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Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller set to return after recovering from broken bone in hand

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CHARLOTTE — Hornets starting center Cody Zeller is expected to return to action Friday night against the Chicago Bulls after missing four weeks with a broken bone in his left hand, he said Thursday.

Zeller went through a scrimmage on Wednesday and coach James Borrego on Thursday listed him as probable for the game, and the 7-foot center will not be on a minutes restriction.

Zeller said Thursday that he had no problems in the scrimmage and is ready to play. Given the injury is to his left non-shooting hand, he said his concerns are “mostly catching a pass and rebounding, but it has felt good so far and I’m excited to get back out there.”

He was injured in Charlotte’s season opener on Dec. 23 and has not played since. The Hornets are 6-7 without Zeller in the lineup, and have been repeatedly been outrebound by the opposition.

It’s unclear if Zeller will replace Bismack Biyombo in the starting lineup or come off the bench.

Charlotte (6-8) has lost its last three games.

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LA Clippers’ Paul George calls All-Star nod a milestone amid ‘all the noise,’ but disagrees with game being held

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LOS ANGELES — Paul George has been motivated and fueled by “all the noise” surrounding him all season long, and earning an All-Star spot he says is another “milestone” in his bounce-back season.

The LA Clippers guard was named one of the All-Star reserves selected from the Western Conference on Tuesday, joining teammate Kawhi Leonard, who was previously voted in as a starter in the Western Conference pool.

“With all the noise, everything going on, you find motivation through it,” George said of all the criticism that he’s heard since the Clippers’ collapse in the second round last postseason. “You dig deep. And you’d be amazed what comes out of it. It was honestly just using everything as motivation, fueling all of that toward this year.

“[All-Star] is a good milestone, the start of how my season is going. But definitely [not] where I want it to end. So I got a lot more work to do.”

George, who hit his first five 3-point shots before finishing with 30 points in the Clippers’ 135-116 win over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, will be making his seventh All-Star appearance.

George, though, joined a chorus of NBA stars who have voiced reasons and concerns over why there should not be an All-Star Game held this year in the middle of a pandemic.

“I am just not a fan of it with everything going on,” George said. “I think it is just smart [to not hold one] … I get we have an amazing league, I’m not discrediting that. But I don’t think — just in the middle of a pandemic — it is something that needs to be had.”

George also said that he was fined this season over a health and safety protocol precaution.

“Especially, [for] personal reasons, I got fined for spending time with a teammate, or having a teammate over and yet we are having this All-Star Game,” George explained. “So again I got personal reasons why I disagree with the game [being held].”

George said he did not want to further elaborate on the fine. But he says he will play in the All-Star Game in Atlanta on March 7.

George entered Tuesday night averaging 24.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists and a career-high 51.1% shooting and 47.1% from behind the 3-point arc.

The shooting guard wasn’t an All-Star last year after he didn’t play in the first 11 games of the season as he was eased back into play following offseason shoulder surgeries. Last postseason, George endured a shooting slump in the first round of the playoffs before going 4-for-16 from the field and scoring 10 points in the Clippers’ Game 7 loss to the Denver Nuggets in the second round after LA blew a 3-1 series lead.

George has said that he has heard more “chirping” this season from opponents “just living in the past.” He has been motivated to prove his doubters wrong.

“He’s always been an All-Star, you know in my eyes,” Clippers coach Ty Lue said. “He’s one of the top two-way players in our league, you know he has been for a while.”

“He deserves it, and the kind of year he’s having, you know this year, it just shows the hard work he put in over the summer to get back to this point.”

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Draymond Green is learning how to control the fire that drives him … and the Golden State Warriors

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Nobody seems surprised by anything Draymond Green does anymore.

As frustrated as the Golden State Warriors were after Green’s meltdown late in Saturday’s 102-100 loss to the Charlotte Hornets — a game in which Green picked up a pair of late technicals and an ejection in the final seconds that led directly to the Hornets’ stunning win — nobody in the organization seemed shocked to the point they couldn’t believe what had transpired.

They know that fire is what drives him — and their team — most. And they know there’s always a chance that both player and organization can get burned.

But they also understand that there is another side to Green, the one that spoke passionately about his Saturday mistakes during a video conference with reporters on Monday. The player who took the blame for his actions and vowed he would be able to control himself if a similar situation presented itself. That’s the person so many in the Warriors’ organization have grown to love over the last decade.

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Draymond Green shares how disappointed he was in himself after being ejected from the Hornets game.

And that’s why nobody was surprised to see Green respond the way he did during Tuesday’s 114-106 win over the New York Knicks. The veteran forward racked up seven points, 12 assists, nine rebounds, three steals and two blocks in 37 minutes. For all the emotional flaws Green has shown over time, the Warriors maintain buoyed by the belief that when they need him the most, the soon-to-be 31-year-old will be at his best.

“He’s just a winner,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after Tuesday’s win. “He’s so competitive and he’s such a smart basketball player, and he’s so versatile in what he does, that when his mind is right, when he’s locked in, he’s a great basketball player. He still impacts winning as much as almost anybody in the league, save for a select few superstars. What he does out there night in and night out, everybody on our team recognizes that.”

Kerr made it a point to say prior to the game that he felt that Green knew exactly how much he meant to his younger teammates. As much as all the younger players love playing with star guard Stephen Curry, it’s Green — and the journey he’s been on since being selected in the second round of the 2012 draft — that resonates more than anything else in the locker room.

Many of Green’s younger teammates idolize him for the niche he’s been able to create for himself, a fact that has been on display since last season, and was reinforced in recent days as player after player stood behind him in the wake of his latest emotional outburst.

Out of all the adjustments the Warriors have had to make since the breakup two summers ago of the group that went to five straight Western Conference championships, one of the most interesting is the fact that in the blink of an eye, Green and Curry have gone from respected leaders on a team full of veterans, to the two veterans (alongside injured guard Klay Thompson) on a group full of younger players. It’s a change that Curry acknowledged has been a challenging part of the growth of the new-look Warriors.

“We have a lot of energy spent and a lot of focus on playing at a very high level and being consistent every night,” Curry said, “but you still have to be aware of how we’re developing guys, instilling confidence, encouragement, meeting guys where they are depending on the ups and downs of the season. And it requires a huge commitment; I think we understand that, we try to do our best with that, but it’s part of the newness of what this year is and it’s going to be a season-long learning lesson.

“So there’s no way to kind of cheat your way through that, you kind of have to go through it and experience it and everybody has to be just committed to what we’re trying to do. And I think that’s the best part about our team, everybody in the locker room, win or loss, we have that. And we have that respect for each other so we can grow together.”

It’s a part of a new level of growth for Green. He admitted one of the reasons he felt so bad about his actions on Saturday was because he felt like he let his younger teammates down, especially without Curry on the floor.

“It heavily impacts it,” Green said Monday, while discussing the changes in the locker room from being an older player to be younger. “Just not having those older vets per se to kind of give you that perspective. You just have to find it. It’s a completely different situation than I became accustomed to being in, or being a part of, but you just have to find it. It’s all a part of growth. You’re not going to stay the young guy forever.”

Part of the reason Kerr and the Warriors continue to be so patient with Green is because they know the adjustment in leadership that continues to take place.

“David West was the guy who could literally, physically pick Draymond up and bearhug him and wrestle him away from a situation,” Kerr said Monday. “And he had the respect from Draymond to back that up. This team, you’ve got younger guys. They might not feel as comfortable doing something like that, so it’s a different dynamic for sure. I think Draymond understands that, we understand that, but there are going to be times for sure where we’ve got to help him keep from crossing that line, it’s just how he’s built.

“He’s so competitive and fiery he’s going to lose it sometimes and we’ve got to all try to keep him from crossing that line, but that mostly comes from within.”

It’s why Curry, who was not on the floor at the end of Saturday’s game because he was in the locker room battling an illness, is confident that he will be able to get through to Green in the event he has another outburst down the line.

“Absolutely,” Curry said. “We’ve been through a lot of different experiences together and we have the utmost respect for each other, no matter what we’re going through and what the situation is. I can’t give you the transcript, but I know exactly how to connect with him and keep him focused. The same for me, he challenges me, keeps me accountable on the court in different ways so the way that he’s responded in the last two days since says a lot about who he is and holding himself to a high standard and that sense of accountability, and I think it’s very genuine and we rock with him for that, so just keep moving in the right direction.”

Green’s passion is one of the reasons why he continues to be so respected through the years. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, who coached Green as a member of Mike Krzyzewski’s Team USA staff during the 2016 Rio Olympics, believes Green’s energy just needs to be channeled, not muted.

“Steve probably said it best, sometimes an emotional guy, that’s what fuels him, that’s what makes him go,” Thibodeau said prior to Tuesday’s game. “So you don’t want to take that away from them. … Draymond is a special player, you don’t want to take that away, but if sometimes it goes over the edge [and] you got to talk to him. But what he brings to that team is very unique and special, and that’s what makes that team what it is.”

That’s why Kerr continues to support Green. If the Warriors are going to get back to where they feel they belong, Kerr knows that it is Green’s emotions that help get them there.

“All you have to do is look at his track record,” Kerr said. “He was a winner in high school, a winner at Michigan State, and a winner in the NBA. So it’s just who he is. He’s a champion and he’s a competitor and he’s a great basketball player and sometimes he snaps. That’s just the way it is and we’re very happy to have him. We’re always going to deal with his outbursts because at his core, he loves his teammates, he loves the team. He’s got a great heart and he’s always going to fight.”

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Stephen Curry (37 points), James Wiseman make impact for Golden State Warriors in return to lineup

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The fact that Golden State Warriors star guard Stephen Curry dropped 37 points in a 114-106 win over the New York Knicks on Tuesday night has become a commonplace occurrence in a career that has been defined by big scoring nights. But this particular performance was even more impressive given that it came just days after being a last-minute scratch in Saturday’s 102-100 loss to the Charlotte Hornets as Curry battled an illness that left him “disoriented” and out of sorts.

“Steph was tremendous,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “Just amazing. He was moving beautifully, obviously there were no ill effects from his illness the other night. Moving really well right from the start. New York is a great defensive team, they’re big and physical, so they make it tough but Steph found a way to score. It was not easy, but he found a way and hit some huge shots and created a lot of offense for us.”

Curry, who went 7-for-14 from beyond the arc in 37 minutes, went into a little more detail as to why he missed Saturday’s game. It was a game that the Charlotte native had been looking forward to all season.

“I was trying to give myself a chance to play up until the last second,” Curry said. “I was just disoriented and the room was spinning a little bit, so at the end of the day it wasn’t smart to go out there and put myself in jeopardy of doing some more harm. We were communicating all pregame, making sure I was thinking straight about the decision to play. That was a tough call, but the right one.”

Aside from Curry’s return to the lineup, the Warriors also got a big lift from big men James Wiseman and Kevon Looney, both of whom returned to the floor after missing time because of respective injuries. Wiseman, the 19-year-old rookie center, who has been out since injuring his left wrist on Jan. 30, scored 14 points in 16 minutes against the Knicks, providing a jolt of energy down low that had been missing from the lineup.

“James was great,” Kerr said. “It was really fun to watch him play out there. It was so great to have him back. He brings a lot of energy to the floor, obviously he’s immensely talented. And so to have him out there to really impact the game, and at the same time learn, he’s getting a lot thrown at him … everything’s moving pretty fast for him but he is just an incredible athlete and an incredible young, mature guy. He’s going to have such a great career. It was so fun to see him out there and we’re just trying to bring him along at the right pace to help him develop, to make sure he’s learning properly as well.”

Wiseman came to the postgame podium with a big ice pack on his wrist, but said his wrist was feeling “great,” after returning for the first time in almost a month. Veteran Looney, who hadn’t played since turning his left ankle on Feb. 2, also contributed to the win with two points, six rebounds and four assists in 20 minutes. Looney said his conditioning felt “good,” and Kerr was pleased to see his trusted veteran come in and make an impact.

“Loon just ties things together,” Kerr said. “There are certain guys who just sort of fit with any lineup … you just put him in and he makes the right play over and over again. So while his contributions may not show up in the box score, it just makes the game easier for everybody else.”

Speaking of making things easier, Warriors swingman Kelly Oubre, Jr., who made several big plays on both ends of the floor while scoring 19 points of his own, explained the difference that Curry’s presence on the floor creates for everybody else.

“It’s night and day, man,” Oubre said. “That’s the best shooter in the history of the game. That’s my opinion, but I feel like if you look at the numbers, if you look at the facts and the stats, everything, it adds up to him being the best shooter in the history of the game. The energy that he brings and the force that he brings when he comes off screens, especially late in games when teams have to just play and switch, it’s a lot of slips, it’s a lot of opportunities for everybody else to find their spots. So I think that’s just a blessing to be able to play with, man.”

For his part, Curry was just happy to have fans back in Madison Square Garden to listen to after several months of playing in mostly empty arenas. Tuesday marked the first game the Knicks were allowed to have fans inside the famous arena.

“It was awesome,” Curry said. “I don’t know how many fans there were, but you could definitely feel a different energy in there. There were some fans heckling which was awesome. Me and Draymond were talking about it. There’s no better feeling — I don’t care if it’s 19,000 or 2,500 or whatever it is, you love silencing a road crowd. So that is a cool experience considering not many arenas have had fans this year. It does make a huge difference so we love playing in front of the fans that bring energy like that, especially here.”

After missing Saturday’s game, Curry was glad to be able to help his team across the finish line on Tuesday night. The Warriors have yet to either win or lose three games this season, but they know things would get dark in a hurry if Curry didn’t bounce back as quickly as he did from his illness.

“It was hopefully just kind of a fluke instance where it just wasn’t right, [for] a lot of different reasons,” Curry said. “It was the right thing to do. The last two days just kind of get my bearings back; thankfully I had time to practice yesterday, which gave me a little bit of confidence to come into today and get back to playing at a high level. It sucked missing the game and especially in that fashion where I thought I could go and then in the last second just didn’t have it in me. A good bounce-back for us overall as a team, so it was nice to have Loon and Big Fella [Wiseman] back.”

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