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George Hill staying steady with bigger role, looming payday

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“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

-Jacob Riis

Gregg Popovich has made that quote, the Stonecutter Credo, a mantra for the Spurs. Six years after he left San Antonio, George Hill has not forgotten it.

“One thing that Coach Pop really taught me when I first got to the NBA is keep pounding that rock, no matter what,” Hill said. “When times get rough or you got goods and highs and lows, never get too high. Never get too low. But always stay subtle and humble and keep getting better.”

Hill has followed Popovich’s keep-pounding-that-rock advice. In a more literal sense.

A combo guard with the Spurs and mostly an off-ball point guard with the Pacers, Hill has carried a bigger load for the Jazz this season as a true lead guard who pounds the rock – dribbles – to create offense far more frequently. He’s averaging a career-high 17.2 points with 4.1 assists per game while playing his usual staunch defense. Utah has outscored opponents by 10.3 points per 100 possessions with Hill on the floor, a net rating that would trail only the Warriors (+11.6) among teams.

“We anticipated it being a good fit,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said. “But he’s exceeded that.”

Here’s the secret of Hill’s “breakout season:” He has done this before.

In 2014-15, with Paul George injured and Lance Stephenson in Charlotte, the Pacers gave Hill a larger role. Like this year, he excelled in it.

The 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons are Hill’s only two in his nine-year career with an above average usage rate. They’re also the two seasons with his highest effective field-goal percentages and lowest turnover percentages.

Long perceived as a limited player who’d wilt with too much ball-handling responsibility, Hill has been even more efficient in bigger roles.

“I think I’ve established myself now and showed everybody what I can do,” George declared in 2015. “There’s no turning back now.”

Indiana had other ideas. George got healthy, and the Pacers signed Monta Ellis. Hill’s offensive role shrunk last season.

“It’s humbling,” Hill said.

Hill insists him spacing the floor off the ball was best for Indiana last season, that he accepted that role.

But it’s also clear he hungered for more – as did the Pacers. They traded him last summer to the Jazz in a three-team deal to land the, seemingly, more offensively dynamic Jeff Teague.

“I just thought it was a great opportunity for me to go to a place where you know you’re wanted and who’s going value your play and use you the right way,” Hill said.

Hill, an Indianapolis native who played collegiately at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), returns to Indiana for tonight’s Jazz-Pacers game with the same mindset that helped him reach this point.

“Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low,” Hill said. “It’s just another game for us.”

It’s the same mindset Hill keeps as he heads toward his first unrestricted free agency.

After the Jazz make their first playoff appearance in five years and likely win their first playoff game in seven years, they’ll have to evaluate the value of the point guard who helped get them there.

Likewise, Hill will face major decisions about his priorities.

He and Utah were eligible to sign a renegotiation-and-extension that could have paid him $88,684,652 through 2019-20, but they didn’t strike a deal by last month’s deadline. Now, Hill could land a much bigger contract – having a projected max of $177 million over five years if he re-signs or about $132 million if he leaves.

Will anyone offer that much to a 31-year-old who has missed 27 games this season? The Kings, Knicks and 76ers are desperate for point guards and could have major cap space. At minimum, Hill could use those teams for leverage.

Will the Jazz pay up? Would he actually leave Utah for a cellar-dweller? Will another good team court him?

Hill has never dealt with these questions before. The Spurs drafted and traded him. He was a restricted free agent when he re-signed with the Pacers, who traded him to Utah. He’ll have unprecedented freedom next summer.

A renegotiation-and extension could have kept him off the market, giving him security with a team that uses him well. But Hill isn’t dwelling on it.

“It’s over. There’s nothing we can do about it now,” Hill said. “But I’m here to help the Jazz win basketball games. I’m not focused on a contract right now. We’ll get to that when the season is over, but right now, our main focus is to win basketball games and me to play my butt off.”

Why should George fret? Whenever he’s granted more leeway, he thrives.

Stephen Curry leaves game with knee injury

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In his first night back from an ankle injury that forced him to miss six games, Stephen Curry limped off the court not to return after in third quarter Friday night after JaVale McGee fell into his knee.

He limped to the bench then eventually to the locker room after the injury.

The severity of the injury is not yet known and should become clear on Saturday after an MRI.

Curry scored 29 points and grabbed seven rebounds before being forced to leave the game, and the Warriors held on to win the game.

Obviously, if Curry is out heading into the playoffs, that changes the dynamic in the West, where the Houston Rockets were already right on the heels of the Warriors.

Pacers use late surge to beat Clippers, close in on playoffs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 28 points and the Indiana Pacers used a late 9-0 run to hold on for a 109-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, putting them on the precipice of clinching a playoff spot.

The Pacers won for only the second time in five games but can clinch a playoff berth with one more win or a Detroit loss.

Los Angeles’ fading playoff aspirations were dealt another blow. The Clippers are now three games behind Utah for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference. Utah was playing later Friday.

Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 27 points and DeAndre Jordan finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds as the Clippers lost for the fifth time in six games.

They certainly had a chance to turn things around.

After the Clippers rallied from an 18-point deficit to take an 88-87 lead with 7:36 left in the fourth quarter, the teams traded the lead 10 times before Victor Oladipo made one of two free throws to leave it tied at 100 with 2:17 to play.

Bogdanovic broke the tie with a 12-footer and the Pacers followed that with seven straight points before Williams made a layup with 12 seconds left to end the run.

The Clippers were making shots early but couldn’t pull away from Indiana.

They led 28-27 after one and allowed Indiana to use a 9-2 spurt midway through the second quarter to erase a six-point deficit and take a 40-39 lead.

The Pacers scored the final five points of the half to break a 53-all tie and broke it open early in the third when Oladipo made his first three shots of the game, including two 3-pointers to make it 66-55.

Indiana then poured it on. Thaddeus Young‘s layup with 9:02 left in the third made it a 12-point game. Milos Teodosic‘s basket briefly halted the run, but the Pacers scored the next nine points to make it 75-57 with 6:19 to go.

Los Angeles closed the third quarter on a 12-5 run to get to 82-76.


LeBron James throws touchdown pass like Cleveland fans hope Sam Darnold can

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Cleveland fans can only hope Sam Darnold is as good a passer as LeBron James.

And that his receivers are better than Jose Calderon. Or at least taller.

LeBron James grabbed a rebound and threw a perfect touchdown pass to a leaked out Jose Calderon as the Cavaliers went on to beat the Phoenix Suns Friday night.

🙌🏽 @kingjames 🎯 @jmcalderon8 🙌🏽

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By the way, LeBron made a nice dish to the returned Larry Nance Jr., too.


Report: Rockets to waive Brandan Wright

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Finally healthy, it was easy to see where big man Brandan Wright would fit on Mike D’Antoni’s Rockets — he’s an athletic big man who can get up and down the court, he knows how to finish lobs above the rim, and could provide some front line depth behind Clint Capela and Nene. That’s why the Rockets picked him up in February after he was bought out by the Grizzlies.

It didn’t work out that way. Wright played in one game with Houston before his sore knee forced him to shut it down. He has not played since.

The Rockets are moving on, waiving Wright and bringing in forward Le’Bryan Nash out of the G-League on a 10-day contract, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

With center Brandan Wright unable to return from his knee issues this season, the Rockets will release Wright, who signed as a free agent last month, a person with knowledge of the move said…

He had a minor procedure and will work on his rehab with the Rockets staff, the individual familiar with the plans said.

 “Brandan did everything positive,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He just wasn’t physically able to hang in there. We hate it that the guy isn’t part of this.”

Wright has played in just 28 total this season averaging 5 points and 3.4 rebounds in 13.6 minutes. He’s battled knee issues for a few seasons now and has not played more than 28 games in the last three. If healthy he can help teams, but we’ll see if he ever gets back into the NBA.

The Rockets use Ryan Anderson as their backup center, using Nene less of late, although how much D’Antoni can use Anderson in the playoffs due to his defensive challenges remains to be seen.

Nash, who played a season at Oklahoma State, will get his first taste of the NBA. He was a highly recruited kid out of high school, and this season has averaged 8.5 points in 19 minutes per game for the Rio Grande Vipers this season.