Deron Williams will play in Turkey if lockout lingers

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UPDATE 10:58 AM: Maybe we were wrong. Apparently Nets star Deron Williams does plan to play in Turkey if the lockout lingers, Marc Stein of ESPN tweeteed:

Sources w/knowledge of Deron Williams’ plans confirm his intent to play for Besiktas in Turkey if lockout continues

Multiple sources now confirm the story. The key part here is “if lockout continues.” As we said in the main article, Williams is under contract to the New Jersey Nets, so the only way he could sign and play for Besiktas is if FIBA gives him a letter of clearance. FIBA has not officially said what they would do about this, hinting that if the season were lost they might grant them. But now it appears they may grant the letter if the contract has an out clause to return to the NBA once the lockout ends.

If FIBA tries to block Williams or any other player from going overseas, the NBA players union is expected to file a lawsuit to clear the way for the move. Obviously, this would be good leverage for the union in negotiations.

If Williams were injured playing in Europe, it could void his NBA deal, the team would not have to pay him. He has two years, $34 million left on his deal with the Nets (although he can opt out after next season and is expected to).

We should make it clear Beşiktaş is not one of the powerhouse, big money teams in Europe. In fact, Beşiktaş players went on strike at one point last season because players were not getting paid (except for Allen Iverson). This is not a team playing in the prestigious EuroLeague (where the best club teams from various nations face off). In fact, a top flight EuroLeague team would likely not take any player in without a full season commitment, end of the lockout or no.

But this appears to be a very real deal.

10:10 am: The latest “NBA player to Europe” report out there is one we simply do not believe. But it is out there.

A Turkish news outlet is reporting that Deron Williams is very close to an agreement to play for Beşiktaş Cola Turka — the same team that hired Allen Iverson last year. The report is he would join the club at the start of their season and will have an out clause to return to the NBA when the lockout ends, according to the report (which we saw thanks to the wonderful Ball in Europe blog). The report also says Zaza Pachulia would join the team.

Another Turkish journalist has the Besiktas coach saying they have talked to Williams.

I wouldn’t be shocked if Beşiktaş made that offer. I would be shocked if Williams signed it.

There remains the pesky little problem of Williams being under contract to the New Jersey Nets. For Williams to play overseas while under contract, FIBA would need to grant him a Letter of Clearance. That body has hinted that if the entire NBA season were cancelled it might grant such a letter to players (under the theory that their contracts are not valid if they are not being paid). But the league would not cancel the season until next January at best.

Also, Williams is potentially a free agent on the cusp of his biggest payday next summer (from the Nets or another team). You think he’ll risk that playing in Europe during the lockout? He’s also rehabbing from wrist injuries that hampered him at the end of last season, again is he likely to risk re-injury to play in Istanbul?

I don’t buy it. But in the interest of news we’re passing it along.

Giannis Antetokounmpo slashes Celtics, forces Game 7 in Boston

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The Milwaukee Bucks needed a big game from Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday night. Boy, did they get it.

After a disappointing in Game 5 in Boston, Antetokounmpo was fearsome in his return to the Bradley Center for Game 6. The Bucks were able to keep their defensive intensity up, and we got the game most of us expected from Antetokounmpo in a return to his home court: complete domination on the biggest stage.

The game started out much the way we’ve seen in this series — sort of kooky. It was another low-scoring affair as the first half closed with Milwaukee leading, 49-38. The Celtics couldn’t get things rolling offensively, and were saved by baskets in the paint in the first quarter. Boston scored just 15 points in the second period, saving themselves with makes from beyond the 3-point line.

The real story of the game came in the second half. Antetokounmpo would not let up from the gas, scoring both as the Bucks center and on the break. Milwaukee’s franchise player matched up against Al Horford all night long, and the battle between the two was intense. Both seemed to want to muscle each other, and for different stretches they both got the better of each other.

Boston battled back, eventually tying the game at 61-61 with 4:21 to go in the third. The Celtics’ charge was led by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Horford, all three of whom allowed Boston to make up a 14-point deficit. Boston played carefully, allowing their young wings to do the work. Despite not having a fastbreak point until late in the third, they also didn’t have their first turnover of the second half until there was little more than three minutes to go in the same quarter. Antetokounmpo, who couldn’t let Boston’s run continue after the tie, turned on the jets to close the quarter and Milwaukee entered the fourth period with a 9-point lead they would never cede.

The fourth quarter was much of the same, with the matchup between Antetokounmpo, Horford, and Horford’s backup in Aron Baynes. Several times, Antetokounmpo ran full speed after starting with the ball on the opposite free-throw line, going right at either Horford or Baynes. But the Bucks star wasn’t completely selfish. He managed to stave off tunnel vision, at times finding teammates on his spins to the bucket.

A lot of talk was made about Antetokounmpo’s poor performance in Game 5, a career playoff-low of 16 points on just 10 field goal attempts. The Greek Freak made sure that didn’t happen again, finishing the game with 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting, adding 14 rebounds, four assists, and two steals.

Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton were amped up as well. Both finished with 16 points, and as a team the Bucks scored 25 points on the break, with 50 points coming from the painted area, topping Boston in both regards.

For the Celtics, Tatum led the way with 22 points on six-of-14 shooting, adding three rebounds and three assists. Terry Rozier continued his playoff emergence, scoring 18 points while nabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists. Boston shot just 27.8 percent from the 3-point line.

Game 7 now heads back to Massachusetts, where we will see if Antetokounmpo can keep his foot to the floor and drive the Bucks past the second-seeded Celtics on Saturday.

Stephen Curry back in full practice mode for Warriors

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Stephen Curry resumed full practice with contact and could play for the defending champion Golden State Warriors as soon as Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday night against New Orleans.

Curry looked strong as he practiced Thursday wearing a protective brace over his sprained left knee, which has sidelined him since the injury March 23 – the same day he returned from a six-game absence because of a hurt right ankle.

Coach Steve Kerr is calling Curry questionable for Saturday. That could change if the two-time NBA MVP still feels fine Friday and is fine after one more day of full practice before the Pelicans visit Oracle Arena to begin the best-of-seven series.

“Steph practiced at 100 percent, he did everything, he looked good,” Kerr said. “What we have to do is see how his body responds the rest of the day, put him through another practice tomorrow. I think he needs to string together two good days but it was very positive today. … I think it’s been coming along pretty well. When we were in San Antonio and I was asked a question about how he was doing, I think I was able to give an answer, `He’s doing great but we haven’t ramped him up yet.’ I think today was an important day because it’s the first time he’s actually gone live action and he was allowed to go through practice. And he appears fine.”

Curry went through his usual shooting work with Kevin Durant from various spots after practice, cutting and exhibiting his fancy footwork and dribbling skills. The Warriors have played well without their floor leader, eliminating the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the first-round series with a 99-91 win Tuesday night.

The Pelicans will present a different, faster pace for the Warriors, so getting Curry back to push the ball and direct the offense would be important. Andre Iguodala, the 2015 NBA Finals MVP, started in the first round in his place while Quinn Cook handled point guard duties late in the regular season with Curry out.

“We’re excited. I know he’s very eager to play,” said Klay Thompson. “He’s a competitor, so sitting out I know kills him. We can’t wait for him to get back whenever that is.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

PBT Extra: How big a threat are Pelicans to Warriors?

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Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and the New Orleans Pelicans were the surprise of the first round of the NBA playoffs. We knew they were good, but they looked dominant on both ends sweeping the three-seed Portland Trail Blazers right out of the postseason (and into a somber period of reflection).

New Orleans looked like the best team in the West in the first round and now they take all that momentum to Golden State where… let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In this PBT Extra I discuss how the Pelicans have found an identity, but the matchups against Warriors are dramatically more challenging than what they saw in Portland. And that’s before Stephen Curry returns to the fold.

The Pelicans are a great story, but the pecking order in the West is real for good reason.

Nuggets’ Mason Plumlee undergoes surgery to fix core-muscle injury

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DENVER — Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee underwent surgery to fix a core-muscle injury.

The team said Plumlee had the procedure performed Thursday morning by Dr. William Meyers in Philadelphia.

Plumlee is expected to return to basketball activities this summer and be ready for training camp in the fall. He averaged 7.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists for a Nuggets team that narrowly missed out on the postseason.

The 28-year-old Plumlee was acquired by Denver as part of a deal in February 2017 that sent center Jusuf Nurkic to Portland. Plumlee signed a three-year, $41 million deal with the Nuggets last September.