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Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks

Rick Carlisle used words like “engine” and “goose bumps” and he wasn’t talking about J.J. Barea’s 20 points or Dirk Nowitzki fine all-around game or Maxi Kleber’s blocks and energy.

All of that helped contribute to the Mavericks’ surprising 98-93 victory over the Eastern Conference leading Toronto Raptors Tuesday night.

But none of it was what the Mavericks viewed as the two essential keys for the win – or for any other victories they hope to come up with in the future.

Rookie Dennis Smith Jr. came out with the kind of force that Carlisle and Maverick fans should fall in love with – and demand to see on a regular basis.

His fellow starter in the backcourt, Wesley Matthews? All he did was limit Toronto’s high-scoring DeMar DeRozan to eight points and 3-of-16 shooting. What kind of challenge is that?

Consider that DeRozan earlier in the day have been named Eastern Conference player of the week and that he had averaged 31 points over the Raptors’ last five games – all victories.

Against the Mavericks? He never got rolling, and Matthews was the player spending most of the time guarding Toronto’s all-star.

“Wes has an iron will to make it as hard as possible on these great players and it took a lot out of him,” Carlisle said. “He expends so much energy defensively that his shooting was out of rhythm. But he understood the importance of keeping DeRozan at some kind of reasonable number. You don’t beat this team without a guy like Matthews to make it hard on DeRozan.”

And as for Smith? The rookie had missed six games with a hip/groin injury and the Mavericks went 1-5. In the seven games before he went out, they were 4-3. They are 2-2 since he returned to the lineup.

Detect a correlation?

And the job he did at the start of Tuesday’s game set a tone that the Mavericks had no choice but to follow.

“Smith was in a constant attacking mode,” Carlisle said. “He pushed himself to a level tonight that gave our team goose bumps to watch. And it’s hard. It’s so much work and requires so much energy and will. But tonight convinced me that this kid is going to be a great player.

“Those two guys were the engines to the win.”

Smith and Matthews won’t get any respect from fans if all they look at is their statistical line. They combined to shoot 5-of-23 from the field.

But there is far more to this game than putting the ball in the basket.

Matthews in particular has had a hard time getting respect from Maverick fans, judging from the email boxes and online chats that allow fans a chance to vent.

But his shooting numbers (38 percent from 3-point range) are virtually the same as they were in Portland his last few seasons, and he was a fan favorite there. Here? Not so much. Whether it’s the team’s record or his contract or whatever, he understands it.

“It’s their constitutional right to feel however they want to feel about me,” Matthews said. “It’s my constitutional right to really not give a damn. I don’t really care about the negativity. I know I’ve gotten some. But I give my all to this team, to this organization – on the court, off the court, whether my shot is falling or not.”

And Matthews also knows that Smith is a major cornerstone for the future of this franchise. A game like Tuesday showed why. Smith helped control the game with his fearless attacks to the rim.

“He got the wheels going and that’s what he has to do,” Matthews said. “When you have a talent like that, you have to utilize it. There’s no sense in having a Ferrari and driving slow.”

Said Smith: “It’s about being fearless, go in and take the hits. That’s what I’m supposed to do – attack, whether they are there or not. I talked to coach about getting back to doing what I do. And when I’m attacking early it sets everybody else for easy shots. It gets everybody into a rhythm. And I think it makes them play harder.”

Smith also said he had a “perfect” statistical line.

“We won the game,” he said. “I did what he (Carlisle) wants me to do. I got back to it tonight.”

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Welcome to Buzz City Beat, a daily roundup of the best articles from around the internet surrounding the Charlotte Hornets.

Despite dealing with a dislocated finger, Dwight Howard had one of his best games of the season and led his side to victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. In this edition of Buzz City Beat, we look at what the next step is for the Charlotte Hornets, how Kemba Walker continues to excel with a non-contender and the Greensboro Swarm losing to the Lakeland Magic.
What is the Charlotte Hornets’ next step? (

Still, it’s not clear what Plan B in Charlotte is. Unlike fellow 11-win teams like the Kings, Suns, and Lakers, the Hornets don’t have a plethora of promising young players they can focus on developing with things going south.

It’s unclear what the best move is for Charlotte going forward. They will have to choose between either re-tooling or completely rebuilding by tanking. Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that changes are needed as what they are doing now isn’t working. With Rich Cho in the final year of his deal, the Hornets will probably look to re-tool by improving their current squad in an attempt to make a playoff push int he second half of the season.

Although, if they continue to struggle for long enough, tanking might look more appealing and a rebuild may be their only option. If Charlotte is still near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, their best bet is to cut salary and acquire draft picks/young talent. We’ll have to wait and see what the Hornets’ plan of attack is for the remainder of the season because right now, they don’t have a clear Plan B. What do you think the team should do?
Kemba continues to excel in relative obscurity (

Walker isn’t the first, nor the last, legitimate NBA star to languish in anonymity, which comes with the territory when dealing with a sub-.500 team in a market that does not generate national interest on its own. Still, it has to be emphasized, that Walker isn’t the problem in Charlotte, nor is there any real optimism for a future without him should he choose to leave in free agency at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 season.

No matter how bad the Hornets have been over the past few years, Walker has always been a constant positive for the team. Despite all of his individual success, the all-star point guard has yet to win a playoff series in his two trips to the postseason. Kemba’s 3-8 record in only 11 playoff games can largely be attributed to the teams around him rather than his individual play.

If Walker played on a team that was consistently in the playoffs or at least was in a bigger market, he would not only get more recognition but also be one of the more popular players in the league. Whether it be in Charlotte or not, hopefully, Kemba can play on a contender one day. In order to increase their chances of keeping Walker long-term, the Hornets will need to prove that they can build a winning team around him over the next couple years.
Greensboro falls to Lakeland despite 31 points from Goodwin (

The Greensboro Swarm (7-12) and Lakeland Magic (13-5) went back-and-forth but it was the Magic’s 8-0 run to close the game that sealed a, 106-102, Swarm defeat. Lakeland has won seven straight games.

Just when it looked like the Swarm were about to turn their season around, they are only 2-3 in their last five. Greensboro still has three games left before the new year and if they can win all three, they could move into the top-8 in the Eastern Conference. If Archie Goodwin continues to play well, this team could be in line for more wins going forward.

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Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks

The Atlanta Hawks have made plenty of their fans want to puke this season.

Well, this time one finally did.

A woman attending the Hawks-Heat game at Philips Arena Monday night was caught by cameras throwing up directly behind the Hawks’ bench.

The poor woman appeared ready to lose her dinner before making a feeble last-ditch effort by covering her mouth with a closed fist — but alas, it was to no avail.

In her defense, if you had to watch an entire Hawks game you may get a little queasy too, as Atlanta currently has an NBA-worst 7-23 record.

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TORONTO — As good as the Toronto Raptors are — and make no mistake, this team is very good — it’s performances like Sunday’s against the Sacramento Kings that will always give even the most glass-half-full optimists pause and add more fuel to the naysayers’ ever-burning bonfire.

Toronto looks like everything that should garner more high-profile U.S national attention. This is a team that features two all-stars and, coming into Sunday’s game, was the third best team in the league according to net rating (just behind the likes of championship-favourites Golden State and Houston).

So they’re awesome, right?

Well, when you allow a lottery-bound Kings club to hang 63 points on you while shooting 61.9 per cent from the field at halftime it’s hard to really justify that statement with any sort of emphatic fervour.

Despite those alarming numbers, the Raptors did get their act together in the third quarter and clamped down on the Kings, holding them to 14 points in the frame, riding the momentum of a 12-4 run to end the third to a convincing 108-93 victory.

“We picked it up aggressively — very aggressively,” said DeMar DeRozan, who finished with a game-high 21 points, of the Raptors’ second-half turnaround. “Especially the bench. I think I was in there with a couple of guys off the bench and they came in with high energy, got their hands on the basketball, got out in transition.”

The second unit was indeed key on Sunday for Toronto’s fortunes as the combination of Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet helped helped the Raptors hold Sacramento to just 30.8 per cent shooting in the entire second half.

“I just think we got more locked into the game plan, understanding what they were trying to do,” Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry said. “We just did a better job of being focused on what we needed to do, changed a few things at the half and fixed the coverages a little.”

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Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers

As the Portland Trail Blazers fled the visiting locker room at Oracle Arena Monday night, there was a simple sentiment lingering in the aftermath of their failed fourth-quarter rally against the Golden State Warriors. Get one win and see where things go from there.

“We’re going through … an identity crisis,” CJ McCollum said. “We’ve got a lot of injuries right now. Guys are playing different roles, (moving) in-and-out of the rotation. I think once you start winning again, the game becomes easier and it becomes more fun.”

So one win might be enough to snap the Blazers out of their funk?

“Yeah,” McCollum said, exhaling. “That would be nice. That would be nice.”

It remains to be seen if the cure to the Blazers’ myriad issues is truly that simple, but at this point, anything would help. The Blazers’ 111-104 loss to the Warriors was their fifth in a row, a surprising stretch that has dropped them to 13-13 on the season and prompted a restless fan base to grow uneasy.

Injuries to center Jusuf Nurkic (right ankle) and Moe Harkless (left quad) — who have missed the last two games — haven’t helped. But even when the Blazers were at full-strength, they were infuriatingly inconsistent, a trait that seems to be part of their DNA.

Losing streaks aside, there’s no shame in dropping consecutive games to the Houston Rockets (21-4) and Warriors (22-6), the hottest teams in the NBA who have won a combined 17 games in a row and feature the best records in the Western Conference. If anything, the Blazers left Oakland encouraged after going toe-to-toe with the Rockets for three-and-a-half quarters and finishing strong against the Warriors, against whom they outscored 29-18 in the fourth quarter to rally from a 24-point deficit and make things interesting down the stretch.

“We didn’t play defeated basketball,” Damian Lillard said. “Even though they got away from us a little bit, we never let that turn into us looking defeated or playing defeated. I thought we kept competing, we kept trusting each other, we made a lot of plays for each other and the shots didn’t go in. We still competed on the defensive end. We had our chance down the stretch, we just built too much of a hole to climb out of.”

Of course, the Warriors played without All-Stars Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and starter Zaza Pachulia, so the Blazers were facing a far less lethal version of the reigning NBA champions. And no matter how you sugarcoat things, the Blazers still feature the NBA’s second-longest current losing streak and an underperforming roster.

The good news is that the schedule eases a bit as the Blazers navigate the final four games of a five-game, eight-day trip. They visit the Miami Heat Wednesday and play a back-to-back against the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets, before ending with a matchup at the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Heat (13-13) are plodding along at the same pace as the Blazers and the Magic (11-17) and Hornets (10-16) have been stalled by injuries.

If there ever was a time to break out of a funk — to get that one win — it’s now.


Injuries to Nurkic and Harkless have created a spot in the rotation for Zach Collins and the 7-foot rookie big man has offered a glimpse of why the Blazers traded for him on draft night.

Over the last two games, Collins has played at least 19 minutes — including a career-high 25 against the Warriors — and given a little bit of everything, recording 14 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks, while making 6 of 14 shots, against the best teams in the Western Conference.

He was an integral part of the Blazers’ comeback bid against Golden State, playing nearly 10 minutes in the fourth quarter to help the Blazers claw back to within single digits. Collins opened the quarter with a steal, nailed a turnaround jumper on the other end, and seemed to be everywhere in the final period, chasing down rebounds (four), snatching steals (two) and creating for teammates (two assists). When he finished an alley-oop layup off a pass from Lillard with 2:56 left, the Blazers trailed 109-100 and had a fighter’s chance.

But 41 seconds later, Collins was whistled for an illegal screen, collecting his sixth foul and ending his night prematurely. He finished with nine points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists — all career highs — while playing solid defense.

“I thought he played well,” McCollum said. “He was aggressive. He got the rookie treatment on a lot of screens that the rest of the league sets every night. But besides that, I think he rebounded the ball well. He wasn’t afraid and he made some good plays for us.”

Lillard said he’s been impressed with the confidence of a player who had only seen the floor a combined 13 minutes in 15 games before facing the Rockets.

“You’re talking about a rookie that hasn’t played a lot up until recently and he’s having to learn a lot of things on the floor because he hasn’t seen a lot of action,” Lillard said. “He’s having to listen to (Evan Turner), listen to me, listen to CJ. So many guys are telling him different things that he needs to do. And he’s taking it all on the fly. He’s doing a good job, he’s being assertive and aggressive. And I think that’s the best thing about it — he’s still able to be productive and kind of do what everybody’s asking him to do at the same time.”


After laboring through a four-game shooting slump, McCollum is starting to  rediscover his jumper.

Heading into the loss to the Rockets, McCollum had made just 25 of 73 field goals (34 percent), including 5 of 20 three-pointers (25 percent), during an ice-cold four-game stretch. But he went 11 of 21 from the field against the Rockets, then 8 of 14 against the Warriors, easing out of his slump.

His three-point stroke remains off — he’s 3 of 11 from long-range the last two games — but he’s finally snapping out of his funk.

“I feel all right,” he said. “Even when I wasn’t shooting well, I felt all right. The ball just wasn’t going in.”v

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Orlando Magic

Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic are just good enough to be bad.

They are mediocrity’s children, sprinkled with a touch of misery. At 11-17, they are a playoff tease, an aspiring eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, cluttered with lousy teams. Only eight of the 15 teams in the conference have winning records, making the playoffs a very attainable goal for the Magic.

We have enough of a sample-size at 28 games. A little more than a third of the season is complete, and the Magic now show equal signs of competence and futility. It is who they are. Magic management has cobbled together a good enough team that can win on any given night. Magic management has cobbled together a bad enough team that can lose to anybody.

They could easily have beaten the 6-19 Hawks on Saturday night in Atlanta only to have a meltdown in the closing minutes. As they are prone to do, it was rather epic.

With the score tied at 110, Kent Bazemore picked off a cross-court pass from Jonathon Simmons and dunked with 36 seconds left. Shelvin Mack’s 3-pointer from the corner was tipped and came up short. Bazemore then got the rebound with 21.6 seconds left and was fouled by Nikola Vucevic, After making two free throws, Bazemore then stole the ensuing inbounds pass from Elfrid Payton.

Game over, but the up-and-down drama continues for a while.

Orlando’s predicament goes back to the opening premise. Mediocrity in the NBA is No-Man’s Abyss. The goal for bad teams is to sink low enough to rise up with viable lottery picks. The Magic have tried that with very little success. The bounce of the ping-pong balls have not gone their way. It is the main reason — other than someone named Dwight Howard — that the Magic have not made the playoffs since 2012.

They got the right guy in Victor Oladipo in 2013, only to send him away in a misguided trade last season (see Ibaka, Serge). They got the wrong guy in Mario Hezonja in 2015, the fifth-overall selection and just one pick after the New York Knicks snagged Kristaps Porzingis.

He would have been a difference-maker for this team. Hezonja will become an unrestricted free agent next season, Orlando’s call and a signal that things have gone bust.

The good news is that the Magic seem to be on the right side of history now. They do have a nice batch of players, even if there is no superstar, the final arbiter of success and failure in the NBA.

The problem is that a bunch of them are currently unavailable. Aaron Gordon (18.3 ppg.), Evan Fournier (18.3 ppg.), Terrence Ross (9.0 ppg.) and Jonathan Isaac (6.1 ppg.) all missed the game against Atlanta with various injuries.

In a brutal two-way gut punch, the Magic lost Fournier to an ankle sprain and Gordon to a concussion with the span of a few days. They both are on the TBD timetable. Neither injury looks serious, but the Magic are not in position to dawdle.

That dark abyss looks like the likely scenario for the 2017-18 season: A one-and-done appearance in the playoffs, or a lottery pick that comes too late on Draft Night to make a significant impact, at least short-term.

At least the fan base isn’t screaming, most likely because people named Jacque Vaughn and Rob Hennigan have left the building.

The Magic will not lose games by design any more. They will lose simply because they don’t have enough talent to compete consistently every night.

At one point, things will flip. But if you are marking 2018 as the year that the Magic find their way back to relevance, you may want to find an eraser, as well as more patience.

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New Orleans Pelicans All-Star forward Anthony Davis has been diagnosed with a left adductor strain, the team announced Monday.

An MRI of his injured groin and further examination revealed no structural damage, and the timetable for his return will be day-to-day.

Davis missed Saturday’s game at Portland and will miss Monday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors.

Davis was on the court wearing team warm-up gear before the Pelicans played the Warriors. He said he has not resumed basketball activities.

“I just want to be part of the team. I haven’t done any basketball stuff yet,” Davis said. “I want to make sure that the pain has really gone away, especially since all I did was jump and it kind of killed me.”

He was seen using crutches Saturday night in Portland.

“It’s really hard to explain, but something I never felt before,” Davis said, adding that the crutches were a precaution while doctors were still trying to determine the precise nature of his injury.

“It’s good that they’re not finding anything, obviously,” Davis added. “That pain is still there when I do certain movements, so when that kind of subsides, then I’ll start moving forward.”

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry was relieved to find out Davis’ injury wasn’t more serious.

“Very much so,” Gentry said. “The fact that he’s day-to-day, I think is great. We’ll just work him out, rehab him and see where he is every day. Hopefully [his return] is sooner more so than later, but we’re still not going to take any chances.”

“When it’s a noncontact injury, you always worry about the severity of it,” Gentry said. “The fact that it wasn’t — we all had everything crossed that we own. The fact that it isn’t and he’s going to hopefully play soon is refreshing to us.”

Davis has averaged 25 points and 11 rebounds a game for the Pelicans, who are 12-11 and only one game out of sixth place in the Western Conference playoff chase.

Davis, a four-time All-Star, was injured on a noncontact play in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s loss to the Utah Jazz. Without Davis, New Orleans defeated Portland on Saturday behind DeMarcus Cousins’ 38 points.

Davis had been the Western Conference’s Player of the Week with an average of 25 points, 11 rebounds on 57 percent shooting for the Pelicans.

The Pelicans have home games against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, Sacramento Kings on Friday and Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.

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Miami Heat

Miami Heat

Five takeaways from the Heat’s 123-95 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena – Miami’s third blowout loss in its past four games.

1. Bad third quarters cost the Heat games earlier this season, and Sunday it really couldn’t afford to have another, but did. The Heat led early and kept the game close throughout the first half, trailing only by two points at the break. But in the third quarter, the floodgates opened as the Warriors outscored Miami 37-17 to break the game open and sweep the two-game season series.

“You can’t take away everything with that team,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But as much as any team in the league, when they smell blood, they go for it. Right then, right then and right there, so many of their guys just come alive when they start to get it rolling. And each one of them becomes ignitable. We have a couple of guys that are ignitable. They have a roster full of guys that really start foaming at the mouth when the game starts to turn like that.”

The Warriors missed six of their first seven shots allowing the Heat to storm out to a 10-2 advantage. Golden State then made 46 of its next 77 (59.7 percent) and shot 56 percent for the game.
The Heat also had much more defensive success in the team’s first game against the Warriors in Oakland on Nov. 6, during which Miami held Golden State to 36.8 percent shooting despite losing 97-80.

But in the third quarter, the Warriors made 15 of 21 shots including 5 of 9 three-pointers as Steph Curry (30 points) and Kevin Durant (24 points) each did enough to damage to afford sitting out the final period.

“We really wanted to come in trying to take away some of the easy ones,” Spoelstra said. “So they got a bunch of easy ones to start that third quarter and then the dam broke. And then they started making the tough ones. The tough ones, as long as we’re not fouling and we’re getting a contest? OK, that’s one thing. But the disappointing thing was all the easy ones, even in the first half that were given up on a lack of discipline. The guys competed their butts off in the first half and we didn’t do it with enough discipline at both ends of the court.”

2. Despite loss, Goran Dragic snaps out of recent shooting funk. For the past week since earning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors, Dragic has been struggling with his shot. Dragic entered the game having made only 7 of his past 29 attempts. But on Sunday, Dragic looked more aggressive and didn’t back down from taking the tough shots. Dragic went 7 of 10 from the field and was a perfect 4 for 4 from three-point range to lead the Heat with 20 points.

“I don’t care about that,” Dragic said. “Even if the shot went in, we still lost the game. The most important thing is winning. Of course, it’s nice to see the ball go in but that doesn’t mean anything if you lose.”

3. Dion Waiters, a hero last year against the Warriors, goes cold shooting this time. Waiters missed the Heat’s first meeting against Golden State this season due to the birth of his daughter. Just hours after Durant, his good friend and former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, sang his praises to the media, he found it difficult to find the mark with Durant guarding him throughout the first half. Waiters, who scored the game-winning three in last year’s win over the Warriors and hit two such clutch shots on Friday against Charlotte, went 1 for 10 from the field on Sunday and finished with only four points.

Waiters’ only worse game this season was when he went 0 for 10 in a 25-point loss to the Pacers on Nov. 19, but he also went 3 for 10 in the Heat’s loss to New York on Wednesday and 2 for 10 in an ugly Heat win against the Bulls on Nov. 26.

“I like the work that he’s been putting in,” Spoelstra said. “Now, in the last couple of weeks, it hasn’t necessarily been the results that we’ve wanted and I know he wants better results, as well. But I like the work that he’s been putting in. He’s been diligent about trying to take more responsibility, make better plays for the team. I thought he started the game very aggressive, getting to the basket, making some good ready. Then he missed some open ones and then the game just got out of control and in the second half it was tough to evaluate from there. He just has to stay with it and we’ll get him in spots where he can be aggressive.”

4. Bam Adebayo keeps learning and showing glimpses of his athleticism. Adebayo guarding Stephen Curry? It happened for a brief moment early in Sunday’s game. And Bam held his own pretty well. In a sequence during the second quarter, the Heat’s 6-foot, 10-inch rookie center kept up with the 6-3 Curry on the perimeter and forced him to pass to Durant, who then had a ball swatted away by Josh Richardson.

Adebayo made his third consecutive start while Hassan Whiteside continues to rehab his bruised left knee, and continued to impact the game in ways that don’t show up in the boxscore. Adebayo finished with nine points and two rebounds in 19 minutes and 56 seconds.

“It’s competitive nature,” Adebayo said. “I just go out there and play hard no matter who I’m guarding or what I’m doing. I’m just going out there to try and help my team.”

5. Although games have gotten out of hand quickly in its past three losses, Josh Richardson contributing more offensively is definitely a good thing. Coming off a career scoring night in which his 27 points helped the Heat beat the Hornets on Friday, Richardson again played well early on the offensive end against the Warriors.

Richardson has shot 27 of 48 (56.2 percent) and scored in double digits each time. This followed a three-game stretch in which Richardson shot only 3 of 19.

Richardson showed again how valuable he is on the defensive end especially in the first half delivering a highlight-worthy rejection of Durant on a drive to the basket. But if the Heat is to maintain consistency on the offensive end, it needs Richardson to continue to build off these recent performances.