Irving’s early exit, Bucks’ best performance leads to 2-2 series tie with Nets


For much of the season, the Brooklyn Nets had to get by without at least one, sometimes two, of their big three. It didn’t matter much against regular-season competition levels, the Nets earned their way to 48 wins and the second-best record in the East.

Getting by without their stars is very different in the second round of the playoffs.

Especially against a Bucks team playing its best basketball of the series.

The dynamic of a physical, back-and-forth game changed midway through the second quarter when Kyrie Irving came down from a layup attempt and his foot landed on the foot of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Irving’s right ankle turned almost 90 degrees.

Irving limped back to the locker room and did not return to the game.

The Bucks took advantage of that in the third quarter, pulling away to a lead that got up to 19 and stayed in the teens most of the second half. Late in the fourth and Antetokounmpo put an exclamation mark on the win.

The Bucks topped the Nets 107-96 in Game 4, tying up the series at 2-2. The critical Game 5 is back in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

Steve Nash said after the game he had no idea if Irving would be available for Game 5 but that the X-rays were negative. An MRI will follow in the next 24 hours, painting a better picture of a timeline for Irving’s return.

Brooklyn remains without James Harden, who strained his right hamstring in the opening minutes of this series. While the Nets organization has been tight-lipped about his status, ABC’s Mike Breen said on the broadcast Harden just started doing some on-the-court work and has a ways to go before his return.

No Irving or Harden put a heavy load on Kevin Durant, who scored 28 points but was 9-of-25 shooting in Game 4. Irving had 11 points before his exit and still was the only other Net in double figures by the end of the game.

While the injury grabs the headlines, it should not detract from the fact the Bucks played their best game of the series by a longshot.

From the opening tip, their movement on offense was much better, both in the halfcourt and in transition — Milwaukee dug deep on defense, got stops, and with that started 18.8% of their possessions in transition with a ridiculous 147 offensive rating on those plays (stats via Cleaning the Glass). The Nets actually ran more, 19.6% of their possessions started that way, but they had a dreadful 60 offensive rating on those plays.

Mike Budenholzer also finally went to more Antetokounmpo at center minutes in this game, and it sparked a 16-2 run. It is a lineup a lot of fans and analysts have been calling for, and it worked.

Khris Middleton was not his All-Star self, but he was better, with 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting. P.J. Tucker had a spectacular game, playing strong defense on Durant while shooting 5-of-8 overall, 3-of-6 from 3, on his way to 13 points.

More importantly, the overall energy defensively was better from the Bucks, and they took advantage of the situation and got a comfortable win.

After stumbling badly in the first two games of this series and looking dead in the water, the Bucks are healthy and bring a renewed belief in themselves to the Game 5 party now.

Who the Nets will bring remains up in the air, but it could change the series.

Watch Trae Young get ejected for launching ball at referee


Trae Young screwed up and he knew it.

“It’s just a play he can’t make,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said via the Associated Press after the game. “I told him that. He knows it.”

With the score tied at 84 in the third quarter, Young had a 3-pointer disallowed and an offensive foul called on him for tripping the Pacers’ Aaron Nesmith. A frustrated Young picked up a technical foul for something he said.

Then walking back to the bench, Young turned and launched the ball at the referee with two hands. It was an instant ejection.


“There wasn’t a single part of him that tried to rationalize what happened,” Snyder said.

Young can expect a fine for this. It also was his 15th technical of the season, one more and he will get an automatic one-game suspension.

The Hawks went on to win 143-130, improving Atlanta to .500 at 37-37 and keeping them solidly as the No. 8 seed in the East.

Report: ‘Strong optimism’ Anthony Edwards could return to Timberwolves Sunday

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves
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What looked so bad when it happened may only cost Anthony Edwards three games.

Edwards rolled his ankle last week but could be back Sunday when the Timberwolves travel to Golden State, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.

Edwards is averaging 24.7 points and 5.9 rebounds a game this season, and he has stepped up to become the team’s primary shot-creator with Karl-Anthony Towns out for much of the season. The Timberwolves have been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when Edwards is off the court this season.

Towns returned to action a couple of games ago, and with Edwards on Sunday it will be the first time since November the Timberwolves will have their entire core on the court — now with Mike Conley at the point. With the Timberwolves tied for the No.7 seed in an incredibly tight West (they are 1.5 games out of sixth but also one game out of missing the postseason entirely) it couldn’t come at a better time. It’s also not much time to develop of fit and chemistry the team will need in the play-in, and maybe the playoffs.

Nets announce Ben Simmons diagnosed with nerve impingement in back, out indefinitely

NBA: FEB 24 Nets at Bulls
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Ben Simmons — who has been in and out of the Nets’ lineup all season and often struggled when on the court — is out indefinitely due to a nerve impingement in his back, the team announced Friday.

A nerve impingement — sometimes called a pinched nerve — is when a bone or other tissue compresses a nerve. Simmons has a history of back issues going back to his time in Philadelphia, and he had a microdiscectomy about a year ago, after he was traded to Brooklyn.

With two weeks and nine games left in the season, logic would suggest Simmons is done for the season. Coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that Simmons has done some individual workouts but nothing with teammates, however, he would not say Simmons is shut down for the season or would not participate in the postseason with Brooklyn.

Simmons had not played since the All-Star break when he got PRP injections to help deal with ongoing knee soreness. When he has played this season offense has been a struggle, he has been hesitant to shoot outside a few feet from the basket and is averaging 6.9 points a game. Vaughn used him mainly as a backup center.

Simmons has two fully guaranteed years and $78 million remaining on his contract after this season. While Nets fans may want Simmons traded, his injury history and that contract will make it very difficult to do so this summer (Brooklyn would have to add so many sweeteners it wouldn’t be worth it).

The Nets have slid to the No.7 seed in the West — part of the play-in — and have a critical game with the Heat on Saturday night.

Frustration rising within Mavericks, ‘We got to fight hard, play harder’


If the postseason started today, the Dallas Mavericks would miss out — not just the playoffs but also the play-in.

The Mavericks fell to the No.11 seed in the West (tied with the Thunder for 10th) after an ugly loss Friday night to a tanking Hornets team playing without LaMelo Ball and on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas is 3-7 with both Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić playing, and with this latest loss fans booed the Mavericks. What was Jason Kidd’s reaction? Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We probably should have been booed in the first quarter,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said…. “The interest level [from players] wasn’t high,” Kidd said. “It was just disappointing.”

That was a little different than Kyrie Irving’s reaction to the boos.

Then there is franchise cornerstone Luka Dončić, who sounded worn down, by the season and the losing in Dallas.

“We got to fight hard, play harder. That’s about it. We got to show we care and it starts with me first. I’ve just got to lead this team, being better, playing harder. It’s on me….

“I think you can see it with me on the court. Sometimes I don’t feel it’s me. I’m just being out there. I used to have really fun, smiling on court, but it’s just been so frustrating for a lot of reasons, not just basketball.”

Dončić would not elaborate on what, outside basketball, has frustrated him.

Look at seeds 5-10 in the West and you see teams that have struggled but have the elite talent and experience to be a postseason threat: The Phoenix Suns (Devin Booker, plus Kevin Durant is expected back next week), the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry and the four-time champions), the Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis and maybe before the season ends LeBron James).

Should the Mavericks be in that class? On paper yes, they have clutch playoff performers of the past in Dončić and Irving, but an energy-less loss to Charlotte showed a team lacking the chemistry and fire right now that teams like the Lakers (beating the Thunder) and Warriors (beating the 76ers) showed on the same night.

The Mavericks feel like less of a playoff threat, especially with their defensive concerns. They don’t have long to turn things around — and get into the postseason.