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Nuggets star Jamal Murray ‘devastated’ after season-ending ACL injury, Michael Malone says

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Michael Malone says Jamal Murray is “devastated” after the Denver Nuggets point guard was diagnosed with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

Speaking for the first time since the Nuggets announced they will be without their star point guard indefinitely, Malone said the team could see Murray’s anguish over the season-ending injury.

“It’s been an emotional 24, 36 hours,” the Nuggets head coach said before the Nuggets faced the Miami Heat on Wednesday night. “Jamal is devastated, understandably so. I think the team is also a little. We understand the importance of Jamal Murray. We are a better team when Jamal Murray is healthy… He is almost second in every major [statistical] category on the team behind Nikola [Jokic].”

Murray suffered the injury with 50.6 seconds remaining in the Nuggets’ 116-107 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday night. The point guard averaged 21.2 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds while shooting 47.7% from the field this season.

Carrying title aspirations that were bolstered by the trade for Aaron Gordon, the Nuggets were shellshocked late Monday night after Murray went down.

“It was really hard, we stayed over for that game in San Francisco,” Malone said. “Just sitting with him on the way to the airport, your heart breaks because you can see the raw emotion that he was feeling.”

The Nuggets coach told his team that it has to regroup and understand that it still has the opportunity of contending in the West.

“Some roles will change obviously,” Malone said. “I don’t want one person thinking they have to be Jamal Murray. That’s not the case. It has to be by committee.”

The Nuggets will have to move on this season and for a portion of next season without their star guard. Malone said that typically the rehab for a torn ACL can range nine-to-10 months.

“We love him, we have his back and we are going to help him walk this walk in the next year,” Malone said. “I have no doubt that he will come back a better player, a stronger player. That is just how he’s made. It’s in his DNA. I expect nothing less.”

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2021 NBA playoffs – Everything at stake on the last day of the regular season

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As the regular season comes to a close, each team has something to play for: seeding or draft picks. With the addition of play-in games to the 2021 NBA playoffs, the scramble for seeding is wilder — and more important — than ever, with almost every game down the stretch having significant postseason implications.

Play-in matchups after Saturday’s games:

EAST

  • Game 1: No. 8 Charlotte Hornets at No. 7 Boston Celtics — winner is No. 7 seed in playoffs; loser moves on in play-in

  • Game 2: No. 10 Indiana Pacers at No. 9 Washington Wizards — winner moves on in play-in; loser is eliminated

  • Game 3: Wizards/Pacers winner at Celtics/Hornets loser — winner is No. 8 seed in playoffs

WEST

Play-in games to be held Tuesday through Friday.

Here’s a breakdown of Sunday’s matchups and what the results will mean:


Who will make the top six in the West?

Lakers at Pelicans, 9 p.m. ET

The Lakers can play their way out of the play-in tournament with a little help from the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. If L.A. beats the New Orleans Pelicans and the Nuggets top the Portland Trail Blazers, L.A. will end up as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. If the Lakers lose, they’ll host a play-in game on Wednesday against either Golden State or Memphis.

New Orleans will be without its young superstar Zion Williamson, who has missed the past five games with a fractured left index finger. The Pelicans have already been eliminated from postseason contention. — Dave McMenamin

Clippers at Thunder, 9 p.m. ET

After the LA Clippers sat virtually every member of their rotation and lost at the Houston Rockets on Friday night, the Clippers can stay in the fourth seed in the West with a loss at Oklahoma City on Sunday. The fourth seed would all but guarantee the Clippers and Lakers would not meet until the conference finals — if both teams advance that far.

On the other hand, the Thunder are going to be desperate to lose once more to ensure they finish no worse than tied for third with the Magic in the lottery standings. Oklahoma City has gotten quite good at losing over the past several weeks, going 1-23 since April 1. — Tim Bontemps

Nuggets at Blazers, 9 p.m. ET

For the Portland Trail Blazers, it’s not complicated: Beat the Denver Nuggets, get a top-six seed. The Blazers can even move up to fifth if the Dallas Mavericks lose at Minnesota by virtue of a tiebreaker in hand. Whom Portland would play in the first round is complex, and it involves Denver.

If the Blazers win on Sunday, the Nuggets would fall to fourth, but only if the Thunder also beat the Clippers. If the Clippers win, the Clips are the 3-seed and the Nuggets are fourth, no matter what. And with the Lakers potentially looming as the 6-seed, moving to the 3-seed might not seem that appealing. — Royce Young

The fight for the 8-seed in the West

Grizzlies at Warriors, 3:30 p.m. ET

The winner becomes the eighth seed in the Western Conference — a major difference because the Golden State Warriors or Memphis Grizzlies would end up with two chances at a playoff berth.

Sunday’s winner can try to claim the seventh seed in the play-in tournament. The loser of Sunday’s game must win two straight games to qualify for the postseason. — Nick Friedell

Settling the play-in seeds in the East

Pacers at Raptors, 1 p.m. ET

While the Indiana Pacers can no longer finish in eighth place in the Eastern Conference after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday afternoon, a win against the tanking Toronto Raptors on Sunday will ensure that Indiana hosts the 9-10 game in the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament on Tuesday night. However, a loss will mean that Indiana will either be traveling to Charlotte or Washington as the 10th seed in the East. — Bontemps

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Miles Bridges picks off a Knicks pass and takes it to the other end, then throws down a highlight-reel dunk.

Hornets at Wizards, 1 p.m. ET

After Washington beat Cleveland on Friday night and the Charlotte Hornets lost in overtime to the New York Knicks on Saturday, the game between the Wizards and Hornets on Sunday afternoon has become the unofficial start of the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. The winner will become the eighth seed, and the loser will likely become locked into the 10th seed, assuming a Pacers victory over the Raptors. — Bontemps

Who will make the top six in the East?

Celtics at Knicks, 1 p.m. ET

The Knicks only have to win at Madison Square Garden on Sunday to clinch the fourth seed in the East. With a tiebreaker over Atlanta, a Knicks victory means they’ll be ensured of finishing in no worse than a tie with the Hawks, so the first round of the playoffs will begin for them next weekend. Boston is locked into the seventh seed and is waiting to see who its play-in opponent will be at TD Garden on Tuesday night. — Bontemps

Rockets at Hawks, 7 p.m. ET

A victory for the Hawks could mean home-court advantage in the first round — but only if they get a little help. If Atlanta finishes in a tie with New York, the Knicks would own the tiebreaker and send the Hawks to the fifth spot. With New York playing earlier on Sunday, Atlanta will have a good idea of whether the 4-seed is attainable. The Rockets don’t have anything to play for other than pride, as they already have the worst record in the league secured. — Andrew Lopez

Heat at Pistons, 8 p.m. ET

Miami’s loss to the Bucks on Saturday night means the Heat are now are on track for the sixth seed and a rematch with the same Milwaukee team they beat in last season’s Eastern Conference semifinals. The Heat sit one game behind the Knicks and Hawks, who are in a tie for fourth place. The Heat own the tiebreaker over the Knicks but not over the Hawks. If the Knicks beat the Celtics and the Hawks take care of business against the Rockets on Sunday, the result of the Heat’s finale against the Pistons won’t matter as far as seedings are concerned. — Friedell

Who will win the No. 1 seed in the West?

Suns at Spurs, 2 p.m. ET

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Devin Booker sinks a step-back 3-pointer, and on the next possession, Chris Paul drains a 3-pointer of his own.

In a rematch of Saturday’s contest, the Suns will once again look to topple San Antonio as they continue their quest for the No. 1 seed. The Suns also will have to hope Utah slips up against the Sacramento Kings in a later game in order to overtake the Jazz for the top spot. Phoenix cannot fall any lower than second.

Meanwhile, the Spurs are set in the 10th spot, so they could once again opt to rest players, as they did with DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Dejounte Murray and Jakob Poeltl on Saturday. — Lopez

Jazz at Kings, 9 p.m. ET

It’s simple for the Utah Jazz: A win over the Sacramento Kings claims the West’s top seed, regardless of the Suns’ result against the Spurs. It also would give the Jazz the outright best record in the league for the first time in franchise history. (Utah tied for the NBA’s best record in 1997-98 and 1998-99.) The Jazz will finish at least tied for the NBA’s best record no matter what, but the Suns own the tiebreaker over them, so a loss to the Kings could cause Utah to slip to the second seed.

The Kings, tied with the Pelicans for the ninth-worst record, will fall from eighth to 10th in the lottery odds. — Tim MacMahon

Other intriguing matchups to watch

Cavaliers at Nets, 7 p.m. ET

The easiest path to the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference is for Brooklyn to win both of its games this weekend. Brooklyn took care of the first half of that equation with its win over the Bulls on Saturday afternoon.

Now, the Nets will watch and see what happens between the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night. The outcome of that game not only impacts the Nets’ playoff seeding — if the Bucks lose on Saturday, it secures the No. 2 seed for Brooklyn — but it has an effect on whom Steve Nash might elect to hold out of Sunday’s contest with the Cavaliers. Nash said he prefers not to play James Harden, Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant — all whom have a history of injury — on Sunday. If the Nets’ can lock up their seeding on Sunday night, the decision to rest those players becomes easier. — Malika Andrews

Mavericks at Timberwolves, 9 p.m. ET

The Dallas Mavericks know they’ll face either the Denver Nuggets or LA Clippers in the first round, but the Mavs won’t have any clarity before tipoff on how the result of their regular-season finale will determine their playoff matchup. A win over the Timberwolves will clinch the fifth seed for the Mavs, but the Clippers will be the fourth seed if they manage to lose to the Thunder or if the Nuggets beat the Trail Blazers. Dallas also could lose on Sunday and see the Clippers in the 3-6 matchup. A Mavs victory combined with a Clippers win and a Nuggets loss would result in a Denver vs. Dallas 4-5 matchup.

The Minnesota Timberwolves, whose pick goes to the Golden State Warriors if it doesn’t land in the top three, are tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fifth-worst record, one loss fewer than the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder. — MacMahon

Bucks at Bulls, 9 p.m. ET

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Giannis Antetokounmpo puts on a mean face and flexes after he gets the inside pass and rises up through contact to force down a dunk for the Bucks.

Milwaukee should have a good idea of whether it can still claim the second seed by game time. Brooklyn’s matchup against Cleveland tips off two hours earlier, and if the Nets lose, a win over the Bulls will give the Bucks the 2-spot in the East. Meanwhile, the Bulls hold the eighth spot in the lottery by themselves. Beating Milwaukee would potentially push Chicago into a three-way tie with New Orleans and Sacramento. — Bontemps

Sixers at Magic, 7 p.m. ET

After Philadelphia beat Orlando on Friday night, the Sixers enter Sunday’s game with nothing to play for, having already secured the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The Magic, on the other hand, have everything to lose for. Losing Sunday’s contest will ensure Orlando finishes no worse than a tie for third with Oklahoma City in next month’s NBA draft lottery. The Magic are one of several teams at the bottom of the standings that might be trying their best to lose one final time before heading home for the summer. — Bontemps

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Kyrie Irving focused on issues other than hoops, says ‘basketball is just not the most important thing to me right now’

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The Brooklyn Nets are about to begin their postseason pursuit of an NBA championship, but Kyrie Irving says he’s currently focused on issues other than basketball.

Irving declined to answer game-related questions Saturday after Brooklyn’s victory over the Chicago Bulls and made multiple references to the ongoing violence between Israel and Palestine.

“I’m not going to lie to you guys, a lot of stuff is going on in this world and basketball is just not the most important thing to me right now,” Irving said. “There’s a lot of things going on overseas. All our people are still in bondage across the world, and there’s a lot of dehumanization going on.

“So I apologize if I’m not going to be focused on y’all’s questions. It’s just too much going on in the world for me to just be talking about basketball. I focus on this most of the time, 24/7, but it’s just too much going on in this world not to address. It’s just sad to see this s— going on. It’s not just in Palestine, not just in Israel. It’s all over the world, and I feel it. I’m very compassionate to it — to all races, all cultures and to see it, to see a lot of people being discriminated against, based on their religion, color of their skin, what they believe in. It’s just sad.”

Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City flattened three buildings and killed at least 33 people Sunday, medics said, making it the deadliest single attack since heavy fighting broke out between Israel and the territory’s militant Hamas rulers nearly a week ago.

The latest outbreak of violence began in east Jerusalem last month, when Palestinian protests and clashes with police broke out in response to Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers. Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem late Monday, triggering the Israeli assault on Gaza.

The turmoil has also spilled over elsewhere, fueling protests in the occupied West Bank and stoking violence within Israel between its Jewish and Arab citizens, with clashes and vigilante attacks on people and property. At least 181 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including 52 children and 31 women, with 1,225 wounded. Eight people in Israel have been killed, including a 5-year-old boy and a soldier.

“I don’t care which way you stand on — either side,” Irving said. “If you’re a human being, then you support the anti-war effort. There’s a lot of people losing their lives — children, a lot of babies, and that’s just what I’m focused on.

“So if you guys want to ask me questions about the game, I really don’t care about it except for everyone leaving out the game healthy and being able to go home to their families.”

Irving scored 22 points in Saturday’s 105-91 victory and was reunited on the floor with fellow Nets stars Kevin Durant and James Harden. It marked just the eighth time this season that Brooklyn’s Big Three played together — and the first time since Feb. 13.

The Nets (47-24) are second in the Eastern Conference and can clinch the No. 2 seed in the playoffs with a victory in their regular-season finale Sunday over the Cavaliers. Brooklyn also would secure the No. 2 seed if the third-place Bucks (46-25) lose Sunday to the Bulls.

Irving, who was fined earlier this month for violating the NBA’s media access rules, was asked Saturday about maintaining a personal balance between basketball and social issues that are important to him.

“It’s a job,” he said. “I was raised as a survivor. My family comes from practically the bottom in the South Bronx. They came out of some extreme conditions. I’m the product of a lot of sacrifice. … It’s a unique balance because you’re on a platform or industry that — a lot of people that are around it or surviving it don’t really get a chance to say what they believe in, or they have to play it safe, or they have to worry about money, or they have to worry about what people are saying.

“I just think you can’t be afraid to say what you believe in. It’s not about consuming information or trying to be right or politically correct. It’s about doing what God intends us all to do — that’s to stand on the good word of treating everyone with respect, compassion, and love.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Chris Webber elected to Basketball Hall of Fame after 8 years, sources say

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Former NBA star Chris Webber has finally been elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, several sources told ESPN’s The Undefeated.

Webber will be announced as a member of the Class of 2021 along with Ben Wallace and Paul Pierce on Sunday, sources said.

Webber, the 1994 NBA Rookie of the Year, made five All-Star teams and five All-NBA teams and averaged 20.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists during his 15 years in the league.

The best seasons of Webber’s career were spent with the Sacramento Kings, who made the playoffs in each of his six campaigns with the team, including a Western Conference finals appearance in 2002.

Webber also headlined the University of Michigan’s “Fab Five” men’s basketball team alongside Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. Webber led the group to the 1993 NCAA championship game.

Webber has been eligible for the Hall of Fame since 2013.

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