SAN ANTONIO — Not everything interesting that players and coaches say from practice can make it into a full-blown story. But sometimes, the answer to a single question is deserving of being mentioned all by itself.
Especially when Gregg Popovich is the one giving the response.
There were plenty of questions about Tony Parker’s status for Game 4, after an MRI revealed that he suffered a Grade 1 hamstring strain and was officially being listed as day-to-day.
A reporter wondered aloud to Popovich whether or not he might just “mail in” Game 4 in order to give Parker some extra rest to get right for the remainder of the series, and it went over about as well as you might have imagined.
“I’ve just got to tell you, that phrase ‘mail in Game 4 …’ Popovich began, clearly agitated by the proposition. “It confuses my whole brain. I don’t think I can think past that comment. I would like to help you, but I don’t know how to help you. You can come back to our coach’s office and hit us up. We’ll be talking about all these sorts of things. Any ideas are welcome. I have no idea until I know how healthy he is tomorrow.”
Popovich can be famously difficult if a question isn’t posed to him in precisely the right way, and this one wasn’t that outrageous on the surface. San Antonio played at different times over the course of the season without some if its key players, and managed to win a very high percentage of those games no matter who was on the floor.
“We played all season long with minus a couple of guys in different cases for whatever amount,” Tim Duncan said on Wednesday. “I was gone for ten games, Tony was gone for a little while, Manu was gone for a little while. We made adjustments. We played without individuals. On this stage at this time, [if Parker is unable to play] it would be obviously a huge loss for us.”
So again, it wasn’t that crazy of a question to ask. But Popovich gave us yet another reminder that how you approach him with such things is as important as anything in determining the level of bite you get when receiving his response.
Paul George hits game winner, lifts Thunder past 76ers 117-115
PHILADELPHIA (AP) —Paul George converted a four-point play with 5.1 seconds left, sending Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder to a wild 117-115 victory over Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.
George’s clutch shot capped a wild finish that included another memorable exchange with Westbrook and Embiid. Westbrook hit the floor out of bounds under the basket after a foul by Embiid late in the game, and Westbrook fouled out with 14.9 seconds remaining after he got Embiid while shooting a 3-pointer.
Embiid made all three foul shots, tying it at 113, and Jimmy Butler‘s driving layup put Philadelphia in front with 6.9 seconds to go. But George drained a 3 while being fouled by Butler and made the foul shot.
Philadelphia had one last chance, but Butler missed a 3-point attempt in the final seconds. The 76ers have lost 19 in a row to the Thunder.
George finished with 31 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Westbrook had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for Oklahoma City, and reserve Dennis Schroder also scored 21 points.
The Thunder had dropped five of six, including a 138-128 overtime loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.
Embiid, who was a game-time decision because of back tightness, had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. JJ Redick scored 22 points for Philadelphia, and Ben Simmons finished with 20 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists.
Oklahoma City led by as many as 16 points in the first quarter, but Philadelphia rallied in the second and trailed 59-56 at the break.
Rumor: Suns, Magic have inquired about Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina
Despite the Knicks’ clear lack of confidence in Ntilikina, teams have inquired about the 20-year-old, with the Magic and Suns expressing interest, according to a source. And this is where it gets interesting. There seems to be a debate within the Knicks on whether to deal Ntilikina. He was drafted by Mills and has supporters in the front office. But, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Perry, who took the job after Ntilikina was drafted, recently approached the Atlanta Hawks to gauge whether the team was interested in dealing for the guard (Hawks have Trae Young and weren’t interested).
The Suns and Magic both desperately need point guards. However, neither are offering much in trades knowing that come free agency next July there will be better, more established targets — D'Angelo Russell, Terry Rozier, among others.
Ntilikina is a good perimeter defender whose skills could be developed in the right situation into a rotation point guard. Probably. But because the offers will be lowball, the Knicks would essentially just be dumping the No. 8 pick of a season ago, a guy who is only 20 years old. That would be a mistake — if the Knicks can’t get decent value back, keep Ntilikina and try to develop him themselves. Point guards take longer to come around in the NBA, maybe Ntilikina will develop into a player the Knicks want to keep.
But the rumors are out there and it’s something to keep an eye on.
Markelle Fultz returns to Philadelphia to do shoulder rehab with team
There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.
After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.
Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.
Report: Rockets trying to trade Carmelo Anthony, likely to waive Nunnally to create roster spot
That led to a lot of speculation it could be Carmelo Anthony who is let go, he remains on the roster but not with the team, in a kind of limbo while the Rockets and ‘Melo’s agent look for a landing spot. (He reportedly has several options and will choose one before the trade deadline, but if he really liked any of those options he would have already taken them rather than waiting for a better offer.)
The Rockets will continue to probe for Carmelo Anthony trades to clear roster spot for Kenneth Faried, but have no intention of waiving ‘Melo, league sources tell ESPN. More likely scenario is releasing James Nunnally, who is on 10-day contract.
If the Rockets haven’t waived ‘Melo yet, they’re not going to do it now.
Houston GM Daryl Morey is also working the phone lines to find wing depth to add to the Rockets’ roster. While James Harden‘s historic streak has carried the Rockets back into the playoff picture in the West, this is not the same Houston team that was a threat to the Warriors a season ago. Morey’s off-season gambles — including Anthony — have not panned out, and he is now trying to correct them.