Kahwi Leonard drops 34, Spurs rebound to beat Rockets, even series, but may lose Parker

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard had 34 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs overcame the loss of Tony Parker to beat the Houston Rockets 121-96 on Wednesday night and even the Western Conference semifinals at one game apiece.

Parker did not return after hurting his left leg with 8:43 remaining in the game. Spurs officials said Parker will undergo an MRI on Thursday morning and update his status after, but Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said following that game that “it’s not good.”

Parker fell to the court after missing an uncontested short jumper. He grabbed his left knee immediately upon landing and remained on the court for a few minutes. He attempted to walk, but had to be carried by teammates to the back. Spurs owner Julianna Hawn Holt rose from her courtside seat to point and scream at an official after Parker exited the game.

Parker finished with 18 points and four assists in 26 minutes.

Houston point guard James Harden was limited to 13 points on 3-for-17 shooting.

The Rockets shot 11 for 34 on 3-pointers after going 22 for 50 in their 126-99 victory in Game 1 on Monday night. They host Game 3 on Friday.

The start was as frenetic as Game 1, but the Spurs kept pace this time. The teams shot a combined 15 for 25 in the opening six minutes, including 5 for 9 on 3-pointers.

Popovich started Pau Gasol in place of David Lee to give the Spurs another outside shooter in the starting lineup and it paid off early. San Antonio shot 62 percent in the opening quarter.

The Spurs finished at 54 percent.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 15 points after being limited to four in the opener, and Danny Green added 12.

Leonard tied his postseason high with 20 points in the first half as the Spurs opened up a 65-55 lead entering the third quarter.

Harden led a charge in the second half, but not with his offense. He swiped the ball away, leapt out of bounds and tossed it backward to save it and then stripped Green on the following possession to set a strong defensive tone. The Rockets would force five turnovers in the third quarter to cut their deficit to 88-83 entering the fourth.

Spurs reserve Jonathon Simmons provided a lift, scoring consecutive baskets at the close of the third quarter and then opening the fourth by diving into the front row of seats to save a loose ball that led to Manu Ginobili‘s layup. On the ensuing possession, Simmons completed a three-point play off a dunk.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Houston had scored 100 points in every playoff game this season. . Harden entered Wednesday averaging 31.0 points, 8.2 assists and 5.5 rebounds this postseason. Hall of Famer Michael Jordan is the only player to average 31 points, 8.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds in a single postseason, doing so in 1991. . The league fined Nene $15,000 for “escalating an altercation” after grabbing Dewayne Dedmon by the throat while the Spurs center was jawing with Harden. Nene was ejected from the game for the action. . Houston is 3-2 when trailing after the third quarter this postseason.

Spurs: Parker joined longtime teammate Tim Duncan as the only players born outside the United States to score 4,000 points in the postseason. Parker, Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are also the only players in league history with at least 4,000 points and 1,000 assists. .. Parker and Ginobili won their 131st postseason game as teammates, matching the league record held by Parker and Duncan. . Leonard has scored in double figures in 28 straight games, the longest streak since Parker had 63 straight from 2006-12. . Parker has scored 15-plus points six times this postseason after achieving that feat just 16 times in 63 regular-season games.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.

Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Doncic: Mavericks tap brakes on inevitable comparisons

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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic didn’t get compared to Larry Bird when he was introduced a day after the Dallas Mavericks traded up to get the third overall pick in the NBA draft.

For president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, that’s progress based on his last experience of getting a tender-aged European in hopes of lifting the Mavericks out of the doldrums.

Twenty years later, Dirk Nowitzki is the highest-scoring foreign-born player in league history. Back then, the big German wasn’t remotely comparable to Larry Legend – and his rough first two years proved it.

So ask Nelson about a player the Mavericks clearly coveted heading into the draft in Doncic, and he’ll choose his words carefully regarding the 19-year-old from Slovenia. Doncic won’t turn 20 until after the All-Star break of his rookie season, which is expected to be Nowitzki’s record 21st with one franchise.

“Dirk and I had a long talk coming in,” Nelson said about the player Dallas drafted days after his 20th birthday in 1998.

“We’re obviously very excited to have (Doncic) but he’s got a very tough road ahead of him. Dirk wasn’t done any favors in his first two years. We are going to steer away from any of those comparisons. Luka is his own guy. He’s got his own challenges.”

Coach Rick Carlisle dropped a few international names in trying to describe the versatility Dallas thinks is offered by the 6-foot-7 Doncic, who won Euroleague MVP and Final Four MVP honors while helping Real Madrid win the title just days before the draft.

After offering comparisons to the late Drazen Petrovic, three-time champion Toni Kukoc and longtime San Antonio star Manu Ginobili, Carlisle stopped.

“I really feel it’s important that we shouldn’t try to compare this guy to anybody,” Carlisle said Friday during an introductory news conference that included Doncic and second-round pick Jalen Brunson, who won two NCAA titles in three years at Villanova. “Let him be himself. Let his game takes its own form.”

Doncic figures to shape the future of the Mavericks in some form with Dallas coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the second of Nowitzki’s two difficult years at the start of his career.

Those 1990s-era Mavericks had 10 straight losing seasons. Combine the drafting of Doncic with last year’s ninth overall pick in point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and a still-young leading scorer in Harrison Barnes, and Carlisle expects the losing to stop soon, if not this coming season.

“Last night was symbolic to me that it was kind of a defining moment in this rebuild,” said Carlisle, who had just one losing season as a coach before the current Dallas slide. “We’re going propel forward with the idea that we’ve got to start winning games.”

Just as he did last year with Smith, Carlisle is declaring Doncic a starter, which means the opening night lineup will have a teenager for the second straight year. Youth partly explains a two-year record of 57-107, including the 24-58 mark last season that landed Dallas the fifth pick before the draft-night trade with Atlanta on Thursday.

Another explanation was an unusually large number of undrafted players, including a young German in Maxi Kleber who grew up watching his countryman become the 2007 MVP and 2011 NBA Finals MVP.

The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since taking their only title in 2011, and have missed the postseason three of the past six seasons coming off a 12-year playoff streak. Doncic might only get one chance to get Dallas back on track with Nowitzki, the 13-time All-Star who has hinted that 40 is a nice round number as a retirement age.

If this is it for Nowitzki, Nelson sees a trio in Barnes, Smith and Doncic that reminds him of Michael Finley mentoring Nowitzki and point guard Steve Nash and helping the Mavericks end a 10-year playoff drought in 2001.

“Michael Finley was our Harrison Barnes back in the day,” Nelson said. “We feel like we’ve got that here in a different form. There’s just some really cool elements to this that take me back and remind me about what it was like 20 years ago when we were watching these young guys.”

Just don’t remind Nelson about the Nowitzki-Bird comparisons.

 

Clippers’ Milos Teodosic opts into $6.3 million for next season

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It was a lot of fun to watch Milos Teodosic play last season…

When he was healthy. He only played in 45 games for the Clippers last season.

Teodosic will be back in the NBA next season, as he has told the Clippers he will opt into a $6.3 million next season, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Clippers can buy him out by July 15 for $2.1 million, and that likely will happen. The Clippers are deep at the point guard spot (Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jawun Evans) and with a lottery rookie in the fold they will want to get him run.

Expect the Clippers to try to trade him in the next three weeks. He would have value to a team looking for a backup point guard — when he did play he averaged 9.5 points per game, shot 37.9 percent from three. The fans will love his passing and play. The coach will like him too… when healthy.

Report: Suns to renounce rights to Alex Len, Elfrid Payton

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The Suns want to free up some cap space heading into July. They are not going big game hunting, but with $10 million to $15 million they could bring in some solid veterans to provide leadership to their young core — and win a few games along the way.

How they get there starts with not bringing back Alex Len or Elfrid Payton, reports Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic.

Expect them to renounce their rights to center Alex Len and point guard Elfrid Payton, making them both free agents. Ayton’s addition has made Len expendable, and while Phoenix still needs point-guard help, Payton’s inconsistent play last season and, more importantly, his $10 million cap hold figure, likely means he’s played his last game in a Suns uniform.

This was expected. In Len’s case, he was playing on a qualifying offer and didn’t anticipate being back with the team (especially after they drafted Deandre Ayton).

The Suns acquired Payton at the trade deadline for a second-round pick (which was just by Orlando to land Jarred Vanderbilt) and it was a good flier. The Suns need a point guard to go next to Devin Booker, Payton is a former lottery pick that had shown flashes in the past, so Phoenix rolled the dice on him. It didn’t work out, and the Suns can just move on.

Both Len and Payton probably find new homes in the NBA next season. Len is 7’1″ and can use that size to protect the paint, plus he can score around the rim. Teams can use that off the bench. Payton has shown enough in flashes, and he can get buckets, that some team will grab him, just probably as a reserve.