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Warriors’ hopes hinge on Kevin Durant coming back

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — When Game 4 was over, while Toronto fans were waving Canadian flags in celebration inside an otherwise-stunned Oracle Arena, a glum-faced Kevin Durant was outside the Golden State locker room to greet equally glum teammates as they sauntered off the floor.

That’s been his only visible role on game nights in the NBA Finals.

If that doesn’t change Monday, this series is probably going to end.

With it, in that case, so would Golden State’s reign as NBA champions. And then it’s possible that Durant, a free-agent-in-waiting, has played for the Warriors for the last time.

Durant limped off the floor at Oracle Arena a month ago – Game 5 of the second round – with what the team called a mild calf strain. It’s apparently the most severe “mild” calf strain in the history of injuries, because he hasn’t played since and there’s no way of knowing if that’s going to change on Monday.

And the Warriors clearly need him if they’re going to pull off a comeback against the Raptors in these NBA Finals.

“Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us at all,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “It’s just a matter of can we get it done or not, and we’re going to leave it all out there starting on Monday.”

That’ll be the case, with Durant or not.

Here’s reality: Any Durant is better than no Durant for the Warriors right now. His mere presence might throw the Raptors off just enough to create more chances for the rest of the Warriors. It’s really the only card the Warriors have left to play at this point.

Toronto took full control of the series Friday night, winning 105-92 for a 3-1 finals lead. Durant wasn’t on the bench for Game 4, and hasn’t been since getting hurt. He’ll be on the plane Saturday headed to Ontario, and his uniform will be packed inside the Warriors’ equipment bags.

If it goes unworn again, the Warriors are in big trouble.

“There’s been hope that he will come back the whole series,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “So that’s not going to change now. Obviously we hope to have him, but we’ll see what happens. We don’t make that final call … he don’t really even make that final call. His body will tell him if he can get out there or not. And if he can, great. And if not, you still got to try to find a way.”

They’ve been trying, with limited success.

Even with Durant.

The Raptors are 5-1 against the Warriors this season, even going 2-0 in the regular season when Durant scored 51 in one game and 30 in another. The Warriors just looked tired on Friday night, weary against a Toronto team that has had every answer in this series. They haven’t been able to muster the offense they need against Toronto.

With Durant, that story could be different.

But even if he plays on Monday, after not playing for a month, how good could he be anyway? Even someone as talented as Durant, who is in the conversation of “best player in the world” right now, can’t fake rhythm. Throwing him into an elimination game in the NBA Finals, after not playing for a month, is an unbelievably daunting ask.

It might be what’s required.

“We’re hoping he can play Game 5 or 6,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “And everything in between I’ve decided I’m not sharing because it’s just gone haywire. There’s so much going on, and so it doesn’t make sense to continue to talk about it. He’s either going to play or he’s not.”

The Warriors will practice on Sunday. With so much at stake, unless his calf muscle just won’t allow it, Durant will probably try to do something that day. It’s hard to believe that he doesn’t want to play, and the fact that he hasn’t been seen yet in this series just reiterates how not mild this “mild” strain was.

A shot at a third straight ring is slipping away. Maybe it was gone the second Durant got hurt. When the Warriors swept Portland in the Western Conference finals, there was silly talk about how the team might be better without Durant.

That talk is nonexistent now.

Any team is better – a lot better – with Durant. And if he finds a way back to the court, the Warriors might just get a lot better in a hurry.

Or else, this era could end Monday night.

“We’ve got to win one game,” Green said. “We win one, then we’ll build on that.”

Without Durant, winning that one game on Monday might be too tough an ask, even for the Warriors.

 

Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart will be Team USA captains in World Cup

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Team USA is just about ready to get underway for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China. The United States beat Australia on Wednesday night in a tune-up game, 102-86.

Several big-name NBA players have dropped out of participating with the Team USA roster this summer, but it appears that things have solidified as we enter late August. To that end, we now have confirmation about who Team USA’s captains will be moving forward.

According to Kemba Walker, he and fellow Boston Celtics teammate Marcus Smart will be the captains for the international squad in this year’s World Cup.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“We have a bunch of guys who don’t mind being the underdogs,” Walker told reporters. “We are hungry, and we are going to go out there to try and win a gold medal…I take pride in being a leader and guys looking to me and I’m here to set the tempo and bring my experience and energy.”

This is a point of pride for Celtics fans, and Walker and Smart appear to be two excellent choices as captains of this young Team USA roster.

It’s not going to be easy for Team USA to win the World Cup. Leadership and camaraderie has often been the deciding factor in the USA’s performance in international play. The team rallied around a strong locker room after their poor performance in the 2004 Olympics, coming together to win the gold in the 2008 Beijing games.

Walker and Smart should provide leadership and calmness for a team that will have many challengers who view them as vulnerable.

Minnesota’s Gersson Rosas says Andrew Wiggins must be “main contributor” to T-wolves

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Last season in Minnesota — with Jimmy Butler torpedoing the team and ending the Tom Thibodeau era — was pretty much the figurative definition of a train wreck.

Out of that wreckage, the Timberwolves think they found some positives. Ryan Sunders was thrown into the fire as a young coach but bonded with Karl-Anthony Towns. Robert Covington sparked the defense before his injury. Josh Okogie emerged as a player. This summer the team drafted a player with a lot of potential in Jarrett Culver.

Minnesota also brought in the aggressive Gersson Rosas out of Houston to take over as team president and start reshaping the franchise into one that can live up to the promise of Towns’ potential. For that to start to happen, meaning a return to the playoffs, Rosas pointed to a couple of things needing to go right this season. First and foremost, they need more — and more consistency — out of Andrew Wiggins. Via Timberwolves writer/podcaster Dane Moore.

Most Timberwolves fans, and the rest of the league, have moved on from Wiggins, who has four years, $122 million left on his max contract. While he averaged 18.1 points per game last season, he doesn’t get those buckets efficiently nor consistently, and the result is an average/slightly below-average wing whose contract is an anchor on the franchise. We’ve learned no contract is untradable in the NBA, but this is as close to that line as it gets — the sweeteners Minnesota would have to throw in right now make a deal are prohibitive.

The only thing Minnesota can hope for is that in year six Wiggins takes some steps forward he did not take in the last five. Maybe continuity helps, but we’re all going to need to see it before we believe it.

The other thing Rosas said Minnesota needs: More consistent defense from Towns.

Saunders seemed to connect with Towns and got him to defend, and Covington played MIC linebacker calling out coverages and getting guys in position before his injury. Rosas said Covington would be good to go at the start of the season, if so that gives the Timberwolves real hope that the defense will improve.

Whether all of that will be enough to get them into the playoffs in a deep West is another question, but at least Minnesota seems to be moving in the right direction now.

President Donald Trump awarding Medal of Freedom to NBA star Bob Cousy

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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump is set to present basketball legend Bob Cousy (KOO’-zee) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award is being handed out Thursday. It celebrates individuals with a wide range of achievements and is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 91-year-old Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame member played for the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1963. He won six league championships and the 1957 MVP title.

Cousy is also known for speaking out against racism. He was an ardent supporter of black teammates who faced discrimination during the civil rights movement.

Cousy will be the second person to receive the award this year from Trump. Golfer Tiger Woods received the honor in May.

Report: Shelly Sterling, members of Clippers organization heard Donald Sterling audio in advance and didn’t act

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In 2014, published audio of a racist rant by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling rocked the country.

It shouldn’t have. Sterling’s racism and sexism were well-established by then. But few cared. The audio poured gasoline on the fire and moved people to act. I wish it didn’t require that. But it did.

What if the audio didn’t become public through TMZ? Apparently, there might have been opportunity for another outcome.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The fact is Shelly and several people in the Clippers organization heard the recording and decided not to act on it or weren’t appalled enough to act on it. Maybe they didn’t understand how big a splash this tape could make.

It’s unclear when Shelly Sterling (Donald’s wife) and other members of the Clippers organization heard the audio. Maybe it was while TMZ was doing due diligence. If so, it was probably too late to change the course of history.

But perhaps it was when V. Stiviano – Donald’s girlfriend who made the original recording and was being sued by Shelly – was still the only one in possession of it. Stiviano was clearly upset with how things were going financially between her and the Sterlings. For the right price, maybe the audio would have gone away before becoming public.

I’m glad it didn’t happen that way. The world is better off knowing exactly who Donald Sterling is.

Yet, this leads to an incredible “what if?” What if the people who heard the audio in advance understood the magnitude, acted in Sterling’s best interest and paid to have the audio kept secret? Would Sterling still own the Clippers today?