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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says LaMarcus Aldridge has dealt with heart issue all year

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Spurs star LaMarcus Aldridge was cleared to return to full basketball activities and will start Wednesday night against the Portland Trail Blazers with no restrictions, the team announced.

Aldridge missed two games after being diagnosed with a minor heart arrhythmia, but San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich revealed Wednesday that the 31-year-old forward has been concerned about the condition all season.

“He’s dealt with this all year long, which nobody really knew about,” Popovich said. “Being a consummate pro, he was able to do everything that was necessary to bring this to some sort of a conclusion. That wasn’t easy throughout the year. He’s gone through some procedures and had to do some things that are not pleasant. He’s shown a lot of class and a lot of fortitude in the way he’s done it all.”

Aldridge was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome – an abnormality that can cause a rapid heartbeat – as a rookie in 2007. He missed the final seven games of his first season while he was with Portland and also was held out 10 days in the preseason in 2011.

This latest bout with heart arrhythmia kept him out less than a week, a big relief to the five-time All-Star as he and the San Antonio chase Golden State for the top seed in the Western Conference. The 31-year-old went through a bevy of tests and consulted with several experts before being cleared to return, giving the Spurs a much-needed post presence and scorer.

“We’re obviously thrilled about that, but more importantly thrilled that the doctors feel that he’s fine in the sense that we’re not putting him in danger or anything like that,” Popovich said. “That’s the most important part.”

Aldridge told the team’s staff that he “felt a little odd” during the second half of San Antonio’s game in Oklahoma City on March 9, which led to the diagnosis. The Spurs announced last Friday that he would be out indefinitely, not taking any chances with the situation despite Aldridge’s history of having little trouble returning to play after two previous episodes in his career.

“We are thankful that LaMarcus will be able to rejoin the team,” Spurs GM RC Buford said in a statement issued by the team. “All of us have been impressed with the professionalism and grace he has shown in dealing with this difficult situation.”

The Spurs desperately need Aldridge if they are going to leapfrog the scuffling Warriors for the top spot in the West. He is averaging 17.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game this season.

San Antonio trails Golden State, which is idle, by a half-game for the league’s best record entering Wednesday’s game.

San Antonio’s pursuit of Golden State seemed to be in serious jeopardy last weekend, when Aldridge was shelved indefinitely and Kawhi Leonard was forced to sit out against the Warriors on Saturday night while going through the NBA’s concussion protocol.

But the Spurs beat the Warriors after Golden State coach Steve Kerr rested Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala and Leonard returned on Monday after missing just the one game to lead San Antonio to a win over Atlanta.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.

Warriors’ center Zaza Pachulia cleared to play in Game 1 of NBA Finals

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These playoffs, the Golden State Warriors have been 15.4 points per 100 possessions better when Zaza Pachulia is on the court as opposed to on the bench. That’s a bit misleading, the reason for the gaudy number is he rounds out the dominant starting lineup, which has outscored teams by 32.6 points per 100 this postseason (that is actually better than the legendary “death lineup” in these playoffs). Pachulia is just the first big in the rotation with four All-Star, powerhouse players, but he fills his role well.

Pachulia was slowed by a sore right heel against the Spurs but is 100 percent and ready to go for the Finals when they tip-off Thursday night at Oracle Arena. Here are the details via Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

Zaza Pachulia, the only injured Warrior rotation player late in the Spurs series, has participated in all parts of all three practices, without restriction on that sore right heel. He is on track to start Game 1 of The Finals on Thursday.

“We’ve done running, had scrimmages and he’s done everything,” Mike Brown said.

He will have a crucial role on the glass against the Cavaliers. Cleveland brings two dominant rebounders to the party with Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love (plus that LeBron James guy can get some boards), the Warriors will use Pachulia to counter. Before you roll your eyes, he had 13 boards in the second meeting of these teams in the regular season, a blowout Golden State win.

He’s the first big in a rotation of them the Warriors will throw at Cleveland — JaVale McGee may get a little time, but expect a lot of small-ball lineups from the Warriors. If Pachulia can give Golden State a solid 18 minutes a night where he is strong on the glass and helps protect the rim, it will be huge for them.

Pachulia is going to get his shot, he’ll be healthy and ready to go.