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Anthony Davis, Pelicans recalibrate playoff push without Cousins

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The New Orleans Pelicans held the first practice of their new, more challenging reality Saturday – less than 24 hours after losing All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins for the rest of the season because of his Achilles tear.

The question now is: What happens to a team that has won seven of eight and was coalescing around its somewhat unconventional lineup featuring Cousins and fellow All-Star big man Anthony Davis?

“It changes for everyone, but that doesn’t mean we can’t accomplish what we set out to do,” coach Alvin Gentry said after practice. “And that’s to be a playoff team.”

The Pelicans’ offense has largely run through Cousins, who’ll miss his first game this season Sunday afternoon, when New Orleans hosts the Los Angeles Clippers.

“We have to obviously realign some things and rethink some things that we’ve done and probably add a few things and take away a few things,” Gentry said. “We have to adjust and figure out how we can best work with what we have now.”

Cousins, named an All-Star starter little more than a week ago, has averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists. Cousins routinely dribbled up court after rebounds and initiated the offense, which is somewhat unusual for a center, as is his shooting range that extends beyond the 3-point line.

When the high-flying, 6-foot-10 Davis and powerful, 6-11 Cousins were on the court together, opponents trying to defend them both had tough choices to make. Meanwhile, New Orleans was looking increasingly comfortable with the scheme lately. That was evident in recent victories as well as in Cousins’ production; he registered two triple-doubles in New Orleans’ past three games, including 15 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists in Friday night’s victory over Houston before his injury in the final 15 seconds of that game.

The Pelicans’ decision to attack with a tandem of dynamic post players ran counter to a trend in the NBA toward smaller lineups that rely on tempo, spacing and reliable perimeter shooting to create scoring opportunities. Even Gentry was a proponent of “small ball,” having served as a lead assistant for a Golden State squad that won a title with that style of play three seasons ago. Gentry took over in New Orleans with the intent of running a similar system – until the Pelicans seized the opportunity in a trade last February to pair Cousins with Davis in the front court.

For the final 34 games of this regular season, Davis said he expects the Pelicans to play more like they did before Cousins arrived. Davis added that he expects to play more at center and is prepared for that.

Davis also expressed optimism about the Pelicans’ playoff prospects, given a recent rise in production from guards Jrue Holiday and E'Twaun Moore, as well as small forward Darius Miller, who hit six 3-pointers against Houston.

“Everybody’s playing well,” Davis said. “We’ve just got to carry that over to the rest of the season. Of course, missing one of our main guys is tough, but it just means guys have got to step up.”

Other players didn’t want to sell short what the Pelicans could still accomplish with Davis leading the way.

“There’s still only one Anthony Davis; no one can match that,” guard Rajon Rondo said. “We’ve got to continue to trust one another and it’s a team sport, so we’ll play team basketball.”

During their recent surge – which included victories over teams with the second- and third-best records in the NBA (the Rockets and Celtics) – the Pelicans climbed to sixth in the Western Conference and woke up Saturday just three-and-a-half behind third-place San Antonio.

But New Orleans also is only three games ahead of the ninth-place Clippers, who sat just outside the eight-team playoff structure.

A person familiar with the situation said New Orleans is aggressively trying to upgrade its roster before the Feb. 8 NBA trade deadline. The person said Cousins should have surgery within the next week, but that it’s too early to estimate how many months of rehabilitation he’ll need before he can play again. The person spoke to The Associated Press Saturday on condition of anonymity because the Pelicans do not typically disclose trade talks.

The Pelicans also hope veteran guard Tony Allen returns from a fractured fibula next week, and that former starting small forward Solomon Hill returns in late February from a hamstring tear. Both players worked with assistants on practice courts Saturday.

Cousins also was at team headquarters – on crutches – but did not speak with reporters.

“There’s a sadness for DeMarcus. He’s worked extremely hard to be where he is right now and to me he was having as good a year as anybody in the league,” Gentry said. “We’ve just got to regroup and recalibrate and say this is the new normal now.”

The 27-year-old Cousins, now in his last season under contract, never has played in a playoff game. This season provided his best chance yet. Instead, he heads toward free agency with questions about his health – and still no postseason experience.

“It’s tough not knowing what’s going to happen, how big you’re market is going to be, if teams are going to trust you, are you going to be the same coming back, especially with a major injury like that,” Davis said. “But I think he’s done enough in his career to show guys that he’s very solid.”

Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash headline 2018 Hall of Fame finalists

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LOS ANGELES — It’s a good year for guards.

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame announced the Finalists for the class of 2018, and you could put together one heck of a modern NBA lineup: Steve Nash and Jason Kidd in the backcourt, Ray Allen on the wing with Grant Hill as your small-ball four and Chris Webber at center.

They were five of the 13 North American nominees for the Hall, men and women. Also very deservedly being honored with the 2018 Curt Gowdy Media Award: longtime and iconic NBA photographer Andy Bernstein, and ESPN basketball analyst Doris Burke. There are not two more deserving — or better — people.

The Hall of Fame Class of 2018 will be announced at the Saturday of the Final Four in April.

Here is who voters will be choosing amongst:

RAY ALLEN. Jesus Shuttlesworth should be a lock in his first time on the ballot, he has as pure a jump shot as the league has ever seen. Allen is a two-time NBA Champion (2008 Boston Celtics and 2013 Miami Heat), was named an All-Star 10 times, and (for now at least) is the NBA career leader in three-point field goals made. Before getting to the NBA he was a 1996 First Team All-American at UConn. Just to add to the resume, he has an Olympic gold medal (2000). But when you think of Allen, you’ll think of this shot.

JASON KIDD. Another lock to get in first ballot. Kidd one of the greatest point guards of his generation, he’s got an impressive resume as an NBA champion (2011 Dallas Mavericks), five-time All-NBA First Team, four-times All-Defensive First Team, a 10-time NBA All-Star, and the 1995 NBA Co-Rookie of the Year. At the University of California, Kidd was named Pac-10 Player of the Year and a consensus First-Team All American in 1994.

GRANT HILL. If all you remember is the post-2000, post-injury Grant Hill, you missed out. He was the 1995 Co-Rookie of the Year (with Kidd), five-times All-NBA, a seven-time NBA All-Star, and in college at Duke was a member of two NCAA national championship teams (1991, 1992). Hill also has a gold medal in the 1996 Olympic Games, and he’s been very active in philanthropic efforts off the court.

STEVE NASH. Born in South Africa and raised in Canada, Nash is a two-time NBA MVP who helped revolutionize the NBA with the seven-seconds or less Suns. He’s an eight-time NBA All-Star, and three-time All-NBA First Team member. Hie is third in all-time assists and holds the NBA record for highest career free throw percentage (.904).

MAURICE CHEEKS. A lock-down defender for most of his 15-year career, Cheeks is an NBA champion (the 1983  Philadelphia 76ers) and a four-time NBA All-Star. Cheeks is still involved in the game and is currently an assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

CHRIS WEBBER. Nominated again, we’ll see if he gets in this time, considering his college and NBA impact he should be. Webber is a five-time NBA All-Star, three-time All-NBA, and the 1994 NBA Rookie of the Year. In college at Michigan he was a key member of the “Fab Five,” that revolutionized the college game.

CHARLES “LEFTY’ DRIESELL. Driesell is the only coach in NCAA history to win 100 games at four different schools and just one of 11 coaches to lead four schools to the NCAA Tournament. He is remembered as the coach at Maryland for many years as well as the inventor of the “Midnight Madness” concept.

HUGH EVANS. He was an NBA referee for 28 seasons, officiating nearly 2,000 regular season games, 170 NBA Playoff games, 35 NBA Finals games and four NBA All-Star games. In the summer he used to ref at Rucker Park in New York.

RUDY TOMJANOVICH. Tomjanovich coached the Houston Rockets to NBA Championships in 1994 and 1995 and is one of three coaches to win an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold Medal. He led USA Basketball to a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

From the women’s committee:

KIM MULKEY. Mulkey has led the Baylor Bear to two NCAA National Championships (2005, 2012) and 16 NCAA Tournament appearances.

KATIE SMITH. The WNBA Finals MVP (2008) and a two-time WNBA Champion with the Detroit Shock (2006, 2008), she also has three Olympic gold medals. Smith played for the Ohio State University (1992-1996) and was the first female Buckeye athlete to have her number retired.

TINA THOMPSON. Thompson is a four-time WNBA Champion with the Houston Comets (1997- 2000) and a nine-time WNBA All-Star. She is one of the greatest WNBA players in the league’s history.

WAYLAND BAPTIST UNIVERSITY. Long before women’s college basketball became an NCAA sport in 1982, the Wayland Baptist University women’s basketball team won 131 consecutive games from 1953-58 and 10 AAU National Championships overall.

 

Joel Embiid having fun, will compete in three events All-Star Weekend

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LOS ANGELES — Joel Embiid is going to enjoy his weekend in Los Angeles. And his first All-Star Game.

Embiid played 9 minutes for the World in its dominating Rising Stars Challenge win (which is more than most people expected him to play). He’s scheduled to take part in the All-Star Saturday Skills Challenge, then is a starter on Team Steph in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

Like he always is, Embiid is just trying to enjoy himself.

“When I have fun, that means I’m dominating on the court, kicking someone’s ass, and I need that,” Embiid said Friday afternoon in Los Angeles. “Every time I have fun that’s what I do. One thing that I told myself when I came back (from injuries), just go out there and have fun because that’s another way for me to dominate the game. If I’m frustrated, usually it doesn’t go well. It can go both ways, but usually, it doesn’t go well.

“Social media, on the court, it’s all about having fun.”

When he returns to Philly, he’s got to focus on the fun of making sure the Sixers make the playoffs. But for a weekend, he’s soaking up the sun and fun in Los Angeles.

LeBron James responds to Laura Ingraham: #wewillnotshutupanddribble

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A month before the latest school shooting and mass killing in a Florida high school, Kevin Durant and LeBron James recorded a video for the Uninterrupted where they vented that president Donald Trump does not care about most people not does he try to unite them. That video dropped just after the school shooting, where the president took heat for his comments on the situation.

Taking a lazy intellectual path designed to fire up her base, Fox News host Laura Ingraham took the “stick to sports” argument to an  offensive level, saying LeBron and KD should “shut up and dribble.”

Jaylen Brown of the Celtics had already done an excellent job taking down Ingraham’s misguided attack, Durant had responded as well and called the comments ignorant and racist.

Now LeBron has responded on Instagram.

#wewillnotshutupanddribble

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron and Durant are citizens with the right to speak out, and they should.

Hopefully, this can be the end of this “controversy,” only because Ingraham isn’t worth it.

Team USA turned Rising Stars into dunking exhibition (VIDEO)

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Nobody tunes into the Rising Stars Challenge on All-Star Friday night to see a tight defensive shell and quick rotations to help the helper. We want the game’s great young players to entertain us with their skills.

Team USA may have gotten blown out in the game, but they put on a show — they were dunking everything. As you can see above.

The best dunk of the game? Had to be Donovan Mitchell‘s self alley-oop. Which a good sign heading into Saturday’s dunk contest.