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John Collins out with sprained ankle as Atlanta Hawks’ injury woes continue

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ATLANTA — Hawks forward John Collins will be out at least a week with a sprained left ankle, another blow to the injury-plagued team.

Collins was injured during Tuesday night’s loss at Phoenix. He underwent an MRI that showed a lateral ankle sprain and associated bone bruise.

He has started low-level rehabilitation activities and will be reviewed in a week, ruling him out for at least five games. The team has two more games on its longest road trip of the season before a four-game homestand.

The Hawks have dealt with a rash of injuries that have sidelined key players such as De’Andre Hunter, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Cam Reddish for significant periods.

Now it’s the 6-foot-9 Collins, who is averaging 18.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 38% from 3-point range.

Reddish hasn’t played since Feb. 21 because of right Achilles soreness. While he has increased his lower limb weight room work and intends to add limited low-level impact work, the team said he is at least two weeks away from returning.

The Hawks play at San Antonio on Thursday night.

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Perfect time to represent Nigeria for Utah Jazz’s Miye Oni

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Miye Oni’s favourite Nigerian food is pounded yam with egusi soup served with oxtail.

That is as Nigerian a dish as you are likely to get, especially the oxtail part. It is a dish that can be found in classy restaurants and run-down bucks alike, and is a staple in most Nigerian homes.

Oni can understand the Yoruba language and while his “ese o” is spoken with an American accent, there is no doubt that he was raised in a Nigerian home with Nigerian values.

He cannot speak pidgin English, but having Burna Boy and Wizkid among his favorite musicians more than make up for that.

Oni, like most other children of first-generation Nigerian immigrants, has been a target of the Nigeria basketball federation as they seek to rebuild the program around NBA talent.

But things gained impetus with the appointment of Golden State Warriors associate head coach Mike Brown in 2019. His outreach, profile and willingness to scout, persuade and cajole has accelerated the process and convinced the likes of Oni, Jahlil Okafor and others to commit to the Nigeria national team.

But the Jazz guard tells ESPN it was more a question of when, not if, for him.

“It just wasn’t the right time,” he said. “Things didn’t work out then. But now is the perfect time and I’m ready to represent Nigeria in the Tokyo Olympics.”

And now that it has finally happened, he says pulling on that green and white strip was immensely important for his parents.

“They were really proud. It’s important to them. They always teach me about Nigerian culture and everything like that. So it’s been important to them and something I dreamed of and something that my whole family is excited for.”

Oni made his competitive debut for D’Tigers as they went down 67-84 in a bruising battle against Australia in their opening game of the Olympics. But disappointed as he was by the result, it was overshadowed by something bigger — the pride of representing the motherland.

“To me, it meant the world,” Oni said. “My mother was born there, the country my father has lived in. I’ve been there. It means a lot to me and my family, that we carry that pride everywhere we go.

“So just being able to represent this country, with all this rich history, and really try to make this country proud, means a lot to me.”

– The Undefeated: Precious Achiuwa has family at heart in Tokyo

Nigeria’s ambition going to Tokyo was to medal. Coach Brown has made that very clear and the players have bought into the goal. But losing against Australia, especially after two exhibition wins against the USA and Argentina, gave the team a reality check. They now have to push the reset button.

“Every game is going to be a war and a challenge. That is what we expected and that has not not changed,” Oni said.

“We just have to play our hardest and not really worry about our opponent, just worry about what we can control and play our hardest to execute where coach wants us to and put us in a good position to win every game.”

In those two exhibition wins, the team overpowered number one-ranked Team USA and followed that up with another smothering performance against number three-ranked Argentina. But the displays showed different sides of the offensive and defensive arsenal Brown has assembled.

“Just our athleticism overall. We are long, athletic, fast. As Nigerians that’s what our strength is always going to be.

“So we can get to the rim and defend. But I think once we come together as a group, and really start clicking, we can really be special.”

If they do succeed in getting on that podium, it will be a first for an African nation. But being first is not new to the Nigerian basketball team, especially in these last few years. They became the first African team to qualify for the Olympic Games from World Cup play, and also became the first African team to beat Team USA.

And with potentially more NBA class talent still to be added in the future, the prospects of Nigerian basketball are promising.

For Oni, all he wants to do is contribute to making history with D’Tigers.

“I always play hard and I always play the right way with the intensity, the effort, I’m always going to give my all and just trying to make the right plays every time I step on the court and do what our coach asks me to do, I feel like I could play a lot of different ways. So just whatever the team needs, and whatever coach asks me to do, I’ll do that and step up from my team.”

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Memphis Grizzlies to trade Jonas Valanciunas to New Orleans Pelicans for Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, sources say

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The New Orleans Pelicans are finalizing a trade to send Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe and two future first-round picks – including the 10th overall pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft – to Memphis for center Jonas Valanciunas and the 17th overall pick, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Determined to create significant financial flexibility in free agency next week, the Pelicans are including the 2022 Lakers first-round pick – protected to 10 – in the trade, sources said. Memphis (51) and New Orleans (40) are also exchanging second-round picks in Thursday’s draft, sources said.

The deal moves the Grizzlies into the lottery at No. 10 of a deep 2021 draft and allows them to add another significant piece to an already playoff tested core of young players. Memphis could have three first-round picks in 2022, including protected picks via Utah and the Lakers.

New Orleans has the salary cap space now to match an offer sheet for restricted free agent guard Lonzo Ball, or pursue unrestricted free agent point guards in the marketplace, including veteran All-Star Kyle Lowry. The Pelicans are also working to resign restricted free agent Josh Hart.

The Pelicans could have as much as $36 million in salary cap space, if they were to lose Ball and Hart. The room drops to $25 million if Ball left, but Hart stayed.

ESPN’s Bobby Marks noted that because of the salary involved — $15 million for Valanciunas, $17.1 million for Adams and $18.1 million for Bledsoe — the trade cannot be finalized until Aug. 6, when free agency begins.

The Pelicans brought in Bledsoe and Adams last offseason in the trade that sent Jrue Holiday to the Milwaukee Bucks. New Orleans signed Adams to a two-year, $35 million extension shortly after.

Bledsoe, who was coming off back-to-back All-Defensive team nods in Milwaukee, had a disappointing season as he was asked to play a different role in the Pelicans’ offense. He had the second-lowest shooting percentage of his career (.421) and his lowest scoring average (12.2) since 2012-13.

A more traditional big who doesn’t typically step out beyond the arc, Adams also experienced a dip in production averaging just 7.6 points per game after four consecutive seasons averaging double figures in scoring. He averaged 8.9 rebounds per game but shot a career-worst 44.4 percent from the line.

Valancuinas, 29, isn’t a traditional floor spacer but did shoot 21-of-57 from deep (36.8 percent) last season with Memphis.

He’s also coming off his most productive season after averaging 17.1 points and 12.5 rebounds per game while shooting a career-best 59.2 percent overall in just 28.3 minutes a night.

Valancuinas finished third in the league in rebounding last season and second in offensive rebounds per game (4.1) – two spots ahead of Adams. He was also tied for third in the league in double-doubles (49) just behind Nikola Jokic and Russell Westbrook.

Bledsoe has two years left on his current contract at $18.1 million in 2021-22 and $19.4 million the following season although only $3.9 of that is guaranteed with the full amount triggering on June 30, 2022. Adams is owed $17.9 million in 2022-23. Valancuinas will be paid $15 million this season and $14 million the following year.

Memphis swapped both of its picks in this year’s draft while the Pelicans still have four second-round picks since they still have No. 35, No. 43 and No. 53 to go along with the pick they swapped with the Grizzlies.

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Luka Doncic scores 48 points in Olympic debut as Slovenia wins opener over Argentina

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SAITAMA, Japan — Luka Doncic is only a 22-year-old Olympic rookie, a player who might still be a few years away from his best basketball.

Sergio Hernandez doesn’t need to wait.

“For me, I said this two years ago: He is the best player in the world, including the NBA,” Argentina’s coach said. “And if there was any doubt in my mind, there is no doubt anymore. He is the best player in the world.”

Hard to argue after Doncic’s performance Monday at the Saitama Super Arena.

Doncic made a spectacular Olympic debut with 48 points, tied for the second-highest total in men’s basketball history, to lead Slovenia to a 118-100 victory.

In Slovenia’s first Olympic game ever, Doncic scored 31 points in the first half, putting him on pace to break the Games’ scoring record of 55 points by Brazilian Hall of Famer Oscar Schmidt in 1988.

Though he didn’t have to do as much in the second half with Slovenia’s huge lead, the superstar guard for the Dallas Mavericks stayed on the floor well into the fourth quarter and ended up tied with Eddie Palubinskas, who had 48 for Australia in the 1976 Games in Montreal.

There was still enough time left to break the record when Doncic checked out with a few minutes left, but he wasn’t interested in pursuing more points.

“I don’t care about records,” he said. “We got a win and that’s what we came here for.”

His teammates wanted both.

“Everybody was telling him on the bench, ‘OK, let’s get the record,'” veteran Zoran Dragic said.

“But that’s not the case. The case is to win the game. He knows that, and it’s crazy that he’s only 22 years old.”

Slovenia didn’t even have a spot in the Olympics until earlier this month but is a medal threat thanks to Doncic, who had a historic first postseason in the NBA and might just do the same in the Olympics.

Luis Scola scored 23 points for Argentina. Facando Campazzo of the Denver Nuggets added 21.

The opening day of play in Group C started with Luka against Luis, the phenom against the 41-year-old veteran who was beginning his record-tying fifth Olympics in men’s basketball.

But it was quickly clear Doncic would be the star of this show with 15 points before the game was five minutes old.

“He was too good obviously,” Scola said. “I mean, he was unbelievable.”

Casually launching his step-back 3-pointers from well behind the international 3-point arc – one came from just inside the TOKYO 2020 logo at center court – Doncic shot from places where Argentina just couldn’t come out to defend.

When they tried, he just took his game inside, getting consecutive baskets on follow shots in the second quarter on his way to 11 rebounds.

That came during a 23-8 finish to the half for Slovenia, extending a 39-34 lead to 62-42 at the break.

Manu Ginobili was impressed, the Argentine idol tweeting at halftime that Doncic was “a beast” and praising his “tremendous mastery of the game.”

Doncic had already shown he had that playing in Europe even before going on to win Rookie of the Year honors in the NBA. In his second season, he became the first NBA player to average 30 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in his first postseason series.

His first Olympics might be even better than that.

Slovenia has been a country on the rise, winning the EuroBasket title in 2017 and then qualifying for Tokyo by winning one of the Olympic qualifying touraments earlier this month. The Slovenians knocked off host Lithuania in the final after Doncic went right to playing for his country after the Mavericks were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round.

Argentina, the 2004 Olympic champions, were thought to be past their years of challenging for titles when Ginobili and some other stars from that era called it a career.

But Scola is still here and the Argentines showed they’re not done just yet when they made a surprise run to the gold-medal game two years ago in the Basketball World Cup, losing to Spain but not until after clinching their spot in the Olympics.

Spain is also in Group C along with host Japan, but even those games shouldn’t be any tougher than playing against Doncic.

“We tried everything that we would have tried against a normal player,” Hernandez said, “but he’s not a normal player.”

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