Sterling Brown

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J.R. Smith reportedly meets with Bucks to talk contract

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After five seasons in Cleveland, the Cavaliers waived J.R. Smith. The 34-year-old veteran wing is not part of the Cavaliers future, and by waiving him before the guarantee date they only had to pay him $4.4 million of this $15.7 million salary.

That makes Smith a free agent.

He sat down with the Bucks on Thursday, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Bucks can only offer minimum contracts at this point.

Smith will turn 34 before next season starts and his skills are in decline, he shot just 30.8 percent from three last season. The Bucks will likely start Khris Middleton and Wesley Matthews on the wing with Sterling Brown, Pat Connaughton, and Donte DiVincenzo behind them. They have the roster spot to make the addition. The questions are does Smith fit, does he want the small role that’s really available, and how often will he wear a shirt around the facility?

Report: Bucks signing Wesley Matthews for minimum salary

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The Bucks – with enough plausible deniability to claim other reasoning – have generally taken the cheap route this offseason.

But it helps when a solid player like Wesley Matthews is willing to sign for the minimum.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Milwaukee used all its cap space (and then some) to re-sign Brook Lopez and George Hill. The Bucks then committed their room exception to Robin Lopez. That left only a minimum salary for Matthews, who grew up in Wisconsin and played at Marquette.

Matthews might be one of the best signings this summer. Rotation-level wings rarely come this cheap. He might even start at shooting guard with Malcolm Brogdon departing.

None are as good as Brogdon, but Milwaukee can cobble together a solid rotation between Matthews, Hill, Pat Connaughton, Sterling Brown and Donte DiVincenzo.

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Down 0-2, it’s hard to see Houston’s path past Warriors

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Down 0-2, it’s hard to see Houston’s path past Warriors. And that’s not because of Harden’s eye. At some point, the Houston Rockets need to win a game in Oracle Arena to take the series from Golden State.

However, it feels like they had their chances and missed. The Warriors came into Game 1 on short rest, with bad ankles, turned the ball over 20 times, and still won. Game 2 is where the Rockets started to find their flow from distance, hitting 17 threes and shooting 42.5 percent from deep. On the season, the Rockets were 26-7 when making at least 17 threes (and 2-0 when they made exactly 17 threes). Houston racked up a 114.7 offensive rating in Game 2 that was right at their elite regular-season average.

Yet the Rockets head home for Game 3 down 0-2. The Warriors won Game 2 115-109 and seemed in control most of the way.

Houston has to win 4-of-5 in this series and the Warriors have yet to have that monster, can’t-miss-a-shot breakout game we all know is coming at some point.

Well, Warriors not named Kevin Durant have not had those games. KD has been the best player on the floor in this series — through two games he has matched James Harden’s 64 point total, plus KD has provided key defense and rebounds.

Steve Kerr was not messing around this series, he went all in from the opening tip — he started the Hamptons’ five lineup — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Durant, and Draymond Green — in both games. And leaned on that group. In Game 2 that lineup played just shy of half the game (23.7 minutes) and was a +12.

Iguodala has had a bounce in his step at age 35 and played well, with 16 points, five rebounds, four assists, and some good defense in Game 2. The Warriors also were dominant on the offensive glass in Game 2, with 18 offensive rebounds, creating second chances on 37 percent of missed shots. Houston cannot allow that many extra shots and chances for Golden State.

Despite that, the Rockets hung around in this one, and there are things that can improve at home. Chris Paul has been good — 18 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and some good defense in Game 2 — and has matched Curry’s output. However, the Rockets need last season’s CP3. Austin Rivers had an impressive night off the bench. Eric Gordon has been knocking down shots and can get hot.

If those guys can take a step forward alongside a healthy Harden — more on that in item No. 2 — and the Rockets can win Game 3 at home. They need to win Game 3 at home. Or this series is really over.

One other note on Game 2: Notice we have not mentioned the officiating. Both teams were on their best behavior, there was very little chirping at the officiating crew about calls. Clearly, that came as a directive from both coaches and through team leaders — focus on the game — plus the quick-trigger, no-nonsense crew of Scott Foster being there had teams thinking twice about complaining. It was a nice change of pace from Game 1.

2) James Harden gets hit in the eye and bled from it. It bothered him in Game 2, and he doesn’t know what comes next. The Rockets need the full James Harden experience in Game 3 to keep their season hopes alive.

But he needs to be able to see the basket clearly for that to happen. Will he be able to? After the game he was squinting and bothered by the camera lights in the interview room.

“It hurt,” Harden said of the inadvertent swipe by Draymond Green that injured his left eye. “I could barely see. Just try to go out there and do what I can to help my teammates. It’s pretty blurry right now.

“Can’t see nothing. Barely can see.”

Will that be better by Game 3 on Saturday? Hopefully. Time off should help. But nobody really knows.

Harden still had 29 points on 9-of-16 shooting after the injury, he got to the rim and made threes, but his eye was clearly bothering him. To win in this series the Rockets need Harden to be the best player on the floor, to dominate, and his eye injury is not going to help with that.

Green, to his credit, checked in on Harden both on the court at the time of the injury and after the game.

There is one other injury to track — Stephen Curry dislocated the middle finger on his left (non-shooting) hand in the first quarter.

The training staff popped it back in, taped up his finger and Curry was back out there. Still, it’s worth watching to see if that impacts Curry’s ball handling or flow in Game 3.

3) Milwaukee makes its adjustments, dominates third quarter, evens series at 1-1. Brad Stevens, the ball is in your court.

That’s because Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer made his adjustments for Game 2. For one, he started Nikola Mirotic in place of Sterling Brown. However, the bigger change was going to a switching-heavy defense, something Milwaukee did little of in Game 1 (and not a bunch during the season).

“I mean they’ve got the guys who can do that,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said from the podium after the game. “They did it last year a lot and so that’s an easy thing for them to adjust to. And I thought they did a really good job of it. Basically, Giannis and smaller were doing that.”

It worked. The game was close until Milwaukee went on a 24-2 run in the third quarter. Boston scored just two points in the final seven minutes of the third, and those misses (and a few turnovers) fueled chances for the Bucks to get out and run, and we all know Giannis Antetokounmpo is unstoppable in transition.

The Bucks won 123-102, dominating the second half and tying the series at 1-1 heading back to Boston.

Antetokounmpo looked like an MVP to be with 29 points and 10 rebounds, but he got help. Khris Middleton was 7-of-10 from three. Eric Bledsoe was a force on both ends of the court.

Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving struggled going 4-of-18 shooting and not getting generating a call that sent him to the free throw line. He wasn’t alone in struggling, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier were each 2-of-10, Jaylen Brown 5-of-12, Gordon Hayward 1-of-5.

At home for Game 3, expect the Celtics to shoot better. Stevens will make some counter adjustments, and we are going to have a long and intense series on our hands.

Giannis Antetokounmpo aggravates ankle, leaves game vs. Clippers (VIDEO)

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo wants to fight through a right ankle injury that has hampered him over the last two weeks.

But the Milwaukee Bucks forward may need some rest to get fully healthy before the playoffs start in mid-April. And his status was of prime concern after the Bucks’ 128-118 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo scored 34 points and grabbed nine rebounds before aggravating his ankle injury in the fourth quarter as the Bucks snapped Los Angeles’ six-game winning streak. Milwaukee (57-19) reduced its magic number to two for clinching home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Antetokounmpo went to the floor and held his right ankle after dunking with 7:46 left in the game, and he immediately went to the bench and didn’t return. He missed two games last week with a sprain to the same ankle, initially suffered on March 17 vs. Philadelphia.

“I’m definitely working on it, trying to get it healthy, stronger,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m trying to get my mobility back. It’s not going to be easy.

“Usually when you sprain your ankle, you stay out for two, three, four games. But I don’t like missing games. I’ve got to work through it while playing. I’ll be ready to play until coach (Mike Budenholzer) tells me not to play.”

The Bucks open a three-game trip in Atlanta on Sunday before finishing the season with three home games.

“I think we all are hoping he can push through and be healthy going forward,” Budenholzer said. “We’ll see how he’s feeling after tonight and either bring out the bubble wrap or keep playing.”

Khris Middleton had a season-high 39 points with eight rebounds and five assists as Milwaukee won its fourth straight. Eric Bledsoe added 15 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, and Sterling Brown finished with 15 points.

Middleton hit 16 of 24 shots from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.

“I’m feeling good,” Middleton said. “The Houston game was just a dud. I had a lot of great shots and air-balled most of them, I felt like (on Tuesday in the Bucks’ victory). Tonight, I came out with the same mentality, just being aggressive and pick my spots. I was just trying to find a rhythm.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Clippers (45-31) with 21 points, and JaMychal Green added 16 and Wilson Chandler 15. Los Angeles finished its road trip at 3-1.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers was impressed with Antetokounmpo’s play and joked that the Bucks star and Houston’s James Harden should share the MVP award so “everybody in the world is happy.”

“The thing I like about Giannis the most is his temperament,” Rivers said. “He is not messing around. He is not there to put on a show. Every game is a competition for him. I love that. For me, of all the things he does, that is the No. 1 thing that stands out with me.”

The Bucks led 67-46 at halftime as Antetokounmpo had 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Middleton added 15 points and Brown 10 as Milwaukee shot 55.8 percent from the field (24 of 43).

“I think the second quarter stood out,” Budenholzer said after his team outscored the Clippers 39-21, in the period. “We were able to get quite a bit of separation and weather the storm in the second half.”

Los Angeles went on an 8-1 run to open the second half, cutting its deficit to 14 and forcing Budenholzer to call a timeout.

The Bucks led 79-69 before going on a 9-2 run capped by a 3-pointer by Pat Connaughton, putting them ahead 88-71 with 2:49 left in the third quarter.

Middleton completed a four-point play late in the quarter and had 13 points in the period as the Bucks took a 100-77 lead entering the fourth.

Bucks’ Nikola Mirotic reportedly out 2-4 weeks with sprained thumb, fracture

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The Milwaukee Bucks have been hit hard by the injury bug lately. Giannis Antetokounmpo did not play against the Lakers Tuesday due to an ankle sprain. Malcolm Brogdon is out likely until some time in the playoffs with a partially torn plantar fascia in his right foot. Sterling Brown, Pau Gasol, and George Hill also are all listed as out on the Bucks’ Wednesday injury report.

And now this:

This likely means 2-4 weeks on the shelf, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. This likely means Mirotic is out until about the start of the playoffs.

All those injuries — with Brogdon likely stretching into the postseason — makes one wonder how deep a playoff run the Bucks can make? They need to get healthy to have a shot with how little margin for error there is among the big four in the East.

Mirotic was injured against the Lakers Monday, which might have been his most complete game since coming to Milwaukee with 23 points and six rebounds (for of them offensive).

Mirotic has averaged 11.6 points per game while shooting 35.6 percent from three since coming to the Bucks. Milwaukee went out and got him for what the team hopes will be a deep playoff run where Mirotic can provide floor spacing and smart play, as he did last season in New Orleans. This injury will cut into his time to mesh with his new Bucks teammates.