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Pivotal Game 5 awaits Boston as it returns home vs. Wizards

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BOSTON (AP) After four games, the Eastern Conference semifinal matchup between the Celtics and Wizards is exactly back where it began.

Following back-to-back comeback wins by the East’s top seed in the first two games in Boston, Washington returned the favor with a pair of dominant wins on its home court. The series now shifts back to the Garden for a pivotal Game 5 matchup on Wednesday night.

The winner of Game 5 in an NBA best-of-7 series tied at 2-2 has gone on to win the series 83% of the time (162-34), according to ESPN Stats & Info.

While happy to return to friendlier confines, the Celtics say they aren’t feeling any added pressure despite being unable to recover from game-changing runs by the Wizards in Games 3 and 4.

“That’s the playoffs for you,” Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas said. “We said it before the playoffs started, you lose a couple and you might get swept. I mean, that’s what the world is gonna say. `You’re not good enough to be here,’ or you win a couple and everybody loves you.”

Meanwhile, Washington may have found the anecdote to containing Boston’s leading scorer – making the game as physical as possible.

Thomas has managed just 13 and 19 points, respectively, over the last two games, while being held to 22 field goal attempts. That comes after his 53-point night in Game 2’s overtime win.

Despite having to win at least one game at the Garden over the next three games to advance, Wizards point guard John Wall said their confidence is higher than it was at the start of the series.

“We have a lot of confidence, understanding that we had a chance to win all four games,” said Wall, who is coming off a 27-point, 12-assist effort in Game 4. “Even though we only won two, and they won two at their place, we had an opportunity to win those games even though we didn’t shoot the ball well or we didn’t play great defense.”

Here are some things to know about Wednesday night’s Game 5:

NEED TO KNOW: Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. can expect to get a cold reception from Boston’s fans. Oubre returns to action after serving a one-game suspension for charging over Celtics center Kelly Olynyk in Game 3. Washington coach Scott Brooks was asked Tuesday about what advice he had for Oubre. “Bring some ear plugs,” he said after a long pause. “They’re definitely going to let him have it. But you just go out there and play, play hard.”

KEEP AN EYE ON: Isaiah Thomas’ free-throw attempts. The All-Star said he felt the Wizards were able to get away with holding and grabbing him at times during a Game 4 loss in which he didn’t once visit the foul line. But he said he hadn’t been contacted by the league office about a fine for criticizing the officiating. “I felt like things should be called different. But I didn’t say that’s the reason why we lost,” Thomas said. “So I don’t feel like I should get anything.”

INJURY UPDATE: Celtics guard Avery Bradley suffered a left hip-pointer in Game 4 after being slowed by a right hip-pointer in Game 2. But Stevens said he is set to go for Game 5.

PRESSURE IS ON: The Wizards. Though Boston is the higher seed, the Celtics will get all kinds of energy returning home, and Washington can set itself up with a closeout opportunity at home for Game 6 with a win.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

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.