Josh Hart

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Mock NBA expansion draft: Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs

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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Pacific Division, Northwest Division and Southeast Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southwest:

Dallas Mavericks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: Seven of Dallas’ protections were easy calls. They’re all players locked up long-term. That left deciding between Tim Hardaway Jr, who has been a starter for the Mavericks but has a player option, and several other useful players.

Ultimately, the Mavs can’t afford to lose Hardaway, who has rediscovered his solid offensive play from his Hawks years. That leaves Justin Jackson and three big men in Dwight Powell (coming off a torn Achilles’) and Boban Marjanovic and Willie-Cauley-Stein (both backups for Dallas). The most likely to be selected player is probably Jackson, but that’s a risk Dallas has to take.

Houston Rockets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: No decision points for the Rockets. Houston is protecting the entirety of their eight-man rotation.

Chris Clemons could make for an interesting expansion pick because his scoring ability at guard. Isaiah Hartenstein has shown some flashes in the G-League as well.

Memphis Grizzlies

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Just how hard the Grizzlies’ protection decision were is a testament to how well their rebuild has gone. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton were all locks. Justise Winslow was just acquired at the trade deadline as the centerpiece of a deal. Tyus Jones is the ideal backup point guard behind Morant, so he stays as well. That left Jonas Valanciunas vs Kyle Anderson for the final protected spot. Valanciunas’ presence allows Jackson to play power forward, so the big man gets the final spot.

Memphis is gambling that Anderson’s slow-mo style of play and $9.5 million salary isn’t what an expansion team is looking for. Jontay Porter is another risk, but he’s got a lengthy injury history of his own. The Grizzlies will hope one of the other three is selected and might be willing to offer a small incentive to make it happen.

New Orleans Pelicans

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: New Orleans’ protections are cut and dry. Every player protected, minus Brandon Ingram, is signed for at least one more season. This includes several players on rookie scale contracts. Ingram will most assuredly be re-signed this summer, so that decision was easy as well.

The only gamble among the unprotected players is Nicolo Melli. He’s become a rotation player for the Pelicans, but he’s not as valuable as the younger players. The other three players are mostly out of the New Orleans’ rotation and not anyone the team will worry about if they are selected.

San Antonio Spurs

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Spurs are banking on keeping DeMar DeRozan this summer. He either opts in or re-signs in San Antonio. LaMarcus Aldridge is an easy decision as well. Dejounte Murray will start his extension this coming season. Everyone else is on their rookie scale contract, minus Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is a restricted free agent that the Spurs hope to retain this offseason.

San Antonio is gambling that the big salaries of Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will keep them from being selected. That exposes Trey Lyles, who has a relatively small guarantee, and young big man Chimezie Metu. The Spurs would like to keep both, but not at the expense of losing a rookie scale player.

Pelicans guard JJ Redick out at least two weeks with hamstring strain

(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The New Orleans Pelicans announced that guard JJ Redick is out at least two weeks with a strained left hamstring. Redick was injured during Friday night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, when he played just four minutes before exiting. New Orleans says Redick will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

In his first season with the Pelicans, Redick is averaging 14.9 points per game on 45.2% three-point shooting. He’s started 35 of the 54 games he’s played, but has transitioned to a bench role as New Orleans has gotten healthy and gotten Zion Williamson back in the lineup.

With Redick out, the Pelicans will lean on E’Twaun Moore for shooting off the bench. Moore has shot 38.2% from behind the arc this season. Jrue Holiday and Josh Hart will likely see their minutes increase as well.

Redick’s absence comes at a key point in the season for New Orleans. They’ve closed the gap to just 2.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. The Pelicans have a far easier strength-of-schedule the rest of the way compared to the Grizzlies, but can’t afford to be without their best shooter long-term.

LeBron James scores season-high 40, leads Lakers past Zion Williamson, Pelicans

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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James had 40 points and eight rebounds in his first career meeting with Zion Williamson while leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their sixth straight victory, 118-109 over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.

Anthony Davis had 21 points and 14 rebounds to remain unbeaten in his three meetings with his former team this season.

In the Lakers’ first game after an emotional memorial service for Kobe Bryant at Staples Center on Monday, James opened up a close contest with back-to-back buckets at the rim with about three minutes left. Danny Green sealed it for Los Angeles with his fifth 3-pointer with 51 seconds to play.

Williamson had 29 points and six rebounds in his first career showdown with James and Davis, his predecessor as the Pelicans’ centerpiece. In his 13th NBA game, Williamson scored at least 20 points for the ninth consecutive time, but managed only one field goal in the fourth quarter.

Brandon Ingram had 34 points against his former team, but just six in the final period as New Orleans lost for only the second time in seven games.

Williamson was still injured for the Pelicans’ first two meetings of the season with the Lakers, but the No. 1 overall pick’s delayed debut in Hollywood was as entertaining as everyone hoped. Williamson had several impressive dunks in his usual fearsome floor game, and only six missed free throws kept him from surpassing his career high of 32 points.

Davis is the leading scorer and rebounder in New Orleans franchise history, making six All-Star teams during his tenure. He went just 6 for 21 from the field in this meeting, failing to score 40 points against the Pelicans for the first time.

Lonzo Ball had 10 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, and Josh Hart scored three points in their second return to face the Lakers, who traded them to New Orleans along with Ingram last July for Davis.

The Pelicans also got three first-round draft picks in their princely haul for Davis, who had requested a trade. Davis has been just as good as the Lakers hoped in propelling them back to NBA championship contention, while the Pelicans are getting an All-Star season from Ingram alongside Williamson in an increasingly potent core.

James scored 11 points in less than two minutes early in the third quarter to stretch the Lakers’ lead to 14 points, but Ingram scored 10 in the period to keep it close.

Alex Caruso provided the Lakers with his usual injection of energy in the fourth quarter, particularly with a stunning block of Ball’s shot at the rim that left Ball flat on his back. Caruso finished with eight points and eight assists.

Watch Zion Williamson score season high 31, lead Pelicans past Trail Blazers

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NEW ORLEANS — Zion Williamson scored a season-high 31 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans used a dominant second half to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers 138-117 on Tuesday night.

Playing 28 minutes in just his ninth NBA game, Williamson used his 6-foot-6, 285-pound frame, quick feet and explosive vertical to have his way with every defender Portland tried against him. Williamson was either too strong, too fast, or both. He mixed spinning dribbles and sudden baseline drives into his usual arsenal of soaring transition dunks and tenacious putbacks.

JJ Redick scored 20 and Josh Hart had 17 points for New Orleans, which trailed by as many as 16 in the first quarter before taking command en route to a third straight victory. Jrue Holiday contributed 16 points and 10 assists, while Lonzo Ball added 10 points and 10 assists.

Portland star Damian Lillard scored 20 points – less than half of his 42-point average over his previous 10 games. But his playing time was limited in the fourth quarter when the Pelicans, who led by as many as 26, had put the game out of reach.

CJ McCollum had 18 points for the Trail Blazers, and Carmelo Anthony also finished with 18, but just four after halftime. Hassan Whiteside had 17 points and 14 rebounds.

After Williamson’s early dunk and free throws helped New Orleans surge to a 12-7 lead, Portland suddenly turned the tide with a 24-3 run that began with a pair of turnaround jumpers by Anthony, who later added a cutting dunk. McCollum hit a pair of 3s, Whiteside scored on a floater and a hook shot, and Lillard added a driving layup while being fouled.

That stretch put the Pelicans in a 31-15 hole, out of which they gradually climbed for the duration of the half.

Williamson, who scored 17 in the first half, helped fuel the comeback, throwing down Holiday’s alley-oop lob with two hands to cut Portland’s lead to 60-54. Hart and Jackson each hit 3s late in the period, Holiday added a slashing transition layup through a crowd of converging defenders and Williamson’s free throw cut Portland’s lead to 65-63 at halftime.

New Orleans then pushed in front in the third, when Hart scored 12 points on shots ranging from a pull-up in the lane, to a breakaway dunk after his steal, to a left-wing 3.

New Orleans scored 41 points in the period alone, leading by as many as 21 when Redick hit his second 3 of the quarter to make it 104-83.

James Harden’s 40 points too much for Zion Williamson, Pelicans to overcome

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HOUSTON — James Harden had 40 points and came an assist shy of a triple-double to lead the Houston Rockets to a 117-109 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday.

Rookie sensation Zion Williamson had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Pelicans, whose three-game winning streak was snapped.

Harden, who added 10 rebounds and nine assists, poured in 26 points in the first half and cooled down in the second half. But he still had his second straight game with 30 or more points after failing to score 30 in his previous four games as he worked through a shooting slump.

Jrue Holiday had three points before Josh Hart made one of two free throws to allow New Orleans to cut the lead to 110-107 with about two minutes to go.

Eric Gordon added a basket seconds after that and Danuel House hit a 3-pointer to make it 115-107 with less than a minute left to seal the victory.

Brandon Ingram had 28 points and 12 rebounds for New Orleans.

Houston went with its small lineup again as center Clint Capela missed his second straight game and the third in four games with a bruised right heel. Russell Westbrook added 22 points for the Rockets and Ben McLemore had 22 off the bench.

The Pelicans led by one to start the fourth and scored the first four points of the quarter to make it 97-92. But Harden made a 3-pointer before finding Westbrook for a layup to tie it up with about 10 minutes left.

The Pelicans were up by two points later in the fourth when House made a 3-pointer to put Houston up 102-101. Both teams missed numerous shots after that and Houston finally got back on the board with a layup by House with about seven minutes to go. Harden made a layup after that to push Houston’s lead to 106-101.

Hart made the first field goal for New Orleans in more four minutes after that to cut the lead to 106-103 midway through the fourth.

The teams combined to miss nine shots over the next 2 ½ minutes before Harden added two points on free throws that pushed Houston’s run to 9-2 and made it 108-103 with 3 ½ minutes to go.

This game was close throughout and Houston cut the lead to 93-92 entering the fourth quarter after McLemore made two of three free throws after he was fouled on a 3-pointer.