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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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Michigan Wolverines’ Franz Wagner enters 2021 NBA draft

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University of Michigan sophomore forward Franz Wagner — the ninth-rated draft prospect in ESPN’s Top 100 — told ESPN he is entering the 2021 NBA draft.

Wagner, who plans to hire an agent, was the highest-rated player on ESPN’s board still unannounced for the July draft.

The 6-foot-9 Wagner led the Wolverines to an Elite Eight appearance and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Wagner, 19, averaged 12.5 points, 6 rebounds and 3.5 assists on 47% shooting for Michigan. Wagner is considered one of the best defenders in the draft.

A native of Germany, Wagner is the younger brother of another former Michigan first-round pick, the Orlando Magic’s Moe Wagner.

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Washington Wizards’ Russell Westbrook has 21 boards, 24 assists vs. Pacers, securing triple-double average for 4th time in career

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WASHINGTON — Russell Westbrook became the only player with multiple 20-assist, 20-rebound games in NBA history — Wilt Chamberlain is the only other player with one — and the surging Washington Wizards moved closer to Indiana in the Eastern Conference playoff standings by beating the Pacers 154-141 on Monday night.

Westbrook had 14 points to go along with his career-high 21 rebounds and career-high-tying 24 assists, his league-leading 32nd triple-double of the season. He has 178 triple-doubles, three short of Oscar Robertson’s record, with seven games remaining for Washington.

Monday’s performance guarantees that Westbrook will average a triple-double in a season for the fourth time in his career; Robertson is the only other player to do this, and he did it once in 1961-62.

“Point guards don’t do what he does. He’s not normal, they’re not built that way,” said Wizards coach Scott Brooks. “There may be someone that probably shoots better. There might be someone that probably can do certain things better — but there’s nobody in the history of the game that can do what he does throughout the stat sheet.

“I used to always say he’s going to probably go down as the third-best point guard ever, but I think he’s passed one. He’s going to go down as probably the second-best, and (No. 1) is obviously Magic. He’s underappreciated. What he does, there are no point guards ever done it, nobody.”

Rui Hachimura scored 27 points and Bradley Beal had 26 as Washington scored a season-high 154 and moved within one-half game of Indiana for ninth place in the East. Teams that finish between seventh and 10th will enter the league’s new play-in tournament for the main playoff draw.

The Wizards earned the tiebreaker over the Pacers by winning the first two meetings. The teams meet one more time this season at Indiana on Saturday.

Washington finished the first half with a 20-8 run over the final 4:15 to take an 82-66 lead at the break. Westbrook had three of his 11 second-quarter assists during that stretch. It was Washington’s highest scoring first half of the season.

“Each night I try to figure out ways to be able to impact and pick up my team … it was one of those nights where certain things are rolling,” Westbrook said. “Guys are rolling, and my job is a bit of fun and as a point guard … you got to be able to make somebody around you better. And I feel like I take a lot of pride in the effort, the energy, and time, and watching film, and to be able to make others around me better. That’s that.”

Westbrook had 14 assists and 12 rebounds at the half while taking just three shots.

“He’s an MVP winner every night on the floor and off the floor, but if he was selfish he could shoot at a 20-20-20 game, but he was very comfortable only shooting three shots at halftime,” Brooks said. “Not a lot of star players in this league are comfortable only taking three shots at halftime.”

Westbrook’s layup with 10:23 left in the third clinched his triple-double. His 32 are the fourth most in any NBA season; he holds the record with 42.

ESPN Stats & Information and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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