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ICYMI: Now, If the Raptors Can Do This in May …

Toronto beats down its tormentors, Pop talks LaMarcus’s trade request, and everything else you need to know Thursday in the NBA

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Toronto Raptors Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

All the need-to-know info from Thursday’s slate.


3-Rex

A common refrain amid the Toronto Raptors’ successful season has been one of dismissal and “believe it when I see it … in the playoffs” skepticism. For the most part, it’s warranted. The Raptors seem to show us enough to believe in them around this time of the year only to squander it come May. The last two years, their undoing has been the Cleveland Cavaliers, who’ve beaten them in the conference finals and semis.

Will this year be different? For 48 minutes on Thursday, it looked like could be. Toronto took it to Cleveland, blitzing them for a season-high 133 points and holding them to 99 in a win that will replay in the minds of Raptors fans for the rest of the season:

It was inside-outside domination, as the more youthful, 3-point-friendly Raptors drained 42.9 percent of their 42 attempts from deep while scoring 66 points inside the paint and out-rebounding the Cavs, who were seemingly allergic to both effort and defense, 63-35. The dominant performance was all done without Kyle Lowry or Serge Ibaka in the lineup, and with DeMar DeRozan scoring a measly 13 points.

This game was perhaps more telling in what it said about each team’s depth than about the Raptors’ chances in the playoffs. Toronto’s bench crew scored 76 points, led by Fred VanVleet’s six 3s and team-high 22 points, while the Cavs’ starters only had 51, and their own bench 48. Cleveland has now lost seven of its last 10.

Come May, if the two teams meet with bigger stakes on the line, the blueprint for the Raptors will need to be the same. Make 3s; own the paint. In other words, beat the Cavs at their own game.

Pop Says LaMarcus Aldridge Wanted a Trade

Before the Spurs faced off against the Lakers on Thursday night, Gregg Popovich talked to reporters about Aldridge’s improvement, and what, if anything, has changed from last season. In an extremely candid moment, Pop revealed that Aldridge had requested a trade, which turned out to be an awakening of sorts.

“I said, ‘Woah, nobody’s ever said that to me before.’ It’s my 20-whatever year, and nobody’s ever said that, like, ‘I’m not enjoying this. I’m not confident. I’m not sure you want me here. I want to be traded,’” Popovich said.

According to Pop, the two met after the season and Pop joked that he’d gladly trade him if he gave him a talent like Kevin Durant. “I said, ‘But short of that, I’m your best buddy, because you’re here for another year, and you ain’t going nowhere. Because we’re not gonna get for you talentwise what we would want. So, let’s figure this thing out.’ And we did.”

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ICYMI, Inception Style

The Rumor Mill Is Up and Running

The trade deadline arrives earlier than usual this season, which means teams’ phones are already getting a workout. Late Thursday, it was reported that the Grizzlies were putting Ben McLemore, who is having a career-worst year shooting from 3, on the block:

Meanwhile, in Detroit, Stan Van Gundy is getting asked about his two youngest assets, defensive specialist Stanley Johnson and 3-point shooter Luke Kennard:

So, Is Lonzo Pop’s Rookie of the Year?

Before the game, Pop was also asked what he’d seen from Lonzo Ball. His answer was peak Popovichian. “I haven’t watched him,” he said. “If I have to watch film, that’s what assistant coaches are for. Jerry Sloan taught me that.”

Are we to assume that Thursday night’s game was Pop’s very first time watching Lonzo? If so, I can only guess he’ll have him as his ROY front-runner after the Lakers rookie posted 18 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and four steals; shot 63.6 percent from the field; and made four 3s, including one to put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter. It was one of Lonzo’s best games of the year, a testament to both his potential and his effect on the team when he’s on the court.

The Lakers won 93-81, beating the Spurs for the first time in San Antonio’s last eight visits to the Staples Center. More importantly, the Lakers have a win streak longer than two games for the first time this season. Little steps!

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The Clippers Need an Exorcism

First, the good: Despite nearly blowing a 16-point lead to the Kings, the Clippers won, 121-115, their third straight win and seventh of their last nine. They’re now just a half game back of the eighth seed in the West.

Now, the bad news: The win came at a cost—another injury.

After dunking all over Skal Labissiere on a putback slam in the second quarter of the Clippers’ matchup with the Kings, DeAndre Jordan landed awkwardly and bent his ankle. Jordan went immediately to the locker room, where he was diagnosed with a left ankle sprain, according to the team. He did not return to the game.

The Clippers can’t have nice things.

The North Swoons for Pascal

Steve Clifford Back

Good news: After having to step away from coaching for the past 18 games due to what the Charlotte Observer described as severe headaches, Steve Clifford is set to be back on the sidelines on January 17.

Two-a-Days for Lorenzo Brown

Just hours before stepping on the Air Canada floor in Toronto, Brown played 35 minutes for the Raptors’ G League squad. Brown was called up by the A-team and didn’t lose steam, running around for six points, five assists, and a plus-19 in 19 minutes, including this highlight:

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