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Doc Rivers gives West prediction ‘from afar,’ says Lakers, Clippers ‘still the teams to beat’

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LOS ANGELES — Doc Rivers might no longer be on the LA Clippers‘ sideline, but he still thinks the Western Conference will be decided by his old team and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Philadelphia 76ers‘ coach faced his former team on Saturday for the first time since being let go after the Clippers’ 3-1 series meltdown against the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs. And although he says the Clippers aren’t running much that is different from when he was calling the plays, Rivers said the Clippers and Lakers are the favorites in the West.

“Listen, Utah has been great. But I still think the Clippers and Lakers are still the teams to beat in the West,” Rivers said before the Sixers fell 122-112 to the Clippers on Friday night.

Rivers admitted the observation was being made “from afar,” saying he doesn’t watch as many Western Conference games now that he’s on the East Coast. But, he said, “I don’t see anyone better than those two teams.”

Entering Saturday night, the Utah Jazz (33-11) had the best record in the NBA. Rivers’ Sixers had the second-best record in the league. While the Clippers were third in the West before their game and the Lakers were holding on at fourth despite being without the injured LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Rivers said it is all about the Los Angeles teams, like it was supposed to be last season when they were considered heavy favorites to win it all.

The Nuggets, who were fifth in the West entering Saturday night, made a splash at the trade deadline to get Aaron Gordon from Orlando and JaVale McGee from Cleveland. And Rivers mentioned that Utah has Bojan Bogdanovic back this season after not having him in the bubble.

“I thought Denver had a great trade deadline — they did great moves,” Rivers said. “Utah is playing unbelievable basketball, so they are going to be right there. Portland, I thought improved their team as well.

“But I still think it’s the Lakers and the Clippers.”

The Clippers played a welcome-back video to their former coach, who was with the organization from 2013 to 2020. Rivers left his imprint all over the franchise, turning what was once a laughingstock into a playoff contender and helping it rise out of the Donald Sterling scandal to its status as a title contender with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Current coach Ty Lue is a Rivers protege.

“They’re a different team,” Rivers said. “They don’t have a lot of the same guys, [but] they run a lot of the same stuff that I run. Going through [their plays at] shootaround today, I thought we were going through our shootaround at times. But I wouldn’t have changed much offensively, either. I mean, they were pretty darn good last year.”

Rivers said he did not get much time to practice last season because of injuries, and then the pandemic pause and disruption in the bubble restart.

He said the Clippers now have more continuity.

“The difference is they’ve had a chance to practice together, you know?” Rivers said. “And you can see that. I think they’ve given the ball to P.G. more, which I think has helped him. So they’ve made some good changes. The biggest change I see also is defensively. I think they are a better defensive team. It’s funny, the numbers don’t exactly say that, but when I watch them, I think they’re going to be a better defensive team, one of the better defensive teams when the playoffs start.”

The Clippers added Rivers’ former point guard Rajon Rondo in a trade with Atlanta for Lou Williams. Rivers won a championship with Rondo in Boston and said his old quarterback will help orchestrate the offense, take some playmaking load off of Leonard and George and provide leadership.

“It was difficult at times last year,” Rivers said of not having a point guard like Rondo. “Especially without the practice time that we didn’t have, to run a play down the stretch where you didn’t already have the ball in P.G.’s or Kawhi’s hands. Now you don’t have to do that. You can actually run a set where Rondo can deliver the ball.

“But I think as important as that’s gonna be, his voice is going to be even more important,” Rivers said. “I think he’s one of those guys that will speak up, will speak the truth and tell everybody and hold everybody accountable. I think that’s important.”

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Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown undergoes wrist surgery, expected to resume activities in 3 months

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Boston Celtics All-Star guard Jaylen Brown underwent successful wrist surgery Wednesday and is expected to return to basketball activities in approximately three months, the team announced Thursday.

This timeline for Brown would have him ready to return to the court in time for training camp.

The Celtics announced Monday that Brown, who averaged a career-high 24.7 points on 48.4% shooting, had a torn scapholunate ligament in his left wrist and would miss the remainder of the season.

Boston is familiar with the procedure as guard Romeo Langford had it Sept. 22. Langford was ready to make his debut in mid-March before he contracted COVID-19 — about 5½ months after the surgery.

Brown’s injury adds to what has been a frustrating season for the Celtics, who are officially headed to the play-in tournament.

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NBA creates Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award

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The NBA has created a new award in honor of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the league’s all-time leading scorer and a noted civil rights activist, that will recognize a player who best embodies his striving for social justice and racial equality, the league announced Thursday.

The winner of the inaugural Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award will be announced during the playoffs and will receive $100,000 from the league to donate to an organization of his choosing. Four additional finalists will receive $25,000.

“It’s nice to see the NBA try to promote social justice awareness, and I am very flattered they would see fit to name the award after me,” Abdul-Jabbar, 74, told The Undefeated. “I know I have some history with this, so I’m happy the way it’s worked out.”

All 30 NBA teams will nominate a player for the award, and finalists will be selected by a seven-person committee composed of league executives, activists and former NBA players.

Aside from being one of the sport’s greatest contributors, Abdul-Jabbar is also a man of conviction, who in the face of Jim Crow-era segregation and racial discrimination, took principled stands for the betterment and progress of African Americans.

Growing up in the Dyckman housing projects in New York City, Abdul-Jabbar was exposed to the governmental neglect of, and targeted injustices toward, poor, Black people. Incidents such as the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, when Abdul-Jabbar was just 8 years old, and the Harlem riots of 1964, sparked by the fatal shooting of James Powell, a 15-year-old Black boy, by a New York police officer, are what triggered Abdul-Jabbar’s ascent into racial politics.

“Right then and there I knew who I was and who I had to be,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1980. “I was going to be Black rage personified, Black power in the flesh.”

Abdul-Jabbar won three consecutive NCAA championships (1967 to 1969) while at UCLA. In between them, he, alongside famed sociologist Harry Edwards, helped organize a boycott of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City due to the then-recent assassinations of civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., and the continued mistreatment of Black people in America.

“It was too difficult for me to get enthusiastic about representing a country that refused to represent me or others of my color,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in his 2017 book, “Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court.”

While in the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar and other famous Black male athletes, including Jim Brown and Bill Russell, organized the Cleveland Summit in support of world champion boxer Muhammad Ali’s decision to refuse entry into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

Today, Abdul-Jabbar sees many similarities in how athletes — such as Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James and Maya Moore — have taken a measured approach to racial equality work much as he and others did during the civil rights movement.

“I’m glad that they’re taking their time and not rushing into it. If you go into trying to effect change with a chip on your shoulder, and a lot of anger, it really turns off the people that you’re trying to talk to,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who grew up on the teachings of adopted Harlem son Malcolm X before a chance encounter with King while in high school led him to a peaceful, direct action.

“And I am glad they’ve learned that lesson and have made a commitment to do it sensibly in a nonviolent and constructive way. That’s how we get change done. That’s how we managed to overcome the communication gaps and break through.”

Abdul-Jabbar said he hopes this award inspires young, up-and-coming basketball players to continue the work he and other athletes started some half-century ago amid heavy criticism and even death threats.

“They can’t be afraid. That’s the one thing that they can’t do, because if you’re going to give into fear, then we won’t achieve anything,” he said. “We have to have the courage to speak truth to power, and if we can do that, then get the others to feel that way, we can effect change.”

Abdul-Jabbar played in the NBA for 20 seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Lakers, winning six championships (five with Los Angeles). Aside from points, Abdul-Jabbar is also the career leader in All-Star Game appearances (19) and MVP awards (six).

Outside of sports, Abdul-Jabbar has written 14 books; has starred in multiple films, most notably the 1980 hit “Airplane!”; and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Barack Obama in 2016.

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Brooklyn Nets sign Mike James for remainder of season

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NEW YORK — The Brooklyn Nets are keeping Mike James for the rest of the season.

The Nets signed the guard to a contract Thursday after the expiration of his second 10-day deal.

James has appeared in 11 games, including starting in Brooklyn’s victory over San Antonio on Wednesday. He has averaged 7.1 points and 3.7 assists in 17.5 minutes per game.

He signed his first 10-day deal April 23 after spending the previous two seasons with CSKA Moscow. He has played most of his nine-year pro career in Europe.

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