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In the wake of his team’s second straight defeat, Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant remained optimistic about the defending NBA champions’ future but acknowledged that it is strange playing without Stephen Curry and several other key veterans.

“It’s weird not having Steph out there,” Durant said after a 109-103 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday. “And Andre [Iguodala] and D-West, Jordan [Bell], so we’re missing a lot, and we’re just kind of playing on the fly each possession.”

The Warriors’ injury list is as long as it has been in a while. Curry missed his second straight game because of an ankle injury. Iguodala missed his third straight game because of a left wrist injury. David West missed his fourth straight game because of an arm injury, while rookie Jordan Bell missed his third straight because of an ankle issue. Durant knows that 24-year-old backup Quinn Cook is doing the best he can, but the All-Star forward also knows that Curry and Cook are completely different players.

“Quinn [Cook] has been up and down in the G-League, so it’s something we got to deal with, something that we just got to figure out, work through,” Durant said. “And it’s actually been pretty fun trying to figure things out throughout the game. Everybody’s just coming together even better. We lost two in a row, but the energy on the bench was great, the coaching staff has been digging down deep trying to find things for us that will work because our offense is predicated on Steph and Klay [Thompson] kind of running around the 3-point line, knocking down 3-point shots and spreading out.

“Without Steph there, Quinn is asked to do a lot, so it’s definitely a different dynamic when you have, [as] opposed to Steph Curry, when you’re having Quinn Cook. He’s doing a good job stepping in and playing extremely hard, and I’m proud of him.”

Cook had 4 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in Curry’s place during Sunday’s game. Despite the latest setback, Durant and his teammates remain confident that they will be able to catch a rhythm once everyone returns. The Warriors are now two games behind the Rockets in the loss column for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

“We’re a veteran group, and we’ve got high-IQ players that know how to play,” Durant said, “You could plug D-West back in, Steph, Andre, they know how to play, and they’re watching the games as well. Steph is the system here, and he’s been a part of this since Steve Kerr’s been here. And D-West knows how to play and won a championship with us last year. Andre is in the same boat as Steph. Those guys are smart, and we’re looking forward to having them back because they definitely change our team and get us back on what we want to do out there as a basketball team. Because we have a system in place that maximizes everybody’s strengths, and you could see if you take a few guys out, it’s a totally different game. So I’m proud. Everybody’s trying to figure it out, but just to keep working, man.”

Durant dropped 39 points on the Timberwolves, but he and fellow All-Star Klay Thompson combined to go just 19-for-54 from the field.

Kevin Durant is confident the Warriors will find their rhythm when Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and others return from injury.

“We’re just in a tough stretch,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “And I’m really proud of our guys. I thought they battled again tonight, and we just didn’t have enough in the tank, but I’m very pleased with the effort. We’ll get some guys back here hopefully in the next week or two, and I’m very confident with where we’re heading. We’re just in a little bit of a tough stretch.”

Aside from getting their injured players back, the Warriors are hoping they can get back on track next week, with three straight games against teams with below-.500 records.

“It’s tough when you’re missing that many key guys,” All-Star Draymond Green said. “But I think those guys will get back in time enough for us to find a rhythm that we need.”

The message reverberated throughout the locker room. There is a little disappointment with the past two results, but the group remains confident in the belief that better times will come back soon.

“The season’s always a tune-up for the playoffs,” Durant said. “And if we had won this game, we wasn’t going to spray champagne in the locker room and be excited on the way back to the Bay. So in a loss we can’t hang our heads. We just got to keep playing, keep working, keep figuring things out, and we’ll be fine.”

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Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson still has no timeframe for a return to practice, nearly two months after spraining his right ankle.

The team announced Wednesday that Jackson was entering the next stage of his rehab and has been “cleared to begin light running, shooting and continued ankle-strengthening exercises.”

The Pistons’ medical staff will monitor his progress throughout the week.

Jackson was hurt Dec. 26 against the Indiana Pacers.

Detroit hosts the Boston Celtics on Friday night in its first game since the All-Star break. The Pistons are 1½ games behind the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

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The Cleveland Cavaliers’ extended slump — 12 losses in their last 18 games, including Saturday’s 120-88 embarrassment against the Houston Rockets — has hurt the Cavs so much that they’re closer to being out of the playoffs than they are to being the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

Coming into Monday, Cleveland trailed the Boston Celtics — No. 1 in the East — by 7½ games while only leading the No. 9-seeded Detroit Pistons by 5 games.

Have things gotten so bad for the Cavs that their string of three consecutive NBA Finals could be broken by missing the postseason completely?

“I mean we’re still going to make the playoffs,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said after practice Monday. “There’s no doubt about that. We’re still confident in that for sure.”

Lue raised an eyebrow at the question even being brought up; however, it’s hard to argue it being a worthy talking point after seeing Cleveland drop its last eight straight nationally televised games while playing a brand of defense so porous that its allowed the opponent to score 118 points or more eight times since Dec. 19.

“It’s too early for that, but, I don’t think we’ll be knocked out of (making) the playoffs,” Lue said.

The Cavs are 30-21 with 31 games left to play.

LeBron James was asked if the playoffs are still a “given” despite his team’s recent woes.

“I would hope so,” James said. “I don’t think anybody’s here not to make the playoffs.”

Does anyone in his locker room realize how precarious the Cavs’ place in the playoff seeding has become because of their poor play of late?

“I would hope not,” James said.

With the trade deadline just three days away, Lue said he has no drastic lineup changes planned for Tuesday’s game against the Orlando Magic and Wednesday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“See what we have and see what happens, so, right now just got to stay with where we’re at right now and just play better,” Lue said.

The Cavs used Monday’s practice to concentrate on shooting — they shot just 39.1 percent as a team against Houston, including 8-for-30 from 3 (26.7 percent) — and also defensive principles.

“Just concentrate more on defense,” Lue said. “I think when we get a chance to walk through and do stuff defensively, we’ve got to continue to keep doing like we’ve been doing all year. Just got to keep getting better at that.”

Lue said he saw ESPN’s report over the weekend on TV that cited a top Cavs official as saying that the coach’s job is not in jeopardy, but he did not pay it much mind.

“That’s not my focus,” Lue said. “My focus is to try to get the guys to win and playing better. That’s my focus, and after that, whatever happens, happens.”

James said the Cavs have to look at the opportunity in front of them, rather than the disappointment behind them.

“We prepare, we’ll be professional and we go out and play,” he said. “At the end of the day as bad as it’s looked of late, we’re still in a good position where we can play some good basketball going into the (All-Star) break and we want to try to control that.”

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are progressing in conversations on a deal to acquire Sacramento Kings guard George Hill, league sources told ESPN.

The Cavaliers and Kings are discussing a package centered on guard Iman Shumpert and forward Channing Frye, league sources said. The teams are discussing a second-round pick, too, sources said.

No trade is imminent, but the two teams have moved closer on terms and both are motivated to find a final pathway to a deal, league sources said.

Hill has been unhappy with his role with the Kings, whom he signed with last summer after turning down a more lucrative extension offer with the Utah Jazz. The Kings are determined to accommodate Hill’s desire for a trade, and his ability to guard both positions in the backcourt could help the struggling Cavaliers’ defense.

Sacramento has to clear a roster spot to take on one or two additional players in a deal with Cleveland and has been discussing deals for young forwards Malachi Richardson and Skal Labissiere to clear roster spots, league sources said.

George Hill could be headed to Cleveland, as the Cavs and Kings are in talks on a deal involving the Sacramento guard, according to sources.

The Cavaliers have had some hesitancy about the guaranteed $19 million remaining on Hill’s contract in the 2018-19 season, league sources said, especially if LeBron James leaves in free agency and the Cavaliers move toward a rebuild. Only $1 million of the $18 million on his 2019-20 contract is guaranteed, making it easy to waive Hill.

Frye would be eager to negotiate a buyout with the Kings on his $7.4 million expiring contract, league sources said.

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The Houston Rockets hope star guard James Harden can return from a Grade 2 strain of his right hamstring within a week, coach Mike D’Antoni said.

“It could be Thursday or Saturday, I don’t know,” D’Antoni said before the Rockets’ practice Sunday at UCLA. “He’s got to get better. We’ll see. Whenever he’s ready.”

James Harden suffered the hamstring injury on Dec. 31, when he drove for a layup in the fourth quarter of a double-overtime win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

Houston has home games against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday and the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.

Harden will miss his seventh consecutive game when he sits out Monday against the Los Angeles Clippers, with the Rockets going 4-2 without him so far. He suffered the injury on Dec. 31, when he drove for a layup in the fourth quarter of a double-overtime win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Rockets originally announced that Harden, an MVP candidate who leads the league in scoring (32.3 points per game) and ranks fourth in assists (9.1), would be reevaluated in two weeks. Houston’s medical staff has been encouraged by the progress of Harden, who has resumed basketball activities but is not a full participant in practice yet.

The Rockets could get another key contributor back as soon as Monday, as valuable reserve forward Luc Mbah a Moute’s availability against the Clippers will be determined after Sunday’s practice. Mbah a Moute has missed the past month because of a dislocated right shoulder.

Reserve center Tarik Black (right eye abrasion) could also be available against the Clippers after missing Friday’s win over the Phoenix Suns. D’Antoni also anticipates that backup center Nene, who has been sidelined since Jan. 3 by a right knee bruise, will return soon.

“Then we’re full strength,” said D’Antoni, whose team is second in the Western Conference standings with a 30-11 record. “That’s not too far off, so that’s good.”

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Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, the president of the NBA’s Coaches Association, considers it a “disgrace” that LaVar Ball’s comments criticizing Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton were published.

“As president of the coaches association, I view the recent ESPN article as a disgrace, quite honestly,” Carlisle said before Sunday’s game against the New York Knicks. “Luke Walton is a terrific, young coach who is bringing along a young team, and it’s a difficult task. If you don’t believe it, just ask me. We’re going through that now and went through that last year.”

Ball, the outspoken father of Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that Walton has lost control of the team and players “don’t want to play for him.”

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said ESPN should not publish the comments of "blowhard loudmouths."

Carlisle, who worked as an ESPN analyst while between coaching jobs during the 2007-08 season, referred to ESPN as a partner of the league and mentioned that coaches grant the network access and interviews because of that partnership.

“In exchange for that, they should back up the coaches,” Carlisle said. “Printing an article where the father of an NBA player has an opinion that is printed as anything like legitimate erodes trust. It erodes the trust that we’ve built with ESPN, and our coaches are upset because Luke Walton does not deserve that.

“Two years ago, he took a veteran team and led them to 24 wins in a row, which is an amazing accomplishment. Off of that, he earned the Laker job. To have to deal with these kinds of ignorant distractions is deplorable.”

Carlisle was asked if he were suggesting that ESPN should determine which news to publish based on what coaches will like.

“I’m saying that they should look at their sources and do a better job of determining whether they have any merit or any validity. Or are they just blowhard loudmouths?” Carlisle said. “That’s what I’m saying. You got that?”

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Isaiah Thomas will make his debut for the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said Monday.

The guard, who has been rehabbing from a hip injury, will come off the bench, will be on a minute restriction and will not play the next night against the Boston Celtics — his old team.

“It’s a blessing,” Thomas said. “It’s been a long process for me. It’s been a frustrating and tough process but at the same time you got to trust it. Each and every day, I just attacked it every day to try to get better and now that day is here. I haven’t played in so long so man, it’s going to be a weird feeling tomorrow but I’m happy. I’m happy it’s here.”

Thomas participated in a full-court scrimmage Friday against his Cavs teammates for the first time since the point guard was acquired in a trade from the Celtics for Kyrie Irving over the summer. Cleveland held another practice on New Year’s Day in order to scrimmage again as a final tune-up for the two-time All-Star.

Lue said Thomas can give his team a much-needed lift, with Cleveland scuffling a bit having lost four of its last five games.

“It’s great,” Lue said. “(It was) always like, ‘Is it going to happen? When is it going to happen?’ But now it’s finally here and just seeing how he can play with pace and getting into the paint, the speed and quickness and ability to shoot the basketball, it really changes our team. Really excited (in the growth) from Day 1 to now. It’s a good moment for us.”

Lue would not provide any specifics on what the range of Thomas’ minute restriction will be, how long he will come off the bench or how long he will be ruled out of both legs of back-to-backs — the limitation that will keep him on the sideline in Boston.

A source told ESPN that Thomas would be held to 8-to-12 minutes in his debut.

“I know it’s going to take time at first and we got to go through the steps of going out there and playing in the game and figuring those things out but once I get comfortable then all the restrictions got to be off soon,” Thomas said.

Thomas was asked to compare how his body feels now compared to prior to suffering his hip injury in March and aggravating it during the playoffs.

“I mean, my hip is better but I have no rhythm,” he said. “I have no feel for the game right now. I’ve been out for so long it feels like I lost my powers. So even when we’re out there scrimmaging I can move around and do what I want but I just don’t have my powers yet.”

The prospect of playing against Irving on the Garden parquet is something that gets Thomas’ energy up; he couldn’t help but break into a wide smile on Friday when a reporter mentioned the upcoming Celtics game. However, he’ll have to wait until the Cavs’ game in Boston on Feb. 11.

“It won’t be that tough,” Thomas said of sitting out Wednesday’s game. “I know where I am right now and I wouldn’t want to put myself out there to just try to force it. But I can wait until February. I think we play them in February again so I can wait and put on a show then.”

The Celtics are sure to honor Thomas with some sort of video tribute during Wednesday’s game, regardless of whether he is in the lineup or not.

“I know it will be all love,” Thomas said. “I keep saying that I gave that city everything I had and they showed me genuine love back and I think that love is going to last forever. So, there’s no hard feelings. This ain’t no revenge game. They know what they gave up. They knew what they got. It’s all good. I’m focused on the Cleveland Cavaliers and trying to win a championship.”

Thomas was knocked out of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals with the injury, was shockingly traded in the offseason and has been steadily working his way back.

“I never took the game for granted,” said Thomas, the former 60th pick in the 2011 NBA draft. “I was always one that just wanted to be the best I possibly could. Get everything out of this game I possibly could. But, I mean, for being 28 years old and this being the first time I’ve ever been really hurt and had to sit down, it made you appreciate it even more and I definitely don’t take it for granted. This made me a better basketball player, a better person mentally and physically. So, it should be something special in 2018.”

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Detroit Pistons shooting guard Avery Bradley has denied a sexual assault allegation through his attorney, who told TMZ Sports that Bradley has a confidentiality agreement with the accuser “to protect the reputation and privacy of Mr. Bradley and his family.”

The woman said she was sexually assaulted in May in Cleveland, TMZ reported. Bradley had been in Cleveland at the time while playing in the Eastern Conference finals as a member of the Boston Celtics.

Bradley’s attorney, Brian Wolf of Lavely & Singer in Los Angeles, told TMZ that his client maintains his innocence. Wolf also said his office will investigate how the accusation became public despite the presence of the confidentiality agreement.

“Mr. Bradley absolutely denies having engaged in wrongdoing whatsoever,” Wolf said. “The confidentiality agreement specifically refutes and denies the validity of all allegations of any wrongful conduct by Mr. Bradley. The sole purpose of the agreement was to protect the reputation and privacy of Mr. Bradley and his family.”

Negotiations for the confidentiality agreement began after the woman contacted Bradley and accused him of assaulting her, TMZ reported. Bradley ultimately paid the woman an undisclosed amount as part of the agreement, according to TMZ.

There have been no public statements on the accusation from the NBA, the Pistons or the Celtics as of Friday morning.

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Led by Kyrie Irving with 25 points, seven Boston players score in double digits in a 117-92 rout of Chicago.(1:16)

One of the pain points for the Boston Celtics in signing Gordon Hayward this offseason was having to trade away Avery Bradley to generate the necessary cap space to pay Hayward his max contract. Bradley’s departure left a void on Boston’s roster, and when Hayward fractured his ankle on opening night, it was fair to wonder if the Celtics could possibly patch both of those holes.

Maybe overshadowed slightly this season by the stellar play of Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum has been the leaps made by second-year swingman Jaylen Brown.

Slotted in Bradley’s starting 2-guard role, Brown has not only embraced the challenge of defending elite opposition, but has displayed strides in his own offensive game that has helped keep the Celtics atop the Eastern Conference for the past two months.

Returning from a one-game absence due to a sore Achilles’ tendon, Brown scored 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting over 27 minutes in Boston’s 117-92 triumph over the visiting Chicago Bulls on Saturday night at TD Garden.

Brown’s return gave Boston a jolt at both ends of the court. Any concerns about the Achilles’ tendon that kept Brown out against the New York Knicks were washed away in the second quarter when he stormed the baseline and hung in the air for a two-handed slam.

Brown slams from the sideJaylen Brown grabs a pass from Jayson Tatum and slams from the baseline.

It’s sometimes easy to forget that a season ago, Brown was riding the rookie roller coaster and was a mistake away from getting yanked by coach Brad Stevens. That still happens occasionally — in fact, it happened late in Boston’s loss to the Miami Heat earlier this week — but Brown has cemented himself as an integral part of Boston’s success, and that was reflected in how quickly Stevens went back to Brown that night.

Still, it’s important to take a step back and recognize that even after Brown began to earn Stevens’ full trust at the end of last season, he still played a limited postseason role. Brown logged just 12.6 minutes per game while coming off the bench throughout Boston’s run to the Eastern Conference finals.

When the Celtics traded Bradley to Detroit, it put Brown in line to compete for a starting gig. Brown quickly won that spot and has started all 33 games he has played this season. He’s averaging 31.3 minutes per game, trailing only Al Horford and Kyrie Irving on Boston’s roster.

Brown was 19 when the Celtics drafted him No. 3 overall in 2016 but arrived with an NBA-ready body. He showed last season that he had the potential to be an impact defender, and the Celtics have routinely deployed him this season against All-Star-caliber opposition.

While the league’s defensive data can be noisy, it’s hard to ignore Brown’s advanced numbers. According to the NBA, Brown is holding his opponents to 8.7 percent below their typical average. Players are shooting a mere 36.8 percent against Brown overall, and he utilizes his length and athleticism to disrupt.

Brown downplays his individual impact but acknowledges that he must be a defensive-first player.

“That’s where I hang my hat. But I think it’s a team effort, defensively,” said Brown. “It’s very hard to guard somebody one-on-one, so it’s just everybody being engaged, defensively, and I just try to be one of those players.”

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Brown’s more veteran teammates appreciate the way he accepts those defensive challenges.

“He definitely has a lot on him. We know, and this coaching staff knows, his ability,” said Marcus Smart, maybe Boston’s top individual perimeter defender. “And [Brown is] athletic enough to guard a lot of guys. So once he understands that and he takes that head-on, he’ll be a better all-around player. And he’s been doing a pretty good job so far.”

Brown’s offensive growth deserves recognition, as well. He worked on his 3-point shot and is shooting 41.5 percent beyond the arc. If it wasn’t for Tatum shooting an absurd 49.1 percent, Brown’s ranking second among Boston’s regulars might be even more noticeable.

Brown has also displayed more aggression this season, often going hard at the basket and raising his free throw attempt rate. His 14.7 points per game rank second behind only Kyrie Irving (24.9) and essentially makes up for what Boston lost in point production with Bradley’s departure.

Brown owns a net rating of plus-8.7 this season. Boston’s offensive rating is a robust 108.4 when he’s on the court (nearly a 3-point spike from the team’s season average of 105.6). What’s more, Boston’s defensive rating is 99.7 when Brown is on the floor. To hammer home Brown’s overall impact, he’s one of only two players with a negative net rating when he’s off the court (All-Star candidate Al Horford is the other).

There is still plenty of room for growth in Brown’s game. Offensively, he can be sloppy with his ballhandling and sometimes loses the ball when he encounters traffic going at the basket. He could benefit from being able to run more in the pick-and-roll instead of relying on spot-up shooting and drives. Synergy data suggests he still struggles as a defender in spot-up situations.

But he’s also 21 years old and just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. That he’ll grow and develop alongside Tatum leaves Celtics fans swooning. And Stevens has admitted that part of the reason the Celtics drafted Tatum was that the two could push each other.

Tatum is so polished offensively that he’ll likely always command a larger spotlight, but Brown is making his mark on the Celtics this season. Few expected him to be able to fill Bradley’s void, but, in a lot of ways, he’s doing that.

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When it comes to Christmas Day games, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have gotten lumps of coal from the NBA in their stockings for years.

“It has gotten to the point where you just sigh and say, ‘Another year …’ That’s crazy. I always wanted to say that I’m playing on Christmas,” DeRozan said.

The Raptors have been in the playoffs the past four seasons, including one Eastern Conference finals appearance, while averaging 51 regular-season wins. Toronto’s roster includes two 2017 NBA All-Stars in DeRozan and Lowry. The Raptors entered Thursday with the NBA’s fourth-best overall record this season and the best mark of any team not playing on Dec. 25.

That resume, however, was not enough to persuade the NBA schedule-makers to select the Raptors to play on Christmas. Toronto’s lone Christmas appearance was in 2001. The Raptors had a young All-Star named Vince Carter at that time.

“You get the special shoes. The Christmas jerseys. That’s one I want to frame one day. Hopefully, I get the opportunity to do it,” said Lowry, who has been in the league since 2006 and with the Raptors since 2012.

The 2017 Christmas slate is highlighted with a rematch of the last three NBA Finals with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers visiting Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics, who have the NBA’s top record, host an Eastern Conference rival in John Wall and the Washington Wizards. Despite the Oklahoma City Thunder’s early season struggles, it’s understandable why a team with three 2017 NBA All-Stars in Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George was chosen to play against 2017 NBA MVP James Harden and the Houston Rockets.

The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks will both be playing on Christmas despite losing records. Heralded forward Kristaps Porzingis’ Knicks have played on Christmas an NBA-high 51 times while rookie Lonzo Ball’s Lakers have played 42 times. The Philadelphia 76ers, with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, are making their first Christmas appearance since 2001. Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves also make an appearance.

NBA senior vice president Tom Carelli told The Undefeated via email that choosing the 10 teams to play in a mere five Christmas games is one of “the most difficult decisions that we make when we create the schedule.”

“When we begin the process, we consider all 30 teams,” Carelli said. “Working with our partners, our goal is to provide fans with compelling matchups based on storylines, rivalries, competitiveness of the teams, star players, and the history of the teams and players competing on Christmas Day. At the same time, we also need to factor in broadcast windows, arena availability, schedule requirements, travel and rest and recuperation.”

Toronto could have been an attractive matchup playing against another East power. Despite having two All-Stars, the Raptors did not have one player among the Top 15 most popular NBA jerseys listed on April 11. The Raptors were 10th in most popular team merchandise. Carelli said Toronto, which hosted the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend, was not written off because it is not in the United States.

The Raptors have the fifth-best winning percentage (225-132, .630) since 2013-14 behind the Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Rockets and Clippers. Toronto has a better record than six of the 10 teams playing on Christmas this year. Lowry said he isn’t certain why the Raptors have regularly been snubbed. DeRozan added that he has never been given any reason that Toronto is not selected.

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“We’ve won. We’ve been one of the best in the league the past few years. To not get that look is definitely crazy. … There is really no excuse. We’ve proven we are a top team in the league for a reason,” said DeRozan, who has played with the Raptors since 2009.

Said Lowry: “I care when the schedule originally comes out. But then, after that I say, ‘All right, whatever.’ I plan my Christmas Day. I get to be with my kids and all my family. So that’s more important.

“That’s one of the first things I look at. I know me and DeMar, that’s one of the first things we see. … I’m not mad at it. We just want the opportunity. It would be really cool to play on Christmas.”

So why weren’t the Raptors chosen?

“There are plenty of interesting teams with great storylines not playing on Christmas Day. We have five games, so only one-third are playing. We do our best to create the best matchups,” Carelli said.

The NBA had to compete with NFL games on Christmas in 2016. The NBA was still successful as the Cavaliers’ 109-108 victory over the Warriors posted a 5.9 overnight Nielsen rating, matching the highest rated Christmas NBA game in four years. The only NBA game that didn’t cross with the NFL was the Celtics’ victory over the New York Knicks in the noon window on ESPN, which drew a 2.4 overnight rating. The NFL will have two games on Christmas this year. The NBA does not get a Nielsen rating for games played in Canada.

NBA All-Star Voting 2018 began on Thursday. The stars playing on Christmas could get a rise in votes that day from the casual fan tuning in on television, computers or mobile devices.

DeRozan was a starting guard during the 2017 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans. While three-time NBA All-Star knows he can miss out on votes on Christmas, he hopes he lands the needed fan support to get him back in the All-Star starting lineup in his hometown of Los Angeles in February.

“To start at home, that would be a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “Speechless to be able to play at home in the NBA All-Star Game. It definitely would be one for the books.”

The silver lining is DeRozan and Lowry will spend the holiday with their wives and kids.

“I have never played on Christmas,” Lowry said. “I’ve always in my life wanted to play a Christmas game. There are a lot of things I want to say as the reason I think ‘why not’ [for Toronto]. It’s never happened, but I’ve always had the opportunity to always be with my family on Christmas. It’s a blessing to be able to not play, but at the same you always want that one time you play on Christmas.”

The Christmas snub could also light some fire with DeRozan, Lowry and the already-feeling-slighted Raptors.

“We always have that underdog mentality. We thrive off that. We always keep that in the back of our minds when we play. We never get comfortable, because we don’t get the credit we deserve,” DeRozan said.