Dan Feldman

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

French international Jonathan Jeanne entering, staying in 2017 NBA draft

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College basketball players essentially reveal their intent to stay in the NBA draft by hiring an agent, which renders the player ineligible for college basketball. At that point, there’s no reason to withdraw from the draft.

International players don’t have the same way to show their plans. As long as they declare for the draft by Sunday, they can withdraw by June 12 and play in foreign leagues, which don’t disqualify players for hiring agents.

So, the only way international players can show they’ll stay in the draft is saying so – which Jonathan Jeanne did.

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress:

Jeanne is a borderline first-rounder, probably more likely to go in the second. The French center will turn 20 in July, putting him in line with many sophomores.

He’s 7-foot-2 with a 7-foot-7 wingspan, and he’s fast for his size. That rare combination is enough to intrigue.

His speed will be important offensively, because Jeanne is toothpick thin. He’ll need to beat defenders to his spot, because otherwise, he’ll get bumped off it.

Jeanne blocks plenty of shots, given his size. Again, he’ll need to fill out in a major way before making a major impact.

Bucks coach Jason Kidd on Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘I wish I was 7 feet tall. He’s better than I am’

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — While catching his breath during a break along the sideline, the Milwaukee Bucks’ star pupil put his arms on his hips and leaned his 6-foot-11 frame over to listen to coach Jason Kidd.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is learning the nuances of running a team from one of the best point guards and triple-double threats in NBA history.

Give it a little more time, Kidd says. The fun is only just beginning with the 22-year-old Antetokounmpo.

“The big thing is we gave him the ball and his appetite is big,” Kidd said.

It was only in February 2016 that Kidd assigned Antetokounmpo to be a primary ball-handler. His career has taken off, much like one of his soaring dunks.

In his fourth year in the league, Antetokounmpo turned into an All-Star this season after averaging career highs of 22.9 rebounds, 8.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists. He ranked in the top 20 in the league in total points, rebounds, blocks, assists and steals, an NBA first.

“He wants to learn. He wants to be a point guard,” Kidd said. “He wants to have the ball and help make decisions, be involved in the play.”

It’s hard to miss the towering player who can breeze by defenders to the hoop, pass out of double-teams and make stops at the other end . He has been the best player so far for the Bucks, who take a 2-1 lead in their first-round playoff series against Toronto into Game 4 on Saturday.

The 6-foot-4 Kidd had an all-around skill set of his own back when he was playing, though he didn’t have Antetokounmpo’s imposing length and height.

“I wish I was 7 feet tall,” Kidd said. “He’s better than I am.”

Not quite yet.

Kidd averaged 12.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists in a nearly two-decade NBA career that ended in 2013. His 107 career triple-doubles are third in league history behind All-Stars Oscar Robertson (181) and Magic Johnson (138).

Kidd could step back and hit 3s. He created in transition. His court awareness gave him a distinct advantage over opponents.

Now he’s passing that knowledge on to Antetokounmpo, and Kidd isn’t that far removed from his playing days so he can relate to a team with a young core.

“He puts himself in our shoes because he was in our shoes,” Antetokounmpo said. “It helps a lot because taking tips from J-Kidd – he was a player that was one of the best that’s ever done.”

Antetokounmpo has professed to having a lighthearted moment of doubt about Kidd at one point during the coach’s first season in 2014-5 after being pulled from a game. A native of Greece, Antetokounmpo had to look up his coach’s credentials online. They checked out.

“It’s really easy to accept (Kidd’s mentoring) because he’s been in my shoes. He knows how I feel right now,” he said.

Team President Peter Feigin described a close relationship between player and coach bonded in part by what he called a shared “maniacal focus” to be the best. Antetokounmpo has spent long days and nights at the team’s practice facility in a quiet Milwaukee suburb.

“There’s a tremendous amount of mutual respect,” team co-owner Wes Edens said. “You can’t really put a label on Giannis as a basketball player … but you can really see culturally he fits the model of a Jason Kidd player. He plays at both ends.”

He’s already a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches, including Toronto’s Dwane Casey.

“As far as keeping him off the free throw line we have to make sure we give him space. Challenge late. We have to mix that up and start trapping him also because he is getting where he wants to go,” Casey said. “We have to give him different looks.”

Perhaps one of the next steps for the Bucks is regularly taking advantage of the extra attention that Antetokounmpo draws on the court. It happened in the Bucks’ 104-77 rout of Toronto in Game 3, when defenders were drawn by Antetokounmpo’s every move to open up room for teammates.

Antetokounmpo finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and four rebounds, fairly pedestrian numbers for him. But six Bucks scored in double figures.

“He’s still just understanding the point guard position and understanding how to run the team, how to carry a team, and what that means with not scoring … or what the team needs at what time during the game,” Kidd said.

“He’s picked up a lot of those things quickly,” he added, “but he still has a long ways to go.”

 

Rajon Rondo on apparent trip of Jae Crowder: Just stretching my leg after ACL tear

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While sitting on the Bulls bench, an injured Rajon Rondo looked like he might have been trying to trip Celtics forward Jae Crowder – particularly eyebrow-raising given Rondo’s history.

Rondo in his post-game press conference:

When you tear an ACL, your legs get stiff on you every once in a while. Then, I stretch my leg out. I always do that throughout our game. I guess e was so deep into our bench, it looked like whatever may have happened.

I initially gave Rondo the benefit of the doubt. It seemed he extended his leg casually and after Crowder ran by.

And maybe this is unfair – Rondo has a great memory, someone could have warned him he’d receive this question, the incident might have stuck out because it shocked him as an accident close call – but Rondo’s explanation seems too meticulous.