Paul George has Pacers on verge of conference finals

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WASHINGTON – Paul George stood at the entrance to the press-conference room.

“Are they ready?” George asked as he buttoned his shirt.

Earlier in the night, George wasn’t so docile. Ready for him or not – and they sure didn’t appear to be – the Washington Wizards saw plenty of the Indiana Pacers star.

George scored 39 points – the most by an Pacer in a playoff game in eight years – and led Indiana to a 95-92 Game 4 win Sunday. Up 3-1 in the series, the Pacers are just one game from the Eastern Conference Finals and can qualify with a home win in Game 5 Wednesday.

Before the game, Indiana coach Frank Vogel offered Paul George a break from always guarding Bradley Beal, the Wizards leading playoff scorer. During the game, Vogel repeatedly offered to rest George.

George said no each time.

He played more than 46 minutes, sitting only for the final 1:37 of the first quarter.

“I hate not finishing off my assignment,” George said.

Now, the Pacers appear primed to finish the assignment most expected them to complete – returning to the conference finals and battling the Miami Heat there. Indiana’s road looked rocky late in the regular season and downright hazardous during a first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, but the Pacers keep doing just enough to overcome their self-inflicted adversity.

Sunday, Indiana trailed by 19 in the third quarter, briefly tied the game early in the fourth quarter and then trailed by nine with six minutes left. Does a comeback like that finally answer the questions surrounding the Pacers?

“Those are your guys’ questions,” Vogel said. “You guys can keep asking them or answering them. We never lost confidence in our group here, and tonight was indicative of why.”

That starts with George and Roy Hibbert, who has now contributed three straight quality performances with 17 points, nine rebounds and two blocks Sunday.

Until George Hill split a pair of free throws with six seconds left – leaving the Wizards a chance to tie on a 3-pointer with 6.1 seconds remaining that they bungled when Trevor Ariza threw the inbound pass out of bounds – George and Hibbert scored 18 straight Indiana points.

When Hibbert is steady, the Pacers stop underachieving. When George plays like this, their ceiling rises.

Nobody else on the roster can elevate Indiana like George. George, who scored a career-high 43 in Dec. 2013, is the only Pacer to score this much in any game in the last four years .

Sunday, he made 7-of-10 3-pointers, grabbed 12 rebounds and hounded Beal defensively while getting two steals.

“He’s made my job tough,” said Beal, who should be commended for still scoring 20 points on 14 shots.

Beal didn’t spend a second on the court without George also there, and the Washington guard rarely spent that time free of George.

Vogel praised George and David West for leading vocally, and George’s heavy workload backed up his words.

“There was a moment where I was pretty gassed,” George said. “But that second wind kicked in. Once we started to build momentum, it seemed like I wasn’t tired.”

Tired of the Pacers and their brand of defense-first, slow-the-pace basketball? Get over it, They’re almost definitely headed back to the Eastern Conference Finals to play foil to the popular Heat.

And they’re in this position thanks to to George.

“What he did tonight was special,” Vogel said. “There’s no other way to put it.”

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. rejoins Mavericks after reconciling with Rick Carlisle

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Second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. has been rumored to be on the trade block. The Dallas Mavericks guard hasn’t seen eye-to-eye with coach Rick Carlisle, and several teams have expressed interest in Smith. It appeared that Smith was all set to join another team as part of a swap as we approach the trade deadline.

A report on Sunday on the latest from Dallas has changed all that. According to The Athletic, Smith and Carlisle have had productive talks and the 21-year-old is set to rejoin the team for their game on Tuesday.

Via Twitter:

Smith hasn’t made the kind of leap the Mavericks were hoping for. Despite an offensive explosion across the league, he hasn’t seen his advanced numbers experience a significant bump. Smith’s flaws are that of a young player — shooting and decision-making — so any additional communication with coaches will be a good thing for him.

Who knows is he and Carlisle can ever heal the wound fully, but it felt too soon to press the eject button on a Top 10 pick like Smith for Mavs fans.

Lakers PG Lonzo Ball will miss 4-6 weeks with ankle sprain

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The Los Angeles Lakers have been dealt another injury loss.

Lakers PG Lonzo Ball, part of the young core the team is trying to develop around LeBron James, suffered an ankle sprain against the Houston Rockets on Saturday. The team release via their website said Ball would be re-evaluated but could mis 4-6 weeks.

Via Lakers:

Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, who was injured in last night’s game at Houston, underwent an MRI which revealed a Grade 3 left ankle sprain. Ball is expected to miss 4-6 weeks and updates will be provided as appropriate.

Ball had to be carried from the court after he collided with James Ennis during a play in the third quarter. Ball appeared to step on Ennis’ foot when the Rockets player tried to cut him off from the basket.

LA has had a rough go of it since LeBron injured his groin some 13 games ago. The Lakers have also been without Rajon Rondo, and have had a tough time winning games. The team, once thoroughly in the playoff race, has now dipped to ninth place in the West.

James and Rondo have been cleared for basketball activities, and they need their veteran leadership now more than ever heading into the All-Star break.

Watch the Bulls’ tribute video for Dwyane Wade

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Dwyane Wade is a Chicago native but the Miami Heat guard only played in the Windy City for a short amount of time. Wade was a member of the Chicago Bulls for 60 games in 2016-17 despite having signed a massive contract with the team in July of 2016.

Wade is now back where he belongs in Miami, and he’s been on a bit of a farewell tour across the NBA. As such, the Bulls felt it prudent to show a little tribute video for Wade before the final game he was to play at United Center.

Via Twitter:

How Bulls fans feel about Wade probably depends on who you ask, but a tribute video from the organization is a classy touch no matter what.

Wade has done jersey swaps with players around the league and in Chicago he got a special one: Benny the Bull.

‘One Piece’ fans are trying to get Steven Adams into All-Star Game

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There’s been a lot of clever NBA All-Star marketing over the years. Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum did a “Napoleon Dynamite”-themed video for his buddy Damian Lillard this season. The Toronto Raptors made a faux-vintage action figure ad for Kawhi Leonard.

Now it appears that anime website Crunchyroll is trying to get “One Piece” fans to vote for Oklahoma City Thunder big man Steven Adams.

Adams is a fan of anime, and has professed his admiration for the show “One Piece” before. Adams made mention about how he was watching the show instead of Kevin Durant‘s debut with the Golden State Warriors a while back. In turn, Crunchyroll — a streaming site — made a video trying to get people to vote for Adams in the NBA fan vote.

Via Twitter:

That’s pretty good, but will it be enough? We know the fan vote gets wild, especially with favorites who are sort of undeserving (Derrick Rose and Luka Doncic come to mind). Could a big push from the anime crowd help Adams, who is an excellent player but who has never been an All-Star, notch his first bid?