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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.

COLLINS GETS CHANCE

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.”

MCCOLLUM EASES OUT OF SLUMP

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.

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Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin

LOS ANGELES — Clippers forward Blake Griffin suffered a left knee injury and had to leave in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s 120-115 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers did not have an update on Griffin’s condition but said Griffin’s spirits were down after the game. He said Griffin will be further evaluated Tuesday and that the Clippers were hoping for the best.

“It didn’t look good,” Rivers said. “But we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Griffin became tangled with Lakers guard Lonzo Ball and Clippers guard Austin Rivers beneath the Lakers’ basket as the scrum dived for a loose ball with 4:43 remaining in regulation. The collision didn’t result in a foul call. Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. picked up the loose ball and scored on a layup while getting fouled by Austin Rivers.

“You could see right when it happened,” Doc Rivers said. “Lonzo was just trying to make a play, but he went in. Usually when you go in like that, that hard … they call it.”

Griffin remained in the game on the ensuing Clippers possession, during which he missed a 10-foot hook shot. He ultimately checked out of the game and retreated to the Clippers’ locker room following a layup by Lakers forward Brandon Ingram and a Clippers timeout.

Griffin left the locker room without speaking to reporters.

“I knew immediately, I thought,” Doc Rivers said. “But then Blake said he was OK. I just saw his leg go in, and then when they switched on back-to-back plays, he couldn’t move so we had to get him out of the game.”

The Clippers have been ravaged by injuries in recent weeks. They lost their starting point guard, Milos Teodosic, to a left foot injury during the third game of the season. His counterpart in the backcourt, Patrick Beverley, was lost for the season last week after undergoing microfracture surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Forward Danilo Gallinari missed his 10th consecutive game with a strained left gluteus maximus.

Griffin, who signed a new five-year, $173 million contract during the offseason, has been beset by injuries during his eight seasons in the NBA. Over the previous three seasons, he has played in 67, 35 and 61 games, respectively. Most recently, he was forced out of the Clippers’ first-round playoff series when he hurt the plantar of his big right toe in Game 3 after missing 18 games during the regular season following arthroscopic surgery to his right knee.

Before he played his first regular-season game as a professional, Griffin broke his left kneecap during the 2009 preseason. In the summer of 2012 while training with Team USA, he tore his medial meniscus in the same knee.

The Clippers, 8-11 after winning their third consecutive game, next play on Thursday against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center. If Griffin doesn’t take the floor, center DeAndre Jordan will be the only remaining member of the team’s opening night starting lineup.

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Golden State Warriors

The Golden State Warriors are facing a tough showdown—not on the basketball court, but in a U.S. district court, where a judge has ordered the team to trial over its smartphone app, which allegedly recorded fans’ conversations.

The Warriors’ app bills itself as a way for fans to keep track of scores and stats. But while fans were watching the game, the app was watching them, fan LaTisha Satchell claims in a lawsuit. One of the app’s promotional tools allegedly turns a user’s phone microphone on and keeps it on, recording everything within earshot and relaying data back to the Warriors and a tech company, possibly in violation of wiretap laws.

“[The Warriors] gained access to tens of thousands of microphones belonging to consumers who downloaded the Warriors App and turned their mobile devices into bugged listening devices,” the suit alleges.

The unlikely snooping program started as an effort to sell merchandise and ticket upgrades, the suit contends. The Warriors wanted to know when fans were on Warrior-owned property, and how long they stayed there. The app tracked this through audio “beacons” that played through special transmitters in their arena and stores, the suit alleges. The app listened for those beacons and sent customized advertisements to a user’s phone.

An app user sitting in the nosebleed seats at a Warriors game might get a notification suggesting they upgrade to tickets with a better view. A fan in the gift shop might get an alert about a special promotion on merchandise.

The Warriors’ technology partners said fans were fine with the notifications.

“You’re not going to get mad at the Golden State Warriors and go to some other arena instead,” the CEO of the company that installed the beacons told Bloomberg earlier this year.

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Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks

When the Dallas Mavericks are lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy in late June, we’ll look back on Saturday night’s net scorching ceremony with the Milwaukee Bucks as the turning point.

Or, you know, maybe not.

There’s no denying that these games against Milwaukee and Boston were fun to watch. And maybe it was some kind of glimpse into Dallas’ potential. But taking a breath, and remembering the deficiencies this group carries, we know this is still a lottery team.

So very slowly, semi-quietly, we look ahead. One of the very few exciting aspects of being a team headed to the front of the lottery line is daydreaming about the future young stars the Mavericks can pick up. Yes, it’s a new-ish concept for this Dallas front office. But the idea that you can find the future of your franchise, not in free agency, but on draft night with young prospects exploding with potential, should ignite excitement through the hallways of the AAC.

We know plenty of the names. We’ve caught glimpses of them online in mixtapes and highlight reels, mostly as big fish in small ponds. But outside of one budding international star, what these players look like against other big fish is a bit of a mystery.

So here at Mavs Moneyball we invite you to learn with us. Every week we’re going to highlight a handful of games happening that week, featuring projected lottery picks. These are players we think fit best with our idea of a Dallas Mavericks Draft Big Board (coming soon); talent that fits the need and culture in Dallas.

It’s early in the college basketball season, and with the holiday week upon us, we have a slate of exciting mini-tournaments and invitationals. So the schedule below will look a bit different than future weeks. But if you find yourself wanting an escape from Mavs’ struggles, and want to daydream about the future, here are some games that might meet your needs:
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 22ND

Arizona vs NC State (6 P.M. CT, ESPN3)

DeAndre Ayton leads a couple of NBA prospects and the Arizona Wildcats to face Dennis Smith Jr.’s alma mater, N.C. State, in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. If you haven’t seen any of Ayton, you’ll be shocked to learn that someone can be 19 years old and an actual Monstar. He’s just so full grown.

Though the N.C. State matchup might not be terribly exciting, it’s an ACC team. And we mention it here because of the potential meetings later in the tournament; if Arizona and others advance, they could be seeing SMU and possible future first rounder Shake Milton, then Mikal Bridges and his fifth ranked Villanova Wildcats (on the 23rd and 24th respectively). All in all, there could be a lot of draft talent playing in the Bahamas this week.
NOVEMBER 23RD-26TH

The PK-80 Invitational (Various times, ESPN Network)

If you had your fill on food, the NFL, or the NBA same ol’ same ol’, this would be the time to flip over to the inaugral PK-80 Invitational. In celebration of Nike Co-founder Phil Knight’s 80th birthday, this tourney in Portland will bring in a slew of college teams to compete in a two bracket tournament. This is the sort of fun and chaos that college basketball brings.

And lucky for us, the bracket is packed with elite teams and lottery talent:

Duke: Marvin Bagley III, Gary Trent Jr, Trevon Duval, Wendell Carter
Michigan State: Jalen Jones Jr. and Miles Bridges
Texas: Mohamed Bamba
Oregon: Troy Brown

Plus the potential of these teams matching up with other quality squads: North Carolina, Florida, Oklahoma, Gonzaga. Games will be happening all day long over Thanksgiving weekend. It’s worth tuning in to this lottery filled tournament.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 26TH

Robert Williams and A&M match up with the 10th ranked USC Trojans Sunday night at 8 P.M. CT, on the PAC12 Network. Southern Cal has some quality NBA prospects, and it should be one of the better head-to-heads of the weekend, with Williams matching up against Chimezie Metu.

Robert Williams made a surprise return to A&M to play his sophomore year. He was seen as a late lottery prospect in last summer’s draft, and many scouts expected him to pursue that option. Now, after being suspended the first two games of the Aggies’ season for violation of team rules, he rejoined the team this week.

Additionally, the highly touted Michael Porter Jr. has essentially been out the entire first week of play with an injury. With the hype of being a possible number one pick in the draft, it’s worth monitoring whether he’s able to suit up this week. Missouri is playing in the Advocare Invitational, and released a statement Monday saying Porter Jr. would be visiting a specialist. So it may be a while.

Check back next week for a new slate of games – the next Maverick is somewhere out there!

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The Charlotte Hornets’ top draft pick was benched in favor of Michael Carter-Williams after the team lost six straight games.

Steve Clifford chose to bench his star rookie because he needed more defense. After losing six straight games, he chose not to play Malik Monk a single minute against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Charlotte Hornets‘ head coach said that “It’s not Malik’s fault, it’s just his position; [Michael Carter-Williams is] a difference-maker defensively.” (CharlotteObserver.com)

This was the first time this year that the 11th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft didn’t play in a game for Charlotte. He saw at least nine minutes in the Hornets’ first 14 games of the season. In a surprising turn of events, Monk has fallen out of the team’s rotation while second-round pick Dwayne Bacon is still getting important minutes off of the bench.

The Kentucky product saw 19.8 minutes per game was averaging 8.8 points, 1.9 assists and 1.9 rebounds. He’s been struggling to find his shot shooting only 34.6% from the field and 33.3% from the three-point line. His lack of offensive production hasn’t been enough to overshadow his poor defensive play.

Monk’s defense was a big question mark coming out of college. His size is making him a bit of a liability on that end of the floor. To try and cover up his defensive woes, Coach Clifford was playing Malik at point guard so that he wouldn’t be forced to cover bigger shooting guards. That worked while Michael Carter-Williams was out rehabbing from offseason knee procedures but now that MCW is back, it looks like the rookie has fallen out of the rotation.

Even though the 19-year old is struggling, it isn’t out of the norm for a rookie to have a rough start at the professional level. Even Lonzo Ball, who was the second overall pick, is having his fair share of problems in the NBA. It takes time for most first-year players to adjust to the speed and style of the league.

It will be interesting to see if this trend continues going forward. If the hamstring injury that Jeremy Lamb suffered against the Clippers keeps him sidelined, it could mean a return to the rotation for Monk. At some point, you’d have to think that Malik will earn his minutes back.

It’s far too early to completely give up on such a promising rookie but for the time being, the Hornets need win games and Steve Clifford is electing to go with defense over offense. So until Malik improves his play on that end of the court or Charlotte’s defense as a whole gets better, it’s unlikely that he will see significant minutes anytime soon.

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ATLANTA — The Sacramento Kings may be just the opponent that the Atlanta Hawks need to get their first home victory of the season.

The Kings take a seven-game road losing streak into Wednesday night’s game at Philips Arena and have lost 10 straight in Atlanta.

Sacramento’s 3-10 record this season is slightly less dismal than Atlanta’s 2-12, but the Kings’ futility in Atlanta at least gives the Hawks a historical edge.

The Kings are 5-25 at Atlanta since moving to Sacramento for the 1985-86 season and their last victory came on March 3, 2006.

Of course, the Hawks have had much more overall success during most of that stretch, going to the playoffs the past 10 seasons and reaching the Eastern Conference Finals three years ago after a 60-win season.

Both the Hawks and Kings are in rebuilds this season and victories have been as hard to come by as expected.

The Hawks won their opener at Dallas and have just one win since, a 117-115 shocker against the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Nov. 8 that ended an eight-game losing streak.

Four consecutive losses have followed and the Hawks are the only NBA team without a home victory, although they have played just four times at Philips Arena. Six of the next seven games are at home.

The Hawks, who have at least kept most games close, made 39 3-pointers during a three-game road trip that concluded Monday in New Orleans and still have nothing to show for it.

Four of the Hawks’ 17 3-pointers in the 106-105 loss to the Pelicans came from 6-foot-9 rookie forward Tyler Cavanaugh, signed earlier this month to a two-way contract that will have him playing mainly with Erie of the G-League.

“It’s one of those good stories,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said after Cavanaugh’s 16-point game. “Certainly, frustrated that we weren’t able to find a way to get the win. … We’ve got to find those spots sometimes when you’re frustrated or having a tough night — and Tyler was certainly one of those guys tonight.”

The Kings haven’t won away from Sacramento since their road opener at Dallas and have lost by 27 and 18 points in the first two games of their current three-game swing.

At least veteran guard George Hill regained his shooting touch in Monday’s 110-92 loss at Washington, scoring 16 points while making all three of his shots from behind the 3-point arc.

Hill, who averaged 16.9 points for Utah last season, is scoring just 8.2 per game with the Kings and had struggled with his shot since the opening week.

The advice that Hill has been getting apparently paid off.

“‘Look to score first, try to make passes second,’” Hill said of the message after the game. “That’s what I was trying to do.”

Veteran Vince Carter has missed the Kings’ past four games because of kidney stones.

The Hawks signed Cavanaugh because they have been without frontcourt players Ersan Ilyasova (knee), Mike Muscala (ankle) and Miles Plumlee (quad).

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Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors

BOSTON — Al Horford had 24 points in his return from a two-game absence because of a concussion and the Boston Celtics hung on to beat the Toronto Raptors 95-94 on Sunday for their 12th straight victory.

Boston (12-2) was playing without Kyrie Irving after he took an inadvertent elbow to the face from teammate Aron Baynes on Friday night against Charlotte. Irving has a minor facial fracture but has not been diagnosed with a concussion as initially feared.

Jaylen Brown added 18 points, and Terry Rozier helped fill in for Irving with 16 points off the bench. Boston shot just 40.2 per cent from the field.

DeMar DeRozan scored 24 points, and Kyle Lowry had 19 points and seven rebounds for Toronto. The Raptors dropped to 7-5 after winning two straight.

Jayson Tatum’s acrobatic layup with 1:26 remaining in the fourth quarter put the Celtics up 95-90.

DeRozan missed a potential go-ahead stepback jumper with 19 seconds remaining. Tatum got the rebound, but elbowed Fred VanVleet in the face for an offensive foul that was confirmed by video review.

DeRozan had another look to give Toronto the win, but missed a turnaround jumper with two seconds left. Serge Ibaka scooped up the rebound, but lost the ball as time expired.

The Celtics took a 77-76 lead into the fourth after fighting back from nine down.

DeRozan and Lowry scored 21 of the Raptors’ 24 first-quarter points, but combined for just five in the second as Toronto led by five at halftime.
MASKED KYRIE

Irving visited a facial specialist Sunday and was fitted for a mask after being injured Friday. The last time Irving played in a mask was on Dec. 15, 2012, when he scored a then-career-high 41 points versus New York with Cleveland.
TIP-INS

Raptors: Lowry’s 3-pointer with 5:32 left in the first quarter moved him past Andrea Bargnani (6,581 points) into fourth place on Toronto’s all-time scoring list. … DeRozan had 20 or more points for the seventh straight regular season game in Boston and is averaging 22 points in that stretch. … Norman Powell left the game with a right hip pointer.

Celtics: Boston’s 12-game winning streak is tied for its third-longest in the last 30 years. The Celtics also won 12 straight from Jan. 11-Feb. 3, 2009. … Rozier scored at least 10 points in a career-best three straight games.