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Draymond Green says Golden State Warriors having fun being ‘hunters’ again

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SAN FRANCISCO — After the Golden State Warriors wore a proverbial target on their back for years thanks to five straight NBA finals appearances, Draymond Green said he is enjoying the prospect of going into next week’s play-in tournament with relatively low expectations from pundits across the league.

“For a second there we were the hunters, then we turned into the hunted for five, six years, whatever it was. And now we’re hunting again,” Green said after a 122-116 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night. “That’s always a fun position to be in when you’re hunting, going after everybody else. Obviously [I have] experience [in] both, but I love hunting. That’s fun.”

Green has been having plenty of fun in recent weeks, playing some of his best basketball of the season as the Warriors continue their best stretch of the season. He racked up his sixth triple-double of the season — 11 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds — to help the Warriors get their 13th win in 18 games.

Green said the Warriors’ recent run of success has shown their growth.

“Earlier in the season we were so Steph heavy,” Green said. “Everything had to be Steph and if Steph couldn’t get it going we were kind of done. We moved the ball tonight. We didn’t shoot great, but we hit the shots when they mattered.”

Green acknowledged that the Warriors probably would have lost Tuesday’s game by 40 points a couple of months ago, but the win took on added significance on two fronts.

First, it kept the Warriors a half-game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. Secondly, the win came on a night when Curry went just 7-for-22 from the field and 1-for-11 from beyond the arc. That forced veterans such as Andrew Wiggins, who scored 38 points in 40 minutes, and Jordan Poole, who scored 20 points off the bench for the second game in a row, to help Curry while he was having an off night.

“Steph was getting trapped, [the Suns were] getting the ball out of his hands, and other guys were making plays,” Green said. “He was trapped the entire night, so to only have three turnovers is incredible, two and three defenders was on him all night. But to his credit he continued to move the ball and trusted other guys to make plays and guys made those plays and that’s why we were able to come away with the win.”

One of those guys making big plays was Wiggins, who authored one of the best game of his brief Warriors career in carrying the offense throughout the night.

“We’re a totally different team now than we were at the beginning of the year,” Wiggins said. “I feel like we’re only getting better. We’re jelling at the perfect time.”

After struggling at various points to close out wins, the Warriors have put together two of their better victories of the year against the top two teams in the West on back-to-back nights, beating the Utah Jazz on Monday and the Suns on Tuesday.

“These last two games have been so important for us,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I think they’re the two teams with the best record in the league, and tonight felt like a playoff game. … [Phoenix] came out with a great game plan to take the ball out of Steph’s hands, so for us to be able to withstand a great team, playing with a lead, bottling up Steph pretty well, for us to be able to stay with it and come back and finish out the win is just fantastic.”

As Green and his teammates get ready for the play-in tournament next week, they do so with even more belief that they can still win even if Curry has another tough shooting night.

Wiggins’ consistency on the defensive end and steady offensive play give the Warriors hope that better days are ahead for both the 26-year-old swingman and the team.

“He’s answering the bell,” Green said of Wiggins. “Defensively, offensively tonight, man, he was incredible. And you could see it from the beginning. He was attacking, he was getting offensive rebounds, hitting jump shots, getting into the paint, getting into the post. He scored every way you possibly can tonight. So he continues to grow and it’s been great to watch, his growth.

“A guy who a lot of people had written off in his career and just kind of said, ‘Oh, he’ll get his 20 points and that’s it.’ He’s really stepped up to the challenge. He carried us tonight and that was huge.”

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Denver Nuggets’ Will Barton declines $14.7 million option, but both sides interested in new deal, sources say

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Denver Nuggets wing Will Barton has declined his $14.7 million player option for the 2021-2022 season and will become a free agent, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

There is a strong interest between the team and Barton to negotiate a new deal once free agency opens in August, sources said. Barton, whose seven seasons in Denver make him the longest-tenured Nugget, is a top priority for Nuggets President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly to keep long-term.

Barton missed more than six weeks at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs with a hamstring injury. He returned for Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Phoenix Suns before the Nuggets were swept in that series.

He averaged 12.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game during the regular season. His deadline for a decision on his player option was Saturday.

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Washington Wizards hire Wes Unseld Jr. as new head coach

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Wes Unseld Jr. has agreed to a four-year contract to be the next head coach of the Washington Wizards, sources told ESPN.

The Wizards formally announced the hiring on Saturday. Unseld is expected to be introduced as the head coach in a news conference Monday.

Washington officials completed an agreement with the Denver Nuggets associate head coach and his agent, Brian Elfus, on Saturday on a long-term deal to replace Scott Brooks.

“Wes is one of the most highly-regarded assistant coaches in the NBA and clearly separated himself from the large and diverse group of candidates we considered,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said in a statement. “His strong record as an in-game tactician along with his attention to detail on both sides of the ball combined with his reputation for player development and outstanding character during his 20-plus years of coaching left no doubt that he was the best choice to guide our team to the next level.”

Unseld was raised in the Wizards organization, working for 14 years in scouting and coaching roles before moving on to become one of the league’s rising star assistant coaches.

His return to Washington punctuates a remarkable homecoming. His late father, Wes Unseld Sr., is the most important figure in franchise history as a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame player, coach and executive with Washington.

Unseld Jr. completed two days of interviews in Washington, D.C. on Friday, including with owner Ted Leonsis, and received an offer later in the day to become the franchise’s next head coach, sources said.

“I want to thank Tommy and Mr. Leonsis for the opportunity to lead this talented team both on and off the court and to continue moving the franchise in a positive direction,” Unseld Jr. said in a statement. “Becoming a head coach in the NBA is a goal that I have pursued my entire adult life and to have that dream realized by coming full circle back to Washington is truly special. I look forward to representing the DMV [Washington, D.C. metropolitan area], connecting with our fans and establishing a new standard for Wizards basketball.”

He will be the seventh Black head coach hired out of eight openings this offseason in the NBA. New Orleans is finalizing an agreement with Suns assistant Willie Green, and Portland (Chauncey Billups), Atlanta (Nate McMillan), Orlando (Jamahl Mosely), Boston (Ime Udoka) and Dallas (Jason Kidd) hired Black coaches. Four of them — including Unseld Jr., Mosely, Billups and Green — are former assistants getting first-time opportunities as head coaches.

Unseld Jr. spent the past six seasons with the Nuggets, where he played a part in one of the league’s most impressive constructions of a championship contender. He helped the franchise to significant improvement as the team’s defensive coordinator.

He replaces Brooks, who was let go after five seasons as head coach. The Wizards reached the Eastern Conference playoffs, losing in five games to No. 1 seed Philadelphia. The Wizards cornerstone star, Bradley Beal, has one year left on his contract. Before joining the Nuggets, Unseld Jr. had assistant coaching jobs with Golden State and Orlando. He was also a finalist for the Magic job that went to Mosley last week.

Wes Unseld Sr. died a year ago. He was the NBA’s MVP in 1969, and won the 1978 NBA Finals MVP in leading Washington to its only NBA championship.

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Thanasis Antetokounmpo enters NBA’s COVID-19 protocol, will miss Game 5 for Milwaukee Bucks

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PHOENIX — Milwaukee Bucks guard Thanasis Antetokounmpo entered the NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols Saturday afternoon, and was listed as out for Game 5 of the NBA Finals Saturday night.

“I think the health and safety protocols are on the front of everybody’s minds right now,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think we’re in a good place and ready to go.”

Budenholzer later said the Bucks wouldn’t have a full staff available for Game 5, with sources telling ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Malika Andrews that assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer won’t be on the bench. It will be the third straight game he’s missed, sources told Wojnarowski and Andrews.

Meanwhile, the NBA announced a little more than an hour before tipoff referee Sean Wright would also miss the game after entering the league’s health and safety protocols.

Antetokounmpo, the older brother of two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, was not listed on the league’s 1:30pm injury report before appearing on the 5:30pm edition.

Antetokounmpo, who turns 29 Sunday, has played a total of 45 minutes across 13 playoff games. He played 93 seconds in Milwaukee’s Game 3 win, the lone time he’s played through the first four games of the NBA Finals.

Phoenix Suns star Chris Paul missed the first two games of the Western Conference finals after he tested positive for COVID-19.

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