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Kevin Durant plans to return to Brooklyn Nets’ lineup Sunday after missing 3 games with thigh injury

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Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant is planning to return to the lineup for Sunday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Durant missed three games with a left thigh contusion.

He got hurt early in the first quarter of the Nets’ game against the Miami Heat last Sunday. Durant was driving toward the basket when he collided with Trevor Ariza. Afterward, the team deemed that his status was day-to-day. Durant remained on the Nets’ road trip to New Orleans and Tampa, and he continued to get treatment on his thigh.

Despite Durant’s return, the Nets are not yet at full strength.

Brooklyn remains without James Harden, who experienced a setback in his hamstring strain rehabilitation last week and now is out indefinitely. The team also is missing Nic Claxton, who had emerged as a key part of the big-man rotation. Claxton has missed three games in the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

The Nets host the Suns at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Information from ESPN’s Malika Andrews was used in this report.

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Brooklyn Nets’ Big Three expected to play just eighth game together Saturday against Chicago Bulls

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NEW YORK — The Nets‘ Big Three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving are expected to play in just their eighth game together on Saturday against the Chicago Bulls. It will be the first game action the trio has seen together since Feb. 13 against the Golden State Warriors.

“If everything stays the same,” Nash said after Friday afternoon’s practice, “those three will play tomorrow.”

The Nets are looking to lock up the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference this weekend. They play the Bulls on Saturday and end the season with a game against the Cavaliers on Sunday.

A slew of injuries has kept Durant, Harden and Irving from being on the floor together. Durant strained his hamstring in the game against Golden State and missed over a month. Then, in early April as Durant was nearing a return, Harden strained his hamstring and missed over five weeks.

Some combination of the Nets’ Big 3 have played in 46 games for the Nets this season, according to ESPN’s Stats and Information group. Just Harden and Irving have played in 19 games together. Durant and Irving have played in 17 games. Harden and Durant have played in just three games as a pair — including Wednesday’s win over the San Antonio Spurs, which was Harden’s first game since April 5.

Nash said that hope is that even one more game on the court allows his leading scorer’s to build a bit more chemistry heading into the post season.

“It’s been few and far between,” Nash said. “I don’t necessarily have any expectations other than it gives us an opportunity to jell and play together and feel what it’s like to be out there again.”

The Nets roster has also changed since Durant, Irving and Harden last played together in February. The Nets added Blake Griffin — who has become a key player off the bench for Brooklyn and has yet to be on the floor with all three players. Nash did not commit to all three players being available for both halves of the Nets’ back-to-back this weekend.

“I’m just happy they are on the floor,” Jeff Green added. “We’re getting to finally try to create a rhythm with all guys healthy. We’ll see what happens from there. We have a long week to prepare for whomever we play. For those guys, it will be good. For us, it will be good to get a look and see where we are at when everybody is healthy.”

In order for Brooklyn to secure the No. 2 seed, they would need to win both games. If they go 1-and-1, the Milwaukee Bucks — who trail the Nets by one game, but own the series tiebreaker — would have to lose at least one game. If the Philadelphia 76ers lose both of their remaining games, which is unlikely, the Nets have a chance at owning the No. 1 seed.

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BAL’s Ater Majok learned his work ethic from Lakers legend Kobe Bryant

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US Monastir’s Ater Majok has paid tribute to former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant ahead of the Basketball Africa League, telling ESPN that Bryant inspired his career after meeting Majok in high school for the first time.

According to Majok, who would go on to be drafted by the Lakers in 2011, the pair met when Majok attended a youth camp which Kobe hosted in Los Angeles, and the Sudanese-Australian promised the superstar that they would one day share a court.

Majok, who is currently preparing for the inaugural BAL that starts on May 16, told ESPN: “I remember when I first got drafted, on draft night, I was in Washington DC.

“Mitch Kupchak, the general manager at the time, called me. He said, ‘Congratulations, you’re a Laker. You worked hard for it.’ The first thing I remember saying was, ‘Tell Kobe that I kept my word.’

“I sent [Kupchak] a screenshot of the pictures that we had taken that day, [because] Mitch didn’t even believe that I had that conversation with Kobe.”

He further explained how the duo met: “I was having a conversation in one of the camps that Kobe was hosting and I told him, ‘One day, I’m going to be your teammate.’

“I took a picture with [Bryant] and said, ‘Yo, you’ve got a bullseye on your back. I’m coming for you.’ As a kid, being a competitor, that’s something that you’re automatically going to do.

“That’s where my journey started — when I met him that day. My words to him were, ‘I’m going to be on the same court as you one day. If I’m playing against you, I’m coming at your neck, but if I’m your teammate, I’m going to make you proud.’

“He said: ‘Yeah, a lot of people said that, but it’s not an easy road, but if you can get there, get my phone.'”

If going on to be selected by the Lakers made Majok feel 10 feet tall, then watching Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash in 2020, brought him straight back down to earth.

He said: “When I flew to LA the next day [after the call with Kupchak], I remember having the first practice. It was at 11AM. I thought I had good work ethics. Being professional and being African, I work hard and nothing is ever given.

“I showed up at 9AM and Kobe was in there already working out, bleeding sweat. Being around Kobe as a rookie, you don’t even walk on the court with him at the same time. When he’s working, you can’t disturb him, so I just stood on the sideline and watched.

“I remember the equipment manager said, ‘He’s been here since 7AM.’ I said, ‘What? We don’t have practice until 11!’ He said, ‘Yeah, and he’s going to keep working, go eat, and come back.’

“He did this every single day. Some days, he’d be there at 5AM. That was the extreme of work ethic and being professional.

“When I started seeing him, I thought, ‘Let me start imitating him — not so much imitating his game, but imitating how he carries himself and how hard he works.’

“You’ve got to tell yourself: ‘I’m not going to be Kobe — I want to be myself — but at the same time, I want to be blessed with that work ethic.’

“I started going in a couple of hours before practice. If I knew that he was shooting in the morning, I’d go to the gym at night.”

Majok carried this routine with him for years, even as he hopped between countries after falling short of making a name for himself in the NBA. He was cutting his teeth in New Zealand with the Breakers when he learned of Bryant’s passing.

He recalled: “I was actually asleep because of the time zone. I remember my mom calling me in tears and I knew something was wrong. I hadn’t turned on the TV. I hadn’t even looked at my phone — she called me early in the morning.

“I remember my mom saying: ‘Just turn on ESPN.’ I kept seeing his name. I couldn’t believe it — it took me probably three days to get it in my head that this was reality. For me, it’s still hard.

“Literally, this is the person that my character is based on — this is who I learned a lot of things from — being professional and even being drafted.

“I owe him for that, because when I met him and I was talking sh*t to him, talking smack, being a young high school kid… him challenging me led me to work hard to be in a place to get drafted.

“Then, just being in the same practice facility, the same block room, the same arena, the same uniform — and just learning things — he meant a lot to me.

“I don’t talk about it too much to a lot of people, because this is something that is personal to me.

“It really hurt me, but at the same time, he is a legend. Despite his physical spirit passing on, I know his spirit is still here and I don’t think his memory will ever go anywhere.”

In the spirit of Bryant, Majok said he would settle for nothing less than the championship title at the BAL in Kigali. Tunisian side Monastir are scheduled to begin their campaign on May 17 against Madagascar’s Gendarmerie Nationale Basketball Club (GNBC.

The entire 26-game tournament will air in Africa on ESPN (Channel 218 on DStv), as well as on Azam channel 120, Zuku channel 320, and StarTimes channel 256.

In the U.S, all games will be available on ESPN+ while the opening game and Finals will also air on ESPNews. ESPN will air the opening game and Finals in select countries in Asia-Pacific, the Caribbean, Europe and Latin America, and all BAL games will air on ESPN’s digital platforms in those same regions. BAL games and programming will also be available in Canada on TSN and in China on Tencent Video.

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AS Sale coach plays down their Basketball Africa League chances

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With the Basketball Africa League set to tip off on Sunday for its inaugural season, 2017 FIBA Africa Champions Cup winners AS Sale have been tipped as one of the favourites, but their coach is aiming lower.

Said El Bouzidi is uncertain that his Morocco-based team can win the NBA-affiliated event, and has set a more realistic goal of reaching the quarterfinals as success for his side, who not only won the African title in 2017, but made it all the way to the Final the next year.

“For me, with the problems that are being experienced in Moroccan basketball [the league was suspended for two years] and the departure of some key elements of the team I think we can make maybe the quarter-finals,” he told ESPN.

El Bouzidi’s pessimism is a marked departure from year ago, when the tournament was originally scheduled to take place before the coronavirus pandemic-induced suspension.

At the time, he was just as bullish as pundits about their chances of emerging champions, despite the departure of at least two key players.

One of those players was shooting guard Wayne Arnold, who played a pivotal role in their successful run at the national title. He left to join Egyptian side Zamalek, but the losses, at the time, did little to dampen their confidence.

“We lost some players. But we can’t hold on to that. Instead, we need to focus on our goals. We are out to win the trophy,” El Bouzidi said then.

A year later, that tune has changed. With just days to the start of their campaign, and the opening game against Cameroon’s FAP, El Bouzidi is playing down his team’s chances.

The coach also pointed to the long pause in competitive play: “The effect of the interruption has been negative, especially for AS Sale which is a team that plays more than 40 international matches but now finds itself without training, without competition.

“Yes, it is normal for people to see us as favourites, but what people don’t know is that the AS Sale team has aged and changed.”

Instead, Bouzidi is pointing in other directions for potential winners of the competition: “The best claim for the title in my opinion goes to US Monastir. Also, Zamalek, and then the Angolan club Petro from Luanda and the Nigerian club Rivers Hoopers.”

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Robinson Opong tells Colin Udoh why he expects big things from his Rivers Hoopers team in the BAL.

El Bouzidi is not alone. Mohammed Sekkak, a now retired AS Sale player who remains part of the fabric off the club, is equally downbeat about their chances.

“It is the first time in a long time that I have doubts,” he told ESPN. “I trusted my team and it’s personnel. It is just that every other time before we were prepared and we were playing in a league that was functional.

“It is not as much the team as it is the other factors which may affect us. We played at the highest level and we reached the final twice in the last two editions and won once. So our odds are on our side and usually, we can compete with any team.”

Still, there is reason to trust in AS Sale’s ability to finish on top of the pile by the end of the two-week competition.

Formed in 1928, the seven-time Moroccan champions are one of the oldest basketball clubs on the continent, but for the majority of their existence, were content to make up the numbers in the league.

That was to change at the turn of the century when they became real challengers, and then champions.

Sekkak, who played in those earlier teams, says the turnaround was driven from within: “We were known for producing good players through the youth categories.

“A new generation of good and modern ex-players with young age and career people took over.

“Players who played with me and some younger ones decided the club should not just compete and stay in the middle of the pack, they wanted to lead the pack. So they hired the best players and they found great sponsors who bought into that philosophy.”

This injection of funds and expertise injected fresh impetus into the team and thus began their new found place as not just a national, but continental powerhouse.

To start with, AS Sale finished runners up four times; in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2009. They were finally crowned champions in 2010, a full 82 years after the club’s formation.

With the dam broken, the Corsairs went on to dominate the league, winning another six titles, including consecutive triumphs from 2015.

Having conquered the country, they then went on to do the same on the continent, winning the FIBA Africa Champions Cup in 2017 under El Bouzidi and finishing runners up in 2018.

It is perhaps an indication of the club’s confidence in a roster that reached back to back African Finals, that they decided to use only three of their allowed four foreign player quota.

Top of that list is American Terrell Stoglin, a 29-year-old guard who played college ball at the University of Maryland, and has experience from playing in Greece, France, Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Beirut, Turkey, China, Qatar, Bahrain, Venezuela, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Stoglin is a returnee, who was with the club initially but left during the COVID break. He is joined by Johndre Jefferson and Ra’Shad Deane James.

“We brought only three imports,” Bouzidi said. “Because the needs of the team now are not the same of pre-Covid-19. Hopefully they will pull the team forward.”

Despite the issues, El Bouzidi is happy about playing in the BAL and hopes to see the tournament grow bug enough to rival others: “I’m happy to play the first edition of the BAL and any coach will have the same attitude.

“BAL not only opens the door for African basketball but it is also its future.

“The organization is of high quality and professional. I hope it will develop into a similar league like the Euro-League and even the NBA.”

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