Stephen Curry says Warriors must maintain focus while Kevin Durant recovers

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CHICAGO (AP) — As tough as it was to lose Kevin Durant to a leg injury, the Golden State Warriors were breathing a little easier. After all, they expect their superstar forward will return this season.

“There was definitely a sense of relief that he’ll be able to come back at some point down the stretch of the season,” Stephen Curry said Thursday in Chicago. “Our job now is to (continue) being us, continue to get wins, continue to play well, continue to build toward the playoffs and then when he’s able to rejoin us, hopefully, we hit our stride and be ready to try to win another championship.”

Curry, the two-time reigning MVP, spoke at the shootaround before the Warriors’ game against the Bulls.

Golden State boasts the NBA’s best record, has a playoff spot locked up and is focused on a second championship in three years. But Curry and Co. might have to get by without their leading scorer and rebounder for the remainder of the regular season and maybe even longer after he injured his left knee in Tuesday’s loss at Washington.

Durant, averaging 25.3 points and 8.2 rebounds, sprained a ligament and bruised a bone when teammate Zaza Pachulia fell into him after being pushed by Wizards center Marcin Gortat. An MRI revealed the injuries.

Durant is scheduled to be re-evaluated in a month. That would leave about two weeks remaining in the regular season if he is ready to return then. The playoffs start in mid-April.

“Obviously, it’s tough,” Draymond Green said. “We’ll have to do it by committee. One guy isn’t going to come and bring 26 points and eight rebounds per game. Multiple guys have got to step up. Some guys’ minutes will increase.”

No doubt, losing their big man is a huge blow for the Warriors. They became the earliest team in NBA history to clinch a playoff spot when they beat Brooklyn on Saturday and are trying to lock down the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

But it’s not like they haven’t won in a huge way without Durant. They captured the NBA championship two years ago and then set a league record with 73 victories on the way to their second straight finals last season, before signing the 2013-14 MVP to a two-year deal.

“It’s not the end of the world,” Green said. “We’ve still got to go out and win basketball games. … Home court in the playoffs, of course that’s the goal.”

Golden State signed forward Matt Barnes to replace the injured Durant, adding some toughness and defense to a team gearing up for another deep playoff run. He spent two years with the Warriors earlier in his career, helping them beat Dallas in a stunning upset in the 2007 playoffs. The 36-year-old Barnes played in 54 games for the Sacramento Kings this season before being waived.

“Just excitement,” Barnes said. “Tremendously humbled. It’s a team everybody talks about, the chemistry they have on and off the court and the way they play for each other. That’s something I want to be a part of.”

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.