No Leonard? No problem for Raps

December 12, 2018
Gregg Popovich
POP: Now No. 4 in wins

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - The Toronto Raptors shrugged off the absence of Kawhi Leonard to stretch their lead at the top of the Eastern Conference on Tuesday, breezing past the Los Angeles Clippers with a 123-99 victory.

Leonard, ruled out just hours before tip-off after complaining of a sore hip, could also miss the Raptors’ game against the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors on Wednesday.

Toronto, however, laid on a devastating scoring display to overwhelm the Clippers and serve notice that they remain a formidable threat even without the in-form Leonard.

Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry led the way for the Raptors with 25 and 21 points, respectively, while four other players made double figures.

The Clippers’ offense however struggled to make any inroads against the Toronto defense, with starters Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari producing just 21 points between them.

Tyrone Wallace (15 points) and Boban Marjanovic (18) produced a burst of scoring off the bench, but the Clippers never threatened a Toronto team that surged into a 36-23 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Raptors improved to 22-7 with the win to go three games clear of Milwaukee at the top of the standings. The Clippers’ loss gives them an identical record to city rivals the Los Angeles Lakers, with both teams on 17-10.

Earlier Tuesday, James Harden scored 29 points as the Houston Rockets halted their three-game losing streak with a 111-103 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday.

Reigning NBA MVP Harden also chipped in four assists on a night when seven Rockets players finished in double digits.

Rockets point guard Chris Paul produced a triple double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists as Houston improved to 12-14.

Mike D’Antoni’s side remain near the foot of the Western Conference, one place off the bottom ahead of the Phoenix Suns, who are 4-24.

“It’s big time for us,” Harden said of the win.

“Finally back at home and seemed like we were playing well. We’ve been putting some good quarters together, but tonight was a four-quarter game and we had to just build around it.”

The Trail Blazers slipped to 15-12 with the defeat, leaving them in eighth place in the Western Conference table.

The Blazers led the scoring on Tuesday with Damian Lillard pouring in 34 points and C.J.McCollum adding 22.

But the Rockets scoring off the bench proved decisive for Houston, with Nene, (10 points), Daniel House, Jr. (12) and Gerald Green (13) all contributing.

In San Antonio, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich bagged his 1,211th career win, putting him fourth on the list of career victories, after a 111-86 blowout over the hapless Suns.

The victory took Popovich one game clear of Pat Riley, the five-time NBA champion, who has 1,210 career wins.

Don Nelson leads the list of coaches with the most victories with 1,335 wins ahead of Lenny Wilkens and Jerry Sloan.

Popovich ignored questions about his milestone win after the victory, preferring instead to let his players do the talking.

“It’s an awesome achievement to get to fourth all time,” Spurs veteran Patty Mills said. “You almost pinch yourself at times when you step back and realize where you are and who is coaching you.

“It’s an honor to be in this locker room and to be coached by him, and I think everyone feels that way.”

Tuesday’s win lifted the Spurs to 14-14 for the season but they remain in 10th place in the Western standings, two places outside the playoffs.