Kobe Bryant

Kobe medically cleared for everything; Chauncey Billups talks about Kobe’s challenges ahead.

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Kobe Bryant has been fully medically cleared to return to practice — and that is going to mean a big push this week with the Lakers off for four days. Tuesday through Thursday Kobe is going to get a good workout in with the team and see how it goes.

But there are still challenges ahead getting your body ready, something Chauncey Billups knows all too well — Billups went through the same return from Achilles tendon surgery. Speaking Sunday he was open about the challenges ahead.

The good news is Kobe has a thumbs up from the doctors, still the Lakers will be patient, reports Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

Bryant has full medical clearance, I was told Sunday by someone in a position to have such knowledge—meaning he can do anything and everything without restriction as the recovery from his ruptured left Achilles tendon nears its conclusion….

Even with full clearance, though, Bryant is not expected to jump right back into game action Friday night against Golden State or even the next week of Thanksgiving. Bryant wants to test his ankle joint and see how it responds, which he will get to on an initial basis with full-scale team practices set for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Billups suffered the exact same injury at pretty much the exact same age as Bryant — and like Kobe the former NBA champion and Finals MVP refused to leave the game on those terms. He worked to get back and on the court, and this season he is the veteran leader with a young Pistons’ squad.

He said the hard part is felling like your old self again.

“Side-to-side wasn’t too bad actually, it was kind of explosiveness, getting by guys, going to my right side where I had to push off with my left, and regaining the strength in the calf,” Billups told ProBasketballTalk before the Pistons faced the Lakers Sunday night. “Honestly, my strength isn’t all the way there but it’s possible they say it never will be, but you get enough back to do what you do. That’s one of the bigger challenges.”

As for jumping into practices, Billups said it’s not so much that as just getting your body used to the grind again.

“Before practice you train one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three, so it’s a progression,” Billups said. “Then once you get to practice it’s no real big deal. The pounding, the wear and tear of going up and down, that’s something that you have to get used to again. But if you have a steady progression and a process, you can build up to that.”

Kobe is all about process, and he’s not going to shortcut it now. He said before once he got back to practice it would take two or three weeks, that’s likely what happens here. Sometime after Thanksgiving.

But as Billups said when asked about Kobe’s recovery timeline, “nothing would surprise me with 24.”

TNT to cover NBA games with only former players, no traditional play-by-play men

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Grant Hill #33 of the Phoenix Suns looks to move the ball as Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends in the first quarter of Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. 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.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — TNT will use broadcast teams featuring only former players and no traditional play-by-play men during five NBA doubleheaders later this season.

The “Players Only” schedule runs Monday nights from Feb. 27 to March 27 and includes matchups such as Golden State-Oklahoma City on March 20 and Cleveland-San Antonio a week later.

Brent Barry will serve as the primary host of one team with Derek Fisher and Grant Hill, while Greg Anthony partners with Kevin McHale and Richard Hamilton on the other.

Lisa Leslie and Dennis Scott will serve as reporters.

Turner Sports says Thursday that Chris Webber will anchor the studio coverage with Isiah Thomas and Baron Davis, and that additional NBA players will contribute to the five-week program.

James Harden presents fan with game ball on her 100th birthday (video)

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden took some time out after the Houston Rockets’ win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks to give a fan a present on a her 100th birthday.

Video shows Harden signing a ball for the woman and spending a few moments sitting next to her in her courtside seat and posing for pictures Wednesday night.

Harden told ESPN’s Doris Burke in an interview that he told the woman how “blessed” he was to be able to have a chance to meet her.

The Houston guard also put on a good show for the fan during the game, scoring 38 points in a 111-92 victory over the Bucks.

Paul George dunks on DeMarcus Cousins while getting whacked in the face (video)

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Kings center DeMarcus Couins appears set to become the first player to sign as a veteran designated player. The Pacers hope Paul George will follow.

But in the Pacers’ win over the Kings yesterday, George beat Cousins.

Not even Cousins thwacking George in the face could stop this dunk.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.