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Danny Green far more to Raptors than Kawhi Leonard whisperer

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DETROIT – As Kawhi Leonard‘s relationship with the Spurs deteriorated last season, Danny Green tried to diffuse tension at every turn. Green said it wasn’t easy trying to play peacemaker while focusing on his own game. But he cared greatly about San Antonio, where he spent eight years and grew into an NBA starter. He knew the Spurs rarely faced distractions like that and wanted to help.

Before joining San Antonio, Green played for the Cavaliers during LeBron James‘ first contract year. Rumors swirled that season about LeBron’s decision, which eventually became leaving Cleveland for Miami. So, Green was used to drama and the attention it draws.

“It’s a constant thing that’s going to happen, regardless, if you have any star player around,” Green said. “If there’s something going on, people want to know.”

Green has gotten quite accustomed to playing with stars, a talent he’s putting to good use in Toronto.

Traded to the Raptors with Leonard, Green carries a reputation for having special insight into his longtime star teammate. And Leonard appreciated Green’s attempts to tell a different story than what was portrayed in the media last season. “He knew what really was happening. He was there,” Leonard said. “So, I guess I can thank him for that.”

But when I asked Green how often he gets asked in Toronto about Leonard’s plans for free agency next year, Green cut me off before I even finished the question – “too many times.”

“I’m really not in his personal business like that,” Green said.

Green isn’t with the Raptors just to soothe and convey Leonard’s feelings. But Green still complements Leonard – and Toronto’s other stars – extremely well.

The Raptors have a couple actual All-Stars (Leonard and Kyle Lowry) and three other players who drew All-Star consideration (Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol).

Green’s 3-and-D game is an ideal fit.

He spreads the floor, shooting 43% on 3-pointers and moving on the perimeter in a way that forces defenses to track him. He can also comfortably defend all three perimeter positions.

His teammates and Toronto coach Nick Nurse rave about Green’s communication. Green is vocal on the court and keeps everything flowing.

The Raptors outscore opponents by 11.8 points per 100 possessions with Green on the court and get outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions without him.

Green’s effect is felt with each of his top teammates. Here are Toronto’s net ratings when its best players are on the court, depending whether Green is on (red) or off (black):

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In every pairing, the Raptors are way better with Green on. The stars just shine brighter with him around.

To be fair, these results are somewhat stacked. These six players often play together and lift each other. It isn’t just Green. But even further down the roster, the results are similar with Green on the court than off. He just makes everyone around him better.

Overall, Toronto plays like a 68-win team with Green and a 28-win team without him. That 40-win-pace difference ranks third in the NBA, behind the Thunder’s Paul George and the Warriors’ Kevin Durant (minimum: 500 minutes).

Here are the leaders in win-pace difference – how a team performs without a player on the left, with a player on the right and the difference in the middle:

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That win pace of 68 with Green on the court tops the league.

Green’s next step is helping the Raptors in the playoffs, where they’ve struggled. Green has a ring from San Antonio and even appeared to be leading for 2013 NBA Finals MVP through five games before the Heat came back to win the title.

This regular season followed by a strong postseason would send Green, who’ll turn 32 this summer, into free agency on a high note.

But attention on free agency is for Leonard, not Green. Really, attention period is for Leonard and other Toronto players, not Green.

Asked about Green, Nurse chuckled.

“We don’t talk about Danny very often,” the coach said. “That’s for sure.”

That should change.

Ibaka, whose Thunder thrice battled Green’s Spurs in the playoffs, said he always appreciated Green’s ability. But Ibaka’s admiration has only grown while playing with Green.

“He knows how to play defense. He can shoot the ball. Simple,” Ibaka said. “But he really impacts the game.”

James Harden ties career best with 61, Rockets beat Spurs 111-105

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden matched his career high with 61 points, including 27 in the first quarter, to lead the Houston Rockets to a 111-105 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.

Harden hit three straight 3-pointers to give the Rockets a 103-100 lead and scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-2 run late in the fourth quarter.

Harden topped the 50-point mark for the eighth time this season, compared with 10 such performances from the rest of the league combined. He matched his career-best total set earlier this season against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

The NBA’s leading scorer surpassed the 30-point mark in the second quarter and the 40-point mark with 9 minutes remaining in the third.

Before Harden’s late surge, the Spurs led by six points with 4 minutes left in the game. The Spurs had overcome a 15-point halftime deficit to tie the game at 81 entering the fourth quarter.

Harden was 7 of 10 from the field in the first quarter, including 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, and also went 10 for 12 from the free throw line. His 27 points in the period were the second-most in franchise history, trailing only Vernon Maxwell’s 30 in 1991.

Harden finished 9 of 13 from 3, 19 of 34 from the field and 14 of 17 from the free throw line.

Houston has won 13 of its last 15 games and eight of its last nine at home.

Bryn Forbes led San Antonio with 20 points, while Derrick White added 18 and DeMar DeRozan had 16.

Houston led 36-24 at the end of the first quarter and 62-47 at halftime.

 

LeBron James’ playoff streak ends at 13 years

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The last time LeBron James missed the playoffs, YouTube hadn’t yet launched to the public.

LeBron had reached the postseason every year since 2005, when his Cavaliers went 42-40 and finished ninth in the East – another good marker. The last time LeBron missed the playoffs, it was so long ago, an Eastern Conference team could be that good and not qualify.

But his Lakers were officially eliminated from the playoff race Friday with a loss to the Nets.

That ends LeBron’s postseason streak at 13 years – tied for the 13th-longest of all-time. Karl Malone and John Stockton hold the record, each playing in 19 straight postseasons.

Here are the longest playoff streaks of all-time:

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Obviously, LeBron joining the Western Conference put his playoff streak in greater jeopardy. And the Lakers’ fate has been known for a while.

Still, it’ll be a little jarring to watch a postseason that doesn’t include a player who ruled half the bracket for so long.

That said, LeBron might not have the longest playoff streak snapped this year. Tony Parker, who reached the playoffs in all 17 of his seasons with the Spurs, could fall short in his first season with the Hornets.

If Charlotte misses the playoffs, 76ers guard J.J. Redick is in line to hold the longest active streak at 13 years.

Here are the players with the longest active streaks that could continue this season.

Players are listed with the teams they made the postseason with during their streaks. If they haven’t reached the playoffs in their stint with their current team, that team is listed in brackets.

Players whose teams are currently in playoff position are in teal. Players whose teams are currently outside playoff position but not yet eliminated are in purple. Free agents who’d be eligible for the playoffs if they sign before the end of the regular season are in white:

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There’s no reason to believe Manu Ginobili will come out of retirement. But he has played in every postseason since missing the entire 2009 playoffs due to injury. It’s technically possible for him to play in the 2019 playoffs and keep his streak alive.

Which is more than LeBron can say.

Knicks’ fans chant “Free IT” as Isaiah Thomas sits on Nuggets bench

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Well played, Knicks fans.

Denver went into Madison Square Garden Friday night to be the latest team to defeat the Knicks. Isaiah Thomas, out of the rotation in Denver, was the only dressed player not to play for the Nuggets. That did not sit well with Knicks fans.

Denver has better on court options than IT — Monte Morris should get Most Improved Player votes — but I hope he gets fully healthy and lands somewhere next season where he gets a chance to show what he can still do.

Lonzo Ball severs ties with co-founder of Big Baller Brand

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LaVar Ball is the face of the Big Baller Brand, the shoe and apparel line that sponsors the Lakers’ Lonzo Ball and has been a successful marketing brand.

Alan Foster, a co-founder and part owner of BBB, served as the business manager, the guy behind the scenes. He has been a long-time friend and confidant of the Ball family.

Now Lonzo Ball has cut ties with Foster over inappropriate use of funds, something Ball confirmed in an ESPN story by Ramona Shelburne and Paula Lavigne.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball has severed ties with a co-founder of Big Baller Brand over concerns that the longtime family friend has a criminal past and also has not adequately accounted for the whereabouts of roughly $1.5 million from Ball’s personal and business accounts.

Ball told ESPN that he believes that Alan Foster, a friend of Lonzo’s father for almost a decade who owns 16.3 percent of Big Baller Brand, had “used his access to my business and personal finances to enrich himself. As a result, I have decided to sever all ties with Alan, effective immediately.”

According to documents and emails reviewed by ESPN, questions about Foster’s business decisions and communication were first raised last fall to Lonzo and LaVar by Lonzo’s financial adviser.

That advisor noticed the missing $1.5 million, and as Lonzo and others started to pull on that thread everything unraveled. If you want the details, Shelburne and Lavigne did great reporting on the issue.

A lot of players have family members or close friends as part of their “team” in one capacity or another. There’s nothing wrong with that — LeBron James has used that model to great success, although his friends worked, learned, and became well qualified in the areas they handled.

What’s smart is what Ball did — have someone independent who checks the books, does the taxes, and makes sure that the family/friends actually have the players’ best interest at heart. The stories of those that don’t are long and legendary, unfortunately.

Ball remains out for the rest of the season for the Lakers, recovering from a grade three ankle sprain and bone bruise. He will recover and be able to work out this summer.