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De’Aaron Fox of Sacramento Kings fined $20,000 for criticizing officiating

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NEW YORK — Sacramento guard De’Aaron Fox was fined $20,000 on Monday for criticizing the officiating following the Kings’ 128-112 loss to the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.

Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell kept Fox from going after the officials following the game in Salt Lake City. The Kings guard had been bothered throughout the second half, and Mitchell, who said he has known Fox since high school, wanted to save him from a potential fine.

“If you’re going to call something on one end, call it on the other end,” Fox said after the game. “And if somebody is trying to talk to you, you can’t get your feelings [hurt] so quick to where it’s not even a hostile conversation and you’re saying, ‘Don’t talk to [me]’ and this and this and that and that. I mean, you’re coming down guessing on plays.”

Sacramento coach Luke Walton said he shared Fox’s exasperation in his postgame interview as he pointed to Mitchell’s 17 free throw attempts to Fox’s six.

Fox scored 30 points during the loss. He’s averaging 24.7 points and 7.2 assists for the 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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Al Horford says shutdown during Oklahoma City Thunder season was part of the plan

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Oklahoma City Thunder center Al Horford addressed the unique situation of him shutting down for the team’s final 28 games, calling it a mutual decision that was always part of the plan since his arrival to the franchise.

“We’ve had great communication since the moment I got here, and leading to that point, once Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander]’s injury happened, it just kind of brought that question even sooner,” Horford said. “Both of us understanding that the team also wanted to play younger guys and see what they could do with their development, and for me, for myself, health-wise, what’s best for me, putting me in the best position to be able to play at a high level for many years to come.”

On March 27, the Thunder announced center Horford would be a healthy scratch for the remainder of the season. At the time Horford was shut down, the Thunder were 19-25. As they pivoted toward playing younger players and focusing on development, they went 3-25 the rest of the way, which included a 14-game losing streak and a span where they were outscored by 490 points over a 25-game stretch, the largest margin in NBA history.

Horford’s shutdown coincided with an injury to Gilgeous-Alexander (plantar fascia tear) that forced him to miss the final 29 games. For the most part, Horford remained with the team, staying involved in games and huddles at home games. Horford did not travel with the team for road games. And for now, he remains with the Thunder.

“Al is on the team, and Al is on our roster,” coach Mark Daigneault said. “I think our staff has done a great job with him during this period of time at keeping him sharp and ready and having a plan for him and being with him in that plan in the way that we can support it.

“He’s under our umbrella right now, and we’re going to be present with him in the offseason just like we are with the rest of the group,” Daigneault said.

Horford, 34, has two years and $53.5 million left on his contract, with a partial guarantee of $14.5 million in the final season (2022-23). The Thunder are expected to work toward trading Horford this summer, working with him and his representation to find a new destination.

“I’m sure that I’ll be talking with the team and we’ll figure out what’s best,” Horford said of a trade.

Acquired from Philadelphia before the season, Horford was solid in 28 games this season, averaging 14.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

The Thunder have embarked on a clear rebuilding plan, focusing on drafting and development. With Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, a possible top-five pick and a war chest of draft capital in the future, the Thunder are well set to turn things around. Asked if the Thunder’s bright future would make him prefer to stick around, Horford left that door open.

“It’s a conversation that when it comes up, I’ll have to talk with the team and [general manager] Sam [Presti] most importantly about it and kind of go from there,” Horford said. “I’ve just been very impressed with how well the organization — it is here, all the resources that we have and all the players that we have. It’s something that really excites me.”

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