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James Harden set for Brooklyn Nets debut after all trade physicals complete

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Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden will start Saturday’s game against the Orlando Magic, according to coach Steve Nash.

Harden had been listed as questionable to play while the players involved in the trade that sent him from Houston to Brooklyn this week awaited completion of their physicals. The Nets upgraded him to available about two hours before the game.

That came around the same time that the Indiana Pacers announced they had acquired Caris LeVert, the Nets guard who was part of the deal that also included the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Nets remained without Kyrie Irving, who is out under the NBA’s health and safety protocols after missing the previous five games for personal reasons.

ESPN’s Malika Andrews and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Danny Ainge not blaming stars Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum for Boston Celtics’ ‘major funk’

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When you think of teams with multiple All-Stars, you think of dominance — the Jazz, the Lakers, the Nets. The Celtics have two All-Stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but after Wednesday night’s blowout loss to the Hawks, Boston is in last place in the Atlantic Division.

Team president Danny Ainge isn’t ready to throw his star tandem under the bus, however.

“I wish I had answers for you. I don’t,” Ainge said on 98.5 The Sports Hub Thursday. “I do believe in my players. I like them all individually. I think they have good futures. I just think right now our team is in a major funk.”

Funk might not be a strong enough word to describe Wednesday’s game. Coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Mavericks, the Celtics were down 13 after one quarter and 23 at the half. They allowed the most 3-pointers in team history.

Brown had 17 points for the Celtics and missed all six of his 3-point attempts. Tatum was held to 13 points on 4-of-20 shooting and was just 1-of-8 from long range.

The Celtics have now lost three in a row to fall two games below .500. They’ve dropped eight of 11 games overall and are on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

“Here’s what the biggest thing about Jaylen and Jayson is,” Ainge said. “They’ve been shielded before because they’ve had other really good players, veterans around them as they developed — and went to three out of four Eastern Conference [finals].

“Now, it’s on them. Now, they’re the stars. And they’ve got the big contracts. And they got the All-Star nods. So the microscope is on them.”

Kemba Walker is one of those veteran All-Stars. Coming off a career year in Charlotte, Boston signed him to a four-year, $141 million deal before last season. He put up solid numbers and took some heat off Brown and Tatum.

This year, a knee injury has limited him to 16 games. His scoring average is his worst in five years and he’s shooting just 37.5% from the floor. The Celtics held him out of Wednesday’s game to avoid a back-to-back, and Boston got throttled.

Like he did last week, Ainge is saying that the issues with the Celtics are on him more than his young stars or coach Brad Stevens.

“This is a me problem,” Ainge said. “I’m saying that I love my two young guys, they’re not perfect, and they’re learning, and this adversity is part of their growth and development — not intentionally, it’s just the nature of the beast.”

But Ainge said he’s not trying to make excuses.

“We’re playing terribly,” he said. “We don’t have a good enough team — in my opinion.”

He added that he’s not looking to make a change for change’s sake, “but I am looking to do something that will make a difference on our team.”

The Celtics’ first chance to get back on track comes Friday at home against a struggling Pacers team. Then it’s the resurgent Wizards in town Sunday before games against the Clippers, Raptors and Nets.

Bradley Beal, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, Kyrie Irving — the Celtics will face plenty of All-Stars and will quickly find out if their duo measures up.

“I think they both hold themselves accountable,” Ainge said of Brown and Tatum. “You’re talking about two hard-working kids that are trying to get better. And this is a very frustrating time for them.”

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Utah Jazz vice president Dennis Lindsey denies bigotry allegation by ex-player Elijah Millsap

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Utah Jazz executive vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey on Wednesday denied allegations of making bigoted comments during an exit interview for former player Elijah Millsap in 2015.

While issuing a series of posts Wednesday on Twitter about how bigotry “is still very well present” and is a problem that needs to be addressed, Millsap alleged that Lindsey “made bigot remarks in my exit interview while conversing with Q. Snyder ‘if you say one more word, I’ll cut your Black ass and send you back to Louisiana.'”

In a statement to the Deseret News about the allegation, Lindsey said: “I categorically deny making that statement.”

Jazz coach Quin Snyder on Wednesday said he has no recollection of that conversation.

“I can’t fathom Dennis saying something like that,” Snyder told reporters after Wednesday’s game.

Millsap averaged 4.2 points and 2.8 rebounds in 67 games over the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. He is the younger brother of Paul Millsap, who played his first seven NBA seasons in Utah before leaving after the 2012-13 season.



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‘We need these challenging times’

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As if the Los Angeles Lakers weren’t already struggling enough, down two starters heading into Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz, a blowout 114-89 loss only highlighted the rut the defending champions are in.

With Anthony Davis (right leg) and Dennis Schroder (health and safety protocols) sidelined, the Jazz jumped all over the Lakers. They led by as many as 29 points in handing L.A. its fourth loss in a row and fifth in its past five games since Davis aggravated his tendinosis and suffered a calf strain a week and a half ago.

Utah has won 15 straight at home.

“They’re playing like the best team in the league right now,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of Utah, which shot 22-for-48 from 3 in the rout.

And the Lakers, still third in the Western Conference standings at 22-11, aren’t playing anywhere near as well as their record would suggest.

L.A. kept pace with Utah in the first quarter at Vivint Arena, trailing 24-23 after one, before the Jazz erupted in the second and third quarters, outscoring the Lakers 66-41 to break the game open.

Markieff Morris, who got the start in the frontcourt against Utah’s Rudy Gobert with Davis out, said that the Lakers’ current struggles are a reality check the team needed.

“[I] think early on we won with talent a lot and we got a lot of role players that know their roles. Now with those guys out — with AD out, in particular — we need guys to do different things,” Morris said after finishing with season highs in points (12) and rebounds (9). “This is new for all of us. But we need it. If you ask me, we need it. Because you never know with injuries. You never know in the playoffs. You never know. We need these challenging times to really find who we really are.”

The four-game losing streak matches the longest the Lakers have had in the past two seasons, but Morris said it is hard to compare this season’s squad to last year’s because of the roster turnover and challenges that come with the coronavirus-compacted schedule.

“This is the most basketball that I’ve ever played in my life — this season and last season combined,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable amount of basketball that we all are playing. Mentally it gets draining. Especially when you lose.”

The Lakers have four more games before the All-Star break, with the next three of those games — home against Portland, Golden State and Phoenix — all coming against teams with winning records.

“It’s not supposed to click right away,” Morris said. “It’s supposed to take time. It’s supposed to challenge us. It’s supposed to feel like our back is against the wall. And everybody needs that. It will bring out your true self when you got to fight when your back is against the wall when you lose a couple games. It will bring out your true self.”

LeBron James, whose teams are 1-for-3 in repeat title bids so far in his career, remained pragmatic, not using L.A.’s missing players as an excuse, but leveling with the fact that the season won’t run off the rails because of February struggles.

“It’s a tough stretch for us,” James said after scoring 19 points in 28 minutes. “You know this won’t define who we will be for the rest of the season and for the long haul. That’s for sure.”

When asked if the losses could help L.A.’s overhauled locker room get to learn one another, he concurred.

“Always the best teacher in life is experience,” James said. “You know, for us to be going through this right now, I think it’s going to benefit our team tremendously.”

As with any team harboring back-to-back aspirations, Morris kept one eye on the future when assessing Wednesday’s result.

“We see the Jazz, we know they beat our ass tonight,” he said. “But in the playoffs it’s a different story.”

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