Kyle Lowry ruled out Game 4 with sprained ankle

As expected, Kyle Lowry will be forced to watch his team from the sidelines for the second straight game.

The Raptors’ All-Star point guard has been ruled out for Sunday’s Game 4 showdown against the Cavs with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

I was actually trying to talk, and spit it out, Curry said after the game.

If you’ve watched any Golden State game in recent years, you know that Curry loves his mouthguard. He chomps on it like he’s eating a tender steak, and it bothers a lot of people on social media. So without his chew toy, Curry noted that he does feel weird without it.

A reporter told him that he made a 3-pointer without it, to which Curry responded, Maybe I should get rid of it.

Curry was joking when he said that, because it’s pretty clear he will never get rid of his mouthguard. As he revealed in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, the oral accessory is a key component to Curry’s game, mostly as a mental aspect because, as he says, it calms me down.

X-factor: Welcome to the spotlight, Norman Powell. The second-year shooting guard, who was inserted into the starting lineup by Dwane Casey in Game 4, had quite possibly the best game of his young career, scoring 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Powell was a perfect 4 of 4 from beyond the arc and 5 of 5 at the free-throw line. He came into Game 5 averaging 9.7 points per game for the series, but he blew away any previous expectations and provided plenty of evidence for why he should continue to start.

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Charles Barkley says Draymond Green wouldn’t have been able to do this against him

Warriors forward Draymond Green says he’s not the modern version of Charles Barkley. Conversely, Sir Charles sure doesn’t think he’s the ’80s version of Green.

Monday night on TNT’s Inside the NBA, the conversation got around to the Green-Barkley comp that Green pooh-poohed Sunday. Barkley did not disappoint.

Three of the Spurs’ most used lineups in this series have pulled down at least 33.3 percent of available offensive rebounds, according to, which would’ve led the NBA in the regular season by a significant margin. They’ve also had success on the glass when playing only one big as opposed to two. With Aldridge on the court surrounded by four wings, for example, the Spurs have a rebounding rate of 25.0 percent or better — again, a number comparable to the best offensive rebounding teams during the regular season.

It was a big factor in Game 5, when the Spurs recorded a pair of offensive rebounds in overtime even though they had the much smaller Jonathon Simmons playing power forward.

That’s one of the downsides for the Rockets of playing smaller lineups. When the Rockets are making 3-pointers at a decent rate, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with them. But when they make 26.1 percent of their 3-pointers like they did in the second half of Game 5, it gives teams like the Spurs an opportunity to exploit their weaknesses. As cliche as it may be to say the NBA is a make-or-miss league, it’s more applicable to the Rockets than most teams.

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Four big reasons why Celtics can’t stop Bulls

Whichever way you look at it, the Celtics shouldn’t be in this position against the Bulls. From a historical standpoint, only one other No. 1 seed has lost the opening two games of a series to the No. 8 seed. That team went on to win, although it was a best-of-five series back then. Based on what we saw throughout the season with the Celtics winning 53 games and the Bulls needing a victory on the final day of the regular season to make the playoffs, they shouldn’t be the worse team through two games. Tied at 1-1? Maybe. Down 0-2? Not a chance.

And yet, here the Celtics are facing a must-win situation on Friday to avoid going into a hole no team has ever climbed out of. To understand how they’ve gotten to this point and how they can get a much-needed win on the road, let’s take a look at four reasons why the Bulls got the better of the Celtics in Game 1 and Game 2.

He took $2.9 million to fill Bogut’s void and be part of the championship favorites, and the increased scrutiny that entailed. He never regretted it, though, even with the financial risk.

Two things, Pachulia explained. First, it was a risk, right? But I made the decision and the kind of person I am, I don’t regret a decision once I make it. If things don’t go the way I am expecting them to go, then that is just the experience. I am not going to look back and cry about it. But, second thing, I am glad I made the decision because it has been an amazing journey and ride so far. Hopefully, it is going to be better before we finish it because it is a really special moment to be part of this amazing organization. I don’t worry about the money. Dub Nation, it is priceless.

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Nuggets’ Will Barton won’t sign extension, eyes 2018 free agency, report says

Nuggets small forward Will Barton will not agree to a contract extension this offseason, thus officially joining the 2018 free-agent class, first reported.

Barton, 26, has been one of the NBA’s best sixth men for the last few seasons. He’s entering the final year of his three-year, $11 million contract. He has averaged 14.4 points and 13.7 points game during the last two seasons, respectively.

Johnson might be of the belief, as several NBA executives are, that the Pacers’ failure to surround George with better teammates has accounted for his unhappiness and public flogging of teammates during tough times. The theory goes that George’s mood will be vastly improved if he finds himself playing with better players, or returns to his native California to star for the team he grew up rooting for.

X-factor: In clutch time, can the Jazz turn to someone other than Johnson? At one point in the fourth quarter, Utah went more than six minutes without a bucket after being stuck with 96 points from 8:00 to 1:54 on the clock. The guy who finally broke that scoreless streak? Joe Johnson. Hayward and George Hill scored 66 of Utah’s 106 points for the game, so it feels odd to criticize those two, but they do need offer Johnson some sort of assistance in the final minutes.

Hill’s performance also highlighted the backup point guard issue on the Jazz bench. Quin Snyder may need to hand Raul Neto some of Shelvin Mack’s minutes because Mack isn’t producing much. The former Butler star has five points in 33 minutes for the entire series, while Neto scored five points in three minutes in Game 3 after not playing in Games 1 or 2. There at least needs to be a threat at the position, and right now, it’s not Mack.

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Russell Westbrook fined for ‘inappropriate language’

Russell Westbrook probably knew he was going to be fined for this comment, but he said it anyway.

I don’t give a about the line. We lost.

Westbrook said that in the postgame press conference after the Thunder’s 115-111 loss to Houston Wednesday night. ESPN was unable to censor the comment as the interview was live, and you just can’t do that. Now, the NBA has fined him $15,000 for it.

I guess if you cuss, you get fined, Westbrook told reporters Friday, via The Oklahoman. … It is what it is. I’m OK with it. I’ll take it.

Leave it to Westbrook to tell it like it is. Maybe his fans will pay for his fine like Grizzlies coach David Fizdale’s players are paying for his.

Either way, in a world where many players and coaches are ruled by cliches Westbrook will always give it to you straight. There is worth in that $15,000 worth apparently.

However, if he is to perform to what his current experience level is which is to say, never participating in a collegiate game against players 20 to 23 years old like he’ll be performing against here it could hurt his stock enough to where teams don’t believe he’ll be ready early enough to contribute on his rookie contract, and he’ll get indications that he should return to school. No pressure, just have to perform in your first-ever set of games against this level of competition, with potentially millions of dollars riding on the outcome.

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NBA trade rumors: Several teams have asked Knicks about disgruntled Kristaps Porzingis

Several NBA teams called the Knicks about a possible trade for Kristaps Porzingis after he skipped an exit meeting with Phil Jackson and general manager Steve Mills, according to ESPN.

It’s still pretty sore, Lowry told reporters. I have to be able [to] play defense, run up and down, make cuts, and I think the making cuts part will be most important. Going straight forward will be OK.

Cory Joseph, who scored 22 points in 25 minutes in Game 2, likely would replace Lowry in the starting lineup if he’s unable to play.

Lowry’s ankle injury is unusual, noted, in that he turned it inward instead of rolling the ankle outward, more typical in basketball. Lowry described the sprain as high on his ankle but said it wasn’t a high ankle sprain.

This one is a little bit different, Lowry said. I want to be out there 100 percent with my teammates, playing and trying to win games, protecting home court. I wish I could be out there with my teammates. That’s the goal. The goal is just to play. I have to wait.

The Raptors trail in the series, 2-0, and badly need Lowry, who has averaged 20 points and eight assists in the series.

Yep. The Bucks dominated this one from the start and never looked back. Toronto was completely out of sync and had no answers the entire night. Dwane Casey’s squad can’t play with this kind of effort again, or this series won’t last long.

Turning point: Uh, at the tipoff? The Raptors shot 3 of 15 to start the game while the Bucks went 12 of 18. Toronto didn’t make a shot outside of the paint until the second quarter. Milwaukee held a 32-12 lead at the end of the first, and it got worse from there.

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Cleveland police: Cavs game will be ‘safe’ despite shooting suspect on the run

Cleveland police chief Calvin Williams said fans attending Monday night’s Cavaliers playoff game against the Pacers will be safe.

The city has been on edge since Sunday afternoon when a man identified as Steve Stephens, shot and killed Robert Godwin, a passerby who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Stephens then uploaded video of the killing to Facebook, where he warned he had killed several others. Police have only verified one killing.

But with the Rockets and Thunder facing off the the first round of the NBA playoffs, Westbrook made it clear that his friendship with Harden will be nonexistent on the court.

When I get on the floor, I got one friend, and that’s the basketball, Westbrook said, via ESPN. I’ve been like that since I was a little kid. My dad told me that when I was younger, ‘You got one friend and your friend is Spalding. At the time maybe it was Wilson or some other s—.’

Whatever the ball is, that’s who my friend is.

Even though they pitted against each other in the MVP race this season, Harden maintains he will always have a solid friendship with Westbrook.

Since 10 years old. That’s never gonna change, Harden said at the Rockets’ shootaround Sunday morning.

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Magic Johnson should steer clear of Paul George in search for next Lakers superstar

It didn’t take long for Magic Johnson to come to the realization that what he’s got in Laker-land isn’t enough to challenge for an NBA title. Anybody can see what he’s up against.

D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle aren’t going to take the Lakers where Magic wants them to go. Who knows if any of the three will turn into so much as All-Stars, at this stage? What everyone can see, including the Lakers legend now running the show, is that none is going to be that transcendent superstar that can carry the franchise and turn it into a championship contender. There’s no Magic or Kobe in this group.

Pachulia admits that he didn’t handle those early weeks the right way. You’ve heard plenty of athletes shrug off the notion of outside noise by saying they don’t read the paper or check the media. Not Pachulia. He was on the internet. He read the negative stuff. He listened to the chatter. It was hard on him.

In the beginning, I was reading a lot, my ears were kind of open and hearing a lot, Pachulia said. I think that was not the right thing for me to do. It was affecting me in a negative way after I was reading so much of these critics. But I am thankful to my coaches for telling me and reminding me not to listen to that stuff. The most important thing for me is to listen to my coaches and my teammates, are they comfortable with me being part of this team? They were, and that’s what motivated me, changed my approach.

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LeBron James is still very good at chase-down blocks, destroys Thad Young’s soul

We’ve seen those screens used for Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard in the past. Even though Paul didn’t shoot as many pull-up 3-pointers as them on the season, he made 39.1 percent of those opportunities. Of the 27 players who attempted at least 2.0 pull-up 3-pointers per game this season, only Kyle Lowry (42.1 percent), Eric Gordon (40.5 percent) and CJ McCollum (42.9 percent) made then at a higher rate . If Paul looks for his shot more than he does in the regular season, it could crack one of the best defenses — and one of the best defenders — in the NBA.

Westbrook is a one-man wrecking crew in transition. He led the NBA this season with 6.8 transition opportunities per game, and he turned those opportunities into 6.7 transition points per game. It made up for 20.2 percent of his offense in total, which played a big role in the Thunder scoring more points than all but five teams on the fast break: Wizards, Cavaliers, Rockets, Suns and Warriors.

LeBron James doesn’t simply let fast breaks happen without trying to swallow them whole.

Just like he did in Game 7 of the NBA Finals last year, James completely evaporated a Pacers’ fast break Sunday, swatting Thad Young from behind to prevent a score in Game 4 of the Cavaliers’ first-round series against Indiana.

Why do people still think they can finish a fast break anywhere close to LeBron’s vicinity? King James is a worldeater on fast-break defense.

At this point, I wouldn’t even feel comfortable with a five-on-one if LeBron was the one.

Anyway, it’s always a good time when LeBron reminds everyone just how insanely good, strong and athletic he is despite being 32 years old.

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Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers teammates donate $224K in playoff bonuses to team staffers

The Portland Trail Blazers’ season ended on a down note, as the Golden State Warriors swept them in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

But that short playoff run will pay dividends for many members of the Trail Blazers’ organization.

When Howard was told that he came up as flagged for not having insurance and a suspended registration, the Hawks big man seemed confused and insisted he had insurance, according to the police report. But Howard was unable to present an insurance card to the officer.

Howard was issued a citation for not having insurance and received a verbal warning for speeding, even though he was going 95 mph in a 65 mph zone.

His car, a 2016 Audi Rs7, was impounded. The Hawks declined comment about the incident.

They’re playing so much harder and with so much more passion than us right now, Clippers coach Doc Rivers said during his in-game interview with ESPN after the first quarter. We gotta get involved in this game, or this score’s gonna continue to grow.

The Clippers found an answer, trimming the Jazz lead down to single digits before halftime. Unfortunately for LA, the team had to do so without Blake Griffin, who injured his right big toe in the second quarter and did not return to the game. (The Clippers later announced Griffin will miss the rest of the playoffs.) So what do you do with one of your best players sidelined? You give the ball to Chris Paul, and you get the hell out of the way.

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