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Heat guard Wayne Ellington proudly and painfully brings anti-violence message

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MIAMI (AP) — Wayne Ellington is standing in a room filled with hundreds of high school students, all of them silent and hanging on every word that the new Miami Heat guard is saying.

He’s not there to tell basketball stories.

He’s there to talk about his father – a victim of gun violence not even two years ago.

Ellington plays his first preseason game with the Heat on Tuesday night, an exhibition matchup in Washington against the Wizards that will soon be forgotten. But he’s already trying to make a much more lasting impact in Miami by sharing the story of the pain that continues to linger after his father was shot dead when an argument went very wrong.

“Still grieving and it’s still fresh,” Ellington said. “But I just realized I’ve got to do as much as I can to make a difference. Every day, it’s happening to a different family, to somebody’s son, to somebody’s father. So this stage I’m on, this platform I’m on, I want to make use of it as much as I can for as long as I’m on it to raise as much awareness as I can.”

Seeing athletes try to use their platform with hopes of sparking social change is commonplace right now, starting with San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the national anthem in a protest designed to bring new light on racial injustice – and countless other high school, college and pro athletes following suit since.

Ellington and some members of the Heat want to go farther, beyond symbolic acts that occur during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“It’s important for us to bring awareness to the situation,” Heat forward Justise Winslow said. “But even more important is what we do with that awareness. We have to go out in the community, we have to figure things out … the right way to raise awareness. We all might not agree on everything, but we have to figure out something.”

All around the Heat locker room, there are players that can relate to what many in the U.S. are dealing with right now.

Winslow is from Houston, where the city dealt with a mass shooting just last week. Hassan Whiteside is from just outside of Charlotte, where the recent shooting death of a black man by a police officer sparked two nights of violent protests and added to the nation’s fury over a rash of such incidents. Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson have mothers who have spent their adult lives serving in the military. Ellington’s father was killed by a gunshot.

“It affects all of us,” Whiteside said.

Ellington’s father was shot twice in the head on Nov. 9, 2014, found behind the wheel of his car in Philadelphia. A man pleaded guilty to a third-degree murder charge earlier this year for the shooting, and is serving a sentence of 30 to 60 years.

Ellington started what he calls the Peace Games earlier this year, an event designed to bring at-risk youth and young adults together to talk about gun violence prevention and other causes.

“I knew I had to do something to make a change,” Ellington said.

The protests and pleas by several athletes – Kaepernick included – have largely centered around the relationship between police and citizens. For Ellington, it goes far deeper.

And his new teammates already seem genuinely moved by his story.

“We all have to live together – Spanish people, black people, white people, all colors, all races,” Miami forward Derrick Williams said. “For us to survive, we have to stay together.”

Ellington doesn’t speak for long when he’s talking to schoolkids; in two recent appearances, his remarks lasted just a few minutes at each stop.

He didn’t need to say much more.

His message is simple: There’s almost always a better way than violence.

“You don’t have to take that direction,” Ellington says, as dozens of kids stare right at him, many of them nodding. “There’s so many other opportunities out there for you. There’s so many other different ways to solve a problem, to solve a conflict. We need to come together as people. We need to love each other. We need to find ways to help each other. That’s what I’m here to do.”

Paul George on twins Marcus, Markieff Morris: “They’re different, but they’re the same”

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LOS ANGELES — Paul George has given us the quote of the day.

For some quick context, last season Paul George played with Markieff Morris in Oklahoma City. This season, George’s Clippers team traded for the other Morris twin, Marcus Morris, at the deadline. When asked about them, George admitted to mixing them up — and then had a classic description of twins.

“It was weird at first, ‘cuz I would call [Marcus] ‘Keiff.’ It actually took a good week. It’s crazy. ‘What’s up Marcus? Nice to meet you.’ Then instantly after, ‘Hey Keiff!’ It’s gonna take a second…

“They’re different, but they’re the same.”

Um… yes, they are.

Both Morris twins live in Los Angeles now (and are expected to move in together). Marcus was traded to the Clippers at the deadline, while Markieff was waived and became a free agent, choosing to sign with the Lakers.

George had high praise for both of them.

“Markieff and Marcus, they are great glue guys,” George said. “They just know how to play the game. They fit right in, they bring toughness, hecka [good] locker room guys, both of them just great people. Great dudes.”

They’re the same that way. But different.

Report: Terry Stotts to remain Trail Blazers coach next season

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts
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The Trail Blazers had big expectations after reaching the 2019 Western Conference finals and signing their top players, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, to lucrative contract extensions.

Instead, Portland (26-32) is in a dogfight with the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs, Suns and Kings for the No. 8 seed.

Often, teams underperforming like that fire their coach.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

A source with knowledge of coach Terry Stotts’ situation said there’s no reason to believe he’s in any danger this summer, regardless of how this turns out.

Stotts has a few things working in his favor:

So expect Stotts back next season. But also expect him to face a little more pressure. Even if a lot of what wrong this season wasn’t his fault, losing tends to increase scrutiny on the coach.

In his eighth season with the Trail Blazers, Stotts is the NBA’s fourth-longest-tenured coach (behind only the Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, Heat’s Erick Spoelstra and Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle). It just becomes increasingly more difficult for Stotts to meet the high expectations he has helped set in Portland.

For now, though, Stotts appears to remain ahead of the curve.

Stephen Curry reportedly will return to Warriors lineup Sunday vs. Wizards

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After four months off, the Warriors were looking for a soft landing spot to ease Stephen Curry back into the rotation.

How about Sunday, vs. Washington and the worst defense in the NBA this season?

That’s the plan, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Curry has said for some time he was targeting March 1 for a return, this would be that exact date (to be fair to the Wizards, they have played better defense of late). After that, Golden State plays at Denver on the third, has a Finals rematch against Toronto at the Chase Center on March 5, then the 76ers visit the Warriors on the seventh.

Curry suffered a fractured hand just four games into the season when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him. Recovery required two surgeries, one to put pins in to stabilize the bone through the healing process, then a second one to remove those pins once the recovery was far enough along.

While some fans had called for Curry to sit out the season and tank, Warriors coach Steve Kerr emphatically shot that idea down. As he should.

For one thing, Kerr wants to build some familiarity and chemistry between Curry and newly acquired Andrew Wiggins this season. Having Curry back may mean the Warriors don’t finish with the worst record in the league this season (which they have right now) but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not as big an issue. Besides, this is not a deep draft. This is not a situation where the Warriors will get instant help — in our podcast recently, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons. The Warriors may ultimately try to trade their pick for a player who can help more next season.

Ben Simmons has nerve impingement in lower back, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

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The biggest concern with Ben Simmons back issue is not that it will have him out weeks, it’s that nobody is saying what exactly is causing it.

Simmons has a nerve impingement in his lower back that will have him getting treatment daily, and he will be re-evaluated in two weeks, something first reported  by Shams Charania of The Athletic and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski provided some context, but nothing that is very encouraging.

A nerve impingement — what is commonly referred to as a pinched nerve — is exactly what it sounds like: Something is pressing on the nerve, “pinching” it and causing pain.

The big question: What is impinging on the nerve? That’s what Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes asked.

This does not sound like something that is going to be resolved in two weeks and Simmons will be back to normal.

Simmons injured his back last Wednesday in practice while grabbing a rebound, according to coach Brett Brown. Simmons sat out last Thursday’s Sixers game against the Nets, tried to play on Saturday vs. the Bucks but had to come out after one quarter, and has not set foot on the court since.

Simmons averages 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds a game, not to mention a league-best 2.2 steals a night. The All-Star is a core part of the Sixers rotation and will miss significant time they try to climb up into the top four in the East and get home court for the first round of the playoffs. Shake Milton started Monday in Simmons place.