kemba walker
AP

Walker lifts Hornets past Mavericks, 97-87

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Kemba Walker had no nice way to describe the Charlotte Hornets’ 97-87 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

“That was pretty ugly,” Walker said, before quickly adding that the Hornets will take the wins any way they can get them.

Walker scored 18 points, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 14 and the Hornets got their third win in the last four games Thursday night to remain in first place in the Southeast Division.

The Mavericks slowed the tempo of the game, but the Hornets didn’t get frustrated and never trailed.

“At the end of the day, it shows toughness,” Walker said. “It shows that we can withstand games. They really slowed it down tonight. But we really stayed with the game and won. … That’s what you have to do on some nights.”

Walker was just 7 of 19 from the field and Charlotte again struggled from the foul line at home.

However, the Hornets got a big boost from their bench, which combined for 46 points on 25 shots, led by Jeremy Lamb, who had 12 points.

“That was a hard game to play,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “It wasn’t a conventional tempo for a NBA game to be played. It was slower. They really execute and they really changed their defenses. The tempo of a NBA game usually lets you get into a rhythm. But there was no way they would let us get into a rhythm. Bottom line is that’s a game that good teams win.”

Harrison Barnes scored 17 points and Justin Anderson added 15 for the Mavericks (3-15), who have lost 10 of their last 11 games.

The Hornets led by two when Walker drained a long 3-pointer to beat the shot clock with 3:51 to give his team the spark it needed. Lamb followed with a driving layup that resulted in a three-point play to push the lead to 86-78.

The Mavs would battle back behind Barnes to cut the lead to three, but Lamb hit two free throws and Walker buried a 3-pointer from the right wing with 41 seconds left to put the game out of reach.

TIP-INS

Mavericks: Deron Williams did not play down the stretch in the fourth quarter because he was on a minutes restriction on the second night of a back-to-back. … Dwight Powell fouled out with 1:18 left.

Hornets: Nic Batum, who received a $120 million contract this offseason, has struggled some with turnovers this season. He entered averaging 2.3 per game and had three in the first half. … The Hornets were 22 of 31 from the foul line and shot 28 percent from 3-point range.

GIANTS WRESTLING

For the most part it was a subdued, lackluster game until the middle of the fourth quarter, when Mavericks center Salah Mejri grabbed the ball after it went out of bounds and cradled it in his arms until Charlotte’s Roy Hibbert inexplicably attempted to rip it out. In a bizarre sight, the two 7-footers started wrestling for the ball well after the whistle had blown ending the play. They finally tumbled to the floor together, sending long arms and legs flying in every direction. Several players were seen trying to keep themselves from laughing at the spectacle after the play, which resulted in Hibbert getting a technical foul.

STRUGGLING FROM 3

Dallas’ Wesley Matthews was upset with himself after the game for making just 1 of 11 3-point shots.

“If I shoot halfway decent, you give me those looks, and it’s a different game,” Matthews said.

ECLECTIC SITUATION

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said his team is in an “eclectic situation” right now.

“We’ve got to get these guys healthy,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got to do it the right way. In the meantime, other guys are getting valuable experience. We’re playing some guys in some different positions and finding out some different things. We just have to keep up the fight. If we do that, things will come around.”

DEFENSE WINS

The Hornets improved to 8-0 in games in which they’ve limited their opponent to fewer than 100 points.

UP NEXT

Mavericks: Dallas returns home to host the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night.

Hornets: Charlotte concludes a three-game homestand on Saturday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Warriors

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Although the San Antonio Spurs were outmatched against the Golden State Warriors, Manu Ginobili was an integral part of the Spurs staving off elimination against the reigning champs on Sunday. San Antonio beat the Warriors, 103-90, to put the series at 3-1.

The 40-year-old wingman scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio as Ettore Messina logged a playoff win at the helm of the team. Gregg Popovich, who sadly lost his wife this past week, did not coach.

Ginobili was 5-of-10 off the bench, adding five assists and three rebounds in the win. LaMarcus Aldridge led all Spurs scorers with 22, notching a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the only Warriors player to score more than 12 points was Kevin Durant, who rose above all scorers with 34 points to go with 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson shot an embarrassing 25 percent from the field, scoring just 12 points.

Ginobili put the dagger on the Warriors with 90 seconds to go, hitting a spinning flip shot over Draymond Green to give San Antonio a 10-point lead.

The series heads back to Oakland for Game 5 with the Spurs trailing, 3-1.

Kevin Durant on Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘I would tell him to play for himself’

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Kevin Durant was once the big star in a little city. The former Oklahoma City Thunder star now plays for the Golden State Warriors, and has a championship ring to his name after making a switch in 2016.

So Durant has at least some experience similar to that of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is currently leading the charge for the Bucks against the Boston Celtics in the first round, and he’s seen as the future in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo signed a 4-year, $100 million contract in the summer of 2016, so presumably he’ll be in Wisconsin for some time.

Meanwhile, Durant had some advice for Antetokounmpo, should he ask for it. In a feature on ESPN, Durant was quoted as saying he felt Antetokounmpo should be sure to have fun, and to play for himself.

Via ESPN:

What I would say to him, I would tell him to play for himself,” Durant said. “Because he’s the one out there putting in the work, he’s the one out there getting up in the morning staying committed to the game. Obviously [the comments about staying put] sounds good to the fans in Milwaukee and to the ownership, because he cares so much about wanting to please them and play well for them, and I get it. But his career is about him; it’s about whatever he wants to do and however he feels is right for him. And what type of basketball does he want to play? He’s not going to stay in Milwaukee if he’s not having fun playing the game.

That’s some pretty good advice, although factors surrounding Antetokounmpo will likely weigh the same as they did on Durant in OKC. The Bucks presumably need a new coach once their season ends. They’re currently helmed by interim coach Joe Prunty, who took over when Jason Kidd was fired earlier this year.

The Bucks also need to fill out their roster and find a way to stay healthy. The Thunder famously had roster issues (read: the James Harden trade) and eventually the lack of playoff success drove Durant to switch teams.

Milwaukee doesn’t seem close to that kind of juncture, although eventually things will flip for the young Bucks and fans and management will expect some kind of production in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo beats Celtics with late-game tip-in; series tied 2-2

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It was an exciting finish in Milwaukee on Sunday, where the Bucks took home a win on their home court to level the series against the Boston Celtics, 2-2.

The game came down to the wire, with 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon giving the Bucks the lead after a corner 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds left. The Celtics responded with a sideline out of bounds play that resulted in Al Horford tying the game with free throws.

On their final possession, the Bucks again went to Brogdon, who missed on a layup driving to the left side of the floor. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to follow with the tip-in with just five seconds left.

Via ESPN:

Boston was unable to convert on a final play, and Milwaukee grabbed the win, 104-102.

Game 5 will be in Boston on Tuesday.