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Report: Kevin Durant’s return to Warriors targeted for Saturday vs. Pelicans

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The Golden State Warriors finish out their season with three home games, starting with the Pelicans on Saturday (followed by the Jazz April 10 and the Lakers April 12). That seems a perfect time to bring Kevin Durant back from injury, let him shake off some rust and work on his conditioning, and just get back in the flow of the offense before the playoffs start.

That’s what the Warriors are targeting, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

The Golden State Warriors have targeted Saturday night’s home game against the New Orleans Pelicans as the return date for Kevin Durant provided that the All-Star forward experiences no setbacks in the final stages of his recovery from a sprained left knee, league sources told ESPN.

Sources told ESPN on Monday that Durant’s excellent progress since suffering a sprained MCL and bruised tibia at Washington on Feb. 28 has him on course to play in Golden State’s final three regular-season games.

The Warriors stumbled when Durant first was injured (they were going through a rough part of the schedule), but have since rattled off 11 consecutive wins led by Stephen Curry, who has found his MVP form again. The Warriors have all but locked up the best record in the NBA this season.

The Warriors don’t need to rush Durant back, they can beat the Trail Blazers — their likely first-round playoff opponent — without him. What they need for the later rounds is a fully healthy Durant who trusts his knee. That said, if he’s cleared by doctors the more quickly they can get him back integrated into the rotation and just getting in some run, the better off the Warriors will be.

Three Things We Learned Sunday: Russell Westbrook on doorstep of history

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We know you were busy Sunday, doing things like making your ham and cheese sandwich look like Vin Diesel, so you may have missed out on the day’s NBA action. We’ve got your back, here are the big takeaways from Sunday around the league.

1) Russell Westbrook steps to the doorstep of history with 40th triple-double of the season, but Thunder fall to Hornets. When Russell Westbrook racks up a triple-double, the Thunder usually win: They are 31-9 when he gets one, 12-24 when he falls short.

He got another one on Sunday — his sixth straight — scoring 40 points, pulling down 13 rebounds and dishing out 10 assists. That’s 40 triple-doubles this season for Westbrook, just one shy of Oscar Robertson’s NBA record with six games left. It was another impressive night, and now Westbrook is just 11 rebounds and 29 assists short of clinching a triple-double season average.

All that wasn’t enough to get the win Sunday against Charlotte, the first time in nine years the Hornets beat the Thunder in OKC. Kemba Walker led the way with 29 points. The Hornets are now just one game back of Miami for the final playoff slot in the East, this is a team that has played much better than its record this year (they have the point differential of a 41-36 team) and sneaking into the postseason would be a little bit of justice.

This loss, plus the Clippers win streak, means sixth-seed Oklahoma City is not going to catch Los Angeles for the five seed. OKC needs some more wins to stay ahead of Memphis in the seven seed, just a game-and-a-half back of the Thunder.

Westbrook’s triple-double wasn’t the only one Sunday — Golden State left it’s starters in late in a win over the Wizards and ran plays for Draymond Green to get him the triple-double. The Wizards’ complained, but to them I’d say “if you don’t like it, stop them.” However, Nate Duncan made a great point talking to Warriors fans.


2) LeBron James and Paul George put on a show in double-overtime Cavaliers win.
The Cavaliers had been coasting lately, playing uninspired games because it didn’t look or feel like the playoffs yet. Paul George made sure it did on Sunday, dropping 43, and LeBron James woke up and responded with 41 of his own (to go with 16 rebounds and 11 assists).

The result was a double-overtime thriller that the Cavaliers eventually won 135-130. In the long grind of the NBA season, this was one of the most entertaining games we’ve seen.

With the win Cleveland remains just half a game back of Boston for the top seed in the East, and the teams are tied in the loss column. With the loss, the Pacers are now tied with the Heat for the final playoff slot in the East, Indiana is in real danger of missing out on the postseason altogether. Which is not going to make George happy (and that has implications heading into the summer).

3) Derrick Rose is done for the season, but the real question is what happens to free agent Rose this summer? Derrick Rose had missed a couple of games with what the Knicks had termed a “sore knee,” but after getting an MRI they found a torn meniscus that will require surgery. Obviously, that end’s Rose’s season, he’s going to need 6-8 weeks to recover.

What does another knee surgery mean for Rose as he heads into free agency this summer? Since his MVP season, Rose has never played in more than 66 games in a season (64 this season), and yes that’s going to color teams’ thinking. I would be shocked if any team offered Rose more than two guaranteed years. I doubt a good team would offer him more than $12 million a year (and that may be the top end).

In our PBT Podcast a few weeks back, Derrick Rose’s agent B.J. Armstrong echoed his player and said what mattered most to Rose was winning. Everyone says that, of course, but when the time comes they want money and a significant role on a team. If Rose really cared about winning more than anything else, I could see him taking a two-year deal with a contender to come off the bench and lead a second unit (like Rajon Rondo has done since the All-Star break in Chicago). Rose is still a solid NBA point guard, but if he wants to be a starter and have the ball in his hands, he’s not heading to a team that’s a real playoff threat — the teams that can offer him that chance are not in a good spot.

The knee injury will certainly impact Rose’s summer options, but what matters most is what kind of team Rose really wants to be on, what kind of role he’s willing to play, and how much money he’s willing to sacrifice to win.

Clippers’ Austin Rivers out with hamstring strain, could miss start of playoffs

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There may be resentment in the locker room toward his favorite son treatment and larger contract than he deserved, but the Clippers could use Austin Rivers in the playoffs. He’s become a replacement-level reserve point guard probably having his best NBA season, averaging 12 points, 2.8 assists, a 54.5 true shooting percentage, and he’s a threat from three.

Now the Clippers may have to get by without him for the rest of the regular season, and maybe into the playoffs, due to a hamstring strain, reports Bill Oram of the Orange County Register.

Rivers told Brodrick Turner of the Los Angeles Times he likely is not back until the middle of the first round, at the earliest.

“I’m disappointed,” Austin Rivers said. “I was looking forward to this year’s playoffs. The goal was game one of the playoffs, but it’s looking like hopefully midfirst round, early second round. We’ll see. You never know, I might heal faster than I think so.

“In my mind, my goal is to be back by the first round, for game one or game two, which is ideal. So, we’ll see.”

The injury occurred Wednesday night against the Wizards. Jamal Crawford and Raymond Felton will pick up the slack.

In the playoffs, Rivers likely would get fewer than the almost 28 a night he gets most games, but the minutes he got with Chris Paul out would matter — they could use his offensive punch. The Clippers seemed locked into a 4/5 first round series against the Utah Jazz, who lean heavily on George Hill at the point with Dante Exum getting a few minutes behind him.

Bucks waive Terrence Jones, reportedly to sign Gary Payton II

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Well, that didn’t work out as hoped. Milwaukee signed Terrence Jones after New Orleans waived him in the wake of the DeMarcus Cousins trade (he was going to fall out of the rotation with the Pelicans). It made sense, Jones had played 25 minutes a night for New Orleans giving them 11.5 points and some boards, and Milwaukee was without Jabari Parker and Michael Beasley, so they were thin at the four.

Jones could not get on the court for the Bucks — 14 garbage time minutes in three games.

Saturday, the Bucks waived Jones.

Now the team is expected to use that roster space to sign Gary Payton II, who has been playing this season in the D-League after going undrafted out of Oregon State.

This seems a good move by the Bucks, to take a look at a guy they have some interest in and not to push promising rookie Malcolm Brogdon through back soreness. Payton has played for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers this season averaging 14.1 points on 49.8 percent shooting, plus adding 6.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and a couple of steals a night.

Look back at vintage Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady (VIDEO)

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“How do you want it, man? I can give it to you any way you want it?”

That’s how Tracy McGrady described his game in the video above, and he was right. McGrady led the NBA in scoring twice because he had a jump shot that teams had to respect, then when you came out on him, he’d blow by his defender and get to the rim for a dunk.

Saturday it became official, McGrady will be entering the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s a seven-time All-NBA player and a seven-time All-Star who for a few years was as good and as feared as anyone in the game.