Tar Heels in NBA: Anthony returns with 22, double-double; Johnson has his best career game with 21, five 3-pointers

By R.L. Bynum

Cole Anthony came back after missing three games with a right ankle sprain and immediately made a huge difference for the Orlando Magic. Cameron Johnson continues to do that for the red-hot Phoenix Suns, punctuating the best stretch of his NBA career with the best game of his career.

Anthony scored eight of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and tied his career-high with 11 assists. It wasn’t enough, though, as New Orleans snapped Orlando’s two-game win streak with a 110–104 road victory for the Pelicans’ fourth consecutive victory.

“Happy to be back on the court with the fellas,” said Anthony, whose team rallied to make a game of it after trailing 55–43 at halftime. “Unfortunately, couldn’t get that win. It would have been smooth to get three in a row. We played a pretty dang good second half and if we could have played like that in the first half, I think we win that game.”

Two buckets on Anthony drives 23 seconds apart cut Orlando’s deficit to 102–99 with 1:31 left but the Pelicans outscored the Magic 8–5 after that.

“Because of how my team was performing and how well they played, I was able to know the last couple of minutes of the game that I was able to get in there and get to my spots and get some pretty good shots,” Anthony said. “I got those looks because of my team.”

Anthony said his right ankle, which he injured in the first quarter of the Magic’s Dec. 15 loss at Atlanta, felt fine. He missed six November games with that same injury.

“I just rolled it again; just basketball stuff,” said Anthony, who missed all six of his 3-point attempts.

It was Anthony’s fifth double-double of the season and second with assists as an element. He matched the 11 assists he dished out Nov. 15 in a loss at Atlanta when he scored 29 points.

Anthony pushed his season scoring average to 20.0 and has scored at least 20 points in 14 of his 24 games. Anthony (+10) and former Duke center Wendell Carter Jr. (+11) were the only players for Orlando (7–26) with positive plus/minus values.

With a 21.9 game score, he has a game score above 20 six times in 24 games. Last season, that happened twice in 47 games.

On a can’t-miss night, Cameron Johnson scored 21 points and a career-high-tying five 3-pointers to continue the best stretch of his NBA career in Phoenix’s 113–101 home win over Oklahoma City. He extended his career-high streak of double-figure scoring games to 11 as the Suns held onto the league’s best record at 26–5 with their fifth consecutive victory.

Johnson put up a career-high 24.9 game score, topping his best previous effort of 19.3 on Aug. 8, 2020, when he collected 19 points and 12 rebounds in his rookie season in a win against Dallas. It was his third career game score of more than 19, also doing it last season with a 19.1 in a 21-point game in the Suns’ road win at Sacramento on Dec. 17, 2020.

“He’s been playing well for a while,” said Suns coach Monty Williams, who hasn’t started Johnson in any games this season after starting him 11 times last season. “I’ve said this a number of times — we look at Cam as a starter. To bring a guy off the bench who can shoot like that, attack the basket and go to the other end and defend. He puts the work in and he’s more than just a shooter.”

Always pushing to get better, he quickly pointed out at the start of his postgame press conference that he missed a free throw, adding that “that’s not good.” There was plenty to like, though.

“It definitely felt big,” Johnson said of his game. “Got put in some good positions. A couple went down early and just felt good. But there were other aspects of the game that I was really trying to impact like the boards, defensively. So, I was trying to play an all-around basketball game and not just being out there chucking threes.”

He made all seven shots to become the third player in Suns franchise history to score at least 20 points while making every shot, joining Steve Nash and T.J. Warren.

Johnson, who also had five 3-pointers against Toronto on March 3, 2020, moved into a tie for 18th with Clifford Robinson on the Suns’ all-time 3-pointers list with 295.

Johnson had five or more 3-pointers 11 times in his college career, including seven times at Carolina. His career-high was seven Feb. 16, 2019, in a 95–57 win at Wake Forest when he scored 27 points.

“We have games where we come out and you see guys just playing well, playing hard,” Johnson said. “And when we win games, it’s exciting to play basketball — like we were when we were kids. And that’s the beauty of it. And then just keeping that momentum going and continue to have fun. Continue to do what we do and then continue to win games.”


The Suns wing collected a season-high nine rebounds in addition to three assists and two steals. He’s one steal away from 100 for his career.

He gave a lot of credit to Chris Paul, who had 16 points and seven assists, with giving him open shots.

“He draws a lot of attention,” Johnson said. “And he’s been very good at finding me in those moments and calling a play where I can kind of wiggle through it and get some space. So, that’s the perk of playing with a Hall of Fame point guard, one of the best ever to do it. And puts me in good position, puts the ball where it needs to be and I just try to take care of the rest.”

Johnson is excited to play in a nationally televised Christmas Day game after years of watching those games with his family at his grandmother’s house when he was growing up. Phoenix plays host to Golden State at 5 p.m. Saturday (ABC).

“It’s the first time ever in my life playing a basketball game on Christmas,” Johnson said. “It’s like a dream come true. Playing on Christmas, getting out there. I’m just super excited for that.”

In two games as a Dallas Maverick, Theo Pinson has already played more minutes (42) than he played all of last season with the New York Knicks (34). Just as in his Mavs debut on Tuesday, he played 21 minutes, this time in a 102–95 home loss to Milwaukee.

Pinson started hot with a 3-pointer 11 seconds after checking into the game in the first quarter and notched another a little more than three minutes later. He added another 3-pointer in the fourth quarter and finished with nine points, four rebounds and an assist. His three 3-pointers led the team.

The Mavericks’ Reggie Bullock is in the NBA’s health-and-safety protocols and missed his third consecutive game.

Wayne Ellington had seven points, three rebounds and two assists in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 138–110 home loss to San Antonio, the Lakers’ season-high fourth consecutive loss to fall to 16–17.

Ellington hasn’t scored in double figures for the last 13 games, last doing that with 14 points in the Lakers’ Nov. 24 win at Indiana.

Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic guard
loss vs. New Orleans — Started; 36 minutes, 22 points, 7–16 FG, 0–6 3FG, 8–9 FT, 5 rebounds, 11 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 1 turnover, +10, 21.9 game score
Season statistics — 24 games, 20.0 points, 41.8 FG%, 35.4 3FG%, 87.5 FT%, 6.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists
Up next — 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Miami; 7 p.m. Tuesday vs. Milwaukee
Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings forward
Off Thursday
Season statistics — 28 games, 17.5 points, 45.2 FG%, 39.1 3FG%, 84.5 FT%, 6.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists
Up next — 6 p.m. Sunday vs. Memphis; 10 p.m. Tuesday vs. Oklahoma City
Tony Bradley, Chicago Bulls center
Off Thursday
Season statistics — 23 games, 3.7 points, 57.4 FG%, 4.4 rebounds, 0.6 of an assist
Up next — 8 p.m. Sunday vs. Indiana; 7:30 Monday at Atlanta, NBATV
Reggie Bullock, Dallas Mavericks guard/forward
loss vs. Milwaukee — Missed third consecutive game;Bullock in NBA’s health-and-safety protocols
Season statistics —
27 games, 5.8 points, 36.4 FG%, 28.3 3P%, 72.7 FT%, 2.7 rebounds, 0.8 of an assist
Up next —
10:30 p.m. Saturday at Utah, ESPN; 10 p.m. Monday at Portland
Ed Davis, Cleveland Cavaliers center
Off Thursday; Davis in NBA’s health-and-safety protocols
Season statistics —
11 games, 1.7 points, 75.0 FG%, 25.0 FT%, 3.4 rebounds, 0.1 of an assist
Up next — 6 p.m. Sunday vs. Toronto; 8 p.m. Tuesday at New Orleans
Wayne Ellington, Los Angeles Lakers guard
138–110 loss
vs. San Antonio — Started; 28 minutes, 7 points, 3–9 FG, 1–7 3FG, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 turnover, -15, 2.8 game score
Season statistics —
25 games, 6.5 points, 38.2 FG%, 36.8 3FG%, 4–5 FT, 1.7 rebounds, 0.8 of an assist
Up next — 8 p.m. Saturday vs. Brooklyn, ABC (WTVD in Triangle), ESPN; 8 p.m. Tuesday at Houston
Danny Green, Philadelphia 76ers forward
98–96 loss
vs. Atlanta — Missed game; Green in NBA’s health-and-safety protocols
Season statistics — 24 games, 7.1 points, 40.6 FG%, 37.4 3FG%, 8–8 FT, 2.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists
Up next — 6 p.m. Sunday at Washington; 7:30 Tuesday at Toronto
Justin Jackson, Boston Celtics forward
Off Thursday
NBA season statistics —
1 game, 2 points, 0–1 FG, 2–2 FT
G League season statistics for Texas Legends (Mavericks affiliate) — 10 games, 22.7 points, 47.3% FG, 41.4% 3FG, 79.2 FT%, 7.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 steals
Up next — 2:30 Saturday at Milwaukee, ABC (WTVD in Triangle); 8 p.m. Monday at Minnesota
Cameron Johnson, Phoenix Suns wing
113–101 win vs. Oklahoma City —
24 minutes, 21 points, 7–7 FG, 5–5 3FG, 2–3 FT, 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, +13, 24.9 game score
Season statistics —
31 games, 10.7 points, 44.1 FG%, 43.1 3FG%, 4.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists
Up next — 5 p.m. Saturday vs. Golden State, ABC (WTVD in Triangle); 9 p.m. Monday vs. Memphis
Nassir Little, Portland Trail Blazers wing
Off Wednesday
Season statistics —
27 games, 8.5 points, 47.7 FG%, 30.0 3P%, 75.9 FT%, 5.4 rebounds, 1.1 assist
Up next — 10 p.m. Monday vs. Dallas; 10 p.m. Wednesday vs. Utah
Theo Pinson, Dallas Mavericks guard
loss vs. Milwaukee — 21 minutes, 9 points, 3–9 FG, 3–8 3FG, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, -4, 4.2 game score
NBA season statistics — 2 games, 8.0 points, 31.3 FG, 33.3 3FG, 2–2 FT, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists
G League season statistics with Maine Celtics —
13 games, 15.1 points, 43.4 FG%, 40.6 3FG%, 88.5 FT%, 6.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.2 steals
Up next — 10:30 p.m. Saturday at Utah, ESPN; 10 p.m. Monday at Portland
Day’Ron Sharpe, Brooklyn Nets center
Team off Thursday; Sharpe in NBA’s health-and-safety protocolsSeason NBA statistics — 10 games, 3.1 points, 59.1 FG%, 33.3% 3P%, 4–11 FT, 2.9 rebounds
Season G League statistics — 4 games, 18.0 points, 47.8 FG%, 33.33P%, 85.7 FT%, 9.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 2.6 blocks
Up next — 8 p.m. Saturday at Los Angeles Lakers, ABC (WTVD in Triangle), ESPN; 10:30 Monday at Los Angeles Clippers, NBATV
Coby White, Chicago Bulls guard
Off Thursday
Season statistics — 11 games, 7.6 points, 36.5 FG%, 27.3 3P%, 2.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists
Up next — 8 p.m. Sunday vs. Indiana; 7:30 Monday at Atlanta, NBATV


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