Unstoppable Kevin Durant drops 50 on Clippers, propels Warriors to second round

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LOS ANGELES — “I’m Kevin Durant. You know who I am. Y’all know who I am.”

The Clippers knew exactly who Durant was before this series started. Everyone did. That’s a very different thing than stopping him.

“I promise we tried…” Lou Williams said after Durant dropped 50 on the Clippers and ended their playoff run. “We tried everything. We tried everything.”

Just two nights before, on Wednesday, Durant set a personal new career playoff high scoring 45 points. It wasn’t enough, the Warriors lost.

Friday night he upped his game, scoring 38 points in the first half and 50 for the game.

That was enough. The Warriors won 129-110, taking the series 4-2.

The Warriors will start their second-round showdown with a well-rested Rockets team Sunday in the Bay Area.

“That was one of the great performances I’ve ever seen in my life. And I’ve seen some good ones. I’ve been around some decent players,” said Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr, who was teammates with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and coaches Stephen Curry. “So he just carried us these last couple of games of the series. He’s the ultimate weapon because there’s no defense for Kevin. No matter what anybody does, he can get a good shot.”

It was more than Durant that propelled the Warriors Friday night. The focused Warriors showed up, for one. For most of the night Klay Thompson was a defensive beast, and as a team Golden State did a much better job on Lou Williams, trapping and being physical with him, pressuring him into a 3-of-20 night. Part of that was Williams missing shots he made the rest of the series, but for the Clippers they have to live and die with Williams. He’s been too good all season and deserved the standing ovation he got when taken out of the game.

“I was locked in from the jump,” Thompson said of his defensive effort. “I was just trying to play with intensity and make it tougher on whoever was in front of m. I thought I played well tonight.”

The Warriors also made an adjustment with Draymond Green setting very high picks for Stephen Curry, and the Clippers trapped Curry to get the ball out of his hands. However, the result was Curry finding a rolling Green to create a 4-on-3, making Green the playmaker, and he had 10 assists on the night, throwing lob after lob in the former home of Lob City. Green had a triple-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, too.

There was also cause for concern for the Warriors: Both Curry and Thompson tweaked their ankles.

“I’m sore, and I will be for the next few hours, but I anticipate going fully on Sunday,” said Thompson, who was limping noticeably after the game.

“It’s fine,” Curry said of his ankle, adding he will be ready to go on Sunday.

Curry tweaked his ankle chasing Landry Shamet across the lane halfway through the first quarter. He stayed in the game and drained a three on the next play, but later went to the locker room to have it worked on. He returned to the game but didn’t move the same after that.

Those injuries are exactly why the Warriors needed to take care of business in Game 5 on Wednesday. They didn’t. Now there is less than a 48-hour turnaround before they play at 12:30 Sunday, and both backcourt starters could be slowed a little.

That said, the Warriors, in general, were not concerned about the short turnaround.

“In the NBA, we’re pretty used to this schedule. We play a game, a day off, another game. We pretty much do that all year,” Durant said.

“We know [the Rockets] well. We kind of know what they’re going to do,” Kerr said. “They don’t make you think too much about what they’re going to do. They let you know. They’re going to come after you and pick-and-roll. We played them three times in the playoffs the last four years.”

The Warriors all were filled with praise for a Clippers team that won over a lot of fans — both in Los Angles and around the country — with their passionate, gritty style of play. The Clippers unleashed the beast in Montrezl Harrell, got a healthy Danilo Gallinari playing his best most of the season, got another Sixth Man of the Year season out of Lou Williams, and had Patrick Beverley’s feisty heart. And that on a team that started two rookies in this series and showed promise for the future.

“I love their team. I just love how they compete, how they fight and play for each other,” Kerr said. “That’s a beautiful basketball team. They made us work for everything. So they’ve got a bright future.”

The Clippers future could take a big step this summer, they are linked to Kawhi Leonard among other top free agents.

The Warriors future is Sunday. The question is, did the Clippers sharpen a team that was bored and grew dull during the regular season, better preparing them for the Rockets? Or, did they wear down Golden State and soften them up for Houston?

Magic Johnson ready to welcome D’Angelo Russell back to Lakers

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In 2017, then-Lakers president Magic Johnson traded D'Angelo Russell to the Nets and delivered a biting sendoff: “What I needed was a leader.”

Russell wasn’t ready to run a team on the court. His work ethic and maturity off it left plenty to be desired. Most infamously, he alienated his teammates by recording and posting a video of Nick Young discussing sleeping with women other than his fiancé.

But Russell went to Brooklyn and became an All-Star.

So, with rumors swirling about Russell returning to Los Angeles in free agency, Johnson is changing his tune.

Johnson, via Bill Oram of The Athletic:

“Now he’s ready,” Johnson said. “He’s much more mature. I said the only thing, he was immature back then. He could always score, but the guys would never play with him because of what he did (with the Young video). But now all those guys are gone and he’s on another level now.”

This is peak Johnson – talking about players on other teams (no longer tampering), spinning the story to make himself look good and directing the Lakers’ roster without having to take responsibility for it.

There is truth to what Johnson is saying here. Russell is more mature now. It would have been difficult to keep him in a locker room with teammates who didn’t trust him.

But Johnson is also the one who moved Russell rather than betting on his talent. With the right nurturing, Russell could have become a star in Los Angeles in the first place. The Lakers wouldn’t have to use all their cap room to sign him now. They could have already had him.

It’s a little disingenuous for Johnson to present this as him being right all along.

Magic GM John Hammond: ‘We have no idea’ when Markelle Fultz will play

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Markelle Fultz has played just 33 games, the most recent one in November, since the 76ers drafted him No. 1 overall in 2017. Philadelphia traded him to the Magic in February, and he didn’t play at all for Orlando last season.

When will Fultz return?

Magic general manager John Hammond on 96.9 The Game:

He will not play in summer league with us. We didn’t think there was any way that he was going to do that. We didn’t plan on him doing that. So, probably not the place for him right now.

But overall, I can just say that he’s doing well.

He’s working extremely hard. He’s in good shape. His weight is good. His overall body-fat percentage is very good. So, if you look at him, you say, “Wow, he looks great.” So, it’s just a matter of him just continuing to get more comfortable, continuing for him to get himself in a position where he’s ready to step on the floor and help us.

And look, we have no idea when that’s going to be. We’re hoping much, much sooner than later. But once again, we’re trying to do this the best we can, and that’s have that word of patience.

We want to have patience with him and get him ready and put him on the court when he can be most productive.

Patience is probably the right approach, because I don’t know an alternative. But I’m also not sure where patience gets anyone.

Fultz’s issues run so deep. It doesn’t appear time is solving anything. Does Fultz have a long-term injury that’s actually healing? Does he have a mental block that’s actually being addressed? It’d be nice to see some signs of progress.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen in summer league. The next opportunity for Fultz to publicly display his ability will likely be training camp.

But the way this has gone, I have no expectations of Fultz being ready for that, either.

Bradley Beal: Wizards told me they won’t trade me

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The Wizards don’t have a long-term general manager.

They do have a plan for Bradley Beal.

Washington coach Scott Brooks, acting general manager Tommy Sheppard and owner Ted Leonsis have each conveyed it to the star guard.

Ben Golliver of The Washington Post:

Beal said that Leonsis, Sheppard and Coach Scott Brooks have each independently told him in recent weeks that he would not be moved.

“They’ve been very transparent and that’s been great,” Beal said. “They’re not keeping me in the dark about anything, even about the trade rumors. . . . It’s great having that peace of mind.”

Leonsis is the most important deliverer of that news. He’s the only one guaranteed to last into a new front-office regime.

But Leonsis also said last January the Wizards wouldn’t trade Otto Porter. They dealt him to the Bulls a week later.

These declarations are obviously non-binding, and Leonsis doesn’t have a great track record of sticking by his word. The owner might say John Wall aggravating his injury changed Washington’s outlook. But that’s the point. Situations change.

What happens if the Wizards are one of the NBA’s worst teams next season? That’s quite possible given their roster/cap outlook entering free agency. Would they keep Beal through a year of his prime even if playoff-bound teams are making lucrative trade offers?

And what if Beal reaches the final season of his contract? Would Washington keep him and just hope for the best in unrestricted free agency?

How long does this no-trade pledge last?

The Wizards reportedly plan to offer Beal the largest extension possible this summer. That’d be worth $111,786,897 over three years.

That’s also way less than he could get by playing out the final two years of his contract and hitting 2021 free agency. Especially if he makes an All-NBA team in 2020-21, which would make him super-max eligible. Or he could make an All-NBA team next season that would make him eligible for a super-max extension, which would be worth the same as a new super-max contract as a free agent.

Beal’s projected max contracts:

  • Extension in 2019: $111,786,897 over three years ($35,134,668 per year)
  • Super-max extension in 2020: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
  • Re-sign regular-max in 2021: $214 million over five years ($43 million per year)
  • Re-sign super-max in 2021: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
  • Leave in 2021: $159 million over four years ($40 million per year)

So, Beal will likely reject an extension this summer and wait until he makes an All-NBA team or his contract expires, whichever comes first. That’d at least be the financially prudent path.

In the meantime, he can know the Wizards say they won’t trade him – however far that assurance goes.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard meeting with Clippers set for July 2

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Kawhi Leonard will tip the balance of power this summer.

Whatever the Finals MVP decides with his free agency — stay with the Raptors, come to the Clippers, something else entirely — will change the landscape of the NBA. Wherever he goes that team will be an instant contender, with the Raptors and Clippers long having been the frontrunners and everyone else trying to get their foot in the door.

His decision likely will not drag out, but it’s not going to be LeBron James last summer “let’s do this so I can go on vacation” instant, either, if we believe this report from Frank Isola of The Athletic.

Of course, this report would be unofficial/off the record because teams cannot yet officially reach out to players or agents, and we know there is no tampering in the NBA. (Read that last sentence again in your best sarcastic voice to get the full impact.)

In Los Angeles, the Clipper hype has led to billboards.

If the Clipper meeting is July 2, in Los Angeles we presume, the question becomes when is the Toronto meeting? June 30/July 1 in Toronto, giving the Clippers the last shot? Or, are the first couple of days meetings with other teams that are longshots — Knicks, Lakers, Mavericks, etc. — just to get them out of the way.

It has long been rumored to be a two-team race for Leonard’s services. On the one hand is the chance to return home and become the leader of a 48-win Clippers team poised to be a threat for years to come if they land a superstar. (The Lakers have never been a serious consideration for Leonard, according to sources, for a variety of reasons. Let’s just say he’s not a superteam kind of guy.)

On the other hand is a Raptors team where he was given room to recover and be himself, and where he just won a ring. A city where he was fully embraced by the fans.

Also remember Leonard is at eight seasons of NBA service, meaning the max of this next contract is for 30 percent of the cap (a starting salary around $33 million next season). After two more seasons, he will have 10 years of service and be eligible for 35 percent of the cap (a starting salary of $38 million right now, and with the cap expected to go up the next couple of years it will be higher than that in reality). Despite the injury history, is Leonard willing to bet on himself and sign a two-year contract to get to the larger max, then re-sign?

The leading theory floating around the league now is Leonard signs a short deal in Toronto, then re-enters the market in a year or two. But it’s just a theory. Nobody really knows because Leonard does not tip his hand. About the only thing we seem to know his he will meet with the Clippers on July 2.