Kurt Helin

DeMarre Carroll returns to Raptors lineup Thursday after missing 41 games

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This is excellent news for Toronto Raptors fans.

After missing 41 games following having his knee scoped in January, DeMarre Carroll is returning to the Toronto Raptors lineup Thursday.

While it will take a little while for Carroll to get back to form (there are four regular season games left), this is exactly what the Raptors needed heading into the playoffs. Carroll is expected to play 15 minutes Thursday.

Toronto’s weakness has been the four spot. The Raptors have started Luis Scola there most of the season, with Patrick Patterson playing behind him. If one of those guys were getting bench minutes as a backup it would be workable, but as starters they are a big hole in the lineup. One Carroll can fill if healthy and able to play a small-ball four. That’s a key reason the Raptors paid him $60 million this past offseason (four-year deal). Carroll is a “3&D” guy who can space the floor on offense and, when healthy, lock up the best wing defender on the other team. He was a force for the Hawks in last year’s playoffs.

The Raptors, even without Carroll, set a franchise record for wins with 52 — but that’s not how their season will be judged. This team hasn’t gotten out of the first round since the Vince Carter/purple jersey era, and fans expect at least that if not a trip to the conference finals.

If Carroll is right, the Raptors get closer to that goal. And if he’s all the way back — and the backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan is healthy and playing well — the conference finals against Cleveland (most likely) would be far more interesting.

Minnesota owner: Kevin Garnett wants to return next season

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The last time Kevin Garnett set foot on an NBA court was Jan. 23, and he played just nine minutes in that game before tweaking his knee. Since then — and frankly, for much of the season — he’s been like an extra assistant coach focused on the development of the young talent on the Timberwolves roster. He seems to be good at it, at least based on what we saw against the Warriors the other night.

Is this how Garnett will leave the game, or will he be back next season? Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor expects him back.

Garnett is under contract for $8 million next season (and he has a no-trade clause). If he wants to come back, he’ll be back. He has the power.

This is KG’s 2ist0th NBA season, and just like Kobe Bryant (20 years) we can see the wear and tear of all those miles on their bodies and their games. The NBA record for longest NBA career is 21 years, by Kevin Willis and Robert Parish, and Garnett could break that next season if he so chooses.

The expectation is Garnett will try to get healthy and in shape this summer, and if he can he can he’ll make one more go of it (playing in a limited role — 15 minutes a night trying to stabilize the defense of the second unit — and likely getting a bit of a farewell tour of this own). If his body says no to him this summer, he retires. Then he moves into some level of front office role with the team.

But anyone who has watched him over the years knows Garnett wants to play. And does not want to be forced out of the game by injuries.

Reports: Heat expected to sign Dorell Wright for rest of season, playoffs

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The Miami Heat are looking for a little wing depth for the rest of the season, and a solid practice player they can count on for spot minutes in the postseason.

Enter Dorell Wright.

The veteran swingman who played for Portland the two seasons prior then went to China this season, is in talks with the Heat and should sign with them soon for the rest of the season and the playoffs. Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports broke the story.

Wright is in Miami and could formalize an agreement with the Heat by Sunday, sources said. Wright has spent time in Miami after finishing the Chinese Basketball Association season.

There’s a comfort level here, Wright played six seasons in Miami and he is good friends with Dwyane Wade. Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald added this note.

The Heat (45-32) has been waiting until the final week of the regular season to fill its two open roster spots in order to remain under the NBA luxury-tax threshold. The Heat could also end up adding a player from it’s NBA Development League affiliate.

Wright can shoot the rock, he hit 38 percent from three in Portland, and this season in the defense-free Chinese league he averaged 24.3 points and 7.5 rebounds a game. He can step right onto the court for Miami and knock down some shots. Which may be all they want.

Kevin Durant spoke to Kendrick Perkins about free agency, he will look at a “few teams”

Associated Press

Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins are tight. Perkins hasn’t been with the Thunder since the middle of last season, but the two still talk all the time.

Perkins plays for New Orleans now, a team that happened to be in Boston for a game yesterday. Because parts of the Boston fan base have become Durant obsessed they asked Perkins about him, and Perkins gave a fascinating answer, via Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“As a friend, I try not to talk to him too much about free agency. I always try to just want to talk to him about things outside of basketball. We talk about personal life and stuff like that. And I know he’s getting this question every day on the hour and stuff like that, so I try not to bother him.

“But he did shoot some teams out there that he made me sign a confidentiality form that I couldn’t tell nobody. He’s got a few teams that he will be looking at.”

People who know Perkins understand that he tends to say some things with a win, like signing a confidentiality form. Multiple people confirmed there is no such paper. Not that they needed one — Durant trusts Perkins and likely said, “please don’t talk to anybody about this,” to which Perkins would have responded, “you didn’t have to ask.” They get each other.

One other interesting quote from Perkins, about if KD would leave Oklahoma City.

“[The Thunder] win it all, he can’t leave, in my opinion,” Perkins said. “But if they don’t, it might be time for a change.”

What should we take away from all this? Stuff we probably already knew, but consider this confirmation.

• How the Thunder do in the playoffs matters a lot. Reach the Finals, he stays. Get bounced in the second round by San Antonio and things are certainly more up in the air. What happens if the Thunder beat the Spurs but lose to the Warriors in six or seven games? This is not as simple as just “Finals or I’m gone” as some make it out to be.

• Of course Durant is thinking about free agency. How could he not? And he is bouncing ideas off friends, just like you and I do when we have to make a major life decision. You can be sure that KD’s inner circle (which is very tight) is doing its research on the franchises and the markets that will be in play.

The feeling around the league is that Golden State is the frontrunner if Durant bolts, but a handful of other teams will get the chance to make their pitch. The Knicks are reportedly out of the running. The Lakers could well get a courtesy interview but if he wants to win now and considers the Knicks too far away the Lakers are not getting anywhere. While rumors about Boston, Houston, Miami and other cities pop up, the fact is if KD wants out of Oklahoma City 29 other teams would do whatever it takes to land him. He is a franchise changing player, and there are only a handful of them in the game.

My money is still on him staying, but just on a one-year contract.

However, Durant doesn’t know for sure what Durant is going to do this summer, and the playoff performance of the Thunder is going to set the tone.

Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Dallas boosts playoff dream with win over Houston

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What you missed from a busy night around the NBA while trying to convince your daughter unicorns are real….

1) Combination of J.J. Barea, defense get Mavericks win over Rockets, and maybe into playoffs. The J.J. Barea revolution will be televised — and it may carry the Mavericks to the playoffs. The diminutive guard forced into the starting lineup with Deron Williams out was your NBA Player of the Week in the Western Conference last week, and he continued that tear this week dropping 27 oh Houston in the win. However, the real key to the victory was Dallas’ defense, which held Houston to 95.6 offensive rating on the night (points per 100 possessions), which is 10 per 100 fewer than they have averaged in the last 10 games. Dallas took away the best options late, which led to Houston having Corey Brewer take key jumpers because he was the guy open, and he as 1-of-9 on the night. Plus, there was the defensive stylings of Dirk Nowitzki. Seriously.

The win leaves Dallas in the seven seed, with Utah one game back in eighth and Houston two back in ninth (just out of the playoffs). The Mavericks are not a lock to get in (they close the season with the Jazz, Clippers, and Spurs), but now fivethiryeight.com has them at a 70 percent chance. The Rockets have fallen to a 45 percent chance of making the playoffs — they need help in the form of Jazz/Mavs losses now. Houston’s advantage is their final four games are Suns, Lakers, Timberwolves, Kings. All winnable.

2) Sam Hinkie steps down as 76ers GM with 13-page letter to team investors; Bryan Colangelo to get his job. Who writes a 13-page resignation letter? Sam Hinkie does. The writing was on the wall for Mr. “trust the process” ever since last December when Jerry Colangelo was brought in above him as team president to speed up said process.

Hinkie had taken the “tanking to get better” idea that has been around the NBA for a while to a new extreme — and he had buy-in from ownership from Day 1. But Hinkie did three things wrong. First, he didn’t defend his plan against critics vociferously enough, essentially making the political mistake of letting his detractors define him. Second, he overestimated how patient ownership would be with this plan — one year is easy, Joshua Harris and company had his back for a couple of years, but by the time it was year three and things were worse on the court it was too much. Even if there was light at the end of the tunnel. This felt like a business plan that looks great on the spreadsheet but didn’t think through the human cost — there were actual people involved and they felt the pain. Third, Hinkie didn’t nail his draft picks, at least not with an elite player. Nerlens Noel was okay, Michael Carter-Williams was never as good as his rookie season suggested, we never saw Joel Embiid or Dario Saric, and Jahlil Okafor is good, not great. Combine that with bringing in untested players searching for gems rather than a few veterans to make things better (and he burned bridges with agents because of that) and it was all too much.

However, the overall plan was not terrible; the Sixer are in a much better position going forward than when Hinkie took over. Bryan Colangelo — who is coming in as the new GM, and yes that is Jerry Colangelo’s son — is going to benefit from the numerous high picks Hinkie compiled, plus some of those players maturing. The Colangelos will get the credit, but Hinkie laid the foundation for that future success.

3) With LeBron James in street clothes, Pacers pick up key win in push for playoffs.
The Indiana Pacers were likely in the playoffs anyway, both because they’ve been playing well enough and because the Chicago Bulls are a mess. But nothing was secure, and the Pacers were heading into their toughest game left on the schedule Wednesday — the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then Tyronn Lue decided to rest LeBron  Wednesday, and with that the Pacers tore apart the Cavs defense shooting 56.3 percent for the game, scoring 70 points in the first half, and going on to win 123-109. Solomon Hill was knocking down threes, and Paul George dropped 29 points.

4) Enes Kanter making Sixth Man of Year push, puts up 30 and 20 on Portland. The Portland Trail Blazers got what they wanted: A 120-115 win against Oklahoma City that made it official, the Blazers are in the playoffs. They are the current five seed, and if they can hold that spot they face the Clippers in the first round.

That’s not what we’re focusing on: Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter had 33 points (on 18 shots) and 20 rebounds, to become the first 30-20 man in Thunder history. Kanter has to be a serious consideration for Sixth Man of the Year, as Dan Feldman and I discussed in the latest PBT Podcast. He’s averaging 12.8 points and 8.1 rebounds a game off the bench, and while his defense is an issue who else are you going to vote for that is a defensive stopper for the award, Jamal Crawford?

5) For the third consecutive year, Lakers set a franchise record for most losses.
This season in Los Angeles was about the Kobe Bryant farewell tour and seasoning young players. It was never about wins and losses. Still, for a proud franchise, this is ugly — for the third consecutive year, the Lakers set a franchise record for most losses in a season after falling to the Clippers 91-81 on Wednesday.

2013-14: 55
2014-15: 61
2015-16: 62 (and counting)

The silver lining? The Lakers are now basically locked into the second-worst record in the NBA, which means they will have a 56 percent chance of keeping their pick in the June draft (if it is in the Top 3 they keep it, four or later and it goes to the Sixers as a remnant of the Steve Nash trade).