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Blazers head home for Game 3, down 2-0 to Golden State

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Damian Lillard says Golden State did its job and protected home court. Now it’s time for the Trail Blazers to do the same.

The Western Conference finals between the upstart Blazers and the defending champion Warriors shifts to Portland on Saturday with Golden State holding a 2-0 advantage.

The Blazers were up 15 points at the half and led by eight with 4+ minutes left before the Warriors rallied – boosted by Kevon Looney‘s dunk with less than a minute left, and a game-sealing steal from Andre Iguodala – for a 114-111 victory in Game 2 on Thursday night.

Golden State capped the game with a 14-3 run to avoid falling into a tie in the best-of-seven series.

“Lost the game, but you know, their job was to take care of their home floor, and we’ve got an opportunity to do the same thing,” Lillard said.

Lillard, who grew up just a few miles from Oracle Arena, finished with 23 point and 10 assists, but was thwarted by Golden State’s defense, including Iguodala’s at the end. CJ McCollum had 22 points in Portland’s eighth straight playoff loss to the Warriors since 2016.

“We’ve got to bring that same energy at home, understand that this is the first time in 19 years we’ve been in the conference final,” McCollum said. “I know they (the fans) will be excited and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity playing at home and building on what we’ve done.

“Being down 0-2, it’s not what you would like to see but it’s our reality, so now we got to go get some at home.”

Stephen Curry led Golden State with 37 points. Warriors coach Steve Kerr said experience pushed Golden State at the end after Portland’s dominant play for most of the game.

“We’ve done this a few times, and yeah, we stole it for sure,” Kerr said.

Golden State, vying for a fifth straight trip to the NBA Finals, won the opening game against the Blazers 116-94, with Curry scoring 36 points to lead the way.

The series so far, and particularly Game 2, has been an entertaining battle between Curry and his younger brother Seth, who plays for the Blazers. It is the first time that brothers have played each other in a conference final.

The younger Curry had 16 points and four steals off the bench on Thursday, including a steal on his brother. Seth Curry even engaged in a little trash talk when his brother was at the free throw line as the game wound down.

“This was like the coolest experience I think I’ve ever had playing against him. We talked about the stage and he was amazing tonight,” Steph Curry said. “You know, every minute he was out there defensively, he was a pest. Made three big shots the fourth quarter that were very timely.”

He added with a smile that it must have been nerve-wracking for his parents, “but it worked out perfectly tonight: He played well and we won.”

Game 3 will be the first conference final game in Portland since 2000. The Blazers lost that series to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in seven games.

“I know they are going to be excited,” Stephen Curry said in noting the atmosphere at the Moda Center. “We’ve got to do whatever we can to hopefully take them out of it early. Knowing Portland is going to feed off that energy, it’s going to be tough to win up there, so we got to bring it.”

Back at home, the Blazers won’t need to deal with the return of Kevin Durant. The two-time reigning NBA Finals MVP is still out with a right calf injury and isn’t set to be re-examined until next week, meaning it’s likely he’ll miss the rest of this series.

Durant, who won’t travel with the team to Portland, averaged 34.2 points in the playoffs before he was injured in the third quarter of Golden State’s Game 5 victory over Houston.

The third-seeded Blazers bested Oklahoma City 4-1 in the opening round, then needed all seven games to get past the Denver Nuggets in the semifinals. The Warriors downed both the Los Angeles Clippers and the Houston Rockets in six games to get to the conference finals.

The winner in the West will go on to face the winner of the East series between the Toronto Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks.

AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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.