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Los Angeles Lakers’ Anthony Davis ‘hurting,’ iffy to play Wednesday vs. Rockets

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LOS ANGELES — The final few possessions that Talen Horton-Tucker was involved in during the Los Angeles Lakers‘ 101-99 overtime win against the New York Knicks on Tuesday mimicked the situation his team finds itself in as the regular season winds down.

Things might not have gone as planned up to this point, but there still could be some magic in store for the defending champs.

Horton-Tucker, playing point guard down the stretch with Dennis Schroder still sidelined because of the league’s health and safety protocols and Alex Caruso leaving the game early with a sore right foot, had back-to-back turnovers in OT, only to bounce back by hitting the go-ahead 3-pointer with 21.1 seconds left to lead L.A. to victory.

“Honestly, just, I was trying to make up for [the turnovers],” Horton-Tucker said after finishing with 13 points and 10 assists in 34 minutes off the bench. “Just being in that position, I thought, ‘Why not?’ The opportunity presented itself, and I just tried to keep my confidence and good things happen.”

L.A., now trailing the No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers and No. 6 Dallas Mavericks by a game apiece, still has an opportunity to lift itself out of the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference standings and avoid the play-in tournament.

If the Lakers go 3-0 to finish the season, with a home game against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday and a road back-to-back to close things out Saturday against the Indiana Pacers and Sunday against the New Orleans Pelicans, they can move up over the Blazers or Mavs if either team goes 1-2 or worse down the stretch.

Portland plays on the road against Utah and Phoenix and home against Denver to close things out. Dallas has it easier with home games against New Orleans and Toronto and a road game in Minnesota.

The Lakers hope to have LeBron James back in the lineup for Wednesday’s game against Houston, returning from a five-game absence spent rehabbing his high right ankle sprain that had already caused him to miss six weeks.

Nearly seven months to the day after winning the 2020 NBA title in the bubble in Orlando, Florida, the team will unveil its championship banner in front of nearly 3,000 fans at Staples Center before the Rockets game.

But L.A. could still be undermanned even with the return of James, as Anthony Davis said he would not know his availability for the Rockets game until going through treatment for a strained groin on Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m hurting,” Davis said afterward. “Not more so my body, just my groin got tight. … I’m not sure about [Wednesday]. I mean, I’m going to get treatment and see how I feel. I want to say I’m going to play, but it was really bothering me tonight. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow, and then later on in the day.

“Very, very strong possibility that I fight through it and play since the next day is an off-day. But I also don’t want to have this lagging and then now I’m out for a couple games.”

The Lakers also lost Caruso, who could not finish Tuesday’s game because of a sore right foot that he’d been playing for about the last week.

If Caruso and Davis cannot go against the Rockets, L.A. will simply plug and play other guys, something it’s gotten used to this season.

“The thing we talk about all the time is being a team-first team,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “That everybody matters, everybody’s got to stay ready. That’s never been more true than the last couple weeks when guys were called upon where they weren’t expecting it and they come in and step up. … Just speaks to our identity that every player matters, every player’s important and we’re going to need everyone.”

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Miami Heat decline Andre Iguodala option, pick up Goran Dragic’s

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The Miami Heat are declining the $15 million team option on forward Andre Iguodala‘s contract for next season, a source told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, but the team picked up the $19.4 million team option on guard Goran Dragic, it announced Sunday.

The Heat’s decision to pick up the Dragic’s option is a possible precursor in utilizing him as part of a potential sign-and-trade with the Toronto Raptors for Kyle Lowry, sources told Wojnarowski.

Iguodala, 37, will now be a free agent. He averaged 4.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 63 games for the Heat last season, his second with the franchise. The 17-year veteran has career averages of 11.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.2 assists.

Dragic, 35, averaged 13.4 points, 4.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds for the Heat last season, his seventh in Miami. The 14-year veteran has career averages of 13.9 points, 4.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds.

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Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo brings Larry O’Brien Trophy to Greece, hopes for return trip

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ATHENS, Greece — Giannis Antetokounmpo definitely had something to declare on his triumphant return to Greece on Sunday.

The NBA star carried the Larry O’Brien Trophy with him at Athens International Airport and said he hopes to win more titles with the Milwaukee Bucks.

“We are happy to be back and that we could bring the trophy with us,” Antetokounmpo said at a news conference at the airport.

The 26-year-old “Greek Freak” sat next to the gleaming NBA championship trophy, along with his NBA Finals MVP award and his brother, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, 29, who also plays for the Bucks.

“We had to go through a long process (to bring the trophy to Greece),” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We don’t know how many days we will stay, but we will take it with us to the places we grew up, to Sepolia and Zografou.”

Sepolia is the Athens neighborhood where the Antetokounmpo brothers grew up. Zografou is the Athens suburb where Giannis began his basketball career at a local club, Filathlitikos.

Antetokounmpo has always returned to Sepolia, where he has maintained ties with the few people who at the time openly welcomed the children of poor African immigrants from Nigeria. Thanasis and Giannis were born in Greece — in 1992 and 1994, respectively — as were their younger brothers, Kostas and Alex, but acceptance as Greeks was not always easy.

The Antetokounmpo brothers plan to return to Sepolia during their current trip to show the trophies to local kids who, like many other Greeks young and old, now idolize them. Especially Giannis.

Antetokounmpo said that event will be for the benefit of children, not the media. He and his brother will also play a little basketball at a local open court, though his opponents shouldn’t be too worried.

“I’ll play as long as my knee can carry me … not very much,” Antetokounmpo said, adding that children who want to attend should wear masks.

Asked about his first title, Antetokounmpo said the celebration “did not last long. I want to live this again” with another title. “To continue getting better, stay hungry, stay winning and live such moments with Milwaukee and the Greek national team. This feeling of winning is addictive.”

Antetokounmpo added that part of his desire to win is “because I’m a people pleaser. I want to win for (son) Liam, my mother, my family, my friends, for Greece.

“I might win the next title next year, or three years from now. But even if I never win another title in my life, I will still be OK, because that will have been God’s plan.”

Giannis and Thanasis are not the first Antetokounmpos to win an NBA championship. Younger brother Kostas, 23, did it first with the Los Angeles Lakers last season, although his contribution was limited. Kostas will play next season with French club Villeurbanne.

After a short stay in Greece, Giannis will return to the United States, where his girlfriend, Mariah Riddlesprigger, is expecting their second child later in August.

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Olympic basketball, NBA business intersect for Evan Fournier, Nicolas Batum

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SAITAMA, Japan — Evan Fournier and Nicolas Batum are going for gold, though they can’t forget about the green.

Basketball and business are about to mix in a way players have never experienced. The quarterfinals of the Olympic men’s tournament arrives on the same day free agency opens in the NBA.

While big-name stars such as Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry will be focusing on their futures, some players are trying to keep their eye on the present.

That includes Batum, who doesn’t have a contract for next season but insists his only concern is his next game.

“It’s not easy, I mean, from the outside, but for me it’s pretty easy,” Batum said. “I know where I have to focus on.”

He said that’s the elimination game that France will play against Italy. The French are one of the top seeds in the men’s basketball quarterfinals at the Tokyo Games, with a victory over the U.S. the highlight of their 3-0 start.

Yet when the four quarterfinal games are being played in Japan, it will be Monday night and early Tuesday morning in the U.S. — when players and teams can begin negotiating contracts.

Fournier, who finished last season with the Boston Celtics, is in position to earn the biggest deal he’ll ever get. His stock has likely soared in Saitama, where he scored 28 points in the victory over the U.S.

Some players wait a lifetime for the opportunity to cash in the way he’s about to. France has also waited a lifetime to win an Olympic gold medal.

Fournier has to juggle all that at once.

“It’s so unfortunate that I’m going to have to give an answer on the day of the quarterfinal,” he said. “Hopefully, teams are going to be nice and they can understand that I don’t want to rush anything and at least I can wait until after the game.”

Free agency in the NBA normally opens on June 30 and contracts can be signed in early July, getting it out of the way — at least for the top players — before national team games.

The coronavirus pandemic that pushed back the start of the season forced the offseason to begin just before the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

It was Friday morning in Japan when the NBA draft was being held. U.S. coach Gregg Popovich of San Antonio and assistant Steve Kerr of Golden State spent part of their off days on their phones with their teams.

U.S. forward Draymond Green was up with the sun to tell Golden State general manager Bob Myers that he wanted the Warriors to use their No. 7 and 14 picks on Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody.

The Australians also were up early. They are a close-knit group and wanted to celebrate the success of Josh Giddey. an 18-year-old taken with the No. 6 pick by the Oklahoma City Thunder. Giddey had been in camp with Australia before the Games.

But for Australia’s Joe Ingles, that high was followed by the low of his Utah Jazz trading teammate Derrick Favors.

“It’s like a family away from your family, so I’ve got a great relationship with Fav and know his kids and he knows my kids and stuff like that,” Ingles said. “So it’s more than just being a teammate, he’s a really good friend. So it obviously sucks to see a close friend getting traded but I also think on the flip side of that we understand the business of this.”

Ricky Rubio was reminded of it again, with the Minnesota Timberwolves agreeing to a still not-yet-finalized trade of the point guard to Cleveland while he’s playing for Spain.

Usually it would be separate from basketball. Many players would never even consider playing in the Olympics before free agency was settled, knowing an injury could jeopardize their chance at a life-changing deal.

But Patty Mills is playing for Australia, unconcerned with his NBA future while trying to lead his country to its first Olympic men’s basketball medal.

“This is a lifetime of work in a matter of couple of weeks,” the Spurs guard said. “I’m making sure there are no distractions for me or my teammates.”

Same with Batum, whom LA Clippers president Lawrence Frank said the team hopes to re-sign. The forward said that is being left to his agent.

“I have to make sure my team, myself get ready for the next game because that’s a big game and the rest will take of itself,” said Batum, the French captain.

He already got his big deal, signing a $120 million contract five years ago in Charlotte.

Now it could be Fournier’s turn for the big bucks, more than $10 million per season. Some players would already be counting the cash.

He’s in it right now for the gold.

“It’s easy not even thinking about it because, I mean, I have a quarterfinal at the Olympics,” Fournier said. “It’s huge. It’s a big moment in my career. I’m going to take the opportunity and make the most of it.”

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