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Matthews helps Blazers hold off Raptors

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland guard Wesley Matthews scored 21 points, but it was his defensive work on the game’s final possession that keyed the Trail Blazers’ 106-103 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday night at the Moda Center.

Matthews twice thwarted Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan on drives to the basket, allowing the Blazers to hold off a torrid fourth-quarter rally by the Raptors.

With Portland leading 104-103 and 11.8 seconds remaining, Matthews forced a jump ball on a DeRozan move to the hoop. After Toronto won the tap and called timeout with 5.6 seconds left, DeRozan committed a turnover on another drive under defensive pressure from Matthews.

Matthews had fouled DeRozan on a long jump shot on the previous possession, resulting in two free throws that gave the Raptors a 103-102 lead with 25.4 seconds remaining.

“My mentality (on the final possession) was, ‘I owe us one,'” Matthews said. “I had to get us one back. That’s unlike me to be undisciplined, to jump at that (DeRozan shot with 25.4 seconds to play). But he had it going, so I felt like any time it left his hands, it was going to go in.”

DeRozan scored 30 of his game-high 36 points in the second half and also had 12 assists for the Raptors (25-22), who were playing the second of back-to-back games after winning 90-80 at Denver on Friday night. Guard Kyle Lowry added 23 points and eight assists for Toronto.

Forward LaMarcus Aldridge scored 27 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for Portland (34-13), which snapped a two-game losing streak. Matthews and guard Damian Lillard each scored 21 points for the Blazers.

Lillard’s basket with 11.8 seconds proved to be the winner, allowing Portland to stave off a torrid late rally by the Raptors, who trailed by 16 points with nine minutes to play only to take the lead in the closing seconds.

“We understood what we had to do,” DeRozan said. “We were down big, and the only way to get back in the game was to get stops.”

More than that, though, was the offense provided by DeRozan and Lowry.

Held to six points in the first half, DeRozan cranked it up with 16 points in the third quarter as the Raptors closed a 69-50 deficit to 75-70 with a 20-6 run. Portland held an 83-74 edge going into the fourth quarter and increased the lead to 93-77 early in the fourth. Toronto stormed back, though, closing to within 102-101 on a Lowry 3-pointer with 2:52 remaining.

Neither team scored again until Lowry sank two free throws with 25.4 seconds to go to give the Raptors a 103-102 lead.

Lillard made a running bank shot from the right side with 11.8 seconds left to pull Portland back on top 104-103.

“I came up off a down screen,” said Lillard, who also had seven assists and six rebounds with no turnovers. “My first thought was to try to turn the corner and attack as fast as I could. I was able to get a pretty good look and make the floater.”

After the DeRozan turnover, Portland forward Nicolas Batum made two free throws with .1 of a second left for the final margin.

“The first half wasn’t us,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “We picked it up in the second half, but you can’t spot a good team like Portland that many points and expect to survive.”

Aldridge had 18 points and 11 rebounds and Lillard added 15 points — 12 in the second quarter — to stake Portland to a 17-point lead at the half. Lowry had 12 points for the Raptors, who shot only 35 percent from the field and were outrebounded 28-19 through the break.

Portland jumped to a 13-point first-quarter lead as Toronto and settled for a 31-19 lead at the end of the quarter. Aldridge had already secured his 30th double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds, though he was only 4 for 11 from the field.

The Blazers increased their advantage to 41-24 midway through the second quarter, but the Raptors used a 10-2 run to cut the margin to 43-34. The Blazers outscored the visitors 14-6 the rest of the half to go into intermission ahead 57-40.

NOTES: Portland F LaMarcus Aldridge had his eighth game of at least 25 points and 15 rebounds this season. … Toronto reserve G Greivis Vasquez sat out the game with flu-like symptoms. … The Blazers have won six in a row over the Raptors in Portland. … Toronto entered the game having won three in a row and nine of 13.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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Bulls’ guard Zach LaVine desires respect for new contract

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According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine wants the respect he deserves for his contract extension. On Monday morning before Team USA’s practice to prepare for Tuesday’s match against Spain, the 26-year-old guard said to reporters, “I just want my respect, that’s the main thing. I outplayed my contract. I’ve been very loyal to Chicago. I like Chicago. I just want my respect. If that’s now or later, it’s something we’ve got to work out internally.” In the 2020-21 season, in 58 games played, LaVine averaged 27.4 points, five rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. He also shot 50.7 percent from the field and was selected to his first NBA All-Star Game.

Regarding the “outplayed my contract” comment, his argument his fair. Last season, with 200 three-point field goals made, he ranked ninth overall in the league. Despite the Bulls finishing 31-41 (.431) last season, he led the team in points and assists. Per ESPN, they are also reporting that Chicago is trying to work out a four-year, $105 million contract extension for their star guard. Though, this deal is expected to fall below his market value. In terms of signing available free agents this offseason, some Bulls fans are speculating the organization will pursue either Knicks’ shooting guard/small forward Reggie Bullock, Lakers’ power forward/center Markieff Morris or Pelicans’ point guard Lonzo Ball.

On July 13, 2018, the 2014 13th pick of the draft signed a four-year, $78 million contract with the Bulls. LaVine earned $19,500,000 last season, and he is set to earn $19,500,000 in the upcoming season. It is not urgent for Chicago to extend LaVine’s contract this offseason. The organization will have the full rights to re-sign him to a new deal for next season in 2022.

However, the guard will also become an unrestricted free agent next year, so the Bulls should work towards fixing their salary cap issues right now. Referencing Spotrac, center Nikola Vucevic has a cap figure of $24 million. Of this amount, his future guaranteed cash is $22 million. One notable 2021-22 cap hold is Lauri Markkanen. His qualifying offer is $9,026,952, and his cap figure is $20,194,524. On March 2, 2020, Markkanen was recalled from the Windy City Bulls of the G League.

Furthermore, on March 25, 2021, center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu were traded by the Orlando Magic to the Bulls in exchange for Otto Porter, Wendell Carter Jr., a 2021 first-round pick and a 2023 first-round pick. This is quite the gamble for the Bulls organization, considering they traded away two future first-round picks. Vucevic is set to earn $24 million for the 2021-22 season. Chicago has $56,679,846 available in cap space. Their current luxury tax space is $29,405746.

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Rockets decline Avery Bradley’s $5.9 million team option

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First reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Houston Rockets are declining Avery Bradley’s team option for the 2021-22 NBA season. On November 23, 2020, the 30-year-old guard signed as a free agent with the Miami Heat. He signed a two-year, $11.6 million deal. On March 25, 2021, the Heat traded Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and a 2022 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for two-time NBA All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. The 2022 first-round pick is an option to trade for a potential Heat or Nets pick. Plus, Houston received a trade exception, too.

Moreover, Bradley earned $5,635,000 this previous season; the Rockets declined his 2021-22 team option of $5,916,750 for next season. In other words, both sides have mutually agreed to part ways, so the six-foot-three guard is now an unrestricted free agent. In early February, it was first reported that the Washington native would miss three to four weeks due to a calf strain. Before this injury, he averaged 8.5 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for Miami. Furthermore, he also shot a career-high percentage of 42.1 percent from behind the arc last season.

Though, Bradley disappointed both of his teams last season, leading to the Rockets finishing 17-55 (.236), ranking 15th overall in the Western Conference. Last season was the first time since the 1982-83 season that Houston failed to win at least 20 games. Since the 2011-12 season, it was the first time the Rockets had failed to qualify for the playoffs. In only 27 games played, the 11-year NBA veteran averaged 6.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. He shot 37.4 percent from the field as well.

Likewise, the Miami Heat finished 40-32 (.556) last season, regressing from the team’s 44-29 (.603) record and sixth NBA Finals appearance from the 2019-20 season. Fans across social media are already speculating that the 2010 19th overall pick will end up playing for the Los Angeles Lakers next season. If this happens, he would join the team’s newly established big three: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook.

After Bradley signed with the Lakers for the 2019-20 season, he joined the list of players in the league’s history who played for both the Celtics and Lakers. The list includes Brian Shaw, Clyde Lovellette, Mel Counts, Rick Fox, Don Nelson, Bob McAdoo, Isaiah Thomas, Charlie Scott, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal and Rajon Rondo. According to Bleacher Report, the Lakers are also interested in signing Carmelo Anthony this offseason.

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Mavericks will pick up Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option

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Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Dallas Mavericks are planning to pick up center Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option for the 2021-22 NBA season. The deadline is tomorrow. Last season, in 53 games played, the seven-foot big man averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The sixth-year player also shot 63.2 percent from the field last season.

On July 8, 2019, Cauley-Stein signed a two-year, $4.46 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Then, on January 25, 2020, Cauley-Stein was traded to the Mavericks for a 2020 second-round pick. If everything goes smoothly, the 27-year-old center is set to earn $4.1 million next season. The 2015 sixth overall pick’s contract consumes less than three percent of the team’s total salary cap.

This news comes right after Dallas received center Moses Brown from the Boston Celtics. Brown is a seven-foot-two, 2019 undrafted player out of UCLA. In 2021, Brown was named to the All-NBA G League First Team and All-Defensive Team. On March 28, 2021, the 21-year-old center signed a four-year, $6.8 million contract with the Thunder.

However, on June 18, 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Brown, Al Horford, and a 2023 second-round pick to the Celtics for Kemba Walker, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2025 second-round pick. With Boston, Brown was set to earn $1,701,593 next season. Of course, the Mavs organization is finalizing a trade to send Josh Richardson to the Celtics as well. In other news, today is Mavs owner Mark Cuban’s 63rd birthday.

Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 luxury tax totals, the Mavs’ current luxury tax space is $52,326,531. The 2021 NBA salary cap maximum is $112,414,000. Their current cap space is $27,595,632. Cauley-Stein’s contract is recognized as a club option, not a player option or guaranteed money. Richardson’s deadline is also tomorrow, so because he is getting traded to Boston, the team will not collect his $11,615,328 player option.

Plus, Jalen Brunson’s deadline is also August 1st. His guaranteed value is $1,802,057. Leading into the 2021-22 season, Kristaps Porzingis has the highest cap figure on the team, which is an amount worth $31,650,600, consuming 22.73 percent of the team’s total salary cap. At the moment, Porzingis is a popular name in trade rumor articles. Bettors and NBA analysts are predicting a possible trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers.

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