Wizards keep playoff goal intact by trading injured Okafor for a healthy Gortat

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WASHINGTON — Sometimes trades instinctively bring out the head scratcher in all of us. The Wizards acquiring center Marcin Gortat isn’t one of those times.

Washington hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2008. Unlike teams that bailed on the upcoming season to ensure a lottery finish, the Wizards have shaped their John Wall-led roster with the goal of a postseason return.

Emeka Okafor’s herniated disk in his neck threatened to derail those plans.

Fearing the defensive presence might return later than sooner, the playoff-pushing organization addressed the matter sooner than later.

Following Saturday’s practice, management, coaches and players discussed the necessary move, which included not just a swap of expiring contracts, but the Wizards shipping a protected 2014 first round pick.

Wizards team President Ernie Grunfeld: “Obviously if Emeka didn’t have the [injury], probably wouldn’t have been as imperative for us to get another big man in there. We don’t know what his status will be. Obviously, Emeka was very frustrated by his situation and there is really no timeframe for him.”

Wall: “It’s tough to see a guy like Mek go that was a great professional for us and what he did for our team, especially helping me in learning things, but it was kind of tough not knowing if he would play this year.”

Head coach Randy Wittman: “We’re not just trading a player for a player, with Mek not being on the floor yet this year. That’s the beauty about the situation. We had no idea when, or if, Emek, was going to be back. So, this gives us a free body that we didn’t have.”

Not just a free body, but a big body, a 6-foot-11, 240-pounder efficient in the pick-and-roll and better offensively than the man he replaces. Nor Okafor’s equal on defense, but Gortat is a big body willing to bang and defend those in the middle so power forward Nene and his perennial aching body doesn’t have to.

“Now we have a true center. Look at my face,” said the grinning Brazilian big man, who has not been shy about stating his positional preference. “[Gortat] is going to help us a lot. He’s a veteran … high IQ big man. He knows how to play. We feel sad for Emeka, he was a great teammate, but we need the position. [The organization] did an amazing job. They surprised me.”

Considering the team’s playoffs-or-bust mentality, considering the young frontcourt options — namely Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely — provided no assurance they could step up into larger roles, nobody should be surprised. Considering the trade laid out on a Venn diagram would show a tiny not-so-sweet spot, nobody should be scratching their head.

The first round pick is protected through the 12th selection. If the Wizards make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, the pick heads to Phoenix without complaint. If the Wizards miss the playoffs, they keep the pick as long as they don’t end up with the 13th or 14th selection. Barring bad luck with ping-pong balls, that’s a safe bet considering there are more strong teams than available postseason berths out West.

The Wizards will enter next offseason with a hole at center — and potentially around $16 million in cap space now that they have reportedly declined options on Vesely and Chris Singleton. Make the playoffs and the Wizards become more attractive to high-end free agents as a rising franchise headlined by the electric backcourt combo of Wall and Bradley Beal. Miss the playoffs and the Wizards have both a first round selection and cap space to address needs.

“That could become available to us if that’s a direction we want to go,” Grunfeld said of potentially adding a max contract free agent. “But we’ll worry about that next summer.”

They could also re-sign Gortat, who averaged 11.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks last season for Phoenix in what some considered a down effort. If the “Polish Machine” helps makes the Wizards a better team — he should offensively — and the money works out, why not.

As for guards Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown and Malcolm Lee, Grunfeld will only worry about the other ex-Suns acquired in the deal for another day or so. Washington must trim three players by Monday to reach the league-maximum of 15. Grunfeld said he hasn’t made a final decision, but nobody is expecting that trio to stay with the Wizards.

The idea of making the playoffs this season, that notion has staying power. Without making the trade, maybe not.

“It hasn’t changed any,” Wittman said of the team’s postseason goals. “We talked about that. This wouldn’t make it change any. We still expect to fight for a spot in May. That’s our objective here.”

Who needs good form? Hawks fan nails halfcourt shot for $10k (video)

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Former Hawks owner Bruce Levenson didn’t want guys like this shooting this shot.

I’m so glad this fan got the opportunity. This was Atlanta’s biggest highlight while losing to the Pistons — and John Collins had a nice dunk over Luke Kennard:

Kevin Durant kisses fan hit by ball (video)

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Kevin Durant‘s final line in the Warriors’ win over the Mavericks: 36 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks… and one kiss.

He has done this before.

Three Things to Know: LeBron James talks to Lonzo Ball and that means… nothing

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The Cavaliers beat the Lakers… but who cares because LeBron James talked to Lonzo Ball. Everyone loves a good mystery. Apparently to the point of obsession. Thursday night the NBA got its big unanswered question to obsess over:

What did LeBron James tell Lonzo Ball after the game?

Somehow overshadowing the fact LeBron had a triple-double in leading the Cavaliers past the Lakers in an actual basketball game that counts, the topic of discussion has been LeBron pulling Lonzo Ball aside after the game on the court to talk to him, with LeBron wisely pulling his jersey up over his lips to foil lip readers.

This video will be analyzed like it was the Zapruder film.

When asked what he said, LeBron answered: “None of y’all business.” Good. It’s not.

LeBron is one of the few people on the planet who has been in Ball’s shoes — overhyped coming into the league, drafted and instantly thrown into the role of franchise savior. LeBron has lived up to the hype over his career, he’s been through the wars, and he has advice to pass along. LeBron also has praised Ball’s level-headedness and said he liked what he saw in the rookie’s game. Ball had 13 points and 11 assists Thursday to push a Lakers’ team that did not roll over for the Cavaliers, another game where Ball is showing improvement this season. LeBron likely said some variation of what he’s said publicly — “You have the talent kid, just put in the work, honor the game, and ignore the circus around you.”

That will not stop the speculation, rumors, and conspiracy theories. If the political world has proved one thing in the past year or two, it’s that logic and facts will not stop people from believing what they want to believe.

The “LeBron will come to the Lakers” rumors run so rampant that the man himself skipped talking to the media after shootaround or before the game Thursday just to avoid the ridiculousness. The rumors persist despite reports that call it a “longshot.” They persist despite logic — LeBron (and his agent Rich Paul) have made it clear that winning and chasing more rings will be the priorities in deciding where LeBron plays next season, and even if the Lakers could land LeBron and Paul George they are the third best team in the West right now. “But he bought a new home in Brentwood! He’s coming!” Ugh. One thing is for sure: LeBron is not basing his decision based on anything he saw in a December regular season game.

Still, the postgame conversation was fuel for the conspiracy theorists. Whatever. At least some on Twitter just had fun with it.

2) Kristaps Porzingis leaves Knicks game after tweaking knee, to be examined Friday. The scariest injuries are non-contact ones, so when the Knicks’ star forward Kristaps Porzingis went to the locker room Thursday night with one Knicks’ nation held its breath.

The good news after the game is that Porzingis was standing on his leg without a brace or crutch. Both he and coach Jeff Hornacek said it was not serious. Porzingis will be examined Friday and said he felt a little pain when his knee buckled, so the team is being cautious. Hopefully, this really is nothing, but don’t be shocked if Porzingis is out Saturday when Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder come to Madison Square Garden.

By the way, the Knicks beat the Nets behind 27 points from Courtney Lee.

3) Kevin Durant goes off for 36 points, 11 rebounds in another Warriors’ win.Stephen Curry? We don’t need no stinkin’ Stephen Curry.”

Okay, the Warriors aren’t exactly saying that, but they also are 4-0 without the point guard who was having a monster season but went down with a sprained ankle. The main reason is Kevin Durant. (Well, that and a more focused defense.) Durant went off against the Mavericks, taking control of the offense as he has done since Curry went down, scoring 37 points plus grabbing 11 boards and dishing out 7 assists. The Warriors won comfortably 112-97.

That makes eight straight wins for the Warriors, who statistically are on pace for 67 wins according to Ben Falk’s Cleaning The Glass (if you just extrapolate out the Warriors current record it’s “only” 65 wins).

Bucks’ Mirza Teletovic out with blockages in lungs

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Bucks forward Mirza Teletovic is out because of blockages in his lungs.

The team said Thursday that pulmonary embolisms were discovered in both of Teletovic’s lungs (these are usually blood clots, often which have traveled from the legs). While we lack medical details on Teletovic’s case, this is not unlike what sidelined former Miami Heat player Chris Bosh.

The 32-year-old Teletovic consulted with Bucks team physicians after experiencing unusual fatigue earlier this week.

Following a 10-day rest period, Teletovic will begin a supervised rehabilitation program. The team provided no other for what it considers a long-term injury.

Teletovic has missed the last 16 games, including 10 after arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage in his left knee on Nov. 21.

In 10 games this season, Teletovic is averaging 7.1 points and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range. Teletovic has been in the NBA for six seasons.