a 3-pointer that gave Orlando a 104-102 lead with 47 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

The Pistons tied it when Griffin got a long rebound and found Ennis for a breakaway dunk that tied the game at 104 with seven seconds left.

The Magic muffed their chance for a game-winner. Vucevic lost his balance when driving the lane and turned the ball over, leading to overtime (see full recap).

NBA draft profile: Bosnia F Dzanan Musa

NBA draft profile: Bosnia F Dzanan Musa

Dzanan Musa

Position: Forward

Height: 6-9

Weight: 190

Team: Cedevita Zagreb (Croatia)

You hear stories all the time about what prospects in different sports sacrificed to chase their dreams. Few of them can match Dzanan Musa.

At 11 years old, the Bosnian Musa moved from his hometown of Bihac to capital city Sarajevo (a nearly five-and-a-half-hour drive) to attend a basketball academy. Musa lived in an apartment by himself and trained several times a day until he turned professional at age 16.

“I know how to manage myself,” Musa said after a recent workout with the Denver Nuggets. “Especially when you’re from a small town as I am and you go in the main city, you have people looking at you like you’re nothing. You have to fight through that, so I fight. I fight all the time.” 

That hunger has placed the offensively-gifted wing among first-round talents in the 2018 draft class even if it takes a couple more years for Musa to suit up in the NBA.

Strengths
Musa has been getting buckets since he picked up a basketball. Look no further than his prolific scoring numbers with the Bosnian national team. 

In the 2014 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship, he put up 23.0 points a game and followed that up in the 2015 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship with 23.3 points a contest. Musa took it up a notch in the 2016 FIBA Under-17 World Cup when he racked up 34.0 points a night en route to being named tournament MVP.

Of course, that was against players his own age. But Musa has held his own against grown men in the professional ranks as well. In 71 total games for Cedevita Zagreb this past season across the Croatian Leagues and EuroCup, the 19-year-old averaged 12.3 points on 47.0 percent shooting from the field and 31.3 from three-point range in addition to 3.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 23.1 minutes (see highlights).

Overall, Musa is an offensive-minded player that can score in bunches at all three levels when on his game and handle play-making duties as a point-forward.

Weaknesses
Like plenty of European prospects before him, Musa has two huge areas to focus on if he wants to make it in the league: physique and defense. 

“In Europe, we don’t have people around here who are these kinds of athletes,” Musa said after a recent workout with the Indiana Pacers. "I have to develop myself into that kind of player to finish through contact.”

Notice he didn’t mention bulking up to help play defense. That’s because Musa apparently isn’t all that concerned with that end of the floor, which will be a major problem when the talent level spikes in the NBA.

Also, Musa apparently has a competitive side that boils over on the court and gets the best of him at times. That works when you’re someone like Draymond Green, an All-Star and multiple-time champion. Not so much when you’re a young player from overseas trying to find his way.

NBA comparison
While Musa would love to be compared to idol Manu Ginobili, we’re not about to make that link. Sorry, kid. 

However, another recent European prospect that was versatile offensively and was confident in his ability to the point of being cocky is Magic forward Mario Hezonja. That seems like a much better pairing. Like Hezonja, it will take time for Musa to adapt his body and game to the league before he is ready to contribute.

How’d he fit with Sixers
Offensively, Musa would appear to fit in pretty well with the Sixers. He likes to get out on the break and can knock down shots. He also would be able to take over ball-handling duties at times if needed.

On the defensive end, the Sixers have studs in Robert Covington and Joel Embiid that can cover up some deficiencies from others, but even they can only do so much.

Draft projection
Musa is projected to go anywhere from the late teens to near the end of the first round. With the Sixers holding the No. 26 pick and already having 11 players under contract for next season, he could be a serious candidate for a draft-and-stash selection.

More on the Sixers and the NBA draft

Despite Brett Brown connection, Sixers should steer clear of Kawhi Leonard trade

Despite Brett Brown connection, Sixers should steer clear of Kawhi Leonard trade

Brett Brown knows only one way to go about his business in the basketball world: attack.

That is evident from his pace-and-space style of play the Sixers have displayed since he took over as head coach. Now he has vowed to do the same thing as the team’s interim general manager.

“We are completely exploring aggressively all options, and I think we just know we need a little bit more,” Brown said Friday.

It’s evident the Sixers need help to become a championship-level team, but we’re not so sure it should come in the form of a man wearing black and silver hitchhiking his way out of San Antonio.

Kawhi Leonard sent shockwaves around the NBA when he reportedly made it clear he wants a split from the Spurs. Per the reports, Leonard has Los Angeles — specifically the Lakers — as his top destination for a trade.

And while there’s no guarantee the Spurs send the former Finals MVP and two-time All-Star to Hollywood, the Sixers would be better served to stay out of the hunt. That’s because if the quiet superstar has proven anything over the past year, it’s that he can do a lot of damage to an organization without saying a word. 

Leonard missed the first 27 games of 2017-18 with a right quad injury. He returned on a heavy-restriction plan only to play seven contests before suffering a tear in his left shoulder. The swingman played one more game before being shut down indefinitely because of the nagging quad. 

After more rehab and eventually being cleared by the Spurs’ medical staff, Leonard opted to leave the team for a second opinion in New York. He stayed away from San Antonio while getting treatment, which allegedly caused friction within the organization that eventually blew up in a players-only meeting.

That didn’t deter Leonard from his plan. He didn’t suit up again nor did he show support for the squad in its first-round series against the champion Golden State Warriors. (Oh, by the way, Leonard has missed time in three straight seasons because of his right quad and reportedly still isn’t 100 percent).

Now if that’s enough to shake up the locker room of arguably the most stable franchise in all of sports, what impact do you think Leonard’s methods would have on the Sixers’ impressionable roster?

Could it be that Leonard just reached his tolerance level with the legendary head coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs and simply needs a change of scenery? Of course.

But that’s not a risk the Sixers should be willing to take. Not for virtually the only player in recent memory to ever clash with the highly-respected Spurs. Not for a guy that’s willing to potentially walk away from a $219 million supermax extension for a $188 million maximum just to escape to his hometown of L.A.

Certainly not when it could mean parting with key pieces of your core (Dario Saric, Robert Covington and/or Markelle Fultz) in addition to the No. 10 overall pick in the draft. All for what could be a one-year rental player, as Leonard is able to opt out of his current deal after next season.

Surely the Sixers would want a guarantee Leonard plans to stay before pulling the trigger on a trade, but that’s not a handshake agreement they should be willing to trust. Even if old buddy Brown is the one shaking hands with “The Claw.”

“He’s a great guy,” Brown said. “I’ve spent years with him, as you know, in San Antonio. I’m reminded of the recruiting process we went through to identify him and the sort of pain we went through to give up George Hill to move up and target him. He’s good people, he’s obviously an elite talent and I enjoyed my time with Kawhi in San Antonio.”

Things could be even more painful for Brown this time around if he’s not careful.

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