Bill Walton feeling good… and predicts a Lakers/Heat finals

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Bill Walton is a guy with his priorities in the right place.

Three years laying on your back will do that — he told me again that he thought his life was over at points during that time — and now that he is back up after an innovative surgery his outlook on every day is one that would make the world a better place if we all could have it.

“I haven’t been this healthy since high school,” Walton said from his home in San Diego last week. “I had 36 orthopedic operations, I’ve got two fused ankles; my knee, hands and wrists don’t work; I’ve now got a fused spine, but other than that everything is fantastic. I’m excited every single day.”

Walton is up and active with his trademark energy again. You can hear it in his voice and see it in his daily schedule, which starts with a 4:30 a.m. workout. He is involved in a number of business opportunities, plus he is donating time and opening up his home to a charity event to benefit the Challenged Athletes Foundation, helping disabled athletes get a new outlook as he has. Walton is auctioning off a party at his home to raise money for this. (Keep on reading, we get to that more at the end.)

And of course, he is involved with and watching a lot of basketball. The sport that helped give him a lot of the opportunities he has had. He was at the Hall of Fame inductions last year to welcome Arvydas Sabonis to the Hall.

And as a guy who has fought to overcome injuries and adversity, he is drawn to Kobe Bryant, who Walton called “staggeringly magnificent.”

“Kobe Bryant, this guy is just phenomenal,” Walton said. “For him to be able to sustain this at such a remarkably high level. Right now I’m looking at a Lakers/Heat finals. And Dallas will be good, Oklahoma City will be good, the Clippers will pose some problems, Chicago is very good.”

But Walton also sees what many of us have, that there is a coming changing of the guard in the NBA.

“But this is a changing league out there,” Walton said. “It’s always been a young man’s game and time has caught up with some of the legends…. We’re glad the Knicks are putting together a roster that can compete at the highest levels. And to see Miami’s regroup from last year’s collapse at the end, when the championship was theirs to be had. To come back with such spirit and fire.

Still, it takes experience to win.

“What experience teaches you is just how hard it is (to win). And how much it takes…” something Walton relates to his own story of physical challenges. “The vision, the sacrifice, the willingness to put it all out there. That is what it takes every single day. As these young teams — Miami, Chicago, Oklahoma City, New York — as they fight with everything they have to get to that promised land, they have to realize what is really important…. All the great teams, it is about the foundation, the commitment of the players to the team, and the leadership. Who is going to get the job done?”

Walton, a former Clipper player and broadcaster, also has enjoyed the renaissance of that franchise.

“I am so happy for Clippers fans and I am so happy for (long-time Clippers broadcaster) Ralph Lawler, who is such an enjoyable listen. And just to be able to turn on the games and listen to Ralph, and to see how much fun they are having…

“That guy Chris Paul. That guy is really, really good. Plus he’s my wife’s favorite player. His level of creativity, his level of imagination, his level of determination…. he makes other people better at what they do, he makes other people’s dreams come true, he puts a smile on other people’s faces.”

Walton’s theme or rebirth in his life ties into his work with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which works to provide equipment, opportunity and everything needed for soldiers injured in Afghanistan or Iraq, or maybe a person injured in a car accident at home, to help find their way again through sport.

To help raise money, Walton is opening up his home in San Diego for a party. Through CharityBuzz.com, there is an auction and the winner gets to come with all their friends or co-workers, or whomever they want to invite for an evening of food, music and conversation with Walton.

“We are opening our house to an event… Bring whoever you want. Bring the family, bring your team, bring the company, your organization over to the house,” he said. “We’ve been in this house 33 years near Balboa Park in my home town of San Diego, we love our home and we’re going to share it with other people willing to make a difference in the lives of people involved with the Challenged Athletes Foundation.”

When he talks about it you can hear the energy in his voice. The energy that made him a big-time broadcaster and that made him the player he was. It’s just good to hear that passion again.

Celtics reportedly near 10-day contract with big man Greg Monroe

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When Aron Baynes went out with a twisted ankle against Philadelphia, it was quickly clear how much they missed the big man in certain matchups — they need his size against the Joel Embiid‘s of the world. The MRI came back clean and while Baynes is out Saturday against the Hornets but could return Sunday for the Celtics.

Boston is still thinking about adding some big man insurance, some experience, and some depth for the stretch run in the form of Greg Monroe, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. The deal is not yet inked, however.

This likely gets done.

There is some familiarity here, Monroe played an efficient 26 games with Boston last season. He averaged 10.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists a game, with a PER of 23, going about 19 minutes a night. This season he signed with Toronto, where he played 38 games off the bench but was traded to the Brooklyn Nets who waived him.

Paul George has spoken to Kawhi Leonard about free agency experience

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Paul George was forcing his way out of Indiana and his people were making it clear — he was going to be a Laker. Any other team that traded for him it was going to be a rental. But Oklahoma City jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over, and they put together the best package (Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis). It paid off. After a season in Oklahoma City, George re-signed with the Thunder last summer and did not even meet with the Lakers. This season George is having an MVP-level season.

Kawhi Leonard‘s relationship with the Spurs organization had deteriorated last season and he pushed last summer to be traded, with his camp wanting him to come to Los Angeles (although the Clippers were always rumored as the more likely destination). But Toronto jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over in a year (he’s a free agent in July), and they put together the best trade package (DeMar DeRozan was at the heart of it).

Sound familiar? With the Thunder in Toronto (and beating the Raptors) George was asked if he and Leonard had spoken about free agency, and he said they had, but George was not about to drop any details.

There are all sorts of rumors and speculation floating around the league about Leonard, with some recent buzz his camp is still pushing for Los Angeles (but are divided on which team). The Clippers are making their presence felt around him and I had heard from sources, dating back to last Summer League, it was the more likely destination of the LA teams (Leonard is not a fan of drama, and LeBron James‘ Lakers know drama better than TNT). There are also rumors that a deep playoff run could keep Leonard in Toronto, with an organization that has bent over backward to accommodate him and keep him healthy with time off to rest that quad tendon.

The fact is, nobody knows what Leonard is thinking. Leonard doesn’t talk, and when he does he doesn’t say anything. He isn’t on social media and doesn’t look at it. He is less concerned with his brand and image than any star in the league. The team of advisors around him is not experienced or predictable.

After the Raptors’ season ends, whenever that is, he will make a decision. How much whatever George told Leonard plays into that, we’ll likely never know. It’s not like Leonard is talking about it.

Paul George scores 28 as Thunder beat Raptors 116-109

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TORONTO (AP) — Paul George scored 28 points, Russell Westbrook had 18 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Toronto Raptors 116-109 on Friday night.

Dennis Schroder came off the bench to score 26 points and Jerami Grant had 19 as the Thunder snapped a four-game losing streak and avenged Wednesday’s 123-114 home defeat to Toronto.

The Thunder made 20 of 43 shots from 3-point range. Oklahoma City made a season-high 22 3-pointers against the Lakers on Jan. 17.

Kawhi Leonard scored 37 points and Pascal Siakam had 25 for the Raptors, who played without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

Lowry missed his second straight game because of a sprained right ankle. Coach Nick Nurse said there’s no structural damage to Lowry’s ankle, but soreness remains following a collision with New York’s Mitchell Robinson on Monday. Nurse said Lowry is expected to return next week.

Danny Green scored 19 points and Serge Ibaka had 11 but Toronto couldn’t hold a double-digit lead in the third quarter for the second straight game. The Raptors gave away a 20-point lead before recovering to win in overtime Wednesday, but weren’t able to match that on their home court.

Oklahoma City trailed by 10 points to start the second half, and was down 13 with 5:23 to go in the third before rallying. Westbrook gave the visitors the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter on a layup with 1:18 left in the period, putting them up 80-79. The Thunder closed the third with a 20-4 run to take an 83-80 lead into the fourth.

Leonard cut the gap to 93-91 on a free throw with 7:33 to play but George hit 3-pointers on either side of a fast-break layup by Grant, giving Oklahoma City a 101-91 edge with 6:21 left.

The Thunder missed eight of their first 10 shots of the game. Toronto was 5 of 6 from 3-point range in the first, with Green making all three of his attempts, and the Raptors led 29-22 after one.

Leonard scored nine points in the second and Green had six as Toronto led 58-48 at halftime.

 

James Harden ties career best with 61, Rockets beat Spurs 111-105

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden matched his career high with 61 points, including 27 in the first quarter, to lead the Houston Rockets to a 111-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

Harden hit three straight 3-pointers to give the Rockets a 103-100 lead and scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-2 run late in the fourth quarter.

Harden topped the 50-point mark for the eighth time this season, compared with 10 such performances from the rest of the league combined. He matched his career-best total set earlier this season against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The NBA’s leading scorer surpassed the 30-point mark in the second quarter and the 40-point mark with 9 minutes remaining in the third.

Before Harden’s late surge, the Spurs led by six points with 4 minutes left in the game. The Spurs had overcome a 15-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 81 entering the fourth quarter.

Harden was 7 of 10 from the field in the first quarter, including 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, and also went 10 for 12 from the free throw line. His 27 points in the period were the second-most in franchise history, trailing only Vernon Maxwell’s 30 in 1991.

Harden finished 9 of 13 from 3, 19 of 34 from the field and 14 of 17 from the free throw line.

Houston has won 13 of its last 15 games and eight of its last nine at home.

Bryn Forbes led San Antonio with 20 points, while Derrick White added 18 and DeMar DeRozan had 16.

Houston led 36-24 at the end of the first quarter and 62-47 at halftime.