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Los Angeles Lakers unveil 2020 NBA championship banner with fans on hand to celebrate

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers finally unveiled the franchise’s 17th NBA championship banner at Staples Center on Wednesday night, and LeBron James used the occasion to set his sights on No. 18.

“We said we would not unveil this banner until we had some of you guys in the seats, so this is your guys’ moment,” James said, speaking into a microphone at center court before L.A.’s 124-122 win over the Houston Rockets. “We had our ring night; we wanted you guys there, but we wanted to make sure we saved the banner for y’all.

“So, we love you guys, and the road to back-to-back starts in about a week. So, let’s get going.”

The Lakers had a traditional ring ceremony on opening night of the 2020-21 season in December but held off on revealing the championship banner until L.A. County’s COVID-19 restrictions lessened so fans would be allowed in the building.

Approximately 4,000 fans attended Wednesday’s game, according to a Lakers spokesperson, which is far fewer than Staples Center’s 19,000 capacity for Lakers games but also more than double the 1,915 fans present on April 15 against the Boston Celtics — the first game fans were allowed back.

James shared center court with Lakers governor Jeanie Buss, with the Larry O’Brien Trophy from the team’s 2020 title won in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, resting on a table between them.

“We’ve waited until now because our banners have always been about our fans,” Buss said. “It’s so good to hear you guys together and be together as family again. We’ve been awarded our trophy; the players have their rings. Our final piece of business to commemorate our 2020 NBA championship is to honor our fans with the banner.”

The Lakers hope to continue to increase attendance capacity in the postseason while working with state and local coronavirus guidelines, according to a team spokesperson.

James, missing his sixth straight game because of a high right ankle sprain, addressed the crowd while wearing a baseball-style hat, dark green shorts and a black sweatshirt. When he was finished speaking, Lakers longtime public address announcer Lawrence Tanter counted down, “3-2-1,” and the black cloak featuring the message “Stay Tuned, Lakers Family” that had been covering the championship banner since opening night was removed.

Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blared through the arena’s sound system to accompany the moment.

Anthony Davis, also in street clothes and out for the game because of tightness in his groin, then took the mic to finish off the pregame ceremony.

“What a feeling,” Davis said. “I never thought that I would be hanging one of these banners, man. And it’s all because of you guys. All because of you, your continued support for me, my teammates, the coaching staff.

“Before the hiatus, when you guys were allowed in the building. Even when we went to the bubble, every night we’d come in, and see on the screen you guys cheering for us. And that means a lot to us. And without you guys, we wouldn’t be able to raise this banner or have this trophy behind us.

“So I appreciate you guys, and like Bron said, let’s get it going and try to repeat.”

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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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Kevin Durant powers Team USA’s rout of Czech Republic on record night

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SAITAMA, Japan — The best thing Team USA had going for it this summer was Kevin Durant committing to play. Saturday he reminded everyone why.

On a night when he became the all-time leading American scorer in the Olympics, Durant added another tremendous performance to his Team USA resume in a 119-84 victory over the Czech Republic.

The victory assured Team USA second place in their group and a place in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Their opponent and game time will be determined in a draw Sunday with the only certainty being there cannot be a rematch with France until at least the semifinals.

Because of their two blowouts wins the last two games, Team USA will end up with a favorable position and avoid top medal contenders Australia, Spain and potentially even Luka Doncic-led Slovenia in the quarters.

Durant finished with 23 points on 8 of 11 shooting, which of course was important for the cause, but his playmaking and defense was just as helpful as he put up eight rebounds and six assists as well. In the third quarter he was masterful, scoring 10 points with four of his assists as it went from a tight game into a comfortable blowout.

He’d had a pedestrian start in Tokyo, scoring just 20 points total in the first two games and shooting just 40%. Even in the run-up games in Vegas, Durant wasn’t moving at full speed as he admitted everything seemed like practice and he shot just 43% percent. Then he fouled out of the opening loss to France, a key factor in the Americans’ offensive struggles.

With Doncic, who scored 48 points in his first Olympic game, off to an impressive start and Australia’s Patty Mills putting up great performances, Durant had faded into the background in the tournament’s first week.

All that lethargy was gone Saturday as he looked for his shot early. The Czechs had gotten off to a strong start, making eight of their first 11 shots and building a 10-point lead. But Durant led a charge to overtake them, his 3-pointer in the second quarter giving the U.S. the lead for good.

It was a relevant basket, not just because it put the team in front, but because it pushed Durant past Carmelo Anthony for the all-time scoring lead. Durant’s international career is impeccable including the 2010 World Cup in Turkey, where he established himself as a centerpiece of the national team for the next decade.

It was also a slump-breaker evening for Jayson Tatum, who had his best game of the summer as he put up 27 points with five 3-pointers. Tatum, who was bothered by a minor knee injury in Vegas, had lost his starting spot. Coach Gregg Popovich had positioned him to be an impact scorer off the bench but he was shooting just 40% in the first two games.

Jrue Holiday, who was again terrific defensively as he pressured the ball relentlessly and picked off three steals, had 11 points.

The Czechs were led by Blake Schlib, who played at Loyola-Chicago, with 17 points.

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