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Gordon Hayward makes first return to Utah since leaving Jazz in free agency

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two seasons in the making, Gordon Hayward‘s return to Utah will finally go down Friday night, giving Jazz fans the first chance to let their collective feelings known.

Hayward bolted from the Jazz to the Celtics as a free agent following the 2016-17 season in a somewhat awkward departure that much of Salt Lake City learned about in the forward’s own story written in the Player’s Tribune.

Rejection letters sting, no matter the format.

Gordon’s presence Friday, after seven seasons with the Jazz, will be more than just a side note when the Celtics play in Utah on Friday night. At least call it equal billing with the Celtics’ curious play of late, their first-half struggles and late rally Thursday at Phoenix notwithstanding.

Hayward’s much-anticipated return did not happen last season after the Butler product was injured in the Celtics’ season opener and he missed the remainder of the year.

“Obviously he did so much for this organization, for this state,” Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell told reporters after Wednesday’s victory over the Dallas Mavericks. “He’s a great player.”

Mitchell has become the main object of affection for Jazz fans these days. His 23-point performance Wednesday, with multiple highlight-reel dunks, is evidence as to why.

But taking over the star-player throne from Hayward has not been easy. Hayward averaged 15.5 points per game in his seven years in Utah, but that final season he poured in 21.9 per game and became an All-Star. Then poof, he was gone.

“Gordon, he’s a good guy. It is what it is,” the Jazz’s Rudy Gobert said, according to the Deseret News. “Sometimes you make choices that you think are good for you and we’re not here to judge anyone. It’s just a game. We’re just going to go play basketball and that’s it.”

As far as the game goes, the Celtics will arrive in Utah with a positive outlook after that rally to defeat the Suns on Thursday, but needed overtime to do it on the first night of back-to-backs. It was a remarkable turnaround in a game where only one starter — Kyrie Irving — scored a point in the first half as Boston trailed by 20 points after two quarters.

The Jazz, is also feeling a whole lot better about its situation after a convincing victory Wednesday that ended a four-game skid.

Mitchell was able to get things going for the Jazz after returning from an ankle injury. He sat out two of the Jazz’s previous three games.

The Jazz will try to figure out a way that Mitchell can expose the Celtics’ defense much like Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray did, when he scored 48 points against Boston this week. Celtics players bristled when Murray tried to pass the 50 mark on a long 3-pointer at the buzzer of a game that had long been decided.

“We stopped moving the ball, we started settling, a lot of iso stuff,” Celtics guard Jaylen Brown said after Monday’s defeat, according to the Boston Globe. “Missing some easy ones. We still could have won this game. We just have to find ways to win when it comes down to the end, rebounds, stops. That mentality is going to get you a W.”

It got better Thursday at Phoenix, but only in the second half. Not only did the Celtics erase that 20-point deficit after the break, they had a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter before forcing overtime and earning a 116-109 victory.

Even with Hayward playing again, the Celtics are in somewhat of a transition period. Hayward still has not come close to returning to the player he was during his Utah days and has been on monitored minutes. Irving is also returning from a knee procedure in April that ended his season and he played 43 minutes Thursday.

The Celtics are expected to be a force in the Eastern Conference, but are only 7-4 as they search for consistency. They have been solid overall on defense, entering play Thursday third best in the NBA after allowing 101.3 points per game. But have been vulnerable in key stretches, leading to defeats such as Monday when Murray ushered them out of Denver.

“We tried a lot of different guys, a lot of different coverages, we tried to go small and switch, tried to do a lot of different things,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, according to nba.com. “He pretty much cooked us all night. He had a heck of a game.”

LeBron James on Colin Kaepernick: ‘I stand with Kap. I kneel with Kap.’

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LeBron James is no stranger to standing up for social justice issues, and he’s a leader in American sports when it comes to his sphere of influence.

James and his teammates wore “I can’t breathe” shirts back in 2014 to raise awareness of the treatment of the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police. Before a game in 2012, LeBron and his Miami Heat teammates stood in a photo in hoodies, heads bowed, to raise awareness of the death of Trayvon Martin.

So it made sense that James had an opinion about Colin Kaepernick when The King was asked about the former NFL quarterback at All-Star Weekend.

Kaepernick and former San Francisco 49ers teammate Eric Reid recently reached a settlement with the NFL with regard to their collusion case. James said that he didn’t feel as though anyone was ever really trying to understand what Kaepernick was trying to call attention to — police brutality — by kneeling during the national anthem.

Via Twitter:

“I think it’s important to stick up for what you believe in, you what I’m saying?” James said. “I think with Kap, I stand with Kap, I kneel with Kap. I just feel what he was talking about no one wanted to listen to. Nobody ever really wanted to understand where he was actually coming from. I think that anybody that would sacrifice their livelihood for the betterment of all of us, I can respect that and he’s done that. I mean, you got a guy who basically lost his job because he wanted to stand for something that was more than just him.”

That’s a pretty resounding endorsement by James for Kaep.

I think some are disappointed that Kaepernick is likely bound by some kind of NDA as part of his settlement, but it seems likely that he’s going to use whatever cash the NFL paid him for good. Kaepernick has already made significant charitable donations, a list of which you can see here.

Nice to see LeBron being vocal about being on the right side of history yet again.

Here’s every 50-point dunk in NBA dunk contest history (VIDEO)

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Saturday night was yet another entertaining entry into All-Star Weekend lore, with both the 3-point contest and dunk contest coming through in expected fashion.

Oklahoma City’s Hamidou Diallo won the dunk contest thanks in part to an entertaining move where he dunked over Shaquille O’Neal while wearing a Superman outfit underneath his regular uniform.

There were several 50-point dunks on Saturday night, including Diallo’s Superman dunk and Dennis Smith Jr.‘s dunk with rapper J. Cole. Despite a limited field of contestants, the contest many feel is the highlight of NBA All-Star Weekend did not disappoint.

To that end, the NBA decided to put together a video of all the 50-point dunks in NBA history. Check them out in the video above, and see if you agree on their perfect scores.

Adam Silver on Dirk Nowitzki: ‘I saw him painfully running up and down the court, and I think it was clear that this was going to be his last season’

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CHARLOTTE – For the first time in NBA history, All-Star rosters each have 13 players.

Don’t expect that to be a permanent change.

Don’t expect it never to happen again, either.

In addition to the five starters chosen by fans, players and media and the seven reserves selected by coaches, NBA commissioner Adam Silver named Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki extra All-Stars.

“I didn’t think about it in terms of the next year or whether there will be other opportunities,” Silver said. “I think that, as a league, I like to think we have the flexibility, when there are special occasions.”

Except 1971-73, when they went a whopping 14 deep, All-Star rosters have had 10, 11 or 12 players. It’d been 12 the last 36 All-Star games.

Meanwhile, the league has grown larger than ever. There are now 30 teams.

The result: It’s harder than ever for players to become All-Stars.

The NBA should use adding Wade and Nowitzki as a springboard to keeping All-Star rosters at 13 players. Going forward, the extra spot should go to someone deserving based on their current play, not used as a lifetime achievement award. Two players snubbed annually now usually deserve All-Star status based on historical standards.

Plus, 13-player All-Star rosters would match regular-season active rosters, which expanded to 13 in 2011. Most current players have spent their entire career with 13-player active rosters. It has become strange to have just 12 in the All-Star game.

But Silver – who once said he supported expanding All-Star rosters – views this as a “special occasion.”

“I thought it was a very unique situation in which you had two NBA champions, two NBA players who had long, fantastic careers, both of whom had been All-Stars multiple times in their career,” Silver said, “and both of whom, in the case of Dwyane Wade, had already announced it was going to be his last season. In the case of Dirk Nowitzki, I saw him painfully running up and down the court, and I think it was clear that this was going to be his last season. And it just seemed like a wonderful opportunity to honor two greats.”

Whoa, that is harsh about Nowitzki. (Also accurate.)

This is a nice honor for Wade and Nowitzki. But it’s also an opportunity to normalize 13-player All-Star rosters.

Hopefully, the NBA isn’t slow to seize it.

Stephen Curry brings back jacket similar to one he wore at 1992 All-Star Weekend with dad Dell (photos)

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CHARLOTTE – Stephen Curry got legitimately fired up, pumping his fists and screaming, after making his last 10 shots – including his entire money-ball rack – in last night’s 3-point contest.

That contest doesn’t usually spark so much emotion, but this is a special time for Curry and his family. He’s back in North Carolina, where he grew up, for All-Star Weekend.

Curry honored the occasion with a sweet windbreaker reminiscent of the one he wore at 1992 All-Star Weekend. Back then, he was a 3-year-old accompanying his father, Dell Curry, a Charlotte Hornets guard competing in the 3-point contest.

Jasmine Watkins:

Adorable.