Associated Press

Paul George has spoken to Kawhi Leonard about free agency experience

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Paul George was forcing his way out of Indiana and his people were making it clear — he was going to be a Laker. Any other team that traded for him it was going to be a rental. But Oklahoma City jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over, and they put together the best package (Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis). It paid off. After a season in Oklahoma City, George re-signed with the Thunder last summer and did not even meet with the Lakers. This season George is having an MVP-level season.

Kawhi Leonard‘s relationship with the Spurs organization had deteriorated last season and he pushed last summer to be traded, with his camp wanting him to come to Los Angeles (although the Clippers were always rumored as the more likely destination). But Toronto jumped in and rolled the dice they could win him over in a year (he’s a free agent in July), and they put together the best trade package (DeMar DeRozan was at the heart of it).

Sound familiar? With the Thunder in Toronto (and beating the Raptors) George was asked if he and Leonard had spoken about free agency, and he said they had, but George was not about to drop any details.

There are all sorts of rumors and speculation floating around the league about Leonard, with some recent buzz his camp is still pushing for Los Angeles (but are divided on which team). The Clippers are making their presence felt around him and I had heard from sources, dating back to last Summer League, it was the more likely destination of the LA teams (Leonard is not a fan of drama, and LeBron James‘ Lakers know drama better than TNT). There are also rumors that a deep playoff run could keep Leonard in Toronto, with an organization that has bent over backward to accommodate him and keep him healthy with time off to rest that quad tendon.

The fact is, nobody knows what Leonard is thinking. Leonard doesn’t talk, and when he does he doesn’t say anything. He isn’t on social media and doesn’t look at it. He is less concerned with his brand and image than any star in the league. The team of advisors around him is not experienced or predictable.

After the Raptors’ season ends, whenever that is, he will make a decision. How much whatever George told Leonard plays into that, we’ll likely never know. It’s not like Leonard is talking about it.

Bucks Malcolm Brogdon out with minor plantar fascia tear, likely misses start of playoffs

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Injuries are going to play a role in the Eastern Conference playoffs, with little margin between Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston (sorry Indiana, but the injury to  Victor Oladipo leaves it a step back of these teams in the postseason).

Which is why this is such a blow.

Bucks starting two guard Malcolm Brogdon has a minor plantar fascia tear in his right foot, and while the team will not put a timeline on it he reportedly will be out 6-8 weeks. That would have him missing at least the first round of the playoffs, and probably more.

The Bucks are banged up at the guard spot, although on the bright side George Hill returned from injury yesterday.

Brogdon plays a key role in the Bucks success, scoring an efficient 15.6 points per game, taking almost all his shots either from three or in the paint. He is simply a smart player who can create for himself or others and is a solid defender. There’s a drop off for the Bucks with him out of the lineup.

Milwaukee will still finish with the best record in the NBA and can win a first-round series without Brogdon, but the Bucks will need him in the second round and beyond if they are going to make the kind of run they expect.

Paul George says he chose Thunder because of comfort level, wanting to see “what if?”

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Paul George and his camp were not subtle. When he was forcing his way out of Indiana, they told anyone and everyone he was going to the Lakers as a free agent. Everyone heard it, including the Lakers and their fans, who then saw George as a sure thing. Oklahoma City and its man with the hammer Sam Presti took a chance, traded Victor Oladipo away (which worked out well for Indiana) and trusted they and Russell Westbrook could win him over with their team, culture, and city.

They did. George re-signed with OKC without even meeting with the Lakers (which surprised the franchise and their fans, but the writing was on the wall at the end).

It worked for George, who is playing with a new level of confidence this season, not just trying to fit in next to Westbrook. He is averaging 28.8 points per game, 8.4 rebounds, is defending so well he is in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion, and he has made himself a legitimate MVP candidate.

Still, PG13 gets asked about not becoming a Laker, especially with Los Angeles fans looking at the wreckage of this season and thinking “what if?” But it was George’s own “what if” — after the Jazz eliminated the Thunder last playoffs — that sealed George’s re-signing with Oklahoma City, he told Master Tesfatsion at Bleacher Report.

“Looking back on it, if I would’ve made another decision, I would have looked back at that one year in Oklahoma and thought, ‘What if?'” George says. “That’s what made this decision a little easier—that I didn’t give everything I had….

Once I get locked on to something, I try to stay there for that reason. If I think about any other decision, my head will be spinning. Once I got locked on to staying, I was all-in for it….

“I think my words kind of threw people off because they read one sentence, and it’s, ‘Oh, he’s going to L.A.,'” George says. “I wanted to go to L.A. I said that, and I voiced that ever since the Pacers were just about to trade me. But, it didn’t happen. I went somewhere else. I loved the situation. I was wowed by the situation. That’s where I feel comfortable at.”

George was a free agent and had earned the right to make any decision he wanted. He chose a quieter community because that’s where he was comfortable.

One look at his play this season and it’s obvious he made the right decision for himself. Which is all that ultimately matters.

Adding point guard depth, Orlando signs Michael Carter-Williams to 10-day contract

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The Orlando Magic believe they can make the playoffs. So do the projection models. The Magic are the nine seed, 1.5 games behind the Heat and the final playoff spot (Orlando is three back in the loss column). Orlando’s advantage is a much easier schedule the rest of the way — so much so that fivethirtyeight.com gives the Magic a 59 percent chance of making the playoffs and the Heat just 35 percent despite their lead. However, Orlando keeps shooting itself in the foot with losses, such as ones to Memphis and Orlando.

Point guard play has not been a strength of this season’s Magic and it needs to be if the playoffs are to be a reality. D.J. Augustin starts and Jerian Grant plays behind him at the one, but when Isaiah Briscoe needed arthroscopic knee surgery it left the Magic wanting more depth at the position.

Enter Michael Carter-Williams.

Carter-Williams played in just 16 games for the Rockets this season (much of that in garbage time), he was a spectator on the bench or in a suit most nights until the Rockets traded him to the Bulls in a salary dump (Chicago waived him). Carter-Williams is not a good shooter and turns the ball over more than coaches would like.

Carter-Williams is the 2014 Rookie of the Year, when he beat out Orlando’s Victor Oladipo. Their careers have gone in very different directions since.

What Carter-Williams brings is experience in coach Steve Clifford’s system — MCW played 52 games for Clifford in Charlotte last season. The Magic pick up a veteran who can walk right in and know the plays.

This isn’t a move-the-needle signing, but the Magic can use all the help they can get right now.

Three Things to Know: Nikola Jokic’s leaner at buzzer tops Luka Doncic dunk

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Nikola Jokic’s leaner at buzzer beats Luka Doncic dunk in Denver win. Dallas may have lost six in a row and 11-of-12 coming into Thursday night, but do not question how badly Luka Doncic wants to win these meaningless games (or Dallas) down the stretch. Doncic doesn’t do tanking. He may be slumping (shooting 21.6 percent from three in his last five games) but it’s not because he’s mailing it in.

Just ask Denver, who watched him put up 24 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Thursday — and he threw down a dunk over two Nuggets with 5.8 seconds left that looked like a game winner.

Then Nikola Jokic topped it.

Denver came from 10 down in the fourth quarter, tied it on a Paul Millsap bucket that gave him 33 on the night, got lucky Doncic missed a free throw after being fouled on his clutch dunk (that and-1 point would have had Dallas up two), then gave the ball to their star with everything on the line and he hit a well-defended leaner for the win.

That shot crushed Doncic.

Denver’s win keeps them just one game back of Golden State for the top seed in the West, maintaining pressure on the Warriors not to mail in the rest of the season.

2) Pacers will not go quietly, beat Thunder to hang on to three seed in East. Indiana is not folding. First, Victor Oladipo went down and people expected the Pacers to crash and burn, but they just kept on finding ways to win. Then the Pacers hit (and are still in the middle of) a brutal patch of the schedule, but they refuse to roll over. If Philadelphia is going to be the three seed, it will have to pry it from the Pacers’ cold, dead hands. Indiana is not going away.

Just ask the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Pacers held on to the three seed for another night, coming from 19 down in the second half for a clutch home win. They can thank Wesley Matthews, the guy they picked up to fill some of Oladipo’s minutes. Matthews was the closer. First, he played good defense on Paul George.

Then he had the putback game winner (Russell Westbrook watched the ball, slid into the middle of the lane and didn’t put a body on him).

As always with the Pacers it was a team effort — Domantas Sabonis scored 26 and keeps making his Sixth Man of the Year case. Coach Nate McMillan may have found something with a lineup of Matthews, Sabonis, Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Darren Collison. That group outscored the Thunder 23-10 down the stretch. The group played so well Thaddeus Young told coach Nate McMillan not to sub him in and break up what was working.

It was too much for OKC despite Russell Westbrook’s triple-double and Paul George dropping 36 points.

Indiana is half-a-game up on Philly for the three seed, with Boston 1.5 back. Indy still has work to do — six of their next seven are on the road, all against playoff-bound teams — but don’t expect them to fold.

3) Kyrie Irving triple-double leads Boston to a gritty win. Pretty or ugly, the wins all count the same. And the Celtics need those wins.

The first-half Thursday was ugly for the Celtics. Boston’s shaky transition defense was getting abused by a Kings’ team that always plays in fifth gear. Plus, the Celtics shot 1-of-12 from three. Sacramento led by as many as 17 and seemed in control.

Then the second half saw toughness from Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown getting buckets on his way to 22. Then when Boston needed it, Kyrie Irving stepped up, finishing with a 31 point, 12 assists, 10 rebound triple-double.

Boston remains the five seed in the East, but the Celtics may be playing the best ball of any East contender entering the playoffs. In the postseason, grit goes a long way, and Boston has shown it has plenty when needed.