The Raptors punched their ticket to the franchise’s first NBA Finals, and they could get a key piece back for their matchup with the Warriors.
According to Ryan Wolstat, the Raptors are ‘quietly optimistic’ forward OG Anunoby will return at some point during The Finals, which begin Thursday.
Per sources, the Raptors are quietly optimistic that they’ll get OG Anunoby back at some point vs. Warriors in the NBA Finals. They don’t know for sure, but spacing of games should help. Also long breaks between most games helps Kawhi quite a bit.
— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) May 26, 2019
Anunoby has missed the entire postseason after having an appendectomy April 12. Anunoby was seen working out before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals in Toronto.
OG Anunoby is out here getting some (very) light work in. First time I’ve seen him on the court pre-game since the appendectomy. pic.twitter.com/KZVpLylxfz
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) May 25, 2019
Anunoby averaged 7.0 points and 2.9 rebounds in 20.2 minutes per game and served as one of Toronto’s best defenders.
The Finals start Thursday night in Toronto (9 ET, ABC).
Andre Roberson back on floor with Thunder after long layoff due to injury
It’s been two and a half years since Roberson has played in an actual game, but he participated in the Thunder’s opening practice, which included contact and going up and down the floor in 5-on-5.
“He looked really, really good in terms of the way he was moving,” coach Billy Donovan said. “It was great to see him out there. I was really happy for him. But like we’ve talked about in the past, we’ll see how he can continue to build up and develop here over the next week, but he was out there today and he participated in everything.”
Roberson ruptured his patellar tendon in his left knee in January 2018 elevating to catch a lob on a backdoor cut. His initial timetable had him set to return in November 2018, but had a setback when a loose suture caused irritation and required an additional surgery. He was progressing toward a return six weeks later, but then had another setback, suffering an avulsion fracture in his knee after coming down from a jump. Following the second setback, which included a timetable of six weeks, Roberson made progress toward a return but never got back on the court that season.
He entered the 2019-20 season optimistic about playing, saying he was “full go” the day before training camp opened, although he didn’t participate in the Thunder’s first practice of the season. He continued to rehab, ramping up his activity and then ramping back down as discomfort in his knee persisted, eventually taking a step away from the team entirely last December to continue his rehab individually in Los Angeles.
But now, after battling through adversity both mentally and physically in a grueling comeback, Roberson appears on track to make a return to the court.
“Man it’s the best thing ever,” Chris Paul said. “I used to have to fry Dre back in the day when I was on another team and he was the stopper for the Thunder.”
Roberson was a staple starter for the Thunder for four seasons, establishing himself as one of the league’s premier defenders. Prior to his injury in 2018, he was garnering growing buzz about being named Defensive Player of the Year. Roberson is known for his team-first mentality, and has remained a strong presence in the Thunder organization despite his time away from the game, mentoring younger defenders like Terrance Ferguson and Lu Dort.
“Since I’ve been here, even before I actually played a game, I did a movie release out in LA and Dre came,” Paul said. “So when I talk about a guy being a consummate teammate, for a guy to go through all the things that’s he’s been through, and me to get back to Oklahoma during the [hiatus] and see he was out on the court working, and to actually play, I’m so happy for him. He’s had some of the toughest times that people wouldn’t even know. Unbelievably happy to see him out there playing and practicing.”
It’s unclear where Roberson might fit in a potential Thunder rotation, or if he can return to the top-level defensive form he once had, but his size and length make him an available option at a number of different positions.
“He’s doing great, I thought he had a great time off and he was able to work a lot on rehabbing his knee,” Danilo Gallinari said. “He looks great and I’m very happy to see him back because I know what it means to be out that long with that injury so to see him back and the joy and energy he brings to the team, it’s great to see.”
Roberson, 28, holds career averages of 4.6 points and 4.0 rebounds and will be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Kawhi Leonard expected to join Clippers on Friday night, Doc Rivers says
“Kawhi is on his way,” the Clippers coach said in a Zoom call with reporters on Friday afternoon before practice. “Should arrive sometime this evening.”
Leonard did not travel with the Clippers on their team flight on Wednesday, as he was excused by the team to tend to a family matter, according to a source. Rivers also said a few “other guys” whom he did not name are also on their way to Florida after not being able to travel with the team.
The Clippers closed their team facility out of caution after there was a positive coronavirus test among their travel party, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on July 2. Any player arriving on his own will have to quarantine on campus in Orlando for two days.
The Clippers (44-20) went through their first practice on Friday since the season came to a halt in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Paul George said the hiatus has only helped strengthen the title contender.
Several Clippers such as George — who entered the season recovering from surgeries on both of his shoulders — have used the break to heal nagging injuries and give them “what we needed.”
“Really, I had some insecurities to start the season off,” said George, who is averaging 21 points and 5.7 rebounds in 42 games this season. “I had insecurities throughout the season just because I wasn’t all the way 100 [percent]. Shoulder didn’t feel back to 100. Everything was kind of waiting and hoping, believing in the doctors that everything they were telling me was going to come into this moment now where I feel great, no shoulder issues.
“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up. Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again … feeling back to myself again.”
George did admit that he had some “mixed emotions” initially about whether returning to play would distract from the current Black Lives Matter movement and the protests against police brutality and social injustice around the country. Teammate Lou Williams said in the weeks leading up to the league’s restart that he was “50-50” about playing and potentially taking away from the protests.
“It was a roller coaster of whether we should play or not,” George said. “I think ultimately as young African Americans we have an unbelievable opportunity to use our voices. I don’t necessarily think it’s taking away by starting the league. I don’t think it’s taking away of what’s the important issues in our world. We can still address those more so than we’ve done before with our platforms.”
“… Spotlight is on us,” he added. “We’re opening back up the sports world. With that alone, we should have more than enough of an opportunity to get our message and our points across.”
The deep and experienced Clippers arrived in Florida as a title contender, and Rivers spoke to the players before getting off the bus at their hotel on Wednesday.
“The message is we’re on a mission,” Rivers said of what he told the team on the bus. “And we’ve been deployed. Nothing’s going to distract us. We are not going to complain about anything.
“We’re here and that’s it. That is our message. This is a business trip for us.”
Pelicans’ Zion Williamson says he spent quarantine period relearning fundamentals from ‘square one’
To get ready for the NBA season, Williamson said he worked out with his stepfather, Lee Anderson, when he wasn’t rehabbing with Pelicans staffers. Williamson cherished that time as he tried to to stay as basketball-ready as possible.
“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said Williamson “looked great” as the team returned to full practice for the first time in four months on Friday afternoon near Orlando. Gentry also credited Anderson for the work he did with Williamson while the Pelicans were away from each other.
“His stepfather did a fantastic job of working him out every day, of making him be in good conditioning when we got him back,” Gentry said. “He’s made a lot of strides in his shooting, I think. Although we weren’t together, he did a lot to improve his game.”
In his first NBA game, Williamson went on a scoring barrage in the fourth quarter when he went 4-for-4 from 3-point range, bringing the Smoothie King Center to its feet. But in the 18 games that followed, Williamson went just 2-for-9 from deep.
A glance at Williamson’s shot chart shows that he has been dominant around the rim and hasn’t done much of anything in the midrange. Could that be changing as the NBA season restarts?
“Yeah, I think there are going to be parts of my game that you didn’t see before that you’ll see when we start playing,” Williamson said.
Gentry received word from the NBA on Wednesday that he was cleared to participate in the resumption of the season. There was doubt as to whether Gentry, 65, would be held out, but after a review and array of tests, he was cleared to coach in Florida.
“As I said, it’s been tough on everyone,” Gentry said. “I wish it could have been done sooner. I wish everything would have been decided sooner. It wasn’t, but I’m here. That was my ultimate goal, is to be here and coach my team, and that’s where I am right now.”
If Gentry wasn’t permitted to go, he would have been the third Pelicans coach who didn’t make the trip. Associate head coach of defense Jeff Bzdelik and assistant coach Jamelle McMillan stayed back; Bzdelik, 67, on the advice of team physicians and McMillan because of staying with his newborn son.
Gentry said that even though Bzdelik won’t be with the team, he’ll still be involved in the team’s defensive strategy.
“It may be from afar, but he’s going to be involved in every practice,” Gentry said. “He’s going to be involved in every game. He’ll be involved in every game-plan situation. He’s not here from a physical standpoint, but he will still be involved in everything that we do down here.”
Still, Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday said it’ll be an adjustment not having Bzdelik and McMillan on the bench.
“I think for the most part, especially towards the beginning of this quarantine, toward the end when we were stopping, we started to get into a groove defensively,” Holiday said. “I’ll tell you I feel like we tried to pick it back up. But being here [without Jeff and Jamelle] and not having them is kind of weird, but I feel like we adjusted well today and did a pretty good job.”
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