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Warriors never considered sitting Stephen Curry for rest of season

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SAN FRANCISCO — As the Golden State Warriors prepare for Stephen Curry‘s return to the floor next month, they do so emboldened by the fact that they never considered shutting him down for the season after he broke his left hand on Oct. 30.

As some critics and fans wonder whether allowing Curry to come back is in the best interest of the organization this year, Warriors players and coaches are embracing that the former MVP is close to coming back after missing four months of action.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said he doesn’t see the argument from some that Curry shouldn’t return this year.

“He’s perfectly healthy,” Kerr said. “He’s in the prime of his career. If the point is because he might get hurt, then what’s the point of ever playing anything? People can get hurt any day. I guess the argument would be, ‘Well, we’re not going to the playoffs.’ So are we not trying to entertain our fans? We’re selling tickets to all these people who love basketball, and Steph Curry is one of the most amazing, graceful, exciting basketball players on Earth. And if he were healthy and we didn’t present him to our fans and say, ‘Here you go. Here’s your gift for staying with us for this whole season,’ what would that say about us? That we don’t care about our fans?

“So to me it’s never been a question. As soon as he’s ready, he’s coming back. Our fans deserve it. We need it as a team to springboard into next year, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Warriors forward Draymond Green echoed Kerr’s sentiment, saying that he understands why Curry wants to return.

“If he didn’t come back, everybody would say, ‘That’s bulls—,’ he’s making 40 million dollars,'” Green said after Wednesday’s practice. “It’s never enough. And it will never be right. Anthony Davis shut it down a few years ago [in New Orleans], he was healthy and everybody was like, ‘He’s wrong. What is he doing?’ Then you get a guy come back, and [it’s like], ‘Why is he coming back? They’re not making the playoffs.’ Clearly, a superstar just did it a year or two ago, and everybody had a problem with it, so it will never be the right thing, it will never be enough.

“As a competitor, you never just want to work out, you want to play. And so I understand him coming back. Who wouldn’t want to come back? You play basketball for a living, and you love what you do. Most importantly, your days are numbered. All of our days are numbered in this league. I understand why he wants to be out there.”

Kerr reiterated that he felt like it was key for Curry to play with several younger teammates, including new addition Andrew Wiggins, in advance of next season. Curry has been working out more with the Warriors over the past month, but still hasn’t been cleared for contact. Kerr said Curry hasn’t been pushing the Warriors to come back and play because both the team and the player have been on the same page since the injury — he will be back whenever he’s ready.

“It’s never even been a conversation,” Kerr said. “Steph doesn’t have to talk us into anything. We know he wants to play because he loves basketball, and we want him to play because we need him for the continuity to build that momentum for next year and then our fans are dying to see him.

“He’s playing. He’s almost healthy, he’s almost ready, so he’s playing. No discussion. He doesn’t need to convince me of anything. This is a totally different deal than Klay [Thompson]. Steph had surgery on his [hand], it’s basically healed. He’s right on the cusp [of returning]. Klay had an ACL [injury]. It’s a totally different conversation. I think there’s a big distinction there.”

Kerr, who noted last month that he asked both Curry and Thompson to start being around the team more as they rehab, acknowledged that he and the players have enjoyed watching Curry ramp up his workouts over the past few weeks.

“To me it’s been one of the things that’s been missing from our practices this year, the individual workouts of Steph, Klay [Thompson] and Kevin [Durant],” Kerr said. “The last few years post-practice, it’s like a clinic. It’s a clinic for younger players — how you have to conduct yourself as an NBA player. The work that you put in once practice is over is really the bar for how good you want to become and how serious you’re taking this. And Steph, I’ve never seen anybody work harder than Steph in his post-practice workouts. And so now we’re seeing that, all the younger guys are looking over there and they’re seeing him. And they’re seeing what he goes through, what he does, and it’s beautiful to watch. So I think our team is getting a bounce from that, a bounce of energy and a reminder that better days are ahead.”

Green noted that he believes Curry’s reemergence in the Warriors lineup is a good thing for the entire league, not just Bay Area fans who are excited to see him again.

“Obviously we’re all excited seeing him ramp it up, being in more drills and practicing,” Green said. “He’s been putting a ton of work in here by himself, while still doing the stuff with us in practice, so it’s obviously exciting just to see him back out there on the floor. The game definitely missed Steph and Klay, that’s for sure. The game of basketball missed those two guys. And Kevin [Durant] as well. We got three guys out this year who have been anchors in this league the last 10-plus years. The game missed those guys.

“But obviously with Steph coming back, it’s exciting. I’m looking forward to playing with him again. I’m more excited for these young guys to get a chance to play with him as well, because the game will change. And so it will be good for them to get that little bit of experience with him going into next year because the game will be completely different.”

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Dwane Casey describes how the Pistons confronted the coronavirus

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Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey was pacing the sideline, barking at the officials, down double digits early in the fourth quarter of a March 11 game against the Philadelphia 76ers and trying to find a way to scratch back in it. That’s when Jim Scholler, the team’s athletic trainer, suddenly sprung up from the bench. Scholler strode toward Casey in the middle of the action and yanked on the coach’s sleeve.

“You gotta take Sekou out of the game,” Scholler said urgently.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Casey responded. “I just put his ass in the game!”

“I know,” Scholler responded, “but Rudy Gobert just tested positive for the coronavirus. Sekou was hanging out with Rudy after our game against them the other night. He might have been exposed.”

Sekou Doumbouya, the young forward who was born in Guinea but raised in France had, in fact, spent time with Gobert following the March 7 game between the Utah Jazz and the host Pistons. Retired NBA champion — and French national team alumnus — Boris Diaw was also in town and joined his countrymen.

Now it had been confirmed that Doumbouya had direct contact with the first NBA player who had tested positive for COVID-19.

“We took him off the floor immediately,” Casey told ESPN. “We brought him out in the back to the locker room, away from the team, and finished the game.”

Information was still trickling in regarding Gobert and the Jazz, while the Pistons were simultaneously completing their game in real time. Casey returned his focus to the court and how to put the clamps on Sixers center Joel Embiid.

In the meantime, conversations continued among the Pistons’ medical staff, training staff and front office on how to proceed with Doumbouya, who insisted he was healthy. “When I took Sekou out, he looked at me like I was crazy,” Casey said. “So did Tony Snell, the guy I had taken out for Sekou, and then put back in for Sekou.”

At that juncture, Casey said, he wasn’t fretting about the possibility that more of his players — and he himself — might also be at risk.

“To be honest, that didn’t enter my mind,” Casey admitted. “At that point we weren’t thinking, ‘Oh, this is huge, it means they’re going to cancel the season.’ In that moment, I was thinking, ‘This is probably an isolated case.”’

Doumbouya, who stumped to return to action, eventually reentered the game, after much debate, with 4:40 left.

“He wanted to play,” Casey said. “He had already been out there. I guess it’s easy in hindsight to question it, but at that time we had none of the information that’s out there now. We were in the middle of a game, and the player was telling us he felt perfectly fine, and we had no information that indicated that he was sick.”

Once the game ended and the team retreated to the visitors locker room, Detroit officials were briefed that commissioner Adam Silver had indefinitely suspended the NBA season. The league office also informed the Pistons that because they had been exposed to Gobert and the Jazz (Gobert’s Utah teammate Donovan Mitchell would also later test positive for the virus), Detroit’s traveling party, including all players and coaches, would have to be quarantined for 14 days.

Suddenly, the Pistons were in the crosshairs of a major pandemic that has killed thousands.

Casey says the unprecedented upheaval has been “nothing like anything else I’ve ever experienced in my life.” It was the uncertainty of what would happen next, Casey said, that dominated his team’s charter flight from Philadelphia back home to Michigan in the wee hours of the morning of March 12.

“These young, healthy guys, professional athletes, they don’t think about getting sick,” Casey said. “It was a quiet ride on the plane, but nobody seemed really that uptight about whether they had it. It was more that nobody knew when we’d get to play again — or see each other again.”

Once the Pistons landed, each member of the traveling party was given the option to be tested for COVID-19 if they had either symptoms or concerns about being exposed. Casey said he declined the test, along with a number of players who did not feel ill.

It would be two more days before Casey would discover that Doumbouya had tested negative for COVID-19 after all. But on that same day, March 14, he learned another one of his players — 24-year-old power forward Christian Wood — had contracted the virus. It was Wood who had primarily guarded Gobert during the team’s March 7 game against the Jazz.

Wood had complained of a sore throat to the medical staff the morning of the March 11 Pistons-Sixers game, according to Casey. But by tipoff, Wood declared he was feeling better and ready to suit up. Wood responded by scoring a career-high 32 points in Philadelphia, surpassing the 30-point career high he had set four nights earlier against Gobert and the Jazz.

“He had no other symptoms,” Casey said. “No fever, no headache, no nothing. It’s one of the reasons this virus is so difficult to diagnose.”

When the Pistons learned Wood had tested positive for the coronavirus, they were thoroughly briefed by the hospital regarding the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) laws, which protect the privacy of patients.

“That’s why we were so mystified when it leaked out,” Casey said of a report in The Athletic. “Christian was upset his name got out there. He didn’t release it. And the worst part was it got out before Christian even had a chance to tell his mom.

“I was very unhappy about that. I told our staff, ‘This is unprofessional. This can’t happen again.’ It was so unfair to our player.”

Casey said Pistons owner Tom Gores and vice chairman Arn Tellem were proactive in making arrangements for the teamwide quarantine, setting up daily phone calls with a physician so players could have their questions answered, providing the option for players to have meals delivered to their doors, and making mental health experts available to anyone who was feeling anxious about the virus and its ramifications. They also recorded temperatures twice daily from each player.

Meanwhile, Casey returned home to his wife and two children, ages 12 and 9. But Casey sequestered himself in the basement for the next two weeks while his family lived on the upper floors of his house.

“I was in jail, downstairs, with the door locked,” Casey said with a chuckle. “My wife made dinner, and left my food outside the door. One night it was pasta, another night chicken.”

Casey did his best during the quarantine to stay connected to his assistants and his players, particularly Wood. “He’s a young guy, living alone, so we wanted to stay engaged with him,” Casey said. “From what I can tell, he spent most of his time playing video games.”

The Pistons’ quarantine has officially ended, and Casey has rejoined his family at the kitchen table, where his children are taking online classes while their school is shuttered. Wood, Casey reports, has recovered from COVID-19 and been given a clean bill of health.

Casey credited Detroit’s medical staff for potentially limiting the spread of the virus inside his locker room. He said in the days leading up to both the March 7 Jazz game and the March 11 Sixers game, his staff was already stressing the need to wash hands thoroughly for 20 seconds and passing out hand sanitizer and wipes to remind the players of the seriousness of the virus. The players were initially irritated with the badgering, but now look back on it with some measure of relief.

“We were pretty religious about doing that right up until they halted the season,” Casey said. “I think it made a difference.”

The Pistons, like all NBA teams, await word when they can resume regular activity. In the meantime, the strength and conditioning staff has delivered treadmills, exercise bikes, weights and bands to house-bound athletes eager to shoot some hoops. Most of them do not have their own courts in their homes, so conditioning is the focus for the moment, Casey said.

“If you think about it,” Casey said, “this is the first time in these guys’ lives that no gym is available to them. They don’t have access to any state-of-the-art NBA facilities, no college gyms, no high school gym, no health clubs. It will be a challenge for all of us to get everyone reengaged mentally go back and play.”

Casey estimated teams would need a minimum of two weeks to reintegrate the players back into the NBA rhythm. He said he was confident his team would play basketball again before summer ends.

“It’s already a season,” he said, “that no one will ever forget.”

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Thunder’s Danilo Gallinari helping fund COVID-19 test kits, protective equipment

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Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari has connected with the Oklahoma City-County Health Department to provide funding for 400 coronavirus testing kits as well as personal protection equipment such as face shields, gloves, gowns and N95 masks for next week.

The focus will be providing for high-risk individuals such as health care workers, first responders, persons over age 65 and those who are immunocompromised.

“There is a need, and so people in my position, if we can help, if I can help, it’s something that I feel that I want to do and I need to do,” Gallinari told ESPN by phone on Friday. “It was a great to collaborate with the local institutions and be able to set this up. Since I’m here, I’m leading the quarantine here, this is where I am, so it feels even better to be able to help the situation here.

“Knowing what’s going on in my country and what my family has been in through both in France and Italy, if I can help mitigating or at least avoiding some of the troubles we had early on in Italy, and we can do better here in OKC, and the States in general, that’s good.”

The last time Gallinari shot a basketball was March 11 when he was warming up some 15 minutes before tipoff against the Utah Jazz. The game never started, as Rudy Gobert‘s positive COVID-19 test was about to stop the entire sports world in its tracks.

Since then, Gallinari has been quarantined in Oklahoma City with his fiancée, working out once or twice a day, cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner and binging Netflix shows.

“If I was by myself,” he said, “it would be way, way tougher.”

Gallnari’s native Italy has been one of the hardest affected by COVID-19, with the entire country going on lockdown a few weeks ago. He said his family is still doing well, although they’ve been quarantined for more than a month. But some of his close friends have been impacted, including a childhood best friend who lost his grandmother and a former childhood teammate who lost his mother on Thursday.

“It’s a tough situation, and I could tell you a lot of not nice stories, in terms of people passing away or people that I know — best friends, family members — that have been affected by the virus,” he said. “The stories, they keep coming up every day. Every hour.”

After witnessing the issues his country faced with the outbreak, Gallinari was one of the first professional athletes to speak out about the need for closing arenas and stadiums in the United States to fans. He said that a day before the Thunder played the Jazz on March 11, at a time when shutting arena doors still seemed a toss-up decision.

“I wasn’t predicting anything or I wasn’t a magician, I was just telling everybody what was going on in Italy was something very possible in the States too,” he said.

A little more than 24 hours later, Gobert tested positive and the NBA never even got to the stage of closing doors to fans; the season was immediately suspended.

“Fortunately, Adam Silver did an amazing job closing everything right away, so we didn’t go through phase two. We never even played games with no fans,” Gallinari said. “After what happened, it was great for him to do what he did and stop everything. It was the right thing to do. So I’m glad. It’s been tough, but as players we’ve been quarantined since March 11, so we started the quarantine that night.”

The United States passed China on Thursday with the most cases worldwide of COVID-19. As of Friday, there have been more than 100,000 confirmed cases in the U.S., with the death toll rising above 1,500.

“I think there is still time to contain the situation,” Gallinari said. “It’s very important the citizens understand how to behave and this is not something that will go by tomorrow or is gonna go away in a few days or a week or two weeks. It’s something that’s going to take months and so with a little help other like people like me can do all over the States in their local communities, hopefully we’ll be able to contain the numbers.”

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Bridges leads Suns to victory in first NBA 2K game broadcast on radio

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Mikal Bridges pulled through in the clutch, scoring 27 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Phoenix Suns‘ NBA 2K team to a 75-64 victory Friday over the Philadelphia 76ers.

“I don’t even know how to play this game,” Sixers player Matisse Thybulle joked.

“I’ve been playing the last 48 [hours],” Bridges said.

Perhaps it was that extra bit of practice that was all the difference.

Read more: Rhys Hoskins leads Phillies to MLB The Show win | Simulations fill the void with sports on hold

The twist is that Philly native Bridges was controlling his Suns, while Thybulle, from the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, Arizona, took charge of his 76ers.

The Suns pulled away in the second quarter, taking an 11-point lead into halftime. Philly surged back, scoring 21 in the third and holding Phoenix to six to take a four-point lead into the final frame before Bridges and the Suns pulled away.

If it wasn’t the extra practice, it was Twitch chat calling for substitutions. When Philly took control of the game — in part because of exhausted pixelated Suns players — Bridges noticed the call to action and corrected course, leading to a bounce-back for the Suns.

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Amid the pause in sports due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Suns have embraced creating season-simulation content more than most other teams that are also doing it. Even the Suns’ official website schedule has been updated to include Twitch links. Every game is treated like an event, with different athletes and influencers taking part, often with little wrinkles being added along the way.

This game included a bingo card filled with entries such as “Ayton dunks” and “Rubio rebound” that fans could use to follow along. It was also the first broadcast to be called on the radio, as Suns radio host Jon Bloom and Suns color analyst Tim Kempton called the NBA 2K game on Arizona Sports KMVP-FM 98.7, an ESPN Radio station based in Phoenix. According to the Suns’ press release, this is the first NBA 2K game ever called on the radio.

Despite audio issues in the fourth quarter and the game starting time being pushed back an hour , the game consistently saw 12,000 viewers on Twitch and Twitter, which is consistent with the number of viewers from previous games. The Suns’ next scheduled broadcast is Saturday against the Miami Heat.

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