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Los Angeles Lakers’ Andre Drummond still starter despite Marc Gasol’s performance, Frank Vogel says



Marc Gasol might have just turned in his best effort since joining the Los Angeles Lakers in Tuesday’s 110-101 win over the Toronto Raptors, but L.A. coach Frank Vogel remained resolute: Andre Drummond is the team’s starting center.

“No, we’re going to start Andre. That’s what we signed him here for,” Vogel said. “We need to get [Drummond] a ton of minutes to get him acclimated to our system with only X amount of games before the playoffs, and he’ll be our starter. … [Gasol’s performance] doesn’t change that.”

Vogel made his remarks after being asked if Gasol’s performance Tuesday gave him anything to reconsider. Gasol had a season-high 13 points and tied his season highs with nine rebounds and four blocks, helping the Lakers build a 34-point lead.

Gasol, who initially balked at a role change, telling reporters last week that Drummond’s addition was “a hard pill to swallow,” was fully on board with the idea of making room for the buyout market addition after the Raptors game.

“I’ll stay ready. I’m going to tell you this: I’m fully committed to the team. I’ll stay ready when my number is called,” Gasol said. “I understand we have to get Andre acclimated to what we’re trying to do. We have to get back our two main guys — Bron [LeBron James] and AD [Anthony Davis] whenever they come back — and they have to get that group going and get some chemistry going with the first unit for them. I’ll be ready no matter what happens. No matter if it’s five minutes, 10 minutes, if it’s whatever position. If it’s some nights, I might not play. But I’ll stay ready, no matter what. I made that commitment.

“It’s been a process for me to reassess this situation a little bit, but like I said, I’m fully committed to this team. So, whatever is thrown at me, I’ll be ready.”

Drummond has missed the Lakers’ past three games since his debut because of a bruised big toe and torn toenail on his right foot. Vogel said Drummond participated in L.A.’s practice in Tampa Bay, Florida, on Monday but still was experiencing some “tenderness” in his toe before the Toronto game.

“We’re hopeful he plays against Miami,” Vogel said of Drummond, looking ahead to the Lakers’ next game on the schedule, Thursday against the Heat.

Vogel insisted that “all three of those guys” — Drummond, Gasol and Montrezl Harrell — that play center for L.A. will be needed as the team makes its march towards the postseason in hopes of defending its championship.

As for Gasol, who has averaged 9.7 points on 60% shooting, 7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.7 blocks in the last three games that Drummond missed while the Lakers went 2-1, the 36-year-old provided a reminder of what he has left in the tank.

“You know, I can make a couple shots. I can play in the post. I can pass the ball,” he said. “I can do a couple things quite well every now and then.”

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LA Clippers exorcise playoff demons, rally past Dallas Mavericks in 7 games



LOS ANGELES — As a 19-point fourth-quarter lead shrunk to seven with two minutes to go and anxiety began to spread at Staples Center, Kawhi Leonard got the kind of help he did not get last year in Game 7.

Leonard assisted on two straight 3-pointers from Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr., sealing the LA Clippers‘ 126-111 victory over the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of their Western Conference first-round series on Sunday.

Nearly nine months after suffering an embarrassing Game 7 defeat in the bubble, the Clippers are returning to the Western Conference semifinals to face the top-seeded Utah Jazz by exorcising some of their playoff demons. They overcame yet another spectacular performance from Luka Doncic with a 30-6 run in the second half to advance to the second round.

This time, the Clippers pulled off their own playoff comeback, staving off elimination by beating the Mavericks two games in a row.

Leonard and Doncic engaged in an incredible first-round duel, and both stars rose to the occasion in Game 7. Leonard set the tone once again for the Clippers and just missed a triple-double with 28 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Doncic finished his second postseason with 46 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds.

The Clippers, who also got 22 points and 10 assists from Paul George, managed to finally break through and become the only team to win at home in this entire series. The road team won the first six games in the series, marking the first time that has happened in NBA playoff history (excluding last year’s games in the bubble), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Clippers entered this game probably feeling like they were fighting history. They were just 3-5 all time in Game 7s entering Sunday, dropping their previous three by an average of 13.7 points per game, according to data by ESPN Sports & Information.

And of course, they still could taste the sting of last year’s second-round series loss to the Denver Nuggets, in which they blew a 3-1 series lead in spectacular fashion.

That embarrassing exit for a team that was built to win a championship was a driving force entering this season. But the Clippers dropped the first two games of this series at home and then lost Game 5 at home again to face elimination in Dallas in Game 6.

Leonard delivered perhaps his best all-around performance as a Clipper with 45 points and timely defense on Doncic to force Game 7.

And Leonard opened Game 7 with that same intensity, hitting five of his first six shots — including a thunderous one-handed dunk — for 13 points in the first quarter. The problem, as had been the entire series, was Doncic. The Mavericks star, playing in his first Game 7, scored 19 points in the first quarter and made 10 of his first 14 shots for 29 at the half.

The Clippers led 70-62 at halftime with 13 points apiece from Leonard, George and Terance Mann.

Dallas opened the second half with a 19-6 run and led 81-76. But Morris (23 points) rose to the occasion. With the Lakers’ Markieff Morris, his twin brother, watching from the front row, Marcus Morris buried two of his postseason career-high seven 3-pointers to spark a 30-6 run that gave the Clippers a 106-87 lead with 9:20 remaining.

Dallas cut the deficit to 114-107, but Leonard found Jackson and Morris for 3-pointers to set off a celebration at Staples Center.

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Joel Embiid vows ‘to keep pushing until I can’t’ after returning in Philadelphia 76ers’ Game 1 loss



Joel Embiid came back from a knee injury to play, but the Philadelphia 76ers couldn’t come back from a 26-point deficit against the visiting Atlanta Hawks, losing Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series 128-124 on Sunday.

Playing for the first time in six days since suffering a meniscus tear in his right knee in Game 4 of Philadelphia’s first-round series with the Washington Wizards, Embiid led all scorers with 39 points on 12-for-21 shooting (14-for-15 on free throws) and added nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks.

“Playing on a torn meniscus is not easy,” the Sixers star said. “All I got to do is keep managing it. Do my best. Get as much treatment as I can. Try to manage it to make sure that it doesn’t swell up too much. Obviously, the pain is going to be there. That’s normal.

“But it’s all about managing it, doing whatever it takes to win. Because my goal is to win the championship. I’m going to put my body on the line to make sure that happens. I’m going to give everything I got.”

The Hawks, led by Trae Young‘s 35 points, had everything going for them early. They led by 15 after the first quarter and took their largest lead of the game off a Bogdan Bogdanovic 3-pointer with 9:22 remaining in the second quarter to nearly double the Sixers’ score at 53-27.

Young had 25 points and seven assists by halftime for the second time in his career. The first time he did it, on Jan. 30, 2020, also was against Philadelphia, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.

But Philadelphia, the No. 1 seed in the East, showed up late in Game 1.

The Sixers used an 11-0 run over 2 minutes, 12 seconds of game time in the fourth quarter to draw within three points with 1:01 remaining. And they got as close as two off a Ben Simmons dunk with 10.5 seconds left, before the Hawks held on thanks to a couple of Bogdanovic free throws.

“Up until the last five minutes, things were going pretty well,” Atlanta guard Kevin Huerter said. “Thank God we were up 20. Just too many turnovers.”

Embiid scored six of the 11 points in that late flurry, but Sixers coach Doc Rivers was uneasy keeping his injured center on the court for it as the game sped up and Embiid’s playing time ticked past 38 minutes.

“I didn’t like him in, even though we had to have him in,” Rivers said. “But when we were trapping and running around in that last three minutes and obviously we made a run, I did not like him on the floor at that point because I didn’t want him doing those things, if you want to be honest. That’s why we told him to just stand back. Because those are the ones that you get injured on.”

Embiid, back in the second round with the Sixers for the third time in the past four seasons, disagreed.

“I can adjust to any style of play. We just played Washington that played fast. This team, they were physical. They play fast. I can adjust to it. It’s the playoffs,” he said. “You can’t worry about how many minutes someone is supposed to play or is going to play. You got to go with your best guys.”

Even though the Philly center seemed to tweak his knee late in the game and, while running down John Collins to foul him, fell to the floor, Embiid said he will continue to go full throttle.

“As long as I’m OK to be out there and I’m going to give my best and I’m going to keep pushing until I can’t,” he said. “But as long as I’m out there, I’m going to play hard. I’m going to dive for loose balls. I’m going to do whatever it takes to win.”

With Embiid scoring 11 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, the Sixers outscored Atlanta 41-29 in the final frame, harassing the Hawks into six of their 17 turnovers.

“The run, it just shows that when we’re out there playing as hard as we can, how good we are,” said Tobias Harris, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Philadelphia. “And we need that from the start of Game 2 — and all the games going forward. Just that type of mentality, not to let our guard down throughout this whole series.”

Simmons also learned a lesson from how the Sixers closed things out.

“I think we waited too long,” he said. “They hit us first; we didn’t hit back. At one point, we were down 26, and we still were in the game [at the end]. That tells you a lot about this team and what we’re capable of doing. We never want to do that again, obviously. We got to start the right way.”

Harris said Embiid “played his tail off,” and the center reminded reporters that he has had big games while battling his body before.

“If you look at the history, every time I’ve had an injury, it always feels like I never miss a beat,” Embiid said. “Just because, I go out there, I’m not thinking about what happened or may be going on. It may be bothering me, but I’m just not thinking about it. I just want to focus on giving my all.”

But he wasn’t all that impressed by his performance, despite setting a new career playoff high in points and scoring the most for a Sixer in a postseason game since Allen Iverson put up 45 against Charlotte in the first round back in 2003, according to ESPN Stats & Info data.

“I could have played better,” Embiid said. “We lost the game.”

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Brooklyn Nets’ James Harden ruled out of Game 2 with hamstring tightness



NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets star guard James Harden is out for Game 2 against the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday with what the team is calling “right hamstring tightness.”

The expectation is for the Nets to see how his hamstring responds over the next several days.

“He has high hopes and he wants to be back ASAP,” Nets coach Steve Nash said on Sunday. “Now, I think we want to protect James, too. We want to make sure he’s right.

“This is playoff time. This is time to take some risks, but it has to be right to take those risks — we’re not going to take any old risk. So, we hope he’s back. He believes he can be back. But, we’ve got to see what happens and only can time can tell how he responds.”

The Nets, who lead the series 1-0, will also be without Jeff Green in Game 2. Green has missed over a week with a plantar fascia strain in his left foot, but Nash says that he is “progressing nicely.”

“I think we’ll see him in this series,” Nash said. “And hopefully, it’s Game 3. But who knows.”

The play that Harden appeared to injure himself on was fairly unremarkable — a simple drive against Bucks guard Jrue Holiday. But when he lobbed a pass, Harden landed and came away from the play grabbing his right hamstring. Harden eventually left the court and struggled as he walked back to the Nets’ locker room.

A team spokesperson told ESPN that Harden left the arena shortly afterward to go get an MRI on his hamstring.

“I didn’t realize what had happened until he had started walking off the court but we supposed to run a play and he wasn’t in his spot and I looked at him, he was grimacing,” Kevin Durant said on Saturday. “It just sucks. It sucks. It sucks because I want him to be out there.

“I know how much he cares. I know how much he wants to be in this moment. It sucks. Wishing him a speedy recovery. Keep him involved as much as possible. It’s just a bad break.”

In the regular season, Harden missed over a month with a right hamstring strain. At first, he missed two games in April with hamstring tightness and the initial imaging didn’t show any structural issues, the team said at the time.

Harden came back and played five minutes in a game on April 5 before leaving for the locker room. An MRI revealed a right hamstring strain and he went on to miss the next 18 games. Similarly to in the regular season, Nash said that this time around, the MRI didn’t show any structural damage.

Harden was a vocal participant in the Nets’ film session on Sunday, his teammate Joe Harris said. Harris described Harden, who did not speak to reporters on Sunday, as “in good spirits.”

“We obviously are desperate for him to return,” Nash said of Harden. “He’s a huge piece of what we do in our team. He’s had such a up-and-down recent history with (his hamstring) that it’s really hard to predict. And so let’s hope for the best.”

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