Kawhi Leonard is questionable for Game 1 of the Los Angeles Clippers' playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks as he continues to be troubled by inflammation in his right knee.

Leonard has undergone surgeries to repair damage to the anterior cruciate ligament and the meniscus in his right knee in the last few years, having torn his ACL during a second-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz in 2021.

The six-time All-Star has not featured for the Clippers – who clinched the Western Conference's fifth seed – since the end of March, missing their last eight games of the regular season. 

Speaking ahead of Thursday's practice session, the Clippers' president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said Leonard had work to do to make Sunday's matchup at Crypto.com Arena.

"He's doing everything, our medical staff is doing everything to get the inflammation down so he can play," Frank said. 

"Progress has been made, but the inflammation needs to continue to reduce so he can do functional basketball movements.

"There is no gamesmanship here and we're very sensitive of the fact that questions are going to be asked and want to be as transparent as possible. It's okay to say what the truth is. It's unpredictable. 

"We're hoping it's trending in the right direction. It's a very accurate statement. When it gets to a point where he's able to play, then that's when he'll be back on the court."

The two-time NBA champion averaged 23.7 points and 6.1 rebounds through 68 regular-season appearances in 2023-24, the former figure falling just short of his 23.8 points per game last term.

Despite Leonard's importance to the Clippers' chances of defeating Luka Doncic and company, Frank says no risks will be taken with his fitness. 

"In terms of where we're heading, is it possible he could play? Sure, it's possible. It's Thursday. With each day we'll know more and more," Frank said. 

"Obviously if he's not healthy to play at a certain moment then he won't be out there. When Kawhi is healthy, he plays. 

"Some things you can't control, regardless of how meticulous he is with his body and everything that goes into playing. You can only control what you can control and you've got to surrender to the things you can't."

LeBron James believes the media are putting "too much emphasis" on the Los Angeles Lakers' recent history with the Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers, after their win over the New Orleans Pelicans, will take on the Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs.

Los Angeles lost to Denver in the 2023 Western Conference Finals, as the Nuggets went on to win the NBA championship.

The Lakers, meanwhile, defeated the Nuggets en route to winning the championship in 2020.

James, though, is not looking back at past results as an indicator of how this series might play out.

"I think you're putting a little bit too much emphasis on it," James said. 

"This is our first-round matchup. I mean, we're looking forward to the postseason. But I haven't been, like, looking forward to the rematch.

"The game is played how it's being played, and this is the matchup. So we're looking forward to that challenge.

"It shouldn't be personal at all. I think you allow yourself to get away from the game plan when you make it too personal.

"We have a game plan. You go out there and execute it and you live with the results. I'm kind of the last person you should [ask that], I just stay even-keeled.

"I've been in the postseason way too long in my career to know that you don't get too high off of Game 1 or get too high over whoever the matchup is. You got to just stay even-keeled."

Lakers coach Darvin Ham did say his team can take lessons from last year's defeat, in particular when focusing on cutting out small errors.

And James echoed the sentiment.

"We just got to be better all around," he said. "Obviously, it's a great team that we're playing against. A team that won the championship, so they've been in a lot of big games and know what they want to get to late in games.

"So we just have to be very disciplined and have our mind into throughout the course of 48 minutes or however long it takes.

"It's going to be challenging but that's what the postseason is all about. It should be."

Dejounte Murray declared "the sky's the limit" for Coby White after his career-best performance guided the Chicago Bulls past the Atlanta Hawks in the Play-In Tournament on Wednesday.

The Bulls clinched a 131-116 win over Atlanta at a sold-out United Center in their first Play-In game, teeing up a rematch with the Miami Heat – who eliminated them from last year's Play-In Tournament – for Friday.

White had a career-high 42 points, the second-best tally ever recorded in a Play-In contest, after Jayson Tatum's 50 against the Washington Wizards in 2021, and went 15-of-21 from the field.

His stunning performance meant Murray's own 30-point showing counted for nothing, with Atlanta always fighting an uphill battle after going 18 points down in the first quarter.

Asked about White after the game, Murray said: "I root for guys that work hard and are great people.

"[Bulls forward] DeMar DeRozan's a brother to me and he speaks highly of him. He says he works hard, he's a great guy, he's handled his business, he's a professional on and off the floor. 

"When I hear those things, I root for guys around the league just to have success. 

"I think he's always been good. He never really got the opportunity to showcase what he's showcasing now, and the sky's the limit."

It was something of a breakout performance for White, who averaged just 8.4 points per game in his only previous playoff series, a 4-1 first-round defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2022.

He was also part of the Chicago team beaten by the Heat in last year's Play-In Tournament, and they will get a chance to avenge that loss when they go to Kaseya Center on Friday.

"I'm just grateful to be where I'm at. That first playoff series I ever had in my career didn't go how I wanted it to go," White said. 

"Then last year, I played better in the Play-In, but this year, I didn't come into the game saying I was going to put the team on my back. 

"I just wanted to be aggressive and take what the defense gave me and try to lead."

DeRozan is glad to have the opportunity to banish the ghosts of last year's loss in Miami, saying: "I remember that plane ride back home vividly, everybody was just frustrated.

"That feeling sucked. I know for me that was one thing that was on my mind once I realised we were going back to Miami, not to have that same feeling."

Klay Thompson says winning remains his priority as he prepares to enter free agency and is grateful to hear the Golden State Warriors are keen on keeping him in San Francisco.

Thompson's five-year contract with the Warriors – who selected him 11th overall in the 2011 NBA Draft – is due to expire following an abrupt ending to their 2023-24 campaign.

The Warriors were eliminated from the Play-In Tournament by the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, with Thompson shooting 0-for-10 from the field in a 118-94 defeat at Golden 1 Center.

The four-time NBA champion is yet to agree fresh terms and has already been linked with the Orlando Magic and the Dallas Mavericks. 

Asked what the future holds in his exit interview on Wednesday, the 34-year-old said the ability to compete for a fifth championship would play a huge role in determining where he will play next year.

"Considering it's April 17, I don't think I have to pivot that quickly," Thompson said. "When is free agency? July 1? Yeah, I've got some time.

"I want to keep winning. When you've been a part of winning seasons, you don't really want to go away from that. So I would like to win again. One for the thumb would be nice. 

"I still think it's within reach. Other than that, you've just got to think about what will really make you happy in the last few years of your career.

"Every year I give my best effort, and the ownership group has been great. I have nothing but positive things to say about them.

"It's up to them, but at the end of the day, whatever happens, it's all gravy. It's been such a special run."

Several key figures around Golden State have outlined the importance of keeping Thompson. After Tuesday's Play-In elimination, Stephen Curry said he couldn't imagine playing without him, while Draymond Green insisted "there isn't any scenario" where he moves on.

Head coach Steve Kerr also said the Warriors need Thompson to return, and those comments have gone down well with the soon-to-be free agent. 

"It means a lot," Thompson said when those quotes were put to him. "I mean, we've been through the highest of highs and lows. 

"Whether it's losing a championship, winning a championship, missing the playoffs, we've been through everything together, so that does mean a lot. 

"It makes me grateful to have the times I've had with them. Like, that was pretty historic stuff."

The Miami Heat won’t have injured leading scorer Jimmy Butler in the lineup when they host the Chicago Bulls in Friday’s Eastern Conference do-or-die play-in tournament game.

Butler will be sidelined for several weeks due to a right MCL injury sustained in Wednesday’s 105-104 road loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, who clinched the No. 7 seed in the East.

Butler was hurt late in the first quarter when he tried to fake out Philadelphia’s Kelly Oubre Jr. and his knee buckled, causing the six-time All-Star to fall to the court.

A hobbled Butler remained in the game and wound up playing 40 minutes. He scored 19 points but shot 5 of 18 from the field.

Butler led Miami in the regular season with 20.8 points, 5.0 assists and 1.32 steals per game while also averaging 5.3 rebounds.

Last season, Butler won the Larry Bird Trophy as the MVP of the Eastern Conference Finals as No. 8 seed Miami advanced to the NBA Finals before losing in five games to the Denver Nuggets.

The winner of Friday’s matchup between Miami and Chicago will capture the No. 8 seed in the East and move on to play the top-seeded Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.

Joel Embiid had 23 points, 15 rebounds and six assists and the 76ers beat the visiting Miami Heat 105-104 on Wednesday in an Eastern Conference play-in game.

With the victory, Philadelphia secured the seventh seed in the East and will face the second-seeded New York Knicks in a first-round series beginning on Saturday.

The Heat, who made last season’s NBA Finals as a play-in team, will face an elimination game Friday against the Chicago Bulls for the eighth seed and the right to play the NBA-best Boston Celtics.

Embiid’s availability against Miami was uncertain after the reigning league MVP tweaked his surgically repaired left knee Friday and sat out the regular-season finale two days later.

He played 38 minutes and stepped up down the stretch with eight points in the final three minutes and dished out a clutch assist.

With the game tied at 96, Embiid found Kelly Oubre Jr. under the basket with 36 seconds to play, and he was fouled while making a layup for a three-point play to put Philadelphia ahead for good.

On Miami’s next possession, Nicolas Batum blocked Tyler Herro’s potential game-tying 3-point attempt.

Batum provided a spark off the bench with 20 points and hit five of his six 3-pointers after halftime to help Philadelphia battle back from a 12-point deficit at the break.

Tyrese Maxey added 19 points for a 76ers team that made 21 of 23 free throws.

Both Herro and Jimmy Butler struggled with their shots for the Heat, who led by as much as 14 late in the second quarter.

Butler injured his right knee in the first quarter and said after the game that he would need an MRI, putting his availability for Friday in question.

Herro finished with a game-high 25 points but was just 4 of 14 from 3-point range, while Butler had 19 points on 5-of-18 shooting.

 

 

White erupts for career-high 42 in Bulls’ win

Coby White scored a career-best 42 points on 15-of-21 shooting and Nikola Vucevic added 24 points and 12 rebounds as the Chicago Bulls rolled to a 131-116 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

White, who surpassed his previous career high of 37 points, had nine rebounds and six assists as Chicago advanced to a Friday matchup at Miami for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.

DeMar DeRozan had 22 points and nine assists and Ayo Dosunmu added 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting after missing the final four regular-season games with a bruised right quadricep.

The Bulls shot 56.8 percent from the field and 42.3 percent (11 for 23) from 3-point range to go with a 47-34 rebounding advantage.

Dejounte Murray led the Hawks with 30 points and Trae Young and Clint Capela each had 22 as Atlanta’s season came to an end after it closed the regular season with six straight losses.

The Hawks were within 88-85 but Vucevic’s 3-pointer ignited a 17-2 run to put the Bulls up 105-87 with 1:27 left in the third quarter.

Miami Heat star guard Jimmy Butler says he will need an MRI on his right knee after he was injured in the first half of a play-in tournament loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.

Butler sustained the injury in the first quarter when he tried to fake out Kelly Oubre Jr. on a basket, only to have his knee buckle. He fell to the floor and Oubre appeared to land on top of him.

“I fell, he landed, and my knee just didn’t do well, I guess,” Butler said. “I don’t know. It’s not a good feeling, I can tell you that.”

Butler sank the free throw, exhaled, and missed the second one. He stayed in the game and finished with 19 points on 5-of-18 shooting in a 105-104 loss.

The Heat will host the Chicago Bulls on Friday night, with the winner getting the No. 8 seed and a playoff matchup with the league-leading Boston Celtics.

“We just need to get one and then we’ll worry about the next one,” Butler said.

It’s unknown whether Butler will be available to play that game.

“It felt like I couldn’t do much, which sucks with the timing of the game and everything,” Butler said. “I hope that I’m fine. I hope that I wake up tomorrow and can still stick-and-move. Right now, I can’t say that’s the case.”

Butler averaged 20.8 points in 60 games this season for the Heat, tied with Tyler Herro for the team lead.

The New Orleans Pelicans will be without injured leading scorer Zion Williamson when they host the Sacramento Kings in Friday’s Western Conference play-in tournament elimination game.

Williamson starred in his NBA postseason debut Tuesday, scoring 40 points while adding 11 rebounds and five assists in over 36 minutes of action against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The two-time All-Star, though, missed the final three minutes of New Orleans’ 110-106 loss after injuring his left hamstring.

Williamson tied the game at 95 with 3:19 remaining in the fourth quarter on a driving layup, but he left shortly after and headed to the Pelicans’ locker room.

His huge performance caught the attention of Lakers superstar LeBron James.

“He's a generational player, a generational talent. He's going to continue to get better and better,” James said. “Tonight was just a small microcosm of how great he can be, his ability to get downhill, finish vs. smalls, finish vs. bigs, taller guys, shorter guys, doesn't matter.

“One thing about him, he's not afraid to compete. So, that's a great thing. He's a star.”

Williamson missed plenty of time due to various injuries in his first four seasons after New Orleans selected him No. 1 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, but he was healthy throughout the 2023-24 campaign.

Williamson appeared in a career-high 70 contests and led the Pelicans with 22.9 points per game while averaging 5.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists.

The winner of Friday’s matchup between New Orleans and Sacramento will capture the No. 8 seed in the West and move on to play the top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs.

Stephen Curry is set to make his Olympic debut for the United States at the age of 36 after being named in the 12-strong men’s basketball squad for Paris on Wednesday.

The Golden State Warriors guard joins three-time Olympic champion Kevin Durant and the NBA’s all-time leading scorer LeBron James in an experienced squad named by national team managing director Grant Hill.

Durant, 35, helped Team USA to gold at each of the last three Olympics, while Los Angeles Lakers forward James, 39, will make his first appearance since London 2012, having also won gold in Beijing in 2008 and bronze in Athens in 2004.

Besides the Phoenix Suns’ Durant, four other members of the Tokyo squad return with Miami Heat centre Bam Adebayo, Phoenix guard Devin Booker, guard Jrue Holiday and forward Jayson Tatum – both of the Boston Celtics – included.

Los Angeles Lakers centre Anthony Davis will, like James, make his first Olympic appearance since London 2012.

Making their debuts on the biggest international stage alongside Curry will be Minnesota Timberwolves swingman Anthony Edwards, Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton, Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard and Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player.

The United States have won gold at each of the last four Olympics and 16 in all, but finished a disappointing fourth at last year’s World Cup.

Curry’s Golden State coach Steve Kerr will lead the team in Paris.

The United States are due to start a training camp in Las Vegas on July 6 before a series of exhibition games that includes tilts against South Sudan and Germany on July 20 and 22 in London. Their opening game in Paris will be against Serbia on July 28.

LeBron James has warned the Los Angeles Lakers must play "mistake-free basketball" if they are to overcome the Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 110-106 on Tuesday, meaning they progress to the first round of the playoffs.

A series against the reigning NBA champions awaits, starting on Saturday.

And James, who finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, knows the Lakers will have to deliver a near-perfect performance.

"It's the defending champion," James said.

"They know what it takes. They know how to win. They've been extremely dominant on their home floor over the last few years.

"They've got an MVP on their team. They've got a closer on their team. They've got high-level players, high-IQ players, and they've got a hell of a coach.

"So, we have to play mistake-free basketball. Make it tough on them. They're going to try to make it tough on us, obviously.

"But if we can play as great of a game as we can play, and they're going to play as great of a game as they play, it's going come down to one or two possessions. We'll see who executes then."

It was put to Lakers coach Darvin Ham that there had been reports the Lakers might throw their game against the Pelicans in order to go up against either the Sacramento Kings or the Golden State Warriors in the other play-in game.

The Kings ultimately won, and will now face the Pelicans, with the prize a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Western Conference's No.1 seed.

"There was a report of what?" an incredulous Ham said. "Insane asylum sources say?"

The Lakers reached the Conference Finals last year, and Anthony Davis is confident Los Angeles are coming into their best form at the opportune moment.

"I think we're clicking at the right time," Davis said.

"Guys are playing well. Guys are very confident. Guys are feeling good. And we're going to need it, especially against Denver."

D'Aaron Fox said the Sacramento Kings knew exactly was on the line when they went up against the Golden State Warriors.

The Kings came out on top 118-94 on Tuesday, progressing to a meeting with the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday as Sacramento aim to make the playoffs.

Sacramento, who were led by Keegan Murray's 32 points, lost to the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs last year.

And Fox and his teammates knew exactly how important gaining a measure of revenge was this time around.

"We knew what was on the line," said Fox, who scored 24 points for the Kings.

"This was just another obstacle in our way. We have to get over this hump.

"Obviously, losing to this team last year and obviously facing this team now, it's like, of course we have to face this team."

The Warriors, meanwhile, have now missed out on the playoffs for the third time in the past five seasons.

"I was a sophomore in high school watching them win championships [four titles between 2015 and 2022]," Fox said.

"We've been watching this team for a long time. If it is the end, it is what it is. I'm glad we're able to beat this team at this moment, but they definitely had a hell of a run."

Stephen Curry managed 22 points for the Warriors, but he admitted Golden State were second-best.

He said: "For the most part, they just took it to us the whole game. There's really no way around it."

LeBron James starred as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans to reach the NBA play-offs.

The 39-year-old scored 23 points in the Lakers’ 110-106 victory and also contributed nine rebounds, nine assists and three steals.

The Lakers go into the play-offs as the seventh seed and will face defending champions the Denver Nuggets in the first round.

Speaking to reporters, James said: “It was a good all-round team win. This was a long road trip, you almost forget we were in Memphis before these two games.

“Tonight was definitely a play-off game so get your mind right, get your body right, try to get as much recovery as we can before we have to go out there on Saturday.

“It’s a sprint now, we already went through the marathon. Tonight we showcased what we’re able to do both offensively and defensively. We’ve got a good group going right now, a good rotation, good plan and guys are coming in ready to go.”

James, who will compete in the play-offs for the 17th time in 21 seasons, feels his team have their work cut out against the Nuggets.

“It’s the defending champion, they know what it takes, they know how to win, they’ve been extremely dominant at home over the last few years,” he said.

“They’ve got high-level players, high IQ players, they’ve got a hell of a coach. We have to play mistake-free basketball and make it tough on them.”

LeBron James tallied 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists and the Los Angeles Lakers overcame Zion Williamson’s 40 points to clinch a playoff berth with a 110-106 win over the New Orleans Pelicans in the Western Conference play-in tournament on Tuesday night.

D’Angelo Russell added 21 points with five 3-pointers and Anthony Davis had 20 points and 15 rebounds for the Lakers, who advanced to face the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets in a rematch of last season's West finals.

Williamson shot 17 of 27 and had 11 rebounds and five assists in his postseason debut before he went to the locker room after tying the game at 95 on a driving layup with 3:19 remaining. He threw a towel to the floor in disgust as he walked into the tunnel with what coach Willie Green called “left leg soreness.”

Williamson didn’t get much help, as Brandon Ingram scored 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting and CJ McCollum was limited to nine on 4 of 15, including 1 of 9 from 3-point range.

Soon after Williamson’s injury, James hit a jumper, Davis dunked on an alley-oop, Russell drained a 3 and Davis grabbed a crucial offensive rebound, then hit two key free throws.

New Orleans will take on Sacramento on Friday for the final playoff spot in the West.

 

Kings roll to eliminate Warriors

Keegan Murray scored 32 points with eight 3-pointers and every Sacramento starter scored in double figures as the Kings cruised to a 118-94 victory to eliminate the Golden State Warriors and stay alive in the play-in tournament.

Harrison Barnes scored 17 points, Domantas Sabonis added 16, 12 rebounds and seven assists and Keon Ellis contributed 15 points as the Kings moved on to a matchup with New Orleans on Friday with a chance to return to the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Golden State was kept out of the playoffs for the third time in five seasons, including two eliminations in the play-in tournament. The Warriors committed 16 turnovers, gave up 15 offensive rebounds and missed 23 of 33 from long range.

Stephen Curry had 22 points, but Klay Thompson didn’t score and missed all 10 shots from the field.

The Miami Heat are anticipating a "dog fight" in their play-in matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers, according to forward Caleb Martin.

The 8th-seeded Heat face the 7th-seeded Sixers - who have listed Joel Embiid as questionable - at Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday.

Defeat for the Heat would see them in a win-or-go-home contest, but victory would see them open the playoffs against the New York Knicks.

Speaking ahead of the showdown with the Sixers, Martin is quoted by the Miami Herald as saying: "Everybody knows what's at stake going into that building, including them.

"We just expect a dog fight. We went through a lot of difficult games this year, over the last couple years, to get us prepared for these types of moments.

"So we'll definitely come in with the right mentality."

An injury-ravaged Heat ended the regular season with a record of 46-36, including a run of 7-3 across their final 10 games.

The Heat hope to have Duncan Robinson back after a four-game absence through a back injury, but Terry Rozier has been ruled out.

Miami and Philadelphia split the season series, and Heat center Bam Adebayo sees no reason why his side cannot come out on top this time around.

"We've been in a lot of big games before," he said. "We've all experienced it. We've been to the Finals. We understand what's at stake."

Steve Kerr is hoping for more of the same from "sublime" Steph Curry when the Golden State Warriors face the Sacramento Kings in the play-ins.

Curry produced a career-high 50 points to guide the Warriors to a Game 7 victory in Sacramento in the sides' most recent win-or-bust showdown.

The two-time MVP became the first player in playoff history to score 20 points or more from behind the arc and in the paint in the same game.

Asked about that performance on the eve of Tuesday's do-or-die matchup with Sacramento at Golden 1 Center, Kerr told reporters: "He's one of the great clutch players in the history of the league, we know that.

"That performance did not surprise me because he's 'that guy'. What I remember about that game is that we extended a lead at the end of the third, I think we went into the fourth up by 12 or something and so we had timeouts saved up.

"And the conversation you're referring to I think I was telling him we can take a timeout anytime you want just to get a couple of minutes of rest. And we were able to control that fourth quarter, but he was so sublime."

Curry leads the NBA standings across the regular season for average 3-point field goals made (4.8) and is ninth overall in terms of average points per game (26.4).

If the Warriors are to stay on course for the playoffs, the four-time NBA champion will likely have a major part to play.

"I think he led the league in player efficiency this year and clutch minutes," Kerr added of what to expect from Curry. 

"We've seen him win championships, win Finals MVP. I mean Steph Curry is Steph Curry."

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