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James Harden’s return likely a game-time decision for Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, sources say

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After missing five weeks with a hamstring injury, Nets star James Harden‘s return is expected to be a game-time decision before Brooklyn faces San Antonio on Wednesday night, sources told ESPN.

Harden is expected to gauge his readiness along with team officials ahead of the Nets’ return to Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Wednesday, sources said.

Harden has ramped up his activity in recent practices with the goal of playing ahead of the start of next week’s Eastern Conference playoffs. Harden has said that he hopes to play in “a couple games” before the playoffs begin. Brooklyn has three remaining games, including versus the Spurs.

The Nets’ three stars — Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — have played only seven games together this season.

Harden, who was traveling with the team on its five-game road trip that concluded with a win Tuesday in Chicago, has been scrimmaging and has been responding well to the increased workload.

Harden has been out since an MRI revealed the hamstring strain on April 5, missing 18 consecutive games. After making progress on the injury, Harden suffered a setback in his rehab on April 19, which further delayed his return. As Harden worked his way back from that regression, the Nets have been cautious in increasing his on-court activities.

Harden is averaging 25.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 10.9 assists per game for the Nets.

On Tuesday, Durant had 21 points and eight assists, and the Nets outlasted the Bulls 115-107 despite Zach LaVine‘s 41 points. Joe Harris added 17 points for Brooklyn.

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Team USA to face Spain in men’s basketball quarterfinals at Tokyo Olympics

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SAITAMA, Japan — The U.S. and Spain played for Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012, then in the semifinals in 2016.

And at the Tokyo Games, the top teams in the FIBA world rankings will meet again — just earlier than has been the norm.

The three-time reigning Olympic champion Americans will face reigning World Cup champion Spain in the quarterfinals of the men’s tournament at the Tokyo Games on Tuesday, a matchup of teams that finished second in their respective groups at the Olympics.

Spain fell outside of the seeded pool, and knew it had exposed itself to a potential matchup with the U.S., by losing the group-play finale to Slovenia on Sunday. And about an hour later, when FIBA held the Olympic draw, the matchup was set.

“If you’re going to get that gold medal, you’re going to beat everybody,” Spain center Marc Gasol said. “At that point, it doesn’t matter, the order.”

The U.S. is 16-2 against Spain in Olympic or World Cup competition — yet recent matchups haven’t exactly been runaways. The Americans won 82-76 in the 2016 Olympic semifinals, 107-100 in the 2012 gold-medal game at London, and 118-107 in the gold-medal matchup at Beijing in 2008.

“This Olympics is just going to get better as far as basketball is concerned, because the teams are all pretty passionate and very talented and have a lot of individual players that people will enjoy on TV,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said.

The other quarterfinals: Group A winner France (3-0) will face Italy (2-1, second place in Group B), Group B winner Australia (3-0) plays Argentina (1-2, third place in Group C), and Group C winner Slovenia (3-0) drew a matchup with Germany (1-2, second place in Group B).

The Italy-France winner will play the Slovenia-Germany winner in one semifinal, and the U.S.-Spain winner plays the Australia-Argentina winner in the other. The quarterfinals are win-or-go-home; a victory means teams are assured of two more games — the semifinals followed by a gold- or bronze-medal contest — before leaving Tokyo.

“Everybody knows that there are no easy opponents, especially USA, Australia, France, those kind of teams,” Slovenia guard Zoran Dragic said. “That’s why everybody wanted to be first in their group.”

The U.S., which lost to France in the Olympic opener, got into the seeded pot of the draw by finishing as the top second-place team. That meant it couldn’t face any of the group winners in the quarterfinals, but also had to play another second-place finisher — in this case, either Italy or Spain.

Once Italy was drawn to play France, the matchup was clear: The U.S. and Spain would meet again.

And in terms of the world rankings, the brackets for the Olympic quarterfinals are unusual: No. 1 plays No. 2 in the USA-Spain contest, and No. 3 Australia plays No. 4 Argentina. The other matchups, by world ranking, are No. 7 France against No. 10 Italy and No. 16 Slovenia against No. 17 Germany.

France and Italy have gone 14-14 against one another in FIBA and Olympic play. Slovenia is 4-3 against Germany and Australia and Argentina have split six previous meetings.

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Center Serge Ibaka exercises option, will return to LA Clippers for second season, sources say

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Serge Ibaka has exercised his player option and will return to the LA Clippers for his second season, sources confirmed to ESPN on Saturday.

Ibaka picked up his $9.7-million option. The veteran center was the Clippers’ biggest addition during the past offseason in free agency but Ibaka was limited to just 41 regular season games with a back injury.

Ibaka missed 30 straight games with the injury before returning for the final two games of the regular season. He played in the Clippers’ first two playoff games against the Dallas Mavericks before undergoing back surgery later in the postseason.

Ibaka averaged 11.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in more than 23 minutes per game — his lowest average in playing time in a regular season since his first year in Oklahoma City in 2009-10. Ivica Zubac emerged as the starting center during Ibaka’s absence in the regular season. But Zubac missed the last two games of the Western Conference finals with a sprained MCL.

Ibaka’s player option decision was first reported by The Athletic.

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Bobby Portis declining his option with Milwaukee Bucks, agent says

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Milwaukee Bucks forward Bobby Portis is declining his $3.8 million player option and will become a free agent, agent Mark Bartelstein told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Saturday.

The most the Bucks can offer Portis is a $5.9 million exception, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.

The 26-year-old Portis was one of the more effective sixth men in the NBA, averaging 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds during the regular season while averaging 52.3% shooting from the field.

He was a major contributor during the Bucks’ run to the NBA championship, averaging 8.8 points and 5.0 rebounds during the postseason.

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