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Marcin Gortat injury update: Thumb improving, hopes to play without brace “in the next couple of days”

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Marcin Gortat had a breakout season a year ago after being traded from Orlando to Phoenix, averaging better than 15 points and 10 rebounds per game over the last two months of the season. He’s struggled to regain that form through five games this year due to the thumb injury he sustained less than a week before the start of the season.

The good news is that the injury is on its way to healing, which means the heavy plastic taping that Gortat has been forced to wear is just days away from coming off. Gortat gave us the update on his condition after the Suns’ win over the Warriors on Monday.

“The thumb is doing well, but the [bad] part is the plastic stuff on my thumb,” Gortat told NBCSports.com. “The good news is that I just got an X-ray right now, a couple of minutes after the game, and the X-ray looks really good so there’s a big possibility that in the next couple of days I can take it off, and finally, I’m going to be able to play 100 percent and actually catch the ball and maybe get a rebound.

“I’m really excited that finally I’m going to get this chance to play normal, and actually that will be the start of my season, from that point.”

Gortat was limited to 18 minutes due to foul trouble in Monday’s contest, but in the Suns’ first four games, he averaged over 10 points and six rebounds per game, while shooting over 56 percent from the field. Those numbers are solid, but Gortat knows he can do better, and explained the way that the injury has limited him thus far.

“First of all I can’t get a position under the basket, I can’t really push anybody because my thumb is actually locked, I can’t bend it in this plastic thing,” Gortat said. “And having rebounds in my hand, I can’t secure the ball because having that plastic thing there is not really helping me to hold the ball, and it’s kind of soft in my hands. I lost a couple of balls like that in the last couple of games; I’m probably giving up two or three balls like that per game, easily. And obviously shooting, that’s my right hand. It’s not like I may be a great shooter but part of my game is I feel comfortable shooting 15-footers, and having this on my thumb is definitely not helping.”

Gortat was all smiles about the recent news of improvement, and is eager to get back to producing at the same high level he did for the Suns last season.

“It looks like in a few days I’ll be able to play without [the plastic brace],” Gortat said. “I’ll be able to grab the ball, I’ll be able to hold my position under the basket, I’ll be able to push. I’m looking forward to it, seriously. I’m really excited about that.”

LeBron James says he doesn’t see Cavaliers-Warriors as rivalry

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes while under pressure from Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Tyronn Lue said Cavaliers-Warriors could eventually match Celtics-Lakers as a rivalry.

First, if you ask LeBron James, Cleveland-Golden State would have to become a rivalry at all.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon Cleveland.com:

“We don’t look at it as a rival,” James said. “They’re a great team. They’ve been the best team the last couple years, last three years.”

“It’s just the next game, it’s Golden State,” James said. “They’re a helluva team, like I said the best team in the league and they’ve been that way the last three years, four years, however long it’s been, I’m not quite sure. But, listen, you guys know, we don’t put all our eggs in one basket for one game.”

Of course, Cavaliers-Warriors is a rivalry. These teams have met in the last two NBA Finals, played each other with relentless intensity, talked plenty of trash and remained elite.

LeBron just doesn’t want the Cavs to become comfortable. They’ve beat Golden State in four straight games – the last three of the 2016 Finals and on Christmas – and could extend the streak to five today. Beating a rival that frequently is a cause for celebration, and celebration leads to contentment. LeBron would rather keep Cleveland focused and hungry. Hence, saying the Warriors aren’t a rival.

Andre Drummond hits 3-pointer from inside Pistons’ own 3-point arc (video)

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Andre Drummond is really good at these deep heaves.

His 3-point percentage (44%) is even better than his free-throw percentage (38%) the last two years, though that says too much about his work from the line.

Drummond wasn’t the only Pistons player converting to end quarters. Ish Smith and Tobias Harris also stepped up in the Pistons’ 102-97 win over the Lakers:

NBA: Suns got away with offensive foul before key points in win over Spurs

Phoenix Suns Devin Booker acknowledges a foul as San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker lies crumpled on the floor, in the second half of their regular-season NBA basketball game in Mexico City, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
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Devin Booker scored 39 points in the Suns’ 108-105 win over the Spurs on Saturday in Mexico City.

But Booker’s last four – which put Phoenix up for good – came directly after incorrect calls, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

First, Booker drew a (legitimate) foul on Pau Gasol with 1:08 left and made both free throws. The problem: One second before that, Suns center Tyson Chandler should have been called for offensively fouling Tony Parker, according to the league:

Chandler (PHX) sets the screen on Parker (SAS) and makes leg to leg contact that affects his ability to defend the play.

That would’ve ended Phoenix’s possession rather than allowing Booker to get to the line.

The other missed call in the two-minute report is trickier, because it directly benefitted the Spurs but indirectly benefitted the Suns.

Manu Ginobili got away with travelling with 59.1 seconds left, according to  the league:

Ginobili (SAS) moves his pivot foot.

But he coughed up the ball moments later anyway, and – thrilled to gain possession with a live-ball turnover rather than a dead-ball turnover – Booker turned the miscue into a fastbreak dunk.

Rather than debate how to evaluate San Antonio getting away with a travel and it ultimately helping Phoenix more, let’s stick to just the uncalled Chandler offensive foul. That netted the Suns two points. Their lead when the Spurs began intentionally fouling? One.

Russell Westbrook puts up 20th triple-double of season, lifts Thunder past Kings (VIDEO)

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Through 41 games — half the season — Russell Westbrook is averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists a game. Those numbers are insane, particularly considering his 42 percent usage rate. He has to put up numbers and do so fairly efficiently or the Thunder stand no chance of winning — and he has the Thunder on pace for 48 wins this season.

The Thunder picked up another of those wins Sunday night knocking off the Sacramento Kings behind Westbrook’s 20th triple-double in 41 games — 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The video highlights are above.

It’s going to be fun watching him and James Harden go back-and-forth in the MVP race for the next few months.