Report: Timberwolves to amnesty Darko Milicic

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Darko is free!

Well, kind of. The Minnesota Timberwolves are about to amnesty Darko Milicic, reports Ric Bucher of ESPN.

The Minnesota Timberwolves plan to amnesty center Darko Milicic in order to give an offer sheet to Portland Trail Blazers restricted free agent Nicolas Batum, a league source says. Milicic has two years and $10 million remaining on his contract but only $7 million is guaranteed.

Minnesota wants to make a big offer to Batum, the French swingman that a lot of GMs around the league covet because he is athletic, can hit the three, plays smart and is a plus wing defender.

Portland has said repeatedly it will match any offer to Batum (who is a restricted free agent). They mean it. But Batum’s agent badly wants him out of Portland and Minnesota will play along.

Minnesota also is reportedly trying to put together trade offers to tempt Portland, but the Blazers have no interest.

Darko struggled last season, in part due to injuries. While he has never lived up to his No. 2 overall pick status but he has been an NBA backup level big man.

If Darko is amnestied, teams under the salary cap would have 48 hours to bid on a portion of his contract, and the team with the highest bid would get his services (for example, if the Bobcats had the highest bid at $4 million then Darko would be a Bobcat and Charlotte would pay $4 million of his salary and the Timberwolves the rest of it).

If no team bids on him — not likely but not impossible — he would become a free agent and could sign wherever he wanted. Including Europe.

Nets’ national anthem singer kneels to finish performance

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NEW YORK (AP)—  The national anthem singer at the Brooklyn Nets’ home opener took a knee at the end of her performance.

Justine Skye was nearing the completion of the song Friday night when she went to one knee for the finish. There were some cheers, but appeared to be more boos from the crowd at Barclays Center to see the Nets play the Orlando Magic.

NBA players have continued to stand during the playing of the anthems, as required by league rule.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?