Though LeVert is out indefinitely, the 26-year-old sees the situation as something bigger than basketball.
“I didn’t have any symptoms. I was playing in games. I hadn’t missed any games this season yet. I was feeling 100% healthy,” LeVert said. “So, in a way, this trade definitely showed and revealed what was going on in my body, so I’m definitely looking at it from that side and definitely humbled to know that this trade could’ve possibly saved me in the long run.”
LeVert was included in the four-team deal, which was finalized Saturday, that also sent James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets and former Pacers All-Star Victor Oladipo to the Houston Rockets. Prior to the deal being completed, however, a thorough team physical and medical tests revealed the mass, which he had no idea about.
“To me the most important thing is to get my body healthy and make sure I live a long life,” LeVert said. “Before basketball, I think that’s the most important thing so, for me, I’m not really looking at that side of things.
“Obviously, I want to play as soon as possible. I’m a competitor, I love to play the game. But for me, I think making sure I’m good health-wise is most important. So, as far as timeline and everything like that, we’ll definitely figure it out some time in the future. But right now we just don’t have those answers.”
For LeVert, it is another obstacle to overcome in his young life.
On April 4, 2010, when Caris LeVert was just 15, his father Darryl Sr. died of heart failure at age 46, and LeVert and his younger brother Darryl discovered him inside their home in Pickerington, Ohio. His mother, Kim, also battles multiple sclerosis, but they’re attacking the situation with a positive mindset, despite admitting that it’s been a “rough week.”
“For me, I try to take the positive out of every situation. If you guys knew my mom, you would never guess that she had MS or anything wrong with her,” LeVert said. “She’s a one-of-a-kind, very special lady, and anyone who knows her or even had one conversation with her, will tell you that. So I think I get it a lot from her, to be honest with you. But I was raised the right way by her and my father before he passed away, and that’s just how I’m wired.
“I have a lot of faith in God. I know that everything is not perfect, but I feel like, in life, it’s just how you react to certain things. It’s not what happens to you.”
Support from family and the Pacers organization has been helpful for LeVert throughout this process as he awaits further medical results to see what plan of action to take.
“We don’t know if it’s cancerous yet, but like I said, we’re still waiting for some of the results,” LeVert said.
Ironically, LeVert was originally selected 20th overall by the Pacers in the 2016 NBA draft before being traded to the Brooklyn Nets, where he spent part of five seasons. In 12 games this season, he is averaging 18.5 points, 6.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds in 27.8 minutes.
He’ll wear No. 22 in Indiana when he’s able to suit back up, which is something that Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard and coach Nate Bjorkgren remain optimistic about.
“This organization’s gonna step up, help him get through this, get him back on the court,” Pritchard said. “I’m super confident that we’re gonna have him on the court.”
Bjorkgren sees him fitting in seamlessly as a 6-foot-6 wing that can handle the ball and play positions 1-4 when he’s able to return. He shared those sentiments when Pritchard and the front office consulted him in the midst of a road trip before making the deal.
“You guys have heard me say it a number of times, but he’s a stud,” Bjorkgren said following Tuesday’s practice. “And not only on the basketball court, but off the court, he’s even a better person.”
NBA announces All-Star Game plans with contributions going to HBCUs and COVID-19 relief
The NBA officially announced Thursday that it will be holding the All-Star Game on March 7 in Atlanta and will partner with the NBPA to give more than $2.5 million to HBCUs as well as to support awareness around equity and access to COVID-19 care, relief and vaccines.
Due to COVID-19, what typically is an entire weekend’s worth of festivities will be compressed into a single night. Rather than holding the skills challenge, 3-point contest and slam dunk contest on Saturday night, as it typically does, the NBA will instead have the skills challenge and 3-point contest take place before the game starts at 8 p.m. and will hold the slam dunk contest at halftime.
Meanwhile, the “Elam Ending” will officially return after a successful debut last year in Chicago. Each quarter, like last year, will start at 0-0, with both teams competing to win each quarter for designated charities. The fourth quarter will then be played until either team reaches the point total of the leading team after three quarters plus 24 points — in honor of the late Kobe Bryant. In addition, as ESPN reported Wednesday, captains — determined by the highest vote getters in each conference – will once again be choosing their respective teams from the pool of 22 remaining All-Stars.
Each participating player will be allowed to bring up to four family members, “longtime close personal friends” or their agent. They’ll also be allowed to bring one “health-focused staff member,” who may work for their team, to help them prepare to play in Sunday’s events.
“NBA All-Star in Atlanta will continue our annual tradition of celebrating the game and the greatest players in the world before a global audience. In addition to the festivities on the court, the All-Star Game will honor the vital role HBCUs play in our communities and focus attention and resources on COVID-19 relief, particularly for the most vulnerable,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in the league’s statement announcing the game would take place.
“HBCUs provided premium education to our communities at a time when access to higher learning was denied to us,” NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts said in the statement. “They were there — and have remained there — for us. We now stand with them.”
In attempts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the NBA will require players to self-quarantine at home “with limited exceptions” from Feb. 27 until they leave for Atlanta on March 6, and will be required to stay at the All-Star hotel while in Atlanta outside of when they are participating in All-Star events at the arena, part of what the NBA is deeming a “mini bubble” in Atlanta. Players and their guests will receive private transportation to and from the game in addition to regular PCR testing. Player guests will also undergo regular PCR testing up to and including their time in Atlanta, and they’ll also be allowed to attend the game itself.
“As a founding partner of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the NBA has been a consistent supporter for more than 33 years,” Thurgood Marshall College Fund President and CEO Dr. Harry L. Williams said in the statement. By dedicating its All-Star platform to supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the NBA is making a profound statement about the league’s commitment to a better future, recognizing the crucial role Black Colleges have always played in facilitating racial equity and serving the African American community.”
The NBA will announce the All-Star starters, along with both captains, Thursday night on TNT, after being voted on by the fans (making up 50 percent of the voting), players (25 percent) and media (25 percent). The league’s coaches will then vote on the seven reserve spots in each conference, which will be announced next Tuesday.
Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder has already clinched coaching one of the teams in the All-Star Game. Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers will clinch coaching the other if either the Sixers win one of their next two games, or the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets lose again this week.
Locked-in Portland Trail Blazers win behind Damian Lillard’s key basket
Sure, this one featured another game-sealing bucket from Lillard — his 25th game-tying or go-ahead field goal in the final 20 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime, most in the NBA since he entered the league in 2012-13 — but the 126-124 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday and the recent stretch of success for the Blazers is about more than just Lillard’s individual success.
“I think the beauty in what we’re doing right now and why it’s been so fun and so special, like last season, I had a run where for 10 games I was scoring like 48 a game, and then the bubble I was scoring 48, 50, 60, just having big performances but we weren’t playing that great,” Lillard said.
“We weren’t getting stops. We weren’t moving the ball. It wasn’t as collective as it is right now. … Everybody is coming in and doing their job. I’m not just saying that to give people credit. It looks the way it does because everybody is coming in and doing their job. Without CJ, Nurk and Zach, we don’t win these games if it’s not collective the way it’s been.”
Lillard called out each Blazers rotational player by name when discussing how “fun” the team is having this time around. But, of course, it doesn’t hurt when your superstar goes for 43 points and ties his career high with 16 assists, either.
Despite New Orleans’ scoring output, Lillard says he can see the defense for the Blazers — ranked 28th in defensive efficiency after Wednesday’s games — starting to turn around.
“I think lately we’re just locked into it,” Lillard said. “We’re a lot sharper for longer periods of times. Teams go on runs, it happens, we’ll have a lapse here like every team does. Tonight, I thought we played really hard and physical and smart defensively and they had 124 points. I just think our urgency is up. We’re communicating. We’re taking a challenge. Every guy is committing to playing defense and giving that effort.”
Portland coach Terry Stotts said he thinks the team has improved defensively going back to a win against Philadelphia on Feb. 4. In the past eight games, the Blazers have the 13th-ranked defensive in the league.
“The numbers don’t favor us, but we’ve always had the effort,” Lillard added. “I said that earlier in the season. We just always haven’t been on the same page communication-wise.”
Communication was key for Portland down the stretch Wednesday, especially as the Pelicans had a chance to tie or send the game into overtime on the final possession.
“We scouted some of their end-of-games plays and they kind of mix it up, like the previous play they went to Zion,” Stotts said. “You knew it was going to be in one of their two hands.”
The Pelicans inbounded the ball to Josh Hart, who flipped it to Ingram. Williamson went up to set a screen for Ingram but their defenders switched, putting Derrick Jones Jr. on Williamson and Robert Covington on Ingram.
Covington bodied Ingram on the drive, forcing a pass out to Lonzo Ball for a deep 3. Hart tipped the ball back out and it found its way to Ingram in the corner. Ingram took a dribble in and put up a contested 14-footer against Carmelo Anthony that didn’t fall as Portland secured the win. A team win — using defense, that is.
“I think it’s a big win for us, but I don’t think it’s the biggest win for us this season. We played well defensively and we played well offensively. We just had to lock in a little bit more on the defensive end and that’s what we did, and I’m glad we did,” Jones said. “We’re going to keep learning off this win and get back at it.
“Just going into this road trip, we had the mindset of keeping our streak going, and we are going to keep it going. We’re just going to go out there every day and play the right way. We know how we should play and we just have to go out there every day and play the right way. As long as we’re doing that, the sky is the limit for us.”
Trae Young, Zion Williamson among those making NBA All-Star statements
The NBA will announce the starters for the 2021 All-Star Game on Thursday, and there has been plenty of debate about who should be on its rosters. But Wednesday night, some of the league’s up-and-coming stars took to the court to make their case for a spot in the big game.
Here’s a look at how some of those players fared:
What he did
With Atlanta having lost seven of eight entering Wednesday night’s game in Boston — including several that were decided late in the fourth quarter — the Hawks desperately needed to grab hold of, and win, a game they led by nine entering the fourth against the Celtics. Trae Young made sure there wouldn’t be another repeat of those past issues down the stretch in this one, scoring 16 of his 40 points to ensure Atlanta’s victory, 122-114.
Trae Young finished with 40 pts tonight in a win vs the Celtics.
He is the 5th player in NBA history to record at least 15 career 40-point games at the age of 22 or younger joining Rick Barry, LeBron James, Kevin Durant & Shaquille O’Neal pic.twitter.com/aWOjfJNI5x
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 18, 2021
Young tallied 12 straight points for Atlanta in the middle of the fourth quarter, including on two drives that resulted in layups — one on which Boston committed goaltending — that pushed Atlanta’s lead back out to 10 points after the Celtics had cut it to six. With Marcus Smart, Boston’s lone quality point guard defender, sitting out due to a calf injury, Young got wherever he wanted throughout the contest, wreaking havoc on Boston’s defense.
What they said
“That’s what we’ve been talking about with Trae,” Hawks assistant coach Nate McMillan said. “He has to show that growth of managing a game, whether we’re up or down in the fourth quarter. We talked about his turnovers, and I thought he did a good job tonight, when we didn’t have anything early, getting us organized and executing down the stretch. Taking what the defense gave him. I didn’t realize he had 40 points, but he just did a good job of managing the offense, as well as the defense. I thought he established a tempo we wanted and did a good job of executing down the stretch.” — Tim Bontemps
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 18, 2021
What he did
On a night when no one else for the Celtics had it going, Jayson Tatum single-handedly kept Boston in the game, finishing with 35 points on 11-for-21 shooting and 10-for-11 from the foul line to go along with six rebounds and six assists in 35 minutes. Tatum needed an effort like this, as his play had slumped recently. He had said before Tuesday’s win against the visiting Denver Nuggets that he was still feeling the aftereffects of testing positive for COVID-19 last month.
Jayson Tatum uses a step-back move to hit a tough 3-point shot along the sideline with the defender hovering in the area.
With Kemba Walker sitting out the second half of a back-to-back and Marcus Smart out with a calf strain, Boston was really down to just Tatum and Jaylen Brown as far as players who can either create their own shot or ones for others. That imbalance has been a problem for Boston all season long and part of the reason the Celtics are now 14-14 on the season — despite Tatum and Brown likely headed for All-Star berths — after losing to Atlanta.
What he said
“Anything worth achieving doesn’t come easy,” Tatum said. “We’re 14-14. It hasn’t been easy. But we believe, we believe in each other, we believe in ourselves, and we’re going to figure it out.” — Tim Bontemps
Zion Williamson gets the ball and finishes at the rim with a big dunk.
What he did
Wednesday’s performance from the New Orleans Pelicans‘ Zion Williamson was another case of the 20-year-old becoming more and more comfortable as his burgeoning career takes shape. Williamson tied his career high with 36 points and added six boards and four assists against Portland, a 126-124 loss to Damian Lillard and the visiting Trail Blazers. Williamson was 12-of-18 from the field and 11-of-15 from the foul line.
In his past nine games, Williamson is averaging 28.1 points on 69.3% shooting from the field and 78.9% from the foul line to go with 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists. His playmaking is evolving — the Pelicans are 6-0 this season when he has at least five assists — and his outside game is taking a step forward, as well, as he has hit at least one 3-pointer in five of his past 11 contests.
Zion Williamson is the 2nd player over the last 25 seasons to score 20 paint points in 5 straight games, joining Shaquille O’Neal. pic.twitter.com/elC4YdoQyU
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 18, 2021
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) February 18, 2021
What he said
“My teammates trust me to go out there and make the best play for them,” Williamson said. “We put ourselves in a great position to win the game. Me being in that position, I’m always ready. When my name is called, I’m always gonna be ready. I never wanna let my teammates down. Tonight, it doesn’t always work that way. But it’s these moments that’s gonna drive us to be better.” — Andrew Lopez
What he did
In what has been a breakout season, Zach LaVine scored 37 points on 14-of-22 shooting, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range, on Wednesday. More importantly, he keyed a huge comeback that led to a Bulls win over the visiting Pistons. LaVine posted 15 points in the third quarter to help Chicago come back from a 25-point, second-quarter deficit. Chicago outscored Detroit 27-12 in the third quarter and went on to prevail 105-102.
Zach LaVine throws down dunk after dunk vs. the Pistons.
At 28.5 points per game, LaVine is averaging nearly three points more than his previous career high, as he has taken his offensive game to a new level. Overall, he is shooting 52% from the field and 43.7% from beyond the arc, both career bests by a healthy margin.
What he said
“The most enjoyable part of the comeback was us being more competitive and aggressive,” LaVine said. “I think we played with some, not desperation, but we knew we couldn’t make a lot of mistakes. And we needed to go out there in the third quarter and play the right way from the get-go or we weren’t going to have a chance to win.”
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