Injuries, defensive woes have Timberwolves playoffs hopes fading

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Early in the season it was impressive — without stars Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio the Timberwolves were winning enough games to stay above .500. They were defending. The schedule was helpful, but it felt like once they got Kevin Love back from his broken hand and Ricky Rubio back from injury they would bolt up the standings.

Instead, they 5-10 in their last 15.

Kevin Love had hand surgery Tuesday and you can expect to see him again in eight to 10 weeks. Rick Rubio is still on a minutes restriction. Their defense over that span is 26th in the league.

Suddenly, the Timberwolves looks like teams such as the Lakers and Mavericks that need some massive turnarounds and strong runs to even make the playoffs. Minnesota is 16-19, three games out of the playoffs, and dropping like a rock.

The basketball fates have been cruel to Minnesota this season. Love broke his hand in preseason in a fluke — doing knuckle pushups — and he was back for 18 games before he broke the same part of his hand requiring surgery. Rubio is back but as you might expect coming off ACL surgery he is not 100 percent, doesn’t fully trust the knee yet (and says he has a little pain) and is just not the guy from his rookie season.

But as John Schuhmann noted at NBA.com, the defensive fall off is even more confusing.

The Wolves survived that first month and a half because they had a top-five defense. They ranked fifth in defensive efficiency through Dec. 15, allowing just 98.6 points per 100 possessions. Since then, the Wolves have a bottom-five defense, allowing 108.2 points per 100 possessions….

The problems seem to start with big man Nikola Pekovic. The Wolves have allowed an atrocious 110.6 points per 100 possessions in Pekovic’s 436 minutes since Dec. 16. But they haven’t been any better (110.4) with Greg Stiemsma playing center either.

It’s not just the bigs, the Minnesota defensive collapse has been complete — the guards aren’t stopping penetration either. It’s a team effort of bad.

And it’s very unlike a Rick Adelman team.

Unless the Timberwolves have a pretty sudden and dramatic reversal of fortune, they will be back in the lottery again. Which was far from the goal they started the season with. But that goal seems to be fading fast.

Report: Utah’s Rudy Gobert out month with knee sprain, bone bruise

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The basketball gods have not been kind to Rudy Gobert this season.

He missed 11 games earlier in the season with a bone bruise on his knee, and now he’s going to miss another month for much the same reason — teammate Derrick Favors fell into Gobert’s knee in the opening minutes in Boston Friday night and injured the same knee. From Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Jazz went 7-4 without Gobert the first time he was out, but did it with a changed game. Utah’s defense fell off, as expected when the man second in Defensive Player of the Year voting the season before is out. However, Favors moved over to center and provided more offensive options that opened up the floor for the Jazz, and also rookie Donovan Michell broke out as a playmaker and scorer. Utah had a top 10 offense in the games Gobert missed earlier in the season. (Favors left the Celtics game Friday with a “left eye laceration” according to the team but is expected to try to play Saturday.)

The Jazz are 14-15 on the season, sitting in the ninth seed and in the midst of a tight playoff race for the final slots in the West.

Lorenzen Wright’s ex-wife arrested, charged in former player’s murder

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A couple of weeks ago, the Shelby County District Attorney announced that a man, Billy Turner, had been indicted on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of former NBA player Lorenzen Wright.

Now his ex-wife Sherra Wright-Robinson, who had seen Wright the night he disappeared and was killed, also has been arrested and charged. From the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

The ex-wife of slain former NBA player Lorenzen Wright has been arrested in California in connection with his death, sources close to the investigation said Friday.

Sherra Wright-Robinson has been charged with conspiracy, first-degree murder and criminal attempt first degree murder, Memphis police Director Michael Rallings said in announcing the charges Saturday.

The attempted murder charge is about a prior attempt to kill Wright, officials confirmed. They said Sherra and Billy Turner previously tried to kill Wright.

Wright was murdered back in 2010, but at the time the case grew cold. That was until police say they got a fresh lead in the case back in June and started to follow the evidence, re-opening the case (which they called “operation rebound”). One of the big breaks was an FBI dive team finding the murder weapon, which had been thrown into a lake in Walnut, Miss. All the new evidence led them to Turner and Wright-Robinson, who allegedly had tried to kill Wright before, but succeeded back in 2010.

At the time of the murder, Wright-Robinson told police in a sworn statement Lorenzen Wright left her home the night of his murder (July 18, 2010) “around 10:30 p.m. carrying a box of drugs.” She said he returned a short time later, got a lot of cash, then left again with the drugs and money after talking to an unidentified person on a burner phone.

That didn’t stop police from at times focusing their investigation on Sherra, but they could not prove their case yet. They can now.

Wright’s decomposing body had been found in suburban Memphis on July 28, 2010, 10 days after the 34-year-old was reported missing. He had called 911 just after midnight on July 19 from an empty field close to a popular golf course in the area. He had multiple gunshots in his body.

Wright had a 13-year NBA career where he played for five NBA teams but played the longest with the Memphis Grizzlies. He averaged 8 points and 6.4 rebounds a game as a center during that time. He retired from the NBA in 2009.

 

Celtics’ Gordon Hayward says he’s open to returning this season

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BOSTON (AP) — Celtics guard Gordon Hayward says he is open to playing this season, but says it will depend on how fast he is able to heal and show progress as he works his way back from a broken left ankle.

Hayward was at TD Garden on Friday for Boston’s matchup with the Utah Jazz, the team he left this past summer in free agency after seven seasons to sign a four-year, $128 million contract with the Celtics. He was injured in Boston’s season opener at Cleveland.

Wednesday marked a milestone in Hayward’s recovery process, when he was able to shed the walking boot he’s been using since his surgery in October. He will continue to wear a protective brace during the rehab process.

He said he doesn’t know how long he will have to wear the brace. But he said he is now allowed to do some shooting and begin working more on mobility.

 

Russell Westbrook triple-double keys OKC in 3OT thriller vs 76ers

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Russell Westbrook had 27 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists, and Oklahoma City and the Philadelphia 76ers went basket-for-basket in a three-overtime thriller before the Thunder pulled out a 119-117 victory on Friday night.

Andre Roberson scored the winner with 10 seconds left for the Thunder. But one of the early contenders for NBA game of the year belonged to Joel Embiid and Westbrook as they drove, blocked and rebounded their way toward one big play after another.

Embiid scored 34 points in 48 minutes with an achy back and rallied the Sixers from a 17-point hole.

Embiid, Philly’s franchise center and social media star, grabbed his lower back when he took a hard foul on a drive to the basket in the fourth quarter. Embiid grimaced during timeouts on the bench and trudged into position a few times.

Embiid sucked it up and carried the Sixers in the fourth and the first overtime. His feed to a charging Ben Simmons on the baseline for a two-handed dunk tied the score at 94-all with 53 seconds left in the quarter. The Sixers closed the fourth on an 11-0 run.

Embiid scored the first bucket of OT and the Sixers led for the first time in the game. The Sixers’ five-point lead with 1:20 left in overtime was wiped out on Paul George‘s 3-pointer and a Westbrook bucket that made it 102-all. The Sixers blew their final possession on an ill-conceived 3 for Dario Saric.

Round 2 was just as fun.

Westbrook and Robert Covington exchanged 3s and George tied it at 109 on a driving layup. Westbrook and Embiid swapped buckets that kept it even and the Sixers had one more chance to win it with 1.2 seconds to go in the second OT.

Embiid and Westbrook combined to score eight straight points in the third overtime, and Embiid even waved goodbye as the crowd went wild when Steve Adams fouled out of the game.

But Embiid seemed gassed at the end and there’s no telling how the heavy workload may affect his availability the rest of the week.

The Sixers were featured on ESPN on Friday as part of Philadelphia All Access, and Sixers’ related content was aired throughout the day on all platforms.

“I’m not a fan,” coach Brett Brown said. “I like living behind closed doors.”

But Brown understood the exposure would help build the brand and serve as a recruiting pitch of sorts to any free agents intrigued about becoming part of The Process. The Sixers put on a show in the fourth until Embiid gave them a scare.

Embiid’s health woes have dogged him since his college career at Kansas and every slip, ache or bump throws Sixers fans into a panic. Embiid has been banged-up lately but he calmly went to the line and made both free throws. He fell again when he tripped over Adams, who earned a foul, and sank two more free throws to make it 78-72.