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Brooklyn Nets’ Steve Nash says there’s ‘a high probability’ Kevin Durant (hamstring) returns this week

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NEW YORK — There is a “high probability” that Kevin Durant will return to the court this coming week after missing more than seven weeks with a hamstring strain, Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash said Saturday.

Nash said there is a chance Durant could play as soon as Monday against the New York Knicks.

“I am not certain on Monday,” Nash said. “I think it’s an outside possibility, but I also couldn’t say he’s in any stretch probable for Monday. I think it’s just wait and see. But it does look positive that this week sometime, there’s a high probability he can return.”

Durant last played on Feb. 13 against the Golden State Warriors. Since then, the Nets have added veterans Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge to their roster. The Nets’ Big Three of Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden have played just seven games together since Harden was traded to Brooklyn in mid-January.

On Thursday, Durant said that he is feeling “great” in his rehabilitation and that he is “progressing pretty well” toward returning to the court.

“Initially, I didn’t think it was that bad, just a regular strain,” Durant said. “Then we got a second scan and they say it was a little deeper than that. It was one of those things where I’m not feeling a ton of pain, but you don’t want to force one of these injuries and make it worse.”

Durant went on to say that he felt he had to be “smart” and “cautious” with his hamstring. Before Durant was sidelined, he was averaging 29.0 points, 7.3 rebound and 5.3 assists.

When the former league MVP returns, the Nets will be tasked with quickly building chemistry on the fly before the playoffs begin in mid-May. Nash feels the friendships the group has built off the court should aid the players in meshing well on the floor. Still, Nash said the entire roster needs to play some games together so the Nets can iron out a rotation and jell before the postseason begins.

Nash said he also felt the team needed to play through challenging games, some close games, together and “face some adversity,” so that they have some familiarity before they find themselves facing that in a playoff game.

“I think a lot of first-year teams struggle to compete for a championship if for no other reason than that collective history and experience,” Nash said. “So, that’s something we have to accept and have to overcome.”

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Sources — Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton to return for third season

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The Sacramento Kings will bring head coach Luke Walton back for a third season, sources confirmed to ESPN.

The Kings extended their record-tying 15-year playoff drought after a second consecutive 31-41 season under Walton, who has two years left on his deal.

Sacramento is in the midst of a multiyear rebuilding process around De’Aaron Fox, first-round pick Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield, and assured Walton throughout the season it would be patient with the team’s growing pains.

In the two years since replacing Dave Joerger, Walton has seen his team get off to encouraging starts only to fade, plagued by the usual issues of poor defensive play and inconsistent offense.

Not all the blame falls on Walton’s shoulders; as was the case last season, injuries played a major role in Sacramento’s struggles. Fox missed the final 12 games while in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Forward Marvin Bagley III missed 22 games with a broken bone in his left hand and four more with a groin injury.

Haliburton’s season ended prematurely due to a left knee injury, and Harrison Barnes sat out the last eight games of the season with a left adductor issue.

There are signs of hope for next season, with Haliburton playing his way into Rookie of the Year consideration and Fox making another leap on the heels of his five-year, $163 million extension.

Walton is the team’s 10th coach since the Kings last made the playoffs in Rick Adelman’s final season in 2005-06. He’s also the sixth coach owner Vivek Ranadive has hired since buying the team in 2013.

NBC Sports Bay Area first reported that Walton would return next season.

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Lonzo Ball, set to be restricted free agent, says he ‘would love’ to return to New Orleans Pelicans

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New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball has heard his name swirl in trade rumors almost from the time he entered the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers four years ago.

But now, for the first time, Ball could have a say in his next destination as he approaches restricted free agency this summer.

The Pelicans would have a right to match any offer sheet Ball signs with another team — or they could work with him and his agent at Klutch Sports to negotiate a sign-and-trade. Ball, who spoke to reporters on Monday, said he wouldn’t mind staying around in New Orleans for the next contract.

“That’s a conversation between me and my agent moving forward. But obviously I would love to be back,” Ball said. “I built a bond here with the coaches and the teammates who are here. I definitely wouldn’t mind coming back at all.”

Pelicans forward Zion Williamson wouldn’t mind that either.

“It’d be dope,” Williamson said of Ball possibly coming back to the Pelicans. “Me, Brandon [Ingram] and Zo, the three of us have a great relationship. I really would want Zo to come back. He knows that.

“But you know, like I said, the reality of the situation is Zo is grown man so he’ll make the decision that’s best for him. The only thing I can say is, I hope he stays.”

Ball posted career highs in scoring (14.6), 3-point percentage (37.8%), field-goal percentage (41.4%) and free-throw percentage (78.1%). His free throw numbers marked a huge growth from his marks last season (56.6%).

However, Ball’s assist totals dropped to 5.7 per game, just a tick above the 5.4 he posted in Los Angeles two seasons ago adjusting to playing alongside LeBron James. It came as Ball accepted a new role in the Pelicans’ system this season.

“I think my shooting picked up from all levels of the court,” Ball said. “That was the main thing for me this year. My role was different this year. Kind of more of a 3-and-D role. I think I fit into it pretty well. I think overall it was a solid season for myself.”

Ball said he didn’t think about his upcoming free agency during the season but now that the year is over, he can shift his focus there. If that means continuing in the 3-and-D role elsewhere, or in New Orleans, he’s fine with that.

“I think I’m a basketball player. Whatever the coach wants from me, I’m going to go out there and do it to the best of my abilities,” Ball said. “[Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy] put me in a little different position this year than I’ve been in my whole life. But I think I made the most of it. And I think I had a pretty good year.”

While Williamson wants to continue to play with Ball, the feeling is mutual, even as Ball knows he has a tough decision to make.

“He’s a one-of-a-kind player as well,” Ball said of Williamson. “I’ve never played with somebody like that. Like I said, I think we have the pieces. We just have to put it together. We’re a young team. We’re only going to get better. If we can keep it together, that’d be great. But I can’t tell the future. I’ll just wait for the call and see what happens.”

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Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal says hamstring is not 100 percent ahead of play-in game vs. Boston Celtics

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Bradley Beal said his strained left hamstring won’t be 100 percent and that he will have to manage it when the Washington Wizards play the Boston Celtics in the play-in tournament on Tuesday.

Beal said his hamstring did not worsen after he scored 25 points and grabbed six rebounds in 35 minutes during the Wizards’ 115-110 win over Charlotte on Sunday, clinching the eighth spot for Washington.

“There’s no setbacks which is good,” Beal said. “I didn’t injure it any worse than what it was. Obviously it still probably won’t be 100 percent. It is just a matter of managing it as best I can.”

Washington head coach Scott Brooks said Beal “felt great” and that point guard Raul Neto, who missed Sunday’s game with a strained left hamstring, will be a game-time decision against Boston on Tuesday night.

Beal — who shot 8-for-27 but said he learned what he could and couldn’t do on his hamstring after the first half against Charlotte — will continue to receive treatment on his hamstring before the Wizards play the seventh-seeded Celtics. Beal missed three straight games after straining the hamstring and not playing at the end of regulation and in overtime during a 133-132 overtime win over Indiana on May 8.

He called his decision to return and play against Charlotte a “hard-headed” one because he wasn’t fully healthy but did not want to let his teammates down.

“I felt good,” Beal said of how he was feeling after the game. “I would say I am not as sore as I thought I would be. Not as beat up as I would have thought.”

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