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LA Clippers coach Ty Lue says strategy at end of regular season was ‘health over anything else’

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LA Clippers coach Ty Lue said he doesn’t “give a damn” if anyone thinks his team purposely tanked the final two games of the regular season to drop to the fourth seed in an attempt to avoid the possibility of playing the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.

The Clippers rested stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and other starters and rotation players in losses to the lottery-bound Houston Rockets (17-55) and Oklahoma City Thunder (22-50), dropping from third to fourth in the Western Conference playoff seeding. That prompted plenty of chatter and criticism that the Clippers (47-25) were trying to avoid a potential first-round matchup with the Lakers. Entering Sunday’s games, the defending champions had a chance of reaching the sixth seed and a first-round matchup with the third seed before finishing seventh and landing in the play-in game against the Golden State Warriors.

“I don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks on the outside,” Lue said Tuesday when asked about the noise over the Clippers aggressively pursuing rest for starters and landing on the side of the West playoff bracket that they wanted. “We decided to go health over anything else. We finally got our team healthy, and that is what we focused on.”

Lue later added: “Whatever people say on the outside, I don’t care. I don’t read Twitter, have Twitter and Insta-twit, all that. I don’t care about all that. I am my own man and I do what I want to do, that’s how I live my life.”

The Portland Trail Blazers‘ win over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night relegated the Lakers to seventh. The Clippers’ loss to a Thunder team that had lost 23 of its previous 24 games ensured that the Clippers would be fourth. Denver finished third due to its tiebreaker over the Clippers.

The Clippers face the Dallas Mavericks for the second straight year in the first round. If they eliminate Dallas again, the Clippers will face the winner of the top-seeded Utah Jazz against the eighth seed, which will be determined by the play-in tournament.

For the second straight season, the Clippers had their continuity and chemistry disrupted throughout the campaign by injuries to Leonard, George, Patrick Beverley, Serge Ibaka and Marcus Morris Sr., among other key players.

Determined to have a longer postseason run than last year, when the Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead to the Nuggets in the second round, Lue rested his stars and key players while playing other starters or rotation players limited minutes in the final two regular-season games. Center Ivica Zubac started the last two games but played a total of 3-plus minutes. After the opening tip against the Thunder, Zubac fouled immediately so he could come out of the game.

Lue said he will take health over rust any day.

“If you look at our Cleveland days, none of our starters played the last two games of the season,” said Lue, the former Cavaliers coach. “We took health, and that is the most important thing to me.”

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Bill Russell to auction most of his prized NBA memorabilia

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BOSTON — The most decorated man in NBA history will be giving the public a chance to own some of the prized memorabilia from his Hall of Fame career.

Bill Russell announced Thursday he is offering hundreds of items from his personal collection, including trophies, rings, basketballs, jerseys, letters, photos and other keepsakes. The items span his 13-year career as a player and coach for the Boston Celtics and also feature mementos chronicling his work during the civil rights movement and beyond.

Highlights of the trove include the first (1957) and last (1969) of the NBA-record 11 championship rings he won in Boston, four of his five NBA Most Valuable Player trophies and his 1956 U.S. men’s basketball Olympic gold medal.

“There are a few pictures I’ll keep for myself, but the rest I will share with the world,” Russell said in a video statement.

The sale will be conducted by Hunt Auctions, which has overseen the auctions of such sports greats as Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, Gale Sayers and Johnny Unitas.

The auction is tentatively scheduled for Boston this fall or winter.

Russell said one reason he decided to sell the items was to provide a portion of the proceeds for the Boston-based nonprofit Mentor, which he co-founded more than three decades ago. The group’s aim is to strengthen mentoring relationships.

An additional donation will be made to Boston Celtics United for Social Justice, which focuses on addressing racial and social inequities in the Boston area.

Hunt Auctions president Dave Hunt said his group is honored to handle Russell’s collection.

“There’s not a lot of folks at Bill Russell’s level. The air gets real thin,” Hunt said. “There’s just certain names of certain players that just transcend the sport, that changed the sport.”

It is unclear how much any one of Russell’s items will bring, but similar auctions overseen by Hunt have delivered big numbers. The most notable was in 2019 when a rare game-worn Babe Ruth Yankees road jersey dating to 1928-30 sold for $5.64 million. The auctioneer said that broke the record for the most expensive piece of sports memorabilia sold.

Hunt noted that among the items Russell is keeping is the Presidential Medal of Freedom given to him in 2011 by Barack Obama.

There’s also the letter Jackie Robinson wrote to Russell after Russell and other Black Celtics players boycotted a game in Lexington, Kentucky, after being denied service at a hotel.

“It’s just an amazing piece and it’s very difficult to put a monetary value on an item like that,” Hunt said. “But what better way for this to be shared than directly from the person who participated, and doing good as well as a result of that offering.”

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Atlanta Hawks’ Onyeka Okongwu out about 6 months after shoulder surgery, sources say

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Atlanta Hawks center Onyeka Okongwu — the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NBA draft — underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder on Wednesday, and he will miss approximately six months, sources told ESPN.

Okongwu’s role grew as the season wore on for the Hawks, but a lingering injury beginning in May resulted in the need for the procedure. Renowned surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache of Kerlan-Jobe performed the procedure on Okongwu in Los Angeles, sources said.

Okongwu, 20, is expected to make a full recovery, sources said.

Training camps start in late September, and the 82-game regular season for 2021-22 commences in mid-October.

Okongwu played 50 regular-season games for the Hawks and averaged 9.2 minutes in 18 playoff games in the Hawks’ run to the Eastern Conference finals. Okongwu showed significant promise in earning more minutes behind starter Clint Capela as the season wore on.

The Hawks drafted Okongwu out of the University of Southern California, where he was a first-team All-Pac 12 performer in his one season of college basketball.

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Gains sizable in NBA Finals ratings from last year, but fourth-lowest average since 1997

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NEW YORK — Television ratings for the NBA Finals and playoffs posted sizable increases over last year. But that was the only good news for the NBA as far as viewer numbers.

According to Nielsen, the NBA and ABC on Wednesday, the six-game series between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns averaged 9.91 million viewers, a 32% increase over last year’s series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, which also went six games. However, the average makes it the fourth-lowest since 1997.

The Lakers-Heat series — which was played in October in the Orlando bubble after the coronavirus pandemic pushed the season back five months — averaged only 7.45 million.

San Antonio‘s 2007 four-game sweep of Cleveland (9.29 million) and the Spurs’ six-game victory over New Jersey in 2003 (9.83 million) are the other series to average fewer than 10 million since 1997.

The numbers were also down 34.5% compared to two years ago, when the TorontoGolden State series averaged 15.14 million.

Milwaukee’s 105-98 victory over Phoenix on Tuesday night attracted the most viewers in the series, averaging 12.52 million. The audience peaked between 11:30 p.m. and 11:45 p.m. EDT at 16.54 million. Only two games in the series averaged 10 million or more.

This year’s playoffs averaged 4.25 million, up 35% over last year but down 18% compared to 2019.

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