Time: 7:00 PM EST Venue: Verizon Center, Washington, D. C., 20004 WASHINGTON -- Connor McDavid, the 20-year superstar, against the NHL team with the best record. That's the matchup Friday night when the Oilers visit the Capitals. Based on the first meeting, Washington already knows Edmonton is no mere one-man gang. McDavid, the league's top scorer with 68 points, is one of eight Oilers between 11-22 goals. Defenseman Kris Russell isn't among them, but he scored the game-winning goal in the third period in Edmonton's 4-3 victory at Florida on Wednesday. McDavid added to his points total with an assist on the play while the Oilers (33-20-8) returned to the win column following a 4-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Another defenseman, Oscar Klefbom, scored in the win. Edmonton has won three of four." They were active, and that usually doesn't (happen) when you are down a (defenseman) for half the night," Oilers coach Todd McLellan said. Andrej Sekera received limited playing time after he was hit in the left arm by a puck. "But we still found a way to activate them and get them up on the rush." Edmonton found a way and then some with its 4-1 victory at home over Washington on Oct. 27. McDavid had two assists and Benoit Pouliot provided rare scoring punch with two goals. Goaltender Cam Talbot, tied for second in the NHL with 31 wins, made 34 saves. At the point of the season, the Capitals were struggling. Times have changed. Washington (40-12-7) leads the league with 87 points and enters the rematch smiling after a 4-1 road win over the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night. Evgeny Kuznetsov's two goals helped the Capitals snap a two-game losing streak." If I have a chance to shoot, I will always shoot," Kuznetsov said to the Washington Post. "But if I see someone open, I'm always trying to pass." Braden Holtby had 33 saves in the win. The goaltender leads the NHL with a 1.99 goals against average. Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and assist for the Capitals. Backstrom and Kuznetsov each scored on wrist shots through traffic." I don't know how they see those holes or how they find them," forward T. J. Oshie said of Kuznetsov and Backstrom. "Two really special players. It's fun to be out there with them. No surprise that they're able to find the back of the net." That pair has combined for 32 goals on the season -- or 31 more than Russell, who found the back of the net for the first time this season with 12:02 left in the third period." It was nice to see 'Russ' get that game-winning goal," Klefbom said of his fellow blue-linerWashington is dealing with depth concerns. Forward Andre Burakovsky (hand) was placed on injured reserve Thursday. Defenseman Matt Niskanen suffered an apparent lower-body injury against the Flyers. The Capitals recalled defenseman Aaron Ness and right wing Riley Barber from Hershey on Thursday.
Feb 23, 2017 INDIANAPOLIS -- With the All-Star Break and Trading Deadline passed, the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies will go back to work on Friday night in Indianapolis. These teams each come in as the No. 6-seed in their respective conferences.Trade speculation surrounded the Pacers all week, but Larry Bird and company ended up staying pat."These are my guys," Paul George told pacers.com. "We're going to work to get ready for the second half of the season." Indiana (29-28) desperately needed the break, as they lost six straight games before the time off. They're hoping to get starter Thaddeus Young back on Friday night. He went through 5-on-5 drills in practice on Thursday, and is listed as questionable with a sprained left wrist. His backup Lavoy Allen is also questionable with a sore right knee."We have to be better," said Pacers Coach Nate McMillan. "We lost six games. Of course it was against some tough teams, but it showed us we are not where we need to be. Our focus is on getting better and getting ourselves prepared for Memphis." The Pacers have given up 116 points per game during their six-game losing streak. Their tough recent schedule won't be letting up anytime soon. After playing the Grizzlies, they'll hit the road for five straight games, including trips to Houston, San Antonio, and Atlanta.Indiana has struggled rebounding the ball this season. They are 28th in the NBA, while the Grizzlies are 9th.Memphis (34-24) also stood pat at the trading deadline. They have won seven of their last 10 games, as they look to climb the standings in the Western Conference. They've held their own on the road this season, going 16-13 away from home."Overall, I'm really happy with this team," Coach David Fizdale told The Commercial Appeal. "We've shown that we can compete with the best. With what we have, if we continue to build chemistry and guys get stronger, I'd like to see where this team ends up." Their first challenge will be against a Pacers team that is 20-10 on their home floor. "We know they're a capable team," Mike Conley told nba.com. "We have to be prepared for them because they're capable of being one of the elite teams in the East. We have to make sure we have our minds right and are focused." The Grizzlies have struggled against the Eastern Conference this season. They are just 10-11 against the East, compared to 24-13 against the West.Memphis has had some struggles on offense (20th in Offensive rating), while the Pacers have struggled on defense (19th in defensive rating).There will be a lot of Indiana connections in action for this game. For the Pacers, Jeff Teague and Glenn Robinson III grew up in Indiana, while Mike Conley Jr. and Zach Randolph are hometown guys themselves.It will be the first meeting between these two teams this season. They will play again in Memphis on March 29th. The Grizzlies have won the last five match-ups against the Pacers.
Feb 23, 2017 PHILADELPHIA -- With the All-Star break behind them, the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers resume their seasons Friday in Philadelphia, having made significant changes to their rosters in advance of Thursday's trade deadline.The Wizards, whose 34-21 record is third-best in the Eastern Conference, bolstered their anemic bench by acquiring forwards Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for guard Marcus Thornton, forward Andrew Nicholson and a first-round draft pick.The 76ers (21-35) dealt forward Ersan Ilyasova to the Atlanta Hawks and center/forward Nerlens Noel to the Dallas MavericksThe Ilyasova trade netted injured center Tiago Splitter, a 2017 second-round pick and the option to swap 2017 second-rounders. Philadelphia received center Andrew Bogut, forward Justin Anderson and a first-round pick for Noel, though the first-rounder is top-18 protected. If it does not convey, the Sixers will instead receive a pair of second-round choices.The Sixers also announced Thursday that rookie center Joel Embiid, their top scorer (20.2), rebounder (7.8) and shot-blocker (2.5), will miss the next four games while his injured left knee continues to heal.Embiid, who suffered a bone bruise and small meniscus tear in the knee when he landed awkwardly after dunking against the Portland Trail Blazers on Jan. 20, sat out the last 11 games before the break, and 14 of 15. His only appearance in that stretch came in a nationally televised game against the Houston Rockets on Jan. 27.The Wizards lost eight of their first 10 games of the season but have been on a tear ever since. They won their last four games before the break, and 11 of 12.While their starters have been effective, their bench has not. To date Washington's subs are averaging 23.4 points in 14.3 minutes a game, which ranks 29th in the league.Bogdanovic should help. The third-year forward scored at a 14.2 point-per-game clip as a starter for the Nets, while shooting 44 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range."Bojan is a very good shooter and a talented overall scorer whose versatility gives us an added dimension as we gear up for the stretch run," Washington general manager Ernie Grunfeld said. "He is a proven starter that will provide us an added boost off the bench and allow us to be creative with our lineups." The 6-foot-11 McCullough appeared in 14 games for Brooklyn and averaged 2.5 points while spending most of his second season in the D-League.It is not known if the Sixers will retain Bogut or Splitter, both 32. Splitter has yet to play this season because of hip and calf injuries, and while the Hawks have said he was expected to be back at some point, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported that his return is "not imminent." Bogut appeared in 26 games for Dallas, averaging 3.0 points and 8.3 rebounds. Most recently he was bothered by a bad calf and sat out eight games. He returned for the final game before the break, collecting four points and eight boards in a loss to Detroit.Embiid, meanwhile, practiced Wednesday and Thursday, but reported some swelling in his knee."I feel great. I want to play. If it was my decision, I'd be playing," he told reporters Wednesday, according to CSNPhilly.com. "I want to play, but those (medical) guys, they know what they're doing. You've just got to trust the process."
Time: 7:30 PM EST Venue: BB&T Center, Sunrise, FL, 33323 SUNRISE, Fla. -- As of late Thursday night, the Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames weren't too far apart either in proximity or in their playoff positioning. The Flames held the Western Conference's last postseason slot, while the Panthers were two points back of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. In terms of geographical proximity, the Flames were in Tampa Bay, where they beat the Lightning 3-2 on Thursday night, and the Panthers were a three-hour cab ride away in Sunrise, preparing to host Calgary on Friday night. Calgary (31-26-4) got goals from Sean Monahan, Dougie Hamilton and Mikael Backlund on Thursday to improve to 7-2-1 in its past 10 games." Sometimes it comes together," Calgary goalie Brian Elliott said after making 23 saves against Tampa Bay. "Guys are clicking a little bit, and it showed tonight." For the Panthers (28-21-10), gone is their five-game win streak, with all those victories earned on the road. Florida faltered on Wednesday in its return to the BB&T Center, losing 4-3 to the visiting Edmonton Oilers. Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe said his team gave a good performance despite being tired." Four games in six nights, and the effort we got was outstanding," Rowe said of a Panthers team that fell behind Edmonton three times only to battle back for three tie scores before finally allowing the game-winner. The Panthers have similar records at home (14-11-3) and on the road (14-10-7). They have 66 points, which puts them two behind the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins in the battle for the last playoff spot in the East. Both the Islanders and Bruins won on Thursday night. Florida has won eight of its past 10 games, and Rowe said his team is prepared to battle the Islanders, Bruins or any other club that presents itself as a challenger for playoff positioning." We're not going to let one game (the loss to Edmonton) get us off track," Rowe said. "There's a lot of good stuff going on here. We'll regroup and come out ready to play Calgary." One of the good things happening for Florida is its health. Ever since the Panthers got Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau off the injured list, the team has been rolling. Another good thing for Florida is its veteran leadership, led by team captain Derek MacKenzie." I talked to Derek about that (on Tuesday)," Rowe said. "He said, 'We got this.' Derek is in charge of that (locker) room. He's got those guys ready. We're in good position." Look for the Panthers to go back to Roberto Luongo in goal on Friday. Backup James Reimer, who is 6-1-1 in his past eight starts, has played well, but after he allowed four goals in the loss to Edmonton on Wednesday, it may be time for Luongo to play. Elliott started the past four games for the Flames, so they might turn to backup Chad Johnson on Friday. In Johnson's last start, he allowed four goals in the first two periods against the Arizona Coyotes on Feb. 13 before being replaced by Elliott.
Time: 7:30 PM EST Venue: PNC Arena, Raleigh, N. C., 27607 RALEIGH, N. C. -- This was supposed to be the stretch where the Carolina Hurricanes inched back into the playoff picture, with a five-game homestand and several games in hand on all the teams they were chasing. Instead, with three straight losses at PNC Arena heading into Friday night's game against Ottawa, the Hurricanes executed the first of what may be a series of moves leading up to the March 1 trade deadline, dealing defenseman Ron Hainsey to Pittsburgh for a minor leaguer and a second-round draft pick." It is a situation I've seen too many times here," said All-Star defenseman Justin Faulk, who was Hainsey's playing partner along the blue line. "It's tough losing guys. It obviously tells you where you are in the standings and what is going on." Coach Bill Peters said the recent losing streak, relegating the club to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, made it easier for general manager Ron Francis to trade the veteran Hainsey, who has logged an NHL record 891 games without a playoff appearance." I don't think it is ever easy," Francis said. "Ron has been a good guy for us for a long time, playing more than 200 games with our organization and being a leader for our young defensemen. It's never easy when you get around this time of the season and you have to make a decision like that." The trade now gives the Hurricanes 10 picks in this summer's NHL draft." It has been interesting," Francis said. "Five weeks ago if we win a hockey game we're in a wild-card spot for the playoffs. So, it has been kind of disheartening and frustrating stretch here for us. I still believe in the guys in the locker room; I still feel we have a lot of good young pieces and this is a good opportunity for some of those young defensemen to step up and take more minutes and more roles and continue to develop. We'll see how everybody responds." Hainsey logged 22 minutes a game and was a big part of the NHL's second-best penalty-killing unit, as well as a vocal leader in the locker room." It's never fun being in a situation like this," said goalie Cam Ward, who last saw a playoff game with the Hurricanes in 2009. "You look at the standings and you realize it is a business and it's that time of year again. I am not the general manager so I don't know what is in store but it's important we keep a positive mindset, too. When you see a trade you immediately think it's a fire sale, but we're still trying to win hockey games here." Carolina (0-4-1) has had trouble scoring lately with just four total goals during its five-game winless streak. The Hurricanes have dropped a pair of 2-1 decisions against the surging Senators (two points behind Montreal for the lead in the Atlantic Division) in November meetings." They play a lot of hard-fought, low-scoring games," Peters said of Ottawa. "You have to wrap your head around the fact that it is going to be that type of game." The injury-plagued Senators have won five of their last seven. Bobby Ryan is out for a month with a broken finger, while wingers Mark Stone (neck strain) and Mike Hoffman (groin) are likely out until next week." We're going to take our time with these guys," said Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion. "It's not a 100-meter race until the end, it's a marathon, and we would like our players to be able to do the whole marathon." Dorion said Stone and Hoffman, the second and fourth leading scorers on the team, are doubtful for Friday's game at Carolina." If either one plays before early next week then it will be a bonus for us," he said.
Feb 23, 2017 TORONTO -- Serge Ibaka will make his Toronto Raptors debut Friday night against the Boston Celtics at the Air Canada Centre.The power forward was obtained from the Orlando Magic in a trade on Feb. 14 but it was decided that he would not play the next night when the Raptors narrowly defeated the Charlotte Hornets in their final game before the All-Star Game break.Ibaka is not the newest Raptor, however. The Raptors acquired forward P. J. Tucker at the trade deadline Thursday from the Phoenix Suns for forward Jared Sullinger and two second-round draft choices. It is a return for Tucker, in a way, since the Raptors selected him in the second round of the 2006 draft.Both acquisitions improve the Raptors defensively, which is an area of need since they headed into the All-Star break tied for 10th in points allowed (104.3) and 19th in defensive rating (109)The Celtics, who are second in the Eastern Conference, did not make a deal."When you're in position where you're playing at a pretty good level, you don't anticipate much change," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said as the deadline approached.The Celtics have won 11 of the past 13 games.The Raptors, who were second in the Eastern Conference, have lost 11 of their past 16 games and it became apparent changes were needed.Ibaka had his first practice with the Raptors on Wednesday as the team prepared for the final 25-game stretch of the regular season that starts against Boston."We have to learn each other." Ibaka said.During the break, Ibaka has studied a video of the Raptors' offensive playbook."It's like home work," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "But it's different when you get here on the court, timing, having to understand it, speed and quickness, reading situations. But again, he was a quick learner. We tried to put him in comfortable situations. I went back and studied film when he was in Oklahoma City, Orlando to get a feel for where he likes the basketball, the things he did defensively and what we can incorporate.?It was not certain when Tucker would be available to join the Raptors. He came into his own as a player in Phoenix. After being told about the trade, he said: "I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a tough day for me." Toronto expects forward Patrick Patterson to return Friday from a bruised left knee.Celtics president Danny Ainge talked Thursday about balancing the present and the future, especially since the team may get the top overall pick in this year's draft as part of the 2013 trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets, who own the league's worst record."We're trying to upgrade our team," Ainge said. "But it is a delicate balance of short-term goals and long-term goals. Obviously both are very important. But like I said, we're very excited about where we are on a long-term basis." Ainge also said he likes the current Celtics team: "I am excited, actually," he said. "I was watching practice today and I was very excited by what I saw. I'm not disappointed. Not at all. I can't wait to get back out on the road and start scouting and getting ready for the draft and continue to watch the NBA and get ready for the playoffs. I'm very optimistic and very excited about the rest of the year." Celtics shooting guard Avery Bradley, who has been out with a strained Achilles tendon, is not expected to play Friday. He has missed 16 straight games and 20 of the last 21."Avery practiced about a third of the practice today, which was about what our medical staff determined was the appropriate progression," Stevens said. "(Bradley) told me afterwards he felt really good." Boston rookie forward Jaylen Brown, who has missed the past three games with a right hip strain, will be ready to play in Toronto.Toronto has won two of three games between the teams this season.Kyle Lowry scored 34 points in Toronto's 101-94 win in Boston on Dec. 9, DeMar DeRozan scored 41 in Toronto's 114-106 home win on Jan. 10 and Isaiah Thomas scored 44 in Boston's 109-104 home win on Feb. 1.
Feb 23, 2017 ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat begin the second half of the season with obvious playoff goals.Atlanta wants to move up a spot and earn home court advantage. The Heat wants to pick up a couple of games and qualify for the playoffs. Atlanta made a secondary move at the trade deadline, while Miami stood pat.The Hawks (32-24) begin the second half of the season in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, 7.5 games behind Cleveland but only one-half game behind Toronto for fourth place. The Heat (25-32) are in 10th place, two games behind the Detroit Pistons for the final playoff spot.The two rivals meet for the fourth and final time on Friday at Philips Arena.Atlanta won the first two meetings, but Miami got 25 points from Hassan Whiteside and prevailed by 23 points in the most recent game on Feb. 1."We got a couple days to get back at it, build some habits and then have a very strong, competitive weekend," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.The Hawks hope they bolstered their offense with the acquisition of 6-foot-10 forward Ersan Ilyasova, who is averaging 14.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 56 games with Philadelphia and Oklahoma City."He's a high-character, proven veteran who we've liked for many years and believe fits well within our system," Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. "I can see him being a significant contributor. I think we'll give him opportunities." Ilyasova, a nine-year veteran, is expected to be a backup to All-Star Paul Millsap and add a much-needed 3-point threat.To acquire Ilyasova, Atlanta sent forward Tiago Splitter and two 2017 second-round picks to the Sixers. The Hawks received Philadelphia's 2017 second-round pick they hold from Golden State.Splitter, a free-agent signee last season, was injured during most of his tenure with the Hawks. He played only 36 games last season and averaged 5.6 points before hip surgery ended his season. Splitter has not played a game this season because of injuries to his hip and calf.Atlanta also traded forward Mike Scott to Phoenix for cash considerations. Scott has been trying to overcome knee and foot problems all season that limited him to 18 games. He averaged a career-low 2.5 points and 2.1 rebounds.Miami did not make any trades at the deadline, but will have two new faces on the roster. They are expected to have guard Josh Richardson and forward Okaro White both active in Atlanta."There was nothing," Miami team president Pat Riley said. "It was boring." Richardson returns after missing 19 games with a foot injury. Richardson averaged 11.2 points in 28 games before his injury, including 19 points against Atlanta in their first game this season."He's had a healthy approach the last 4-5 weeks to prepare," Spoelstra said.White was recalled from the D-League, where was named to the all-star game after averaging 18.4 points, 8.7 rebounds for the Sioux Falls Skyforce. He has averaged 4.2 points in 14 games with the Heat this season.Justise Winslow isn't ready to return from surgery to repair a torn labrum, but was excited to be able to take his arm out of a sling. Spoelstra said the team was going to be methodical with his rehab.Over the last 10 games, Atlanta is 5-5 and Miami is 8-2. The Hawks are coming off a three-game trip to the West Coast, where they beat the Blazers and lost to the Kings and Clippers. The Heat had a 13-game winning streak before losing a pair of games before the All-Star Game.Miami returns home on Saturday to play Indiana. Atlanta is at Orlando on Saturday.
Feb 23, 2017 MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Bucks will begin their playoff push Friday night when they play host to the Utah Jazz at the Bradley Center.Despite losing forward Jabari Parker to a season-ending ACL injury for the second time in three seasons, Milwaukee finished the first half on a high note, winning three in a row to move within a game of Detroit for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot."Before the break we won three games in a row and we built momentum," Antetokounmpo said. "We were playing great team basketball."Now coming back from the break, we've got to get there. It's hard because we had six days off. You've got to get your legs going again."Jabari went down. Thank God Khris (Middleton) came back. We can't think Khris is going to pick us up and we're going to win 20 games out of 27. It's just great having him back."Game by game, he's going to help us more and more. Everybody knows Khris is a great player." With 27 games remaining, the Bucks are focused on returning to the postseason.Helping their cause is the schedule. Eight of Milwaukee's next 10 games will be played at the Bradley Center"It's kind of like the beginning of the season; we were home a lot," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "For us to make this push to make the playoffs, we've got to protect home." Kidd plans to keep his lineup the same, with rookie Thon Maker remaining in the starting group while Middleton, who returned from an ACL injury suffered before training camp, will continue to have his minutes restricted."We're very comfortable with Khris having the ball in a two-man game with Moose (Greg Monroe) or finding the open guy," Kidd said. "That's who Khris is. To be out of the game for so long and in his third game, we're playing through him." The Jazz are looking to get back on track after slumping into the break. Utah had lost three in a row before wrapping up the first half with a 111-88 victory and currently sit fifth in the West.Utah was the subject of multiple trade rumors leading up to the Thursday deadline but ultimately, the Jazz remained silent and chose to see what a healthy roster can accomplish as the team tries to return to the playoffs for the first time in five years.Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, George Hill, Derrick Favors and Dante Exum all missed time during the first half but are healthy now -- with the exception of Hood, who missed the last seven games with a right bone bruise -- and ready to make an impact, leaving head coach Quin Snyder intrigued at the possibility of a full complement of players."I'd like to see that for a more extended period of time with Dante healthy, Alec healthy, Rodney healthy," Snyder said. "We can go through all that, but I think we know who we are, more individually, and we are finding out more and more collectively. I like our group." The Jazz have won five in a row against the Bucks, including the last two meetings in Milwaukee.
Feb 23, 2017 OKLAHOMA CITY -- While most of the teams in the NBA have a timid approach when it comes to making trades, the Oklahoma City Thunder never have been in that category.As the 2016-17 trade deadline approached Thursday, Thunder General Manager Sam Presti once again showed he is not afraid to make moves.Presti sent guard Cameron Payne, forward Anthony Morrow and forward Joffrey Lauvergne to the Chicago Bulls for forward Taj Gibson, forward Doug McDermott and a 2018 second round draft pick.This was the third major trade the Thunder have been involved in since the end of last season. Only seven players remain from the unit that lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.The move strengthens the Oklahoma City bench and provides more consistent scoring around MVP candidate Russell Westbrook.Gibson leaves Chicago averaging 11.6 points and 7.0 rebounds a game. McDermott is posting 10 points a night while shooting 37 percent from 3-point range.Gibson, who had been with the Bulls for eight years, says he didn't find out about the trade until after Thursday's practice."We were joking about (trades)," Gibson told the Daily Herald. "Nobody really took it seriously the whole practice. When (Jimmy Butler) heard the news, he texted me because everybody just left and didn't know what was going to happen."He texted me that he loved me of course and he'd see me in the summer. Continue to keep doing well and go get the bags. That's his words." The Thunder return back to action Friday night for their first game since the All-Star break. It is doubtful Gibson or McDermott will be in uniform when they host the Los Angeles Lakers at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.The Lakers are still feeling the impact of the takeover of Magic Johnson, who was named president of Basketball Operations Tuesday.The Hall of Famer met with his team for the first time Wednesday in the Lakers' first practice since before taking off for All-Star weekend. It didn't take long for Johnson to sell the talented, but young Lakers on where he wants to guide the franchise."The Lakers organization isn't a losing organization," guard D'Angelo Russell told NBA.com. "He wants to get back to where we were." Johnson led the Lakers to five NBA titles in his 12-year career. Along with Larry Bird, he is credited with turning around the NBA in the 1980s.But Johnson might have an even tougher challenge doing the same for the current Lakers (19-39), which sit one game out of last place in the Western Conference.Johnson's first move as president was to trade sixth-man Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets for Corey Brewer and an unprotected first-round pick. Los Angeles also showed interest in trying to pry Paul George away from the Indianapolis Pacers, but was unsuccessful."Everything happened so fast," Lakers coach Luke Walton ESPN.com. "The initial thought is why do it right before the trade deadline, but Magic came in and we got to work right away." However, whether the Lakers made any trades or not, Westbrook really wasn't concerned. He made it clear, he doesn't care what changes are made to other teams."Like I've always said, I never worry about other teams," Westbrook said. "I don't care if the Lakers have Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), Kobe (Bryant), it don't matter. All my job is to worry about my team and who we got here and we go out and compete." One of the pleasant surprises for Oklahoma City was having center Enes Kanter return to practice for the first time since he fractured his forearm Jan. 26 in a game against Dallas when he slammed it into a chair.The Thunder have been without his 14 points and almost seven rebounds a game and it has showed.Kanter took part in drills Thursday and Friday, but coach Billy Donovan hasn't said whether he will be available when the Thunder host the Lakers at Chesapeake Energy Arena."Him being out there with the team, it's just good to have him back," Thunder center Steven Adams said of Kanter. "Just a lot of energy." Oklahoma City (32-25) has 25 games left on its schedule. Only seven of those are against teams with winning records. As they fight to move up in the standings, the players admitted to looking at the standings and talking about what they have to do going forward."We want to try and create some rhythm, some momentum going toward the right direction," Westbrook said.
Feb 23, 2017 CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls enter the final 25 games of the regular season in search of consistency, especially when it comes to playing against the NBA's also-rans.The Bulls are coming out of the All-Star break one game under .500 despite boasting a 6-1 record against the Eastern Conference's top three teams. But if the Bulls hope to hold on to a playoff spot after entering Friday's game against the Phoenix Suns as the East's No. 7 seed, they'll have to find a way to play well against losing teams -- like the Suns.Chicago will enter the stretch run without two familiar faces. The Bulls dealt starting forward Taj Gibson and reserve guard Doug McDermott to the Oklahoma City Thunder just before Thursday's trade deadline. In return, the Bulls received point guard Cameron Payne, center Joffrey Lauvergne and swingman Anthony Morrow. The Bulls also sent a 2018 second-round pick to the Thunder to round out the deal.McDermott was the Bulls' best 3-point shooter and had connected on 37 percent of his attempts this season. Gibson was a respected member of the Bulls locker room who was averaging 11.6 points per game.Gibson told reporters that receiving the news he had been traded was emotional -- both for himself and for Bulls officials."I don't really see (Bulls executive vice president John Paxson) get choked up and teary-eyed," Gibson said Thursday. "But he gave me a long hug." McDermott and Gibson were two of Chicago's four double-digit scorers along with Jimmy Butler and Dwayne Wade, who will return Friday night after missing three straight games with a wrist injury. Butler, Chicago's leading scorer, drew a lot of attention from teams before Thursday's deadline, but remained in place as the Bulls' cornerstone player.Before the trade deadline, coach Fred Hoiberg told his players to only worry about what they could control. Now with the deadline past, the Bulls will need to do the same if they hope to remain in the playoff picture. After the Bulls went into the All-Star break with wins over the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, Hoiberg hopes his team can build on that effort."(You) just worry about getting your guys ready to play the stretch run and again hopefully play well," said Hoiberg, whose team lost to the Suns, 115-97, on Feb. 10.Meanwhile, the Suns were also active on Thursday, when they sent forward P. J. Tucker to Toronto for forward Jared Sullinger and second-round draft picks in 2017 and 2018. Tucker was a top defender for Phoenix coming off the bench and was able to guard both on the perimeter in the post.Sullinger has been injured most of the season, dealing with a foot injury that has only allowed him to appear in 11 games. Now, the Suns -- who have lost seven out of their last 10 games -- will move on while playing out the string of the regular season.Despite the Suns' struggles this season, Tucker said he was sad to be leaving."I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a tough day for me," Tucker said Thursday, according to the Arizona Republic. "I dropped some tears. Phoenix changed my life. All the people here, all the fans, I couldn't ask for a better place or organization. It's been my family for the last five or six years. I'm so grateful about getting the opportunity and what they've done for me."
Feb 24, 2017 MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves parted for the All-Star break, the two had nearly identical records and were looking up at several teams for a possible playoff spot.Dallas and Minnesota reconvene against each other Friday, with each team still eyeing the playoffs. The teams saw Thursday's trade deadline differently and test out their approach as the season resumes.The Mavericks were one of the few teams to make a move, sending center Andrew Bogut, swingman Justin Anderson and a first-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers. Dallas received center Nerlens Noel, the former sixth-overall pick in the 2013 draft who has dealt with injuries and was stuck behind emerging talent Joel Embiid in Philadelphia.The Timberwolves were mentioned plenty in trade rumors, particularly with point guard Ricky Rubio being named and a rumor including New York Knicks point guard Derrick Rose. Minnesota declined to make changes, believing in a young team that has been improved a bit under coach Tom Thibodeau."If something made sense, we would have done it," Thibodeau said. "But it had to make sense and it had to make us better. If it didn't, be patient and continue to work. We know where we are in terms of our young guys, they're going to get better. So that's what we're concentrating on right now is the guys that we do have." The Timberwolves (22-35) entered the break with a victory at Denver (25-32), which holds the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. But while there are four teams between Minnesota and the Nuggets, only three games separated them.Two of those teams made moves to better themselves. Dallas added Noel and New Orleans made the big splash to acquire DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings, in ninth, lost Cousins.The Timberwolves liked where they were with Rubio playing his best of the season to go along with center Karl-Anthony Towns and leading scorer Andrew Wiggins. Since going 11-26 to start the season, Minnesota is 11-9 and won two of its three games into the break."I love our team," Thibodeau said. "I love the way we're working. I think we're improving and that's our challenge, Obviously, we know where we want to go. We have to put the work in to getting there. There are no shortcuts to it. It requires a great commitment and a lot of work, and everyone putting what they have into each and every day." In the 20-game stretch where Minnesota has shown improvement, Rubio has averaged 11.9 points, 10.6 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game. He's shot 39.4 percent from the field in that time."I believe this team can make the playoffs and we can make a push," Rubio said. "We've been working hard all year long. We didn't start the season as we wanted, but I think we're making a run lately. We just have to keep pushing." Dallas added Noel and waived veteran point guard Deron Williams. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said the moves were a way to get younger and also give Williams to catch on with a potential playoff team."We have a young core that we like," Carlisle said earlier in the day before the Noel and Williams moves were officially announced. "We have some veterans that we really like. It's pretty clear we need to get the team younger. We need to advance the franchise forward. Often times doing that can be painful because when you go younger, it's difficult to win. But that experience you gain, as we've seen this year, is very, very important." Dallas (22-34) is a half-game ahead of Minnesota. The team hasn't announced if Noel will play Friday. However, rookie point guard Yogi Ferrell is expected to take over full time for Williams. Ferrell averaged 14.2 points and 4.7 assists in 10 games since signing with the Mavericks.Dallas went 8-3 in an 11-game stretch before losing their first two contests before the break."Well, we've won a significant number of games during our best stretch of the season, essentially, with this group," Carlisle said. "I like our chances to compete and win games going forward here." With Noel joining the roster, Dallas achieved its goal of getting younger and is certainly more athletic. Noel averaged 10.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in his career. He averaged only 19.4 minutes with Philadelphia this season."He's an athletic big," Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "He's young, got a lot of potential. He's a rim protector and he's long. He can finish around the rim and I think I guess that's what they were looking for." Carlisle said J. J. Barea could be nearing a return from a calf injury but is likely out the next three games. Minnesota declared forward Adreian Payne (illness) out for Friday.
Feb 24, 2017 The trade deadline has passed and the teams' rosters are set for the last quarter of the season. For the Brooklyn Nets, that means playing out the string while integrating three new players starting with their game in Denver against the Nuggets on Friday night.The Nets acquired Andrew Nicholson and guard Marcus Thornton -- whom they were planning to waive, according to reports -- from Washington on Wednesday and then added K. J. McDaniel from Houston before the deadline Thursday. It won't turn around a lost season in which Brooklyn (9-47) is last in the Eastern Conference.The biggest news out of the Nets camp is the deal that wasn't made. Brook Lopez stayed put and will be with the team as it starts an eight-game road trip against the Nuggets (25-32).More importantly for Brooklyn is the two picks it received in the separate deals -- the Wizards' first-rounder this year and a protected second-round pick from the Rockets. The Nets, who have Boston's first-round pick this year, have two of the first 30 picks in June."Obviously, we value the draft," Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks told Newsday. ""Having two picks now gives you some opportunity whether you can move up with those picks or you can hold them where you are if your players are there at the time, or you can use players and picks. There's a lot of different things we can do there. We like the draft, so we'll see where we go." The Nuggets were mildly active before the deadline but didn't move any of their core players. They acquired Mason Plumlee from Portland on Feb. 12 and, in what seems like a reaction to the blockbuster trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans on Sunday, got Roy Hibbert from Milwaukee on Thursday.The two big men give Denver some size to deal with the Pelicans' formidable frontcourt that features Cousins and Anthony Davis. After Thursday's 116-100 loss, the Nuggets lead New Orleans by 2 1/2 games for the eighth seed in the Western Conference."It gives us a big body. It gives us protection at the rim," Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly said of acquiring the 7-foot-2 Hibbert in a radio interview with Altitude Sports on Thursday. "He's a guy who has had some success and has a lot of experience. We had a roster spot and we needed a big body. It will be interesting to see what Roy brings." Denver fans might get a quick look at the big man Friday night against the Nets. Brooklyn gets back guard Jeremy Lin from a hamstring injury that has limited him to 12 games this season. He has missed the last 26 games but could be thrust back into the starting lineup against Denver."I'd like to start him but we're going to get all the information and then make a decision," Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson said.This is an important stretch for the Nuggets if they want to get back to the postseason for the first time in four seasons. Denver plays 11 of its next 16 games at home, and winning most of them would go a long way to improving its playoff chances.Another thing that would help would be improved defense. The Nuggets have scored at a high rate but they've given up plenty of points in the process.The team knows the defense will have to improve over the last 25 games."For us to be a playoff team, we have to defend a lot better and more consistently," coach Michael Malone told The Denver Post. "If we do that and our offense stays where it's at, we're a pretty good basketball team." Thursday's loss over a made-over Kings team is a small sampling. Against the Nets, they'll find out if they can do it against a rested team.