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LaMelo Ball dazzles in return to court as Charlotte Hornets rout Detroit Pistons

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The LaMelo Ball campaign for Rookie of the Year is officially back on.

The Charlotte Hornets point guard dazzled in Saturday’s 107-84 home win over the Detroit Pistons, his first game action in six weeks while recovering from a fractured right wrist.

Ball finished with 11 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds, and Charlotte outscored Detroit by 19 points in the 28 minutes he was on the floor.

It didn’t take long for the 19-year old to make his impact felt as he found Miles Bridges with an assist just 21 seconds into the night.

But that was just the beginning.

His skeeball-style outlet pass to Bridges later in the quarter — an underhand lob that sailed about 80 feet before falling perfectly into Bridges’ hands near the basket — caused the Hornets’ excitable play-by-play announcer, Eric Collins, to reach a level of hysteria rare for even him.

“What a pass, finds Bridges! Welcome back, LaMelo!” Collins bellowed on the game broadcast.

Ball started in place of Devonte’ Graham, out with a bruised knee, and helped the Hornets to a crucial win with the playoffs just nine games remaining before the postseason.

Charlotte went 10-11 in Ball’s absence, falling to No. 8 in the Eastern Conference standings, but things were trending south as the Hornets were just 3-8 in their past 11 coming into Saturday.

By the time Ball attempted his first shot — a pretty, driving left-hand layup that he put in the hoop with 20.4 seconds remaining in the first quarter — the first-year point guard had already filled the stat sheet with four assists, two rebounds, a block and a steal in the opening frame.

The Hornets pushed their lead to as many as 21 before the Pistons cut that cushion to three, at 83-80, with 9 minutes, 33 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Charlotte outscored Detroit 24-14 the rest of the way, with Terry Rozier putting up 14 of his team-high 29 points in the fourth.

When Ball, the third overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft, went out in late March he was widely presumed to be a lock for Rookie of the Year, but his extended absence allowed Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Tyrese Haliburton of the Sacramento Kings to make headway for the award.

“LaMelo is deserving of that,” Hornets coach James Borrego said before the game. “I’m glad and I’m thankful that he gets a chance to continue that season in the stretch run. … So, I’m thrilled for him. But, us as an organization, this is a wonderful time for Melo to be centerstage of this thing.”

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Sources — Charlotte Hornets’ Miles Bridges enters health and safety protocols

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Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges has entered into the league’s health and safety protocols and there’s a current expectation that he could miss multiple games, sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The third-year player is averaging 21.6 points over his past six games. For the season, he’s averaging 12.4 points and career highs of 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Bridges has also become a highlight fixture around the NBA this season with several poster-worthy dunks.

His absence is the latest setback for a Hornets team that enters play Tuesday in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

Rookie LaMelo Ball (wrist) and fellow guard Malik Monk (ankle) both returned Saturday from injuries that kept them out for multiple weeks. Gordon Hayward has been out since early April with a sprained right foot. Additionally, P.J. Washington will miss Tuesday night’s game for personal reasons.

Charlotte has lost three of its past four games and plays at Detroit on Tuesday before starting a five-game homestand.

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Anderson Varejao, out of NBA since 2017, signs 10-day contract with Cleveland Cavaliers

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CLEVELAND — Anderson Varejao is back with the Cleveland Cavaliers, signing a 10-day contract Tuesday to begin a stint to celebrate his 12-year run with the team.

The 38-year-old center hasn’t played in the NBA since 2017 with the Golden State Warriors. The Brazilian agreed to come back and finish this season with the injury-plagued Cavaliers, who are crawling to the finish in another losing season.

Varejao was with the Cavs from 2004 to ’16 before he was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers in a three-team deal a few months before Cleveland overcame a 3-1 deficit and beat Golden State in the NBA Finals to end the city’s 52-year championship drought.

The next year, Varejao signed as a free agent with Golden State and played against the Cavaliers in the Finals, a sight that pained some in Cleveland.

Nicknamed “Wild Thing” because of his curly hair and hustle, Varejao was beloved by Cavaliers fans for his aggressive playing style as a key contributor on those LeBron James-led teams. He played 591 games for Cleveland before being traded.

“Andy embodies all that the city of Cleveland stands for and beyond, and we couldn’t be more excited to bring his experience, leadership and character back into this locker room,” general manager Koby Altman said. “His infectious work ethic and commitment to our community have earned him his rightful place in the fabric of this organization and all of Northeast Ohio, and have established a genuine admiration that resonates strongly throughout our passionate fan base.

“There are not many athletes who can impact the game of basketball the way Andy has over his career, and I feel that our players will benefit greatly from their daily interaction with him.”

Cleveland was granted a roster hardship exception from the NBA so it could sign Varejao. The team has seven players, including starting point guard Darius Garland, injured and out for Tuesday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns.

After playing two seasons with the Warriors, Varejao played for two years in Brazil. He’s been living in Cleveland.

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Draymond Green says teams are ‘terrified’ of Stephen Curry, whose recent play has emboldened Golden State Warriors for playoff push

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Stephen Curry has set the bar so high for himself that nobody seems surprised anymore when he puts up eye-popping numbers on a nightly basis.

The latest example came Monday night during a 123-104 win at the New Orleans Pelicans, as the Golden State Warriors‘ star guard poured in 41 points. The offensive explosion marked the ninth time this season Curry scored 40 or more points in a game and the sixth time in his past 15 games.

“Anytime you step on the floor with Steph Curry, there’s an advantage there,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “So, teams are terrified of him — and everywhere he runs on the floor, with or without the ball, teams are terrified. That type of gravity, he pulls a lot of weight.

“I wouldn’t want to see a team with Steph Curry on it. We all know what he’s capable of. The guy can take over a game and make it hard for any team in the NBA on any given night.”

Curry’s offensive fireworks have given his young team a huge confidence boost as it embarks on the final two weeks of the regular season. With Monday’s win, the Warriors moved half a game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoffs. With the possibility of having to participate in the NBA’s play-in tournament growing stronger, the Warriors know they have a trump card in Curry that the rest of the league fears.

“If you get into a street fight and you’ve got Mike Tyson standing on the side of you, how you gonna feel?” Warriors forward Juan Toscano-Anderson said. “That’s the best analogy I can give you. He’s just — he’s different, man. So, I know if I get into a pickle, I’m looking for him; he’s going to make something happen more often than not. The defense, he’s just a magnet; the defense is just gravitating towards him, so it’s opening up a lot of things.”

Even after all the accolades Curry has earned during his 12-year career, the two-time MVP understands the recent stretch he has been on is different. Curry has always had high expectations for his own game. But after averaging 37.3 points in April and scoring 71 points over his first two games in May, even Curry seems a bit surprised at the level he has been able to maintain for such a long stretch.

“Yes and no,” he said. “I haven’t done anything like this stretch in my career. But the work that goes into it, there’s no surprise there, so it’s just a matter of staying in the moment, enjoying what I get to do. Having the utmost confidence in what I can do out on the floor. And just enjoying the challenge because I know I got to play well for us to be who we want to be this year, and defenses are going to throw everything at me, and I got to be able to work with everybody out there on the floor to create shots and create offense, and I’m enjoying it.”

Aside from Curry’s ongoing excellence, Warriors coach Steve Kerr offered high praise to Green for his own game on Monday. Green, who scored 10 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and dished out 15 assists while registering his fifth triple-double of the season, also did his best to limit the Pelicans defensively, especially star forward Zion Williamson. Williamson still managed 32 points, but as Kerr noted, it was Curry and Green’s lead that the rest of the Warriors followed.

“If you had to pick one guy in the NBA to guard Zion, Draymond would be that guy,” Kerr said. “Because he’s seen everything, he’s the smartest defender in the league, but he’s got the strength to be able to stay in front of him. And we tried to help as much as we could without completely leaving shooters, but when you have Draymond, it’s the ultimate weapon defensively.”

And with the ultimate offensive weapon in Curry, the Warriors are feeling good about their chances of qualifying for the playoffs in the near future. Curry knows the impact his game is having on the rest of his teammates — and their desire to raise the level of their own play is motivating him even more.

“You can feel it,” Curry said. “Especially like a night like tonight where I get it going in the first quarter, it boosts everybody’s confidence that we can create good shots.

“At the end of the day, that’s what a vet’s supposed to do; they’re supposed to uplift everybody. And I get energy from them when they meet that intensity and that aggressiveness and that attitude that we have.”

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