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‘Best shape I’ve been in my entire career’

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LOS ANGELES — Less than a minute into his first game as a member of the LA Clippers, DeMarcus Cousins maneuvered his way around Enes Kanter, tapped an offensive rebound to himself and scored on a putback right in front of a delighted Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

Making his debut for the team after signing a 10-day contract on Monday, Cousins’ seven points, four rebounds and two assists in seven minutes during the Clippers’ 133-116 blowout win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday at Staples Center.

“He was great,” said Paul George, who hit six 3-pointers and finished with 36 points. “He’s an All-Star. He’s still one of the most skilled bigs in the league. He can finish, he rebounds. I thought you saw a little bit of everything from him tonight, and he showed he’s still got a lot left to give.”

The Clippers are the latest stop for Cousins since serious injuries threatened his All-Star career. Cousins tore his Achilles in 2018 with the New Orleans Pelicans and had a long rehab before returning. He then suffered a quadriceps tear during the first round of the playoffs with the Golden State Warriors in 2019. He returned and played in the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors and then joined the Los Angeles Lakers, only to tear his ACL before the 2019-20 season began.

After missing all of last season, Cousins returned and played in 25 games with the Houston Rockets this season before he was released. It has been a grueling and long road back.

“I’ve put an incredible amount of work to get to this place,” Cousins said. “I feel great, my body feels great. I’m in probably the best shape I’ve been in my entire career. At this point, it’s about going out there and just putting everything together and just trying to continue to show that I’m healthy and I’m here to play this game at a high level.

“I understand the situation that I’m in. Whatever opportunity is given to me, I plan on just taking full advantage of it, just controlling what I can control.”

Cousins provides the Clippers with some much-needed depth at center with Serge Ibaka (back) missing his 12th consecutive game. Cousins set screens, pulled down two offensive rebounds and drew fouls to go to the line four times in his first game since Feb. 17.

“Cousins was good,” Clippers head coach Ty Lue said. “[It’s] just tough because he doesn’t know as many plays right now, so we’re limited offensively. But he’s a problem [for opponents]. He is a big load, he can post up, he can shoot the 3, he can pass the basketball. … Just getting him into shape and getting him acclimated to what we are trying to do offensively and defensively, but we already know he’s a big talent.”

Cousins also has some familiarity with this Clippers team. He’s former teammates with recently acquired Rajon Rondo, and he played with George on the 2016 U.S. Olympic team and with Patrick Patterson in college at Kentucky.

Cousins said he doesn’t see many weaknesses on the Clippers, who have won two straight with routs over the Lakers and Blazers.

“Obviously they have a two-headed snake in Kawhi [Leonard] and PG,” Cousins said. “And obviously everybody else’s job is to make their job easy. I think this is probably one of the most complete teams in the league. I just bring whatever I can to help this team and elevate it. I don’t really see this team lacking much.”

George said he is looking forward to seeing Cousins regain his All-Star form with the Clippers.

“He can really play at a high level still,” George said. “So I’m looking forward to him getting into a groove, him seeing the floor and just being a great teammate for us.”

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Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum scores 60 points and amazes the NBA world

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Jayson Tatum‘s 60-point performance on Friday night was nothing short of spectacular. Along with tying Larry Bird’s Celtics franchise record for points in a game, he helped Boston overcome a 32-point deficit in a 143-140 OT win over the San Antonio Spurs. He trails only Devin Booker as the second-youngest player with a 60-point game in NBA history.

As tweets poured in after the game acknowledging his record-setting performance, Tatum recreated Wilt Chamberlain’s iconic photo:



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LeBron James returns from ankle sprain Friday vs. Sacramento Kings

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Lakers star LeBron James returned from the longest absence of his career against the Sacramento Kings on Friday night in Los Angeles.

James, out since March 20 with a high ankle sprain (20 games total), started and was not expected to be on a minutes restriction, although coach Frank Vogel said they would try to keep him to a “reasonable” amount.

“Obviously he’s worked extremely hard, extremely diligently — as you would expect from him — to get his body back and right,” Vogel said pregame.

“He thought coming off of this trip that it’s time for him to return to the lineup. So we’re excited to have him back.”

James went through a “final test run” at the Lakers practice facility Friday morning, according to Vogel, and confirmed he would play upon arriving at Staples Center approximately five hours before tipoff.

“I gave him full support if he wanted to take more time and he came in tonight and made the decision when he got to the arena that he was going to play,” Vogel said.

Vogel said the team has not determined how it will handle James in the four remaining back-to-back scenarios it has in these final 10 games.

Friday’s game is one day shy of the six-week mark since Atlanta Hawks forward Solomon Hill collided with James’ right ankle while trying to steal the ball from the four-time champion.

At the time of the injury, the Lakers had the No. 2 record in the Western Conference, and James was considered one of the front-runners in the league’s MVP discussion.

The Lakers have lost four of their past five games and are 8-13 overall this season without James, who is averaging 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists.

Los Angeles, which started the season 21-6, now sits fifth in the West at 36-26 and has just a one-game lead over the No. 6 Dallas Mavericks and a two-game lead over the No. 7 Portland Trail Blazers with 10 games left in the regular season.

James will rejoin a Lakers team that has added Andre Drummond and Ben McLemore during his absence and then welcomed back Anthony Davis, who missed nine weeks with injuries, to the lineup last week.

While James’ return was welcome news, Vogel admitted that there is a lot for his team to get right before the playoffs begin.

“My comfort level, it’s not enough,” Vogel said. “Not in any way, shape or form. But it’s just the nature of what we’re in. And we have to make the best of it and compete through it and come playoff time, we’ll be ready.”

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo ruled out vs. Chicago Bulls with right ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — The Milwaukee Bucks are hoping Giannis Antetokounmpo won’t miss too much time because of his sprained right ankle.

Antetokounmpo sat out Friday’s game against the Chicago Bulls, after he exited in the opening minute of a loss to Houston the previous night. The two-time MVP rolled his already-hurt ankle when he appeared to step on the foot of Rockets big man Kelly Olynyk while driving for a layup.

Antetokounmpo limped to the locker room and spent a few minutes there before returning to the bench, where he sat for the rest of the game. He finished with one point.

Coach Mike Budenholzer had no update on Antetokounmpo’s condition, though he was “hopeful that it’s very short term.”

Antetokounmpo ranked fifth in the NBA in scoring (28 points per game) and seventh in rebounding (11.2) through Thursday. The Bucks were third in the Eastern Conference behind Brooklyn and Philadelphia entering Friday’s game.

The Bucks are no strangers to playing without Antetokounmpo. Friday’s game was the 10th he has missed, including six in early April with an ailing left knee. Milwaukee went 3-3 in that stretch.

“I do think there’s a silver lining to us playing without him and other guys getting opportunities and growing and developing,” Budenholzer said. “Obviously, we’ll be at our best when he’s healthy and the whole group is healthy.”

The Bucks were missing another starter with forward Donte DiVincenzo — averaging 10.2 points and 5.5 rebounds — out with a sore right big toe. He recently missed two games.

“We feel like hopefully if we can manage this, stay on top of it, keep it to a minimum, we expect him to be good to go,” Budenholzer said.

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