Rumor: Duke’s Jabari Parker leaning toward returning to Duke. We’ll see.

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Note to Duke fans: Don’t get too excited yet. Every year guys say this in the wake of an ugly tournament loss, only to get a few see the money on the table and change their mind.

That said there have been reports all season that Duke’s potential top three pick Jabari Parker might come back for a second year, and ESPN’s Chad Ford took that to another level in his chat Wednesday.

What’s the latest info on whether or not Joel Embiid and/or Jabari Parker will enter the draft?

Chad Ford: Both are weighing their options. Both are seriously considering returning … with Parker so much so that several scouts are claiming he’s coming back to school. But I think that’s premature. They have time.

This has understandably fired up Duke fans, who would love to keep an elite scorer around for another year. There was a lot of talk about his staying and not being ready after Mike Krzyzewski benched Parker at the end of Duke’s loss to Mercer, but the fact is NBA scouts were already well aware of Parker’s defense and still have him top three on their boards.

I don’t expect either Embiid or Parker to stay another year in college, once the emotion of a tournament loss is behind them a little and they see what is in front of them. Potential high picks do return for another year, Marcus Smart being the most recent example. And how did that work out for him, by the way? You are risking injury, or at the least not making money for one more year, starting your clock for a post rookie deal contract one year later. You better really love college to give up multiple millions for another year of it.

Chad Ford goes on to say he expects them to come out.

The deadline is April 27th to decide. However, if they declare after April 15th, there’s no turning back. They’ll lose their college eligibility. Parker is really NBA ready. He could obviously improve if he stayed, but he’s a NBA starter from Day One. He’ll get minutes and playing against the best competition is the best way to improve. The only good reason for him to stay is because he loves college, wants to lead Duke to a NCAA Championship and is OK just waiting. But as far as development goes, the NBA is his best option. Embiid is a little different. He’s rawer and may not see the minutes Parker would see as a NBA rookie. He also has a big unknown with his back that could affect his draft stock if NBA doctors get wary. He would probably benefit more than Parker from returning for another year of college, but it’s really hard to turn down a Top 3 pick. I think both will probably declare at the end of the day, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they stayed either.

We will see over the next couple weeks.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.