Raptors snatch top seed in East for 1st time

The Associated Press

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, center, is fouled by Indiana Pacers guard Cory Joseph, right, during the first half of Friday’s game in Toronto.

The Associated PressTORONTO (AP) — There’s a new regular-season champion in the Eastern Conference.

Serge Ibaka scored a season-high 25 points, DeMar DeRozan had 12 and the Toronto Raptors beat the Indiana Pacers 92-73 on Friday night, clinching the top seed in the East for the first time in team history.

“There’s gratification but you’re not satisfied,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We haven’t got to our ultimate goal, but it’s a feeling of gratification.”

Jakob Poeltl scored 10 points as the Raptors set franchise records for wins in a season (57) and home wins (33).

“We’ve got home-court advantage throughout the [East] playoffs,” DeRozan said, “so let’s use that to our advantage.”

The Raptors have lost to LeBron James and the Cavaliers in each of the past two postseasons, including a Conference finals defeat two years ago and a second-round exit last spring.

Toronto is the seventh different team in as many years to finish first in the East, following Chicago, Miami, Indiana, Atlanta, Cleveland and Boston. Still, James’ team has represented the East in the NBA Finals in each of those years.

Kyle Lowry had nine points and nine assists, and Jonas Valanciunas added 12 rebounds for Toronto, which never trailed in its ninth consecutive home victory over the Pacers. Toronto also locked up its fourth Atlantic Division title in the past five years.

“The journey is not over,” Lowry said.

The Pacers have not won north of the border since March 1, 2013.

Indiana came in after completing a season sweep of reigning NBA champion Golden State with a 126-106 home victory on Thursday night. However, the Pacers fell behind in a poor-shooting first quarter and never seriously challenged in this one.

“They pressured us, they pushed the tempo,” Pacers coach Nate McMillan said. “We just didn’t have any legs.”

Glenn Robinson III scored 12 points and Trevor Booker had 11 for the Pacers. Indiana shot 26 for 87 (29.9 percent) and set season-lows in points, made field goals, and field goal percentage.

“They’re a tough team,” Casey said. “We caught them at a good time.”


LeBron joins Olympic pool

LeBron James is putting himself in position to play in a fourth Olympics, and Kevin Durant and Chris Paul a third each.

The NBA stars were among the headline names on the list of 35 players chosen Friday for USA Basketball’s national team pool of players for 2018-20.

Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis also were on the list of players the Americans can choose from if they qualify for the 2019 Basketball World Cup and 2020 Olympics.

The players are expected to attend minicamp in Las Vegas from July 25-27, when U.S. coach Gregg Popovich will take over the team for the first time.

“It’s quite an idea, or thought, when you think about being on the court with all these players,” Popovich said. “That’s quite a brotherhood. There’s a lot of talent there, these guys have friendships, they enjoy getting together, the culture’s been established with USA Basketball and everything that they’ve done.

“So to see that in action and to see all these guys come together in Vegas this summer is going to be pretty exciting.”

James won gold in 2008 and 2012 and a bronze in 2004 as a rookie. He skipped the 2016 Olympics but made clear at the time he wasn’t retiring from international basketball, leaving open the possibility of playing again because of his admiration for Popovich, who replaced Mike Krzyzewski after the last Olympics.

Carmelo Anthony is the only U.S. man to play in four Olympics. He was not on the list, saying after winning a third gold in 2016 that he didn’t plan to play anymore. The other 11 players from the Rio roster are back, while seven players in the pool won gold in 2012 in London.Speech

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