76ers

Lakers can't be stopped in Miami

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Lakers can't be stopped in Miami

MIAMI -- Isaiah Thomas scored a season-high 29 points, Julius Randle added 25 and the Los Angeles Lakers continued their surge by topping the Miami Heat 131-113 on Thursday night.

Brandon Ingram added 19, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had 18 and Kyle Kuzma finished with 16 for the Lakers, who won in Miami for the first time since Feb. 10, 2008. The Lakers shot 59 percent and were 16 of 29 from 3-point range.

It was the most points allowed by the Heat this season.

Thomas, whose previous season best was 24, connected on 11 of 20 shots and 6 of 11 3-point tries. Randle had 21 points in the first half for the Lakers, who are 16-7 since an 11-27 start -- and at 27-34, have now passed last season's win total.

Dwyane Wade scored 25 points for Miami. Goran Dragic had 19, Justise Winslow scored 17 and Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo each added 15 for the Heat (see full recap).

Blazers rally for 5th straight victory
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Damian Lillard scored 35 points after a slow start and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 108-99 on Thursday night for their season-high fifth straight win.

CJ McCollum had 19 points and Jusuf Nurkic added 16 for Portland, which improved to 36-26. It was the first time Portland was 10 games over .500 since the end of the 2014-15 season.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 34 points and 17 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who lost their fourth straight in the Moda Center.

Lillard was 0 for 7 in the first quarter but after struggling in the first half, Portland mounted a comeback in the second and pulled ahead 84-82 on Shabazz Napier's running jump shot with 8:07 left.

Al-Farouq Aminu and McCollum hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Portland a 92-86 lead with 3:48 left. Lillard's 3 extended it and the Timberwolves couldn't catch up.

The teams split the season series 2-2 (see full recap).

Bogdanovic, Kings outlast Nets in overtime
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Bogdan Bogdanovic made a go-ahead short runner from the baseline with 1:06 left in overtime, then added a pair of free throws and the Sacramento Kings beat the Brooklyn Nets 116-111 on Thursday night.

The Kings blew a lead late in the fourth quarter but outscored the Nets 16-11 in the extra period to end a five-game losing streak.

Spencer Dinwiddie's bucket with 1:22 left gave Brooklyn a 111-110 lead before Bogdanovic drove into traffic near the baseline then pulled up for the basket that gave the Kings the lead for good.

After Dinwiddie missed a 3-pointer, Buddy Hield made a pair of free throws to make it 114-111. Bogdanovic sank two free throws after D'Angelo Russell also missed a 3-pointer.

Final statistics were not available from the game, the second time in eight days that has occurred in Sacramento. The Kings blamed a malfunction of the NBA's scoring program which locked up near the end of the fourth quarter.

Even the giant scoreboard that hangs over center court at Golden1 Center had the final score wrong, listing the Kings winning 116-100 (see full recap).

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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Report: Sixers still eyeing trade up, but reluctant to include Robert Covington or Dario Saric

Report: Sixers still eyeing trade up, but reluctant to include Robert Covington or Dario Saric

We’re counting down the hours now until the 2018 NBA draft, which means all of the chatter surrounding teams is heading into overdrive.

That includes the Sixers, who are reportedly still attempting to move up the draft board.

Per a report Tuesday by Sports Illustrated’s Jake Fischer, the Sixers are continuing to make calls about moving into the top five. However, “they have offered packages of picks, but have thus far rebuked including oft-mentioned Robert Covington and Dario Saric,” according to the report.

There has still been no mention of exactly which prospect the Sixers are interested in trading up for since former Cavaliers GM David Griffin made the claim during a radio interview last week (see story).

With six total selections in Thursday’s draft, including Nos. 10 and 26 in the first round, it makes sense that the Sixers would offer draft picks first in any potential trade.

However you feel about the streaky Covington, the team was high enough on the All-NBA defender last season to lock him into a long-term deal while Saric has proven to be a rock-solid contributor that keeps improving every day.

We’ll see if the Sixers ease off those demands as we get even closer to the draft.

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