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Bucks’ Jabari Parker on second ACL injury: “I love challenges”

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ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) Jabari Parker looked ahead to the future as he leaned up against a wall at the Milwaukee Bucks training center with the help of two metal crutches.

The star forward is embracing the challenge of coming back from his second left ACL injury in three seasons.

“I know I can be better,” Parker said after the rest of the Bucks practiced on Thursday.

Parker fell to floor while driving in the third quarter of a loss on Feb. 8 to Miami, making limited contact with the defender before going down. A fan favorite and respected team presence, Parker was averaging career bests of 20.1 points and 6.1 rebounds when he got hurt, serving as a running mate to All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The injury occurred on the same night that guard Khris Middleton made his season debut from a hamstring injury, the one and only time this year that the Bucks’ core trio would be on the floor at the same time. It was a stunning blow for a young team hoping to get back into the playoff picture.

There were some early growing pains adjusting again to playing without Parker. But the Bucks overall are playing better, 8-4 since Parker got hurt, including four straight wins.

Similarly, Parker is vowing to come back. The Chicago native already did it once, after all, when he returned from his first ACL injury, which ended his rookie season after 25 games in 2014-15.

Asked if this rehab period would be more arduous, Parker said “No, it’s going to be fun to tell you the truth.

“I love challenges, I love being in the position that I am in … It feels like God’s given me this for a reason, because he knows I can handle it. I take that burden because I know that a lot of people can’t go through this.”

Maturity and work ethic have always been strengths for Parker since being taken by the Bucks with the second overall pick of the 2014 NBA draft. The giant images of Antetokounmpo and Parker are depicted on a large poster draped over the side of a building outside team offices near downtown Milwaukee.

Parker remained engaged during his last rehab period, and coach Jason Kidd says the forward will stay involved this time around, too. He plans to have Parker sit in on coaches meetings, much like how Middleton did while he was going through rehab.

The Bucks have said that Parker may not be come back to the floor until next February, though they know what to expect whenever he does return.

“Where Jabari has come from in terms of the first injury, to come back from that stronger and better than you saw … he was able to raise the bar again,” Kidd said on Thursday.

“We have the blueprint. It worked the first time,” Kidd added.

The Bucks go for their fifth straight win when they face the Indiana Pacers on Friday. They’re among four teams in the mix for the last two of eight spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Follow Genaro Armas at: https://twitter.com/GArmasAP

Kobe Bryant on race for Podoloff Trophy: “We might see our first co-MVPs this year”

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The race between James Harden and Russell Westbrook for the 2017 NBA MVP has narrowed to a two-man race toward the end of the season. The Oklahoma City Thunder star is averaging at triple-double this year, and the Houston Rockets guard is doing things nobody has ever done on a basketball court before.

It’s a tough decision to decide between them, so much so that even former Los Angeles Lakers great and 2008 NBA MVP Kobe Bryant can’t do it.

Speaking on ESPN on Sunday, Bryant said he thought the league might have to just bite the bullet on Westbrook vs. Harden.

“We might see our first co-MVPs this year,” said Bryant.

That would be a huge step for the league, but I’m not entirely sure they would do it. There have been co-NBA All-Star Game MVPs in years past, but never league MVP.

Still, can you decide between Russ and Harden? The Mamba can’t.

Watch Rockets C Nene lead the break, eurostep past Enes Kanter (VIDEO)

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Houston Rockets center Nene is from Brazil, but on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder the South American native went full euro.

On a fastbreak possession, Nene took on Thunder big man Enes Kanter near the rim and absolutely shook him with a nasty eurostep.

The play was so good that it forced Oklahoma City to call a timeout as James Harden and the rest of the Rockets bench met Nene on the court to celebrate.

Kobe Bryant says he didn’t even have NBA League Pass until a month ago (VIDEO)

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What has retired all-time NBA great Kobe Bryant been doing with his time? A little of this, a little of that. Apparently that doesn’t include watching non-national NBA games.

Speaking with ESPN’s Jemele Hill and Michael Smith on SC6, Bryant revealed that he went to go watch a little NBA while he was getting a workout in at his house and realized he didn’t have the NBA package hooked up on his cable.

Via Twitter:

I don’t know if I totally buy this. On one hand, Kobe is a busy guy and he did spend two decades living and breathing the NBA night in and night out. I would expect that after all that time he might want some kind of relief.

Then again, to think that Kobe doesn’t have multiple assistants that would have handled that sort of thing already is sort of silly. The only benefit here is Kobe trying to sell that he’s just relaxing and not paying attention to the league too much, which is hilarious.

Kobe, we all know who you are by now. You’re watching the league, man. You’re Kobe. We get it. You didn’t suddenly turn into The Dude.

Let’s just hope Kobe’s League Pass works right off the bat. We all know how much of a hassle it can be.

Damian Lillard dismisses playoff expectations as pressure, says it insults regular people

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The Portland Trail Blazers have had a disappointing season thus far. The team is just 34-38 before their game with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, and they’re battling it out for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs with the Denver Nuggets.

This comes as after expectations rose greatly following the 2015-16 campaign which saw the Blazers finish 44-38, good enough for the No. 5 spot in the West.

Portland has looked better after trading Mason Plumlee to Denver in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, but it might be too little too late. Meanwhile, team leader Damian Lillard isn’t bowing to the idea that last season’s good fortune raised the bar so much that it put undue pressure on his team.

Speaking with Sporting News, Lillard said he thinks the idea is really more about pressure vs. challenges.

Via SN:

Pressure, nah. Fam, this is just playing ball. Pressure is the homeless man, who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Pressure is the single mom, who is trying to scuffle and pay her rent. We get paid a lot of money to play a game. Don’t get me wrong — there are challenges. But to call it pressure is almost an insult to regular people.

Look at the Wizards, they were kind of on the same wave as us. Didn’t even make the playoffs while we did. Now this year they’re the second-best team in the East. The adversity made them better. It can make us better, too. What I come from and my background made me who I am. As comfortable as I am with the good times, I’m also comfortable in adversity. Yeah, I might feel some type of way when somebody comes for me or says my name. But when it’s all said and done, it ain’t gonna rock me.

This is interesting to hear an NBA player say out loud. One, because I’m not sure I entirely believe it. You can have pressure without it having to be something that threatens your overall wellbeing.

Then again, maybe we’re arguing linguistics here. There’s definitely a different emotion from, say, trying to make sure you make rent and aren’t evicted to the street vs. trying to make the NBA playoffs. If one emotion is being defined as pressure, it makes sense to call the other a challenge.

It’s also interesting to hear an NBA player speak in those kinds of terms. There are a few guys around the league who seem to be relatively grounded and give out quotes like this from time-to-time. The absurdity of the NBA — playing games, making millions, and having folks worship you — would easily bend reality for most of us.

In any case, the challenge of making the playoffs for Portland is not going to be an easy one to overcome. Going into Sunday’s matchup with the Lakers, the Trail Blazers are a game behind Denver for the final spot.

Portland will face Denver on Tuesday, March 28 in perhaps their most important game of the season.