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Combine still has value even if top NBA prospects skip it

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CHICAGO (AP) Creighton forward Justin Patton has been fielding all kinds of questions at the NBA draft combine.

For example, does he slow down or speed up at a yellow light? The Minnesota Timberwolves wanted to know.

“I said, `It depends on where I’m going,”‘ he said.

That’s a big unknown for a 7-footer who went from having one Division I scholarship offer to turning pro after his redshirt freshman season. He’s projected as a middle or late first-round pick, and the combine sure is a big deal for him as he tries to boost his draft stock.

It just doesn’t have quite the shine it did in the past, with the stars skipping it altogether, participating on a limited basis or showing up only to interview with teams.

Eight-time All-Star and 2014 MVP Kevin Durant even told ESPN on Wednesday that the top prospects should take a pass on the combine. He recalled a rough experience in 2007 when he was 19 and turning pro after one year at Texas.

Durant remembered strength coaches laughing when he couldn’t bench press 185 pounds. He didn’t do great in the vertical leap or sprint even though he was known for his superior athleticism. Durant told ESPN all he wanted to do was pick up a basketball and show his skills on the court.

If the combine hurt his stock, it didn’t drop too far. Durant was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics with the No. 2 pick after Portland took Greg Oden and went on to become one of his generation’s best players.

But the combine isn’t quite the star-studded showcase it used to be. Likely lottery picks Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum and Malik Monk are not attending.

“The league has done everything it can to try promote all the players to be here, but the agents have control over the player,” said John Paxson, the Chicago Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations. “As long as that’s the situation, they can dictate what the player does or doesn’t do in these settings.”

Top players need to weigh the risks and rewards, of course. And along those lines, Kentucky coach John Calipari believes Durant has a point.

“If you think there’s anything here that would hurt you, don’t come,” he said. “If you think there’s anything here that would help you, come. If you have to play to help yourself, come. If it doesn’t help you – playing- then don’t play. This is for these kids. My job is to protect my guys. The job of these NBA teams is to get as much information as they can to make a great pick. They would like to see every one of them play five-on-five, do all the (drills). It’s not the way it is for these kids.”

Calipari said he has never advised a player to skip the event. But he has told them not to play, for example, if they have nothing to gain.

Paxson said he can understand top prospects skipping certain aspects of the combine. But he doesn’t understand missing it entirely.

“To not go through medical and some of the athletic testing, you don’t have that in football,” he said.

Even so, there still is value in the combine even if the top prospects are skipping it. Teams get to see players in an intense setting that can’t necessarily be replicated in workouts at their practice facilities. They’re getting face time with prospects. And players looking to move up in the draft or into it are getting a showcase.

“I know that the league does a good job of evaluating (the combine),” Paxson said. “Every time we have a combine, they look at ways to improve it. They want it to be a valuable tool for us as well.”

North Carolina’s Justin Jackson isn’t playing. But he’s getting a chance to convey just who he is, to make connections and show just how important basketball is to him. He ranks it right behind his faith and family.

“I’m able to show myself, show who I really am and kind of start building relationships around the league,” he said. “You walk into the lobby and you have no idea who might be in there.”

UCLA’s TJ Leaf felt he had some things to prove through the tests. And some teams had a big question for him – a $495 question. Would he buy Ball’s basketball shoes?

“I’m not going to be buying one,” he said. “If Lonzo would send me one, I’d definitely try it on and I’d wear it a little bit. But I’m not gonna be buying one.”

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

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During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

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Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.

Watch Pacers fan boo Paul George during introductions (video)

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Paul George – who told the Pacers he’d leave in free agency, prompting them to trade him to the Thunder – expected boos in his return to Indiana.

Pacers fans delivered.

They’ve also booed him every time he has touched the ball, which will certainly persist.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.