Kevin Durant feels right at home in 1st game action since February

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The shoulder shimmy at the free throw line, the one-legged runners in the lane, the silky smooth 3-pointers from the top of the arc.

It’s been eight long months since Kevin Durant has been able to put those otherworldly skills on display in an NBA game. In his first game back from the fractured right foot that derailed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season last year, it seemed almost as if Durant had never left.

The former MVP scored 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting and had four assists in 22 minutes of Oklahoma City’s preseason opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.

More importantly, Durant showed no ill effects from the devastating foot injury that required three surgeries to repair. There was no limping, no grimacing, not even a noticeable shake of his right leg to work off any rust.

“I felt great,” Durant said. “I think it was a little different. I haven’t been in my routine in a while as far as going to shootaround, taking my nap, getting to the game. So all that stuff was different. But once I got on the court, I felt right at home.”

Durant had not played in a game since Feb. 19 against Dallas. He missed 55 games total and the final 28 of the season, an absence that was excruciating for one for one of the NBA’s brightest stars. He had to sit and watch his team miss the playoffs for the first time in five years, then spent the summer rehabbing his injury rather than playing the pickup games that he loves so dearly.

“I know what that feels like to be out for a long period of time and to sit back and be watching your teammates play without going out there and being able to help them,” teammate Russell Westbrook said. “So him just coming back tonight and trying to go out there and find his rhythm, kind of get back into the swing of things is always great.”

He didn’t practice with the team until it opened training camp on Sept. 29, but new coach Billy Donovan raved about his work ethic and presence for a team determined to return to the Western Conference elite this season.

“He’s been really good,” Donovan said. “I think he’s been getting back his rhythm, so to speak, scoring the ball. He’s had some incredible flashes.”

After missing a long 2-pointer on his first possession, Durant got on the board with another jumper less than four minutes into the game. He initiated contact on a drive to the hoop later in the quarter, then really got going during his action in the third.

He hit a 3 from the top of the arc, dropped a couple more jumpers and knocked down a tough, one-armed, off-balance runner in the paint. Just before his night came to an end in the closing moments of the third quarter, Durant got Timberwolves rookie Nemanja Bjelica up in the air on a pump fake, initiated contact and drew a foul, smiling as he pulled himself up off the court.

“I don’t force things,” Durant said. “I just tried to let the game come to me and play as simple as I can.”

He has always made it look so easy. But the process of coming back from the problematic Jones fracture was a frustrating and disheartening experience. The journey from that game against the Mavericks last February to this one against the Timberwolves feeling like an eternity.

“It seems like years ago,” Durant said after the morning shootaround. “I’m here now. Try not to think about the past. I know I learned a lot from that situation and just trying to move forward and continue to have confidence in myself.”

Timberwolves guard Zach LaVine filmed a television commercial with Durant in the offseason and said he is happy to see one of the highest-profile players in the league back where he belongs.

“Every time you have a superstar like that who is hurt, you always want to see him in the game,” LaVine said. “Especially as a competitor, you always want to go against him. I’m glad he’s back and healthy.”

Westbrook had 14 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds in 22 minutes and Serge Ibaka added 18 points in 20 minutes for the Thunder.

Watch Spurs Collins bloody Russell Westbrook with a foul, get ejected

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs
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Jakob Poeltl was dominating the paint, scoring 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting with nine rebounds in 10 minutes, and giving the Lakers serious trouble. Then he had to leave the game with a sore quad, meaning Zach Collins would get more run.

Collins was ejected for a flagrant foul 2 on Russell Westbrook that left the Lakers guard bloodied.

Collins plans to appeal the ejection he said after the game.

Collins will face a fine or suspension from the league, although he doesn’t have a history of this kind of foul, something the league takes into consideration. Westbrook also got a technical for going after Collins.

The Lakers went on to beat the Spurs 143-138, behind 39 points from LeBron James. It’s the second time the Lakers have defeated the Spurs in three days, the kind of wins over tanking teams the Lakers need if they are going to turn their season around.

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France

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Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.

 

Boogie Cousins called Warriors GM Myers and got reality check on why he’s not in NBA

2022 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors
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DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.

He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).

“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’

“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”

Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”

Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).

Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.