Grizzlies guard Conley: ‘Comfortable’ with mask, keeping it

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) For Mike Conley, the decision to keep wearing a clear mask is easy, even with his left cheek fully healed from the elbow that inadvertently smashed his face last April.

“I’m going to keep it for a little bit,” the Grizzlies point guard said. “I feel more comfortable with it on whenever I’m playing because I already know I get hit in my face all the time. I’m a little dude, so I’m around elbows and stuff all the time.

“So I’m going to wear it until I feel comfortable.”

That may take a while considering the hazards of playing point guard in the NBA. Chicago star Derrick Rose had surgery himself Wednesday to repair his left orbital socket after taking an elbow at practice in training camp.

Conley turned in one of the gutsiest performances in NBA playoff history last spring after CJ McCollum‘s elbow crashed into his cheek, dropping him to the court in Game 3 of Memphis’ first-round series with Portland. Conley needed two metal plates inserted surgically to repair broken bones around his left eye.

After missing three playoff games, Conley made a dramatic return in Golden State scoring 22 points in leading the Grizzlies to a 97-90 win. He helped the Grizzlies take a 2-1 lead over the eventual NBA champs in the Western semifinals until the injury simply took its toll. At Grizzlies’ media day Monday, Conley said the injuries were frustrating.

“We win that game at home go up 3-1, it could be a whole different story. So we definitely feel like we have something to prove,” Conley said.

The Grizzlies are commemorating Conley’s toughness by putting a banner on a building just outside the FedExForum as part of their advertising this season. His performance in pain brought lots of new attention to a guard who has played through a variety of injuries in his eight seasons in Memphis.

Center Marc Gasol said he never thought Conley had to prove himself to anyone, not with how the guard has so often sacrificed his game and stats to help the Grizzlies win.

“What he did in the playoffs you know playing with not the mask but the fractures underneath the mask, that made him a different person I can tell you,” Gasol said.

Conley had a busy summer. He traveled to China in July on behalf of the NBA and was invited to Team USA’s minicamp in August. Conley also spent time simply healing up, and he was healthy as the Grizzlies opened training camp.

“I told my wife last night that this is as good as my body will feel for a long time,” Conley said.

He also spent the summer strengthening ankles Conley compares to rubber now that he’s rolled them so often, and he also bulked up adding more muscle. Gasol said he tells Conley the challenge is keeping that muscle through the season.

Conley helped convince Gasol to sign a new contract keeping the center in Memphis this past summer, and now it’s the guard’s turn to play with free agency looming next summer. Conley said he plans only to think about this season and will address his contract once the season ends, the same approach Gasol took.

Gasol said he and Conley talked about his own future perhaps only twice last season and not once past February. Forward Zach Randolph said fans shouldn’t worry because the Grizzlies have taken care of Conley.

“Mike, he’s an All-Star … so I don’t worry about Mike,” Randolph said. “He’s going to focus on this season, have an All-Star season.”

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.

Watch Russell Westbrook drain two buzzer-beaters against Blazers

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The Portland Trail Blazers had to know it was not their night when Russell Westbrook knocked down a buzzer-beating step-back 3-pointer just before the half.

Westbrook wasn’t done, he had one more buzzer-beater in him at the end of the third.

Westbrook wasn’t the only guy in the building draining half-courters — for the second-straight game a Laker fan knocked down a half-court shot, this time to win $25,000.

It was a good night all around for the Lakers and their fans at home against the shorthanded Trail Blazers. They got 31 points from LeBron James, plus 27 points and 12 boards from Anthony Davis. Austin Reaves added in 22, and the Lakers took control in the third and cruised in for a needed win.