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.”

Watch Trae Young hit floater over Jimmy Butler to lift Hawks past 76ers

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Philadelphia had its chance. It got the ball with 27.5 seconds left in a tie game in Atlanta, a chance for Jimmy Butler to ice another game and… nothing. The Sixers had a shot clock violation after a scrambled play (watch the video above).

That left 3.5 seconds for Trae Young, and that’s all the time he needed.

Young’s floater has improved over the course of the season, and he was quick enough to get in a position where Butler could not block his shot. And he drained it.

The combination of a Sixers team that looked flat coming off their win over the Celtics, combined with Young’s energy was too much. Atlanta has played better since the All-Star break and teams sleep on them at their own peril.

Watch Boban Marjanovic hit the first three pointer of his career.

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Boooobaaaaan!!!

Boban Marjanovic was 0-of-6 from three in his career before Saturday night. Then this happened.

Boban is just fun. Basketball should be fun.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with his free agency this summer, but you can bet the fans in Philly want him to stick around.

Lakers reached out to Lonzo Ball wondering if Big Baller Brand shoes part of ankle issues

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Lonzo Ball has played in just 99 games through his first two NBA seasons, 60 percent of the possible games. His rookie season, it was shoulder and knee issues that sidelined him for 30 games.

This past season, he went down on Jan. 19 with a sprained ankle against the Rockets, a severe one that also had a bone bruise, which slowed the healing. Ball has been shut down for the season because of it.

The Lakers are concerned that his Big Baller Brand shoes may have contributed to the ankle issues, something Ball confirmed the Lakers talked to him about in an ESPN story by Ramona Shelburne and Paula Lavigne.

[The January injury] marked his third separate ankle injury, which left the Lakers searching for what could be the root issue of his troubles — including asking about his Big Baller Brand shoes.

“Yeah, they talked to me,” Lonzo Ball told ESPN two weeks ago. “They asked me about it, and I told ’em, ‘I feel comfortable. If I wasn’t comfortable, I wouldn’t play in ’em. If I didn’t play in [his signature BBB shoes], I’d play in Kobe [Bryant’s signature Nike shoe]. I work out in [LeBron James’ signature Nike shoe], but that’s because they’re heavier.”

Lonzo also said he told the Lakers he was open to making adjustments — “just minor things,” he said — to his Big Baller Brand shoes if needed.

There are trainers around the league who believe a lot of foot and ankle issues in the NBA are about poorly designed or ill-fitting shoes (that can include major, trusted brands, but the player wears something that does not fit his needs).

Whether the ZO2 is part of the problem or not is impossible to say from the outside.

However, Ball recently severed some ties with the Big Baller Brand over the business manager’s handling of his money. Ball also deleted pictures of himself wearing Big Baller Brand gear from his Instagram. What does that mean? We’re not going to speculate here, but take your own best guess.

Another Bucks’ injury: Pau Gasol reportedly out for month with ankle injury

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Malcolm Brogdon is out for the remainder of the regular season, likely the first round of the playoffs, and maybe longer with a plantar fascia tear. Nikola Mirotic is out likely through the end of the regular season (and maybe a little longer) with a thumb fracture. The injury bug that the Bucks avoided much of the season is catching up with them.

And Pau Gasol can now be added to the list, according to ESPN’s Malika Andrews.

Gasol is going to play a limited role for Milwaukee, but his depth along the front line would have been helpful as the Bucks try to rest guys and get right for the postseason.

If these injuries — particularly Brogdon, who is an important glue piece for them — lingers into the second round of the playoffs for Milwaukee, it could mean an earlier end to the season than they hoped.