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Los Angeles Lakers optimistic Anthony Davis returns during end-of-month road trip

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LOS ANGELES — Anthony Davis participated in an individual on-court workout on Friday, four weeks to the day since spraining the MCL in his left knee. There is optimism within the Los Angeles Lakers organization that the star big man could return to game action sometime during L.A.’s long road trip at the end of the month, sources told ESPN.

Davis will be officially reevaluated by team doctors early next week, Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.

He suffered the injury on Dec. 17 when the Minnesota TimberwolvesJaden McDaniels collapsed into his left knee. An MRI administered the following day revealed the sprain.

Davis, who missed 36 of the Lakers’ 72 regular season games last season because of various injuries, said he was in “good spirits” immediately following the diagnosis because things could have been worse.

“Just thinking to myself that this is another journey of being able to get my mind, body right,” Davis said on Dec. 19. “So, use this time to get fully healthy and come back better than ever.”

Davis has missed the Lakers’ last 12 games and the team went 5-7 in that stretch.

L.A. has three more games — at Denver on Saturday, home against Utah on Monday and home against Indiana on Wednesday — before its six-game Grammy Awards road trip begins in Orlando next Friday.

Davis has been practicing with a bulky brace on his left knee but has been “moving well” during his workouts, sources told ESPN.

The 10-year veteran was averaging 23.3 points on 52.1% shooting, 9.9 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.2 steals this season prior to the injury. His jump shot, however, had been off. Davis is shooting just 60-for-185 (32%) on shots outside the paint this season, according to NBA.com.

LeBron James has stepped up in his absence — scoring 30-plus points in 11 of the his last 12 games to draw within 0.6 points per game away from Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant as the league’s leading scorer — but the wins haven’t followed.

The Lakers have dropped two straight, their most recent letdown coming in a 125-117 road loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday.

Vogel said L.A. had a “spirited” film session Friday to address the Sacramento loss before the team’s flight to Denver.

“All the breakdowns of the Kings game,” Vogel said when asked what the film session entailed. “Gave up 70 points in the paint. You’re not going to win if you do that. So called every single one of them out and showed all the ways they can be better.”

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Sacramento Kings pull out of pursuit for Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons, sources say

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The Sacramento Kings — one of the most aggressive teams in the trade market and once an eager suitor for Philadelphia‘s Ben Simmons — have ended their pursuit of a deal with the 76ers and turned elsewhere in trade talks, sources told ESPN on Friday.

Inside of two weeks until the Feb. 10 NBA trade deadline, the Kings believe the asking price is too steep and that a pathway to a trade agreement with the Sixers doesn’t exist, sources said.

The Kings, who have lost five straight and sit 13th in the Western Conference, are determined to reshape their roster and remain engaged on other fronts, sources said.

Sacramento has several players as viable trade assets, including forward Harrison Barnes, guard Buddy Hield and center Richaun Holmes.

The Kings’ roster represented one of the Sixers’ best options for a Simmons deal ahead of the trade deadline. Losing them in the marketplace somewhat diminishes the chances of an in-season trade, although the Sixers still believe there are potential avenues to a deal, sources said.

With the Kings exiting talks and sources saying the Brooklyn Nets will not engage on a James Harden trade, it becomes increasingly possible that 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey will be willing to advance the Simmons discussions into the offseason.

Morey and the Sixers have long believed that the offseason could bring higher-profile players into the trade market for Simmons. Along with free agency, playoff disappointments often give teams and star players reason to pursue change, which could offer the Sixers a wider spectrum of options.

The Sixers’ public and private threshold for a Simmons deal has consistently been stated as a return that would keep them as NBA championship contenders.

Simmons is signed through the 2024-25 season, and the Sixers believe that gives them leverage to wait on a deal. Simmons has sought a trade and declined to play, citing mental health reasons, as center Joel Embiid has turned into an MVP favorite while leading the Sixers to a 29-19 start — two games behind first-place Miami.

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Brooklyn Nets’ James Harden ‘ready to go’ after missing NBA game with hamstring injury

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NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden, who missed one game with left hamstring tightness, is “ready to go” against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night, coach Steve Nash said Friday.

Harden was a late scratch against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday because of the hamstring injury.

The Nets, who come into Saturday’s game having lost three straight, are counting on Harden to provide offensive stability over the next few weeks as the group tries to continue to weave Kyrie Irving back into the lineup — while still playing without star Kevin Durant, who is expected to miss several more weeks because of a sprained MCL in his left knee.

Nash said Irving “needs the time” on the upcoming five-game road trip to keep building up his rhythm after not playing NBA basketball for almost three months.

Irving, who is not vaccinated against COVID-19, is not currently allowed to play in home games because of a New York City vaccination mandate.

“He’s still trying to find his game,” Nash said. “His level’s so good that it’s hard to tell, but we can tell, he can tell. He knows that he’s not fully back yet. He’s right there, and he has patches, but he needs the time. … He needs reps. And games are reps for him right now. So it’s great for him individually. And as a group, it’s great to get more comfortable with him, to spend more time with him. To get him reincorporated with the things we’re doing and try to move this thing forward.”

The issue of how to integrate a star player back into the lineup is one shared by the Nets’ opponent on Saturday. The Warriors are working to get their rhythm back with Klay Thompson, who returned earlier this month after missing close to 2½ years while rehabbing separate ACL and Achilles injuries.

“Knowing Klay, it’s a little deeper one for me in that I know how much he loves the game,” said Nash, who spent five seasons with Golden State as a player development consultant after his own Hall of Fame career ended. “And to have him have back-to-back season-ending injuries more or less was devastating for him personally, so to see him back playing where he needs to be, where he should be, where he wants to be, is a beautiful thing.”

Nash said he’s been impressed by what he’s seen from Thompson after so much time off.

“Missing any extended period of time, it’s not straightforward coming back,” Nash said. “You have to find your rhythm, you have to find your timing, you have to get your legs back under you. So two years is like an eternity … that’s some people’s NBA careers. So for him to come back and play at the level he’s playing at is really impressive, and he’ll continue to get better.”

The Warriors (36-13) are second in the Western Conference standings entering Saturday’s game.

“They have that championship experience and pedigree,” Nash said. “You also have a bunch of guys that are hungry. They’re used to doing that. So Klay, how hungry do you think he is right now? Steph [Curry], after their last couple years, how hungry do you think he is? I think Draymond [Green], as much as anybody’s come back this year, [is] in incredible form. So they’re hungry, they’re motivated. They have that history, and knowing and corporate knowledge.”

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Orlando Magic’s Cole Anthony fined $25,000 for derogatory remarks toward official

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NEW YORK — Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony has been fined $25,000 by the NBA for directing profane and derogatory remarks toward a game official.

The incident occurred at the conclusion of Orlando’s 111-102 loss to the LA Clippers on Wednesday night at Amway Center. Byron Spruell, the president of league operations, announced the fine Friday.

The Magic (9-40) have endured a frustrating season and own the NBA’s worst record. They host the Detroit Pistons on Friday night.

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