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Damian Lillard drops new kicks to celebrate his iconic series winner over OKC



As if Damian Lillard didn’t already do enough emotional damage to the Oklahoma City Thunder with his epic walk-off 3 to end their season in 2019, the new colorway for his Adidas shoe throws a little more salt into the wound.

Commemorating his 50-point closeout Game 5, Lillard’s signature shoe features his line from the game on the tongue, but the true troll is in the color scheme. With an orange sole, dark blue body and orange and light blue detailing, it’s pretty obvious it’s in Thunder colors.

Lillard’s infamous shot was right in the face of Paul George, who said after the game the clutch bomb was a “bad shot.” Lillard took exception, and has seemed to hold a grudge with George ever since as the two beefed in the bubble last season.

The shot also came in a series full of trash talk and heated exchanges with the Thunder, with guard Dennis Schroder tapping his wrist at the end of OKC’s Game 4 win. After Lillard hit the series-ender, he waved goodbye to the Thunder bench and said the shot was the last word in the trash talking between the teams.

Apparently not, because Lillard had at least one more thing he wanted to say with his feet.

The current Thunder roster probably won’t be bothered all that much, though. Only one player — Hamidou Diallo — remains on the team that was involved in the series.

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Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker replaces injured Los Angeles Laker Anthony Davis in NBA All-Star Game



NEW YORK — Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker was selected Wednesday to replace injured Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis in the NBA All-Star Game.

Commissioner Adam Silver chose Booker to take Davis’ spot a day after Booker was snubbed by the league’s head coaches for a reserve spot in the March 7 game in Atlanta.

“Devin Booker is the most disrespected player in our league!!! Simple as that,” Lakers star and Western Conference captain LeBron James tweeted after Booker was left out Tuesday.

Davis, voted in as a reserve, is sidelined by a strained right calf.

Booker received his second straight All-Star selection, both as an injury replacement. He’s averaging 24.7 points, 4.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds and shooting a career-high 50.1% from the field.

Booker and fellow All-Star Chris Paul have helped Phoenix to a 20-10 record, fourth-best in the NBA. The Suns last had two All-Stars in 2009-10 with Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.

James and Eastern Conference captain Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets will draft their rosters from the pool of starters and reserves on March 4.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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NBA remains committed to all teams playing 72 games as it announces the second half of its schedule



The NBA released its schedule for the second half of the regular season live on ESPN’s The Jump on Wednesday afternoon, laying out how it plans to have all 30 teams play 72 games despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The NBA unveiled only its first-half schedule in early December, allowing it flexibility to adjust as the pandemic inevitably wreaked havoc on its attempts to play games outside of the safe confines of a bubble like the one the league finished last season in. To try to make things as fair as possible, each team was scheduled to play either 37 or 38 games across the 73 days that first-half schedule was set to run.

Due to the pandemic, however, and the ongoing issues it has caused some teams, there is no such equity in the second-half schedule. It is no coincidence, for example, that the four teams playing on the first night back — the Washington Wizards, who will be in Memphis to take on the Grizzlies, and the San Antonio Spurs, who will travel to Dallas to play the Mavericks — all have been significantly impacted by COVID-19 in the first half of the season.

The Spurs and Grizzlies have the most games to be played, with each having to cram 40 games into a 68-day stretch of the calendar. On the other end of the spectrum are the LA Clippers, who will have only 34 games to be played in a 67-day period.

Although the NBA’s goal is to have every team play its scheduled 72 games, sources said the league is cognizant of the fact that all 30 teams might not be able to reach that number. There is limited flexibility within the schedule to add games, or to add dates on the calendar, as the NBA wants to get the playoffs completed on time before the scheduled start of the Olympic Games in late July.

As a result, the second-half schedule will conclude on Sunday, May 16, setting up a play-in tournament from May 18 to 21, which will feature the teams that finish from seventh through 10th in the Eastern and Western conferences playing for the final two playoff spots on each side of the bracket.

In the first games of the tournament, the seventh seed will host the eighth seed in each conference, with the winner of each conference’s game getting one playoff spot. The losers of those first games will then host either the ninth or 10th seed in their respective conference — depending which of the lowest seeds wins the games played between those two teams — for the second playoff spot.

The NBA playoffs will then begin on Saturday, May 22.

There will be five ABC games over the second half of the schedule, all featuring marquee matchups of the league’s top teams. Those are:

* The Clippers hosting their Staples Center co-tenants, the Los Angeles Lakers, on April 4.

* The Lakers traveling to Brooklyn to face the Nets on April 10.

* Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors traveling to Boston to play the Celtics on April 17.

* The Lakers playing Luka Doncic and the Mavericks in Dallas on April 24.

* And the Nets going to Milwaukee to face Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks on May 2.

As with the first-half schedule, the NBA has resumed using baseball-style scheduling in the second half, with teams playing two games in one city against the same opponent in order to minimize travel when possible. One prominent example of that is the league-leading Utah Jazz playing in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Saturday, April 17, and Monday, April 19, with both games being on ESPN.

After the two-game opening night featuring Wizards-Grizzlies and Spurs-Mavericks — the latter being on NBA TV — TNT opens the second half of the season on Thursday, March 11, with the Celtics playing the Nets in Brooklyn and the Clippers hosting the Warriors.

The opening ESPN broadcast of the second-half schedule has the Clippers traveling to New Orleans to face newly minted All-Star Zion Williamson and the Pelicans on Sunday, March 14 — followed by the surprising New York Knicks going to Brooklyn and playing the Nets and the Lakers traveling to San Francisco to play the Warriors the next night.

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National Basketball Coaches Association cites ‘level of disappointment’ with Minnesota Timberwolves’ hiring process



CHICAGO — The leadership of the National Basketball Coaches Association spoke out Wednesday about its “concern and level of disappointment” with the way the Minnesota Timberwolves went about their coaching change earlier this week.

The statement came from NBCA president Rick Carlisle of the Dallas Mavericks and NBCA executive director David Fogel.

“It’s always bittersweet when one coach is fired and another is hired. But this is not about individual coaches,” their statement read. “We would be remiss not to acknowledge a deeper concern and level of disappointment with the Minnesota head coach hiring process.

“The NBCA understands and respects each organization’s right to hire and fire whomever and whenever it chooses. But it is also our responsibility to point out when an organization fails to conduct a thorough and transparent search of candidates from a wide range of diverse backgrounds.”

The Timberwolves fired Ryan Saunders on Sunday night and struck a deal to hire Toronto assistant Chris Finch almost immediately. Finch was formally announced as the coach Monday morning.

“There were other candidates, minority candidates we considered at this time,” Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said. “Unfortunately when you’re in the middle of a season, you’re really at the mercy of teams in terms of who can become available and who’s not available. That was a challenge for us as we went through the process.”

Minnesota lost at Milwaukee on Tuesday night in Finch’s first game. The Wolves were in Chicago to play on Wednesday night.

Timberwolves assistant David Vanterpool has support from several NBA players, many of whom expressed anger that he did not get the job or, at minimum, the appearance of being considered for the role. Vanterpool is Black; Finch is white.

“During this past offseason, we saw many NBA head coaching vacancies where teams led searches that were both diverse and transparent,” Fogel and Carlisle wrote in their statement. “This must be the standard. We must establish a level playing field and equal access to opportunity for all coaching candidates.”

They said they have been working with the league office “on a wide range of initiatives that will improve future coaching searches,” but did not specify what any of those may include.

Finch interviewed for the Minnesota job in 2019, before Saunders was promoted from interim coach to the full-time role, so the organization was well aware of his style and credentials. He also has a long history with Rosas; they worked together in the Houston Rockets organization.

Rosas, who is Latino, is one of the few minorities in front-office roles around the league.

“Anybody that knows me knows how important diversity is to me and it’s a big part of who I am and what I’m about,” Rosas said. “Our staff and the diversity we have speaks for itself.”

Vanterpool is one of three Black assistant coaches on the Timberwolves, along with Joseph Blair and Kevin Burleson. Star center Karl-Anthony Towns was one of the players who spoke out in favor of Vanterpool’s future.

“I would not be doing justice to the world, to social justice, to the amount of amazing things that men of color are doing, by not mentioning that David Vanterpool is an amazing coach, with an amazing IQ, and he’s going to have an amazing opportunity here soon,” Towns said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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