Spurs need Duncan to step up if they want to reach the Finals

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Tim Duncan’s legacy is largely beyond reproach. The man has four NBA titles to his name, is one of the two greatest players of his generation, and just recently became the all-time playoff leader in blocked shots.

And yet, his play in the Western Conference Finals hasn’t been all that special.

Duncan will get a pass from his coach and his teammates, and probably even from his fans for his lackluster performance in this series against the Thunder, one that his Spurs now find themselves all tied up in at two games apiece.

The reality is, though, that if Duncan doesn’t assert himself and play to his full capabilities for the remaining two or three games of these Western Conference finals, his Spurs may be done.

Sure, Duncan was 9-of-17 shooting in Game 4 for a team-high 21 points. But his offense came very quietly, and had virtually no impact in a game where his team desperately needed one.

No one is saying that Duncan is no longer capable of dominating a game offensively for his Spurs; in fact, it’s the opposite. San Antonio needs to feature its Hall-of-Fame big man to the point where he touches the ball on nearly every possession, with the decision to shoot or make the pass to the open man lying completely on his intelligent and capable shoulders.

In the first two rounds of the playoffs, Duncan was efficient and magnificent; excuse me for channeling my inner Clyde Frasier. He shot 23-of-49 from the field in the first round against the Jazz, and 38-of-64 from the field in the second round against the Clippers.

Those shooting numbers were good for marks of 47 percent and 59 percent respectively. Against the Thunder in this series, Duncan is just 22-of-58, for just 38 percent.

Now, it’s easy to argue that Tony Parker’s individual performance is more important to his team’s chances, considering the explosive ability he has to not only score, but to create easy opportunities for his teammates. But Parker has to perform at a certain level for the Spurs to even be within contention; to push them over the top, Duncan is the one who has to raise his game.

The Spurs have made it this far in the postseason with a surgical level of execution from role-players and stars alike. They had been getting timely shots off of open looks from seemingly everyone who touched the ball, after a series of screens and well-timed passes made their way into the hands of whomever was open at the time. But the offense by committee has stagnated in Games 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City.

For the Spurs to get back on track, take control of this series, and earn themselves a trip to the NBA Finals, they’ll need Duncan to step up one last time and deliver as we know he can. San Antonio needs to feature him, and let him go to work against the Thunder’s front line. The defense has shifted its focus to slowing Parker and Manu Ginobili on the perimeter; it’s time for San Antonio to trust Duncan in this series, just as they have in so many series past.

Rumor: NBA executives think Rockets have shot at signing LeBron James

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LeBron James is now rumored to be headed to about 29 NBA teams this summer when he can opt out of his current contract and become a free agent. Earlier this week, we heard rumblings that LeBron could be interested in sharing a Los Angeles Lakers roster with Dallas Mavericks center-at-large Nerlens Noel.

Now we’re hearing that NBA executives think the Houston Rockets have a chance of nabbing The King in the summer of 2018.

All aboard the Banana Boat.

According to USA Today’s Sam Amick, both the Rockets themselves and rival execs think Houston is a real landing spot for James thanks in part to how well they are playing this season. James Harden is having another MVP-caliber year, and Chris Paul has played beautifully in his return.

Via USA Today:

While James has made it clear that he won’t deliberate his uncertain future until the Cavs’ season is complete, there is strong belief in Rockets circles that they’ll have a legitimate shot at landing the four-time MVP this summer. Rival executives also believe the Rockets will have a real chance. And once you really look at it, when you get past all the noise about the Lakers and even the compelling case for the up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers, it makes all sorts of sense.

The only team we haven’t heard connecting rumors about is the Cleveland Cavaliers themselves. LeBron — whose family lives in LA — recently bought a new house there and all signs point to James heading to the Western Conference. Well, unless he goes to the Philadelphia 76ers, of course.

Then again it felt like a certainty that LeBron would head to the New York Knicks nearly a decade ago, an idea that seems hilarious in retrospect. The NBA is weird, and if LeBron dips from Cleveland expect it to get even weirder.

Sixers’ Robert Covington to miss at least one game after crashing into stands

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NBA fans love hustle from their players, but sometimes things go awry.

That’s what happened on Saturday night after Philadelphia 76ers forward Robert Covington dove into the stands to try to save a loose ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The play came in the fourth quarter with under two minutes left and the Sixers down by just one point. Covington leapt into the far sideline just near the Cavaliers bench. He appeared to turn his ankle and land awkwardly on his back. The Cleveland floor has a small lip after the first row of seats that may have played a part in the injury.

Cleveland would go on to score on the play, and Covington had to be helped off the floor. The Cavaliers went on to win, 105-98.

Meanwhile, the 76ers will play Sunday in New Orleans against the Pelicans. According to NBC Sports Philadelphia, Covington will miss the game with a lower back contusion.

Via NBCSN Philadelphia:

X-rays and a CT scan came back negative. Covington is with the team in New Orleans and is doubtful for Tuesday’s game in Minnesota.

Covington tumbled out of bounds and over courtside seats while he tried to save a possession during a Sixers comeback attempt. There is an approximate four-to-five inch drop between the court and the area where Covington landed. Many of his teammates were unaware of Covington’s injury at first because it was out of their vision.

“It’s scary to see your teammate like that,” guard JJ Redick said. “They said he fell on his back. I wanted to make sure he’s walking and not in too much pain. But I just wish the best for him and hope he’s OK.”

Back injuries can be a complete hassle to recover from, especially when you’re deep in the middle of the season. Let’s hope the Sixers get Covington back soon.

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunked all over Rudy Gobert (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks a lot. The Milwaukee Bucks forward is big, strong, and aggressive when it comes to attacking the rim.

But he doesn’t typically dunk this hard or this emphatically over perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidates like Rudy Gobert.

That’s what made this one special.

As time was winding down in Milwaukee’s eventual 117-100 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, Antetokounmpo put the exclamation point at the end of the sentence for the Bucks.

Gobert took the brunt of it. Via Twitter:

Goodness.

Gordon Hayward on playing this season: “It’s definitely in the back of my mind”

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Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward has been going through some grueling physical therapy to aid his recovery from a horrible leg injury he suffered during his first game with the team back in October. Hayward wound up breaking his ankle, likely putting him out for the season.

Meanwhile, whether Hayward plays or not during the 2017-18 campaign is still up for debate. Hayward is making progress in his recovery — he recently was able to take his walking boot off and go for a smaller ankle brace.

For his part, Hayward has said that he is still thinking about the possibility of returning this season to the Celtics, who have earned themselves the top spot in the Eastern Conference in his absence.

Speaking to Adam Himmelsbach over at the Boston Globe, Hayward detailed not only his recovery routine but his thinking when it came to planning his return.

Via The Boston Globe:

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind,” Hayward said. “I’m definitely pushing to get back as fast as I can, while making sure that I still have a lot of good years of basketball in me. And coming back early and hurting something else is not part of that plan. So I’m making sure that if I come back, I’m 1,000 percent confident in myself and my leg. I hope more than anything I can play this season. That would be awesome. But that’s not something I’m stressing about. I’m stressing about what I can do today to help myself get better.”

That’s smart thinking on Hayward’s part. Too often it seems like guys are jonesing to come back, and when they do it’s cause for concern that they’re damaging their long-term playing health.

Hayward is making some real progress — the Globe story details him doing tasks like picking up marbles with his toes and shooting baskets from a chair as part of his PT — but whether he’ll be ready this season is doubtful.

It doesn’t sound like Hayward wants to rush things, but you never know. His agent did say that his return this year is unlikely, but another report has said that his earliest return would be March. Just in time to make a run for an Eastern Conference Finals showdown against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers?

We’ll have to wait and see.

UPDATE: Shortly after this story and the Boston Globe one was published on Sunday morning, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the team isn’t planning for Hayward to come back. The plot thickens!