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Evan Fournier – Reps with Boston Celtics needed with COVID-19 bout in rearview mirror

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Celtics guard Evan Fournier struggled Friday night in his first game since recovering from COVID-19, missing all seven shots he took in 22 minutes of Boston’s 109-104 loss to the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets in New York.

Fournier, who hadn’t played since April 4, talked afterward about the difficulty he had battling through the virus, which caused him to miss nine games.

“My experience — where do I start? The first two days I was doing great, no symptoms at all, and then flu-like symptoms, high fever, really tired, fatigue, all that,” Fournier said. “I honestly stayed in bed and slept for four or five days. The roughest part was ramping up the activity. The last two days of practice was really hard. I had moments where I was doing good and moments where I was exhausted.

“That’s why you have to push through it. You have to do it to feel better. I don’t want to spend another week just ramping up my activity and doing cardio and all that. I need reps with the guys.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens stuck with Fournier on the court down the stretch Friday night even as he was missing shots, both because the veteran sharpshooter still would earn the respect of the defense and because Boston simply needs him to get back in game shape as quickly as possible as it fights for positioning in the middle of the East playoff picture.

“Yeah, he’s going to probably, very likely at least, going to struggle, and we just don’t have time to practice,” Stevens said. “He’s got to play, he’s got to get himself up to speed.

“Evan obviously couldn’t make a shot, but I just asked him how he felt. He said he was pretty winded out there. So that was not a huge surprise. But it is good to get him those minutes, and I don’t think he’ll have many games like that.”

Friday night was just Fournier’s fifth game since Boston acquired him from the Orlando Magic a month ago, as he missed one game due to a false positive test before then testing positive for the virus and being forced to sit out. Boston used a large chunk of the trade exception it generated in the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade to add Fournier, who should be able to give the Celtics the kind of versatile offensive weapon this team has desperately missed off the bench this season.

And, after missing so much time, Fournier said he was ready to get back on the court as soon as he could — even if that meant his legs would be a little slower than if he’d taken more time to get himself right.

“I probably could have waited a few more days or a few more games to really feel better, but I just got here and I need reps to play with the guys and really understand the system offensively and defensively,” he said. “So I only had two days of practice, and for me the most important thing is just to be out there. It’s going to be hard obviously, but I have to fight through it and push through it because to me that’s the only way I’m going to feel better at some point.”

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NBA playoff watch – Philadelphia 76ers nab East’s top seed; Washington Wizards clinch play-in spot

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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 Thursday’s games

Play-in games to be held Tuesday through Friday of next week

β€’ How the play-in tournament will work

β€’ Current NBA standings

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 Washington Wizards at No. 9 Indiana Pacers — 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

Game 1: No. 8 Golden State Warriors at No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers — winner is No. 7 seed in playoffs; loser moves on in play-in

Game 2: No. 10 San Antonio Spurs at No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies — winner moves on in play-in; loser is eliminated

Game 3: Grizzlies/Spurs winner at Lakers/Warriors loser — winner is No. 8 seed in playoffs


Teams that clinched Friday

Already in

EAST

Playoff spots: Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks

Play-in spots (seeds 7-10): Celtics, Hornets, Pacers

WEST

Playoff spots: Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, LA Clippers, Denver Nuggets

Play-in spots: Warriors, Grizzlies, Spurs

TBD: Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, Lakers


Here’s a breakdown of the key games from Friday and what the results mean for the seedings:

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Joel Embiid comes up with a block as Ben Simmons goes all the way for a two-handed jam vs. the Magic.

The top seed in the East is officially settled, and it belongs to the Philadelphia 76ers. With a win over the Magic on Friday, the Sixers have clinched home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, and maybe more importantly, positioned themselves on the opposite side of the bracket from the Nets and Bucks.

It’s the first time the Sixers have been the top seed since 2001, when Allen Iverson led them throughout the playoffs to the NBA Finals against the Lakers.

Who Philly plays in the first round will be determined through the play-in, with the Celtics, Hornets, Pacers and Wizards all in play for the 8-seed.

Taking the top seed is a boost, but not necessarily an accomplishment for the Sixers, with coach Doc Rivers downplaying its importance earlier in the week.

“I don’t look at the No. 1 seed as being this great achievement,” Rivers said. “I just think it’s great to have because of home-court [advantage]. The achievement is winning [the championship].” — Royce Young

With a win against the Cavaliers, the Washington Wizards have settled the final play-in spot for the East, securing at least a top-10 seed and, therefore, eliminating the Chicago Bulls.

It has been a striking turnaround for the Wizards, who on April 5 were 17-32 and outside the East’s playoff picture. Since then, they’ve gone 16-6, which featured a seven-game winning streak, boosting them into the top 10.

With a game to go, there’s still more to play for as the Wizards are a game behind the Hornets and Pacers for the eighth and ninth spots. The difference between No. 8 and No. 9 is huge, obviously, going from a possible one-and-done game to needing to lose two games to be eliminated.

And guess what? The Wizards close the regular season against the Hornets on Sunday, while the Pacers finish with the Lakers (in what is a near must-win for L.A.). The Wizards hold the tiebreaker on the Pacers, which would bump them ahead if Washington closes with a win and the Lakers beat Indiana. The Hornets play the Knicks on Saturday, and with a win, lock up a higher spot than the Wizards by virtue of a 2-1 season series tiebreaker. But should the Hornets lose, it sets up a massive seeding game between Washington and Charlotte. — Young

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NBA world shows support for WNBA opening day

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The WNBA has officially tipped off its 25th anniversary season. A year ago, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was uncertainty over how the season would occur and if it would even finish. There were several notable players who opted out or suffered injuries.

On Friday, the league’s opening night was celebrated as players across both the NBA and WNBA expressed their excitement upon arriving to their games.

Before Sabrina Ionescu cashed in on a game-winning 3-pointer, fellow Barclays Center resident and Brooklyn Net Kevin Durant sent praises to the New York Liberty. Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton were among the several NBA players who supported their counterparts in the WNBA. The Phoenix Suns‘ stars wore the jerseys of Phoenix Mercury stars Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith. The WNBA’s iconic orange hoodie was also a popular fashion statement made by several players.



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Rapper J. Cole shouts out Russell Westbrook and Ja Morant in new album, NBA world reacts

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After a three-year hiatus, rapper and new Rwanda Patriots shooting guard J.Cole released his sixth studio album titled “The Off-Season.” Despite spending the greater part of the past decade focusing on a multiplatinum music career, his basketball roots run deep.

Born Jermaine Lamarr Cole, he was a star basketball player at Sanford (North Carolina) High School before a short stint as a walk-on at St. John’s University.

The North Carolina native also drew attention during the 2019 Dunk Contest when he performed at All-Star Weekend in his home state and nearly threw down a one-handed dunk:

The second song of the album, titled “p u n c h i n ‘ . t h e . c l o c k.”, features audio from Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard‘s postgame interview after he put up 61 points in the NBA Bubble against the Dallas Mavericks. Lillard and CJ McCollum acknowledged the sample:

His latest project features multiple NBA references, including to Russell Westbrook, Ja Morant and Stephen Curry. The mentions received plenty of attention on social media:

The 36-year-old rapper is preparing to suit up in the Basketball Africa League as his Rwandan Patriots will play in the first BAL game Sunday against Nigeria’s Rivers Hoopers.



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