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New Orleans Pelicans’ Willie Green focuses on team’s approach, not losing streak

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NEW ORLEANS — Throughout the New Orleans Pelicans‘ much maligned start to the 2021-22 season, coach Willie Green has tried to stay positive about the direction in which his team is headed.

But after a 108-100 loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday night in which his team picked up five technical fouls in the second quarter, Green let out some of his frustration afterward as the Pelicans fell to 1-11, losing their eighth consecutive contest.

“It’s not the losing streak. It’s not one quarter. It’s our approach to this game,” Green said. “There were moments in the game where we just didn’t have guys who didn’t compete hard enough for me. Hard enough for our team. That’s a non-negotiable for me. That’s the deal. That’s who we are. As the leader of this team, I can’t have that. I can’t have guys on the floor if they aren’t going to give 110 percent.”

In a three-minute span in the second quarter, Jonas Valanciunas, Devonte Graham and Jaxson Hayes each picked up a technical foul for arguing or gesturing toward the officials.

But things boiled over with 2:41 to go when Josh Hart was called for a foul against the Thunder’s Luguentz Dort.

Hart was going for a rebound when Dort came flying off the wing to try to grab the board as well. Dort went into Hart’s back, but official Scott Foster called Hart for the foul. Another official, Jenna Schroeder, came over to call the foul on Dort, but after a short conference, Foster called it on Hart.

Hart was visibly upset and picked up two quick technical fouls to earn an ejection.

“Our guys thought they got fouled, and we didn’t get the call,” Green said. “But we aren’t going to get those calls. We haven’t earned them. So what are we complaining about? Until we earn it, we’re not gonna get that. That’s the deal. I talked to our guys about it. We have to keep our composure. Our margin for error is too small to do what we did tonight.

“We need Josh. We need Jonas. Jaxson Hayes can’t get technicals. We need everyone to compete and play at a high level to win the game.”

New Orleans was already shorthanded to start the game because of injuries to Zion Williamson (right foot fracture) and Brandon Ingram (right hip contusion). Williamson has yet to play this season, and Ingram missed his sixth game in a row. Before tip-off, reserve Naji Marshall was ruled out with a sore right knee.

Add in a couple of players being sent down to the G-League, and New Orleans was suddenly left with 10 healthy bodies to play the final 26:19.

Green said his plan was to call guys up — not out — in practice on Wednesday to help get things going on the right track again.

“Call them up. Tomorrow in practice, you just call them up. Not out but up,” Green said. “Up is ‘we’re better than this.’ We’re better than to come home and get down 21 on our own floor. Our approach has to be better. My approach has to be better. I gotta get the team prepared to play. I did a poor job tonight.”

The Pelicans took a 68-67 lead with 4:05 to go in the third quarter, but Oklahoma City finished the quarter on an 18-3 run and then pushed the lead to 96-75 with 7:51 left in the fourth quarter.

New Orleans was able to make it a two-possession game with just over a minute to play but couldn’t get closer than that.

“At some point in the third quarter, when they stretched the lead out on us, we put our heads down and said, ‘Enough is enough,'” Green said. “You saw us get back into the game pretty quickly once that happened. But we can’t wait until the third quarter. We have to do it for four quarters.”

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Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James ‘frustrated’ by NBA’s COVID-19 testing process

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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James said his brief stint in the NBA’s health and safety protocols left him feeling “confused,” “frustrated” and “angry” after his first game back in the Lakers’ 119-115 loss to the LA Clippers on Friday night.

James missed the Lakers’ game against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday after returning a positive test for COVID-19 on Tuesday morning that required him to isolate from his team and fly back to L.A. solo on a plane chartered by the team.

“I knew I was going to get cleared because I never, ever felt sick at all,” James said after finishing with 23 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals against the Clippers. “I just thought it was just handled very poorly.”

James said he initially tested negative on Tuesday and then tested positive in a follow-up test. The league reintroduced more rigorous testing to its teams following Thanksgiving, hoping to catch any cases that could have arisen from players expanding their circles around family and friends for the holiday.

“Usually when you have a positive test, they’ll test you right away to make sure,” James said. “There was not a follow-up test after my positive test. It was straight to isolation and you’ve been put into protocol. That’s the part that kind of angered me. I had to figure out a way to get home from Sacramento by myself. They wouldn’t allow anyone to travel with me, no security, no anything, when I traveled back from Sacramento.

“And then I had to put my kids in isolation for the time being, the people in my household in isolation for the time being, so it was just a big-time inconvenience. That was the anger part.”

James was cleared to return to the lineup on Thursday afternoon after returning a second negative PCR test within a 24-hour window. James returned eight negative tests in total from the time he returned to L.A. until he was cleared on Thursday, sources told ESPN.

Much like how the league did not require its players to receive the COVID-19 vaccine but enforced stricter testing and social-distancing rules for those who were unvaccinated compared with those who were, the NBA will be rolling out similar enforcement later this month when it comes to COVID-19 booster shots, The Athletic reported on Friday.

James gave a roundabout answer when he was asked if he had received a booster shot and if the process he went through over the past several days affected his thinking on getting the booster shot if he hadn’t yet.

“No, this process … we’ve all been doing exactly what the protocols have told us to do and taking the tests and things of that nature,” he said. “It’s unfortunate when you get a false positive and you get put right into isolation. That’s just the unfortunate part. But we’ll see what happens.”

Meanwhile, the Lakers saw their meager two-game winning streak snapped against a Clippers team that came into the night having lost six of its previous eight games.

James, who said he didn’t pick up a basketball from the time L.A.’s game against the Detroit Pistons ended on Sunday until shootaround on Friday, admitted his rhythm has been affected by the stop-and-go nature of his season. He played in the Lakers’ first three games, then missed two games because of an ankle injury. Then he played in the Lakers’ next three games after that, then missed the next eight games because of an abdominal strain. Then he played two games before missing a game because of the first suspension of his 19-year career. Then he played three games before he missed the Kings game.

“Going into Sacramento, I was getting into the rhythm — a really, really good rhythm — like offensively, defensively,” James said. “It’s just been very frustrating either dealing with the groin or the abdomen, and then having to deal with the false positive that knocked me out a game, then knocked me off the floor and not being able to keep my rhythm. It’s just … it’s been a very challenging year to start a fourth of the season for myself. But, only good things ahead.”

Friday’s loss dropped the Lakers to 12-12, seventh in the Western Conference, with their next game coming Tuesday at home against a Boston Celtics team that beat L.A. soundly at TD Garden on Nov. 19.

“It’s just tough when you’re in and out of the lineup, especially when you, I guess, don’t really have a reason to be out,” Anthony Davis said, looking back at the James saga. “We were playing well. So it’s just frustrating a little bit, but no one is feeling sorry for us. We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. We got to go out there and play basketball games with whoever is available.”

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Stephen Curry’s 23 points help Golden State Warriors bring Phoenix Suns’ historic 18-game win streak to a halt

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SAN FRANCISCO — The Phoenix Suns‘ franchise record 18-game winning streak is over. Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors made sure of that by knocking off the Suns 118-96 on Friday night at Chase Center.

As usual, it was Curry, who finished with 23 points, five rebounds and five assists, who set the tone for the Warriors, exacting some revenge for a poor performance in Tuesday’s loss in which he went just 4-for-21 from the field and had a tough time shaking Suns guard Mikal Bridges. Curry also drilled six more 3-pointers, leaving him just 28 away from passing Hall of Famer Ray Allen at the top of the all-time 3-point list.

Aside from Curry’s regular brilliance, and 19 points from starting swingman Andrew Wiggins, the Warriors picked up a huge lift from a bench group that racked up 51 points of its own. Juan Toscano-Anderson had 17 points, providing several big highlights, including a second-quarter dunk over Suns center JaVale McGee that left the crowd roaring as replays played on the video board. Gary Payton II chipped in with 19 points and five rebounds of his own, giving head coach Steve Kerr the type of spark from the bench that has become the Warriors’ calling card during the first month and a half of the season.

Playing without star guard Devin Booker (hamstring) and on the second night of a back-to-back, the Suns, now 19-4, never found the kind of rhythm on either end of the floor that helped define the streak. Center Deandre Ayton finished with a team-high 23 points, but the Suns faded down the stretch against a Warriors group that was hungry to prove that it could end the streak and played strong defense throughout the night. Suns reserve guard Cameron Payne finished just 3-for-17 from the field.

The two teams won’t see each other again until a Christmas Day showdown in Phoenix that has the added possibility of not only having Booker back, but former All-Star Klay Thompson, who continues to do a little bit more in practice for the Warriors after being out for two and a half years while recovering from separate ACL and Achilles injuries.

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Stephen Curry’s 23 points help Golden State Warriors bring Phoenix Suns’ sizzling run to a halt

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SAN FRANCISCO — The Phoenix Suns‘ franchise record 18-game winning streak is over.

Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors made sure of that by knocking off the Suns 118-96 on Friday night at Chase Center. As usual, it was Curry, who finished with 23 points, five rebounds and five assists, who set the tone for the Warriors, exacting some revenge for a poor performance in Tuesday’s loss in which he went just 4-for-21 from the field and had a tough time shaking Suns guard Mikal Bridges. Curry also drilled six more three-pointers, leaving him just 28 away from passing Hall of Famer Ray Allen at the top of the all-time three-point list.

Aside from Curry’s regular brilliance, and 19 points from starting swingman Andrew Wiggins, the Warriors picked up a huge lift from a bench group that racked up 51 points of its own. Juan Toscano-Anderson had 17 points, providing several big highlights including a second quarter dunk over Suns center JaVale McGee that left the crowd roaring as replays played on the video board. Gary Payton II chipped in with 19 points and five rebounds of his own, giving Steve Kerr the type of spark from the bench that has become his calling card during the first month and a half of the season.

Playing without star guard Devin Booker (hamstring) and on the second night of a back-to-back, the Suns, now 19-4, never found the kind of rhythm on either end of the floor that helped define the streak. Center Deandre Ayton finished with a team-high 23 points, but the Suns faded down the stretch against a Warriors group that was hungry to prove that they could end the streak and played strong defense throughout the night. Reserve guard Cameron Payne finished just 3-for-17 from the field.

The two teams won’t see each other again until a Christmas Day showdown in Phoenix that has the added possibility of not only having Booker back, but former All-Star Klay Thompson, who continues to do a little bit more in practice for the Warriors after being out for two and a half years while recovering from separate ACL and Achilles injuries.

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