NBA News & Notes: Kevin Durant pronounced ready to return

April 6, 2017

In this week's NBA News and Notes, we take a look at the progress of Warriors' star Kevin Durant in his effort to return from a knee injury.  For this story and all the other latest NBA headlines, read below:

Warriors' Kevin Durant cleared to play

Following multiple workout sessions in recent days – including 2-on-2, 3-on-3, and 4-on-4 scrimmages – forward Kevin Durant has been cleared by the Golden State Warriors' medical and training staffs to return to full-team practices.

If Durant does not suffer any setbacks following tomorrow’s practice, it is anticipated that Durant will play in Saturday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Oracle Arena.

Durant has missed the last 19 games after suffering a Grade 2 left MCL sprain and tibial bone bruise against the Washington Wizards on February 28.

Antetokounmpo and Lillard named NBA Players of the Month

The Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard were named the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Month, respectively, for games played in March.

Antetokounmpo helped the Bucks finish an Eastern Conference-best 14-4 in March, the franchise’s first calendar month with at least 14 victories since going 16-2 in February 1971.  The 22-year-old from Greece averaged 22.4 points (ninth in the East), 8.4 rebounds (10th in the East), 4.8 assists, 1.78 blocked shots (fourth in the East) and 1.33 steals in 18 games.  He also shot 51.4 percent from the field, his fifth straight month above 50.0.

Antetokounmpo posted five point-rebound double-doubles during the month, including three that featured more than 30 points each.  The All-Star forward capped the month by recording 28 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists in a 108-105 overtime victory against the Detroit Pistons on March 31.

Behind Lillard, the Trail Blazers went an NBA-best 13-3 in March to surge into eighth place in the Western Conference.  Lillard ranked third in the NBA in scoring (29.1 ppg) and tied for fourth in three-pointers made (55) to go with 6.0 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.44 steals in 16 games.  The 26-year-old guard shot 48.3 percent from the field, 41.7 percent from three-point range and 87.7 percent from the free throw line.

Lillard posted eight games with at least 30 points, including a season-high 49-point performance in a 115-104 road win over the Miami Heat on March 19.  He matched a career high with nine three-pointers and hit 12-of-12 at the free throw line against Miami.  

Other nominees for the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Month were Indiana’s Paul George, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Houston’s James Harden, LA Clippers’ Blake Griffin, Miami’s Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, Phoenix’s Devin Booker, and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan.

Talkin' Smack

James Johnson, Heat forward: “I feel like that the more weight I lose, the more I unleash skills that I didn’t think I was capable of having or doing. Just being able to do more things agility wise. I can move, cut through smaller spaces and definitely give more effort out there in the game. I can go from 100 effort to 150 now.”

Chris Mannix, The Vertical: “Meet [Celtics guard Avery] Bradley: The NBA’s most underrated player. … [Isaiah] Thomas gets the ball in the fourth quarter, and Al Horford draws plenty of attention during the game. But when Thomas gets bottled up, he finds Bradley. When [coach Brad] Stevens needs a stop, he turns to Bradley. And if Boston makes a deep playoff run, chances are Bradley will be instrumental in it.”

Tony Parker, Spurs guard: “I think the evolution in anybody’s career is, as you get older, you have to adjust to who is the main guys on your team. Try to be a factor just like Manu [Ginobili] did. Just like Timmy [Duncan] did. I just try and do the same thing.”

Will Bynum, Windy City Bulls guard: “Eight years in the NBA, and I’m here [in the NBA Development League] because I want to get back. I’m going to keep grinding. Grinding till I get back up.”

AJ Neuharth-Keusch, USA Today: “[T]he NBA will host its inaugural end-of-season awards show on June 26 in New York City. The event, which will unveil the league’s Most Valuable Player, among other awards, veers away from the NBA’s previous practice of announcing winners separately throughout the postseason. This year’s MVP race, as luck would have it, happens to be one of the tightest in league history.”

Candace Buckner, Washington Post: “When Washington Wizards swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. walks into the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, he recognizes the jazz legends on the walls. Down the hallway, he hears the beautiful disorderly sounds of an orchestra tuning up and as he enters the third-floor classroom, with the flyer advertising rehearsals for ‘The Bluest Eye,’ he sees a circle of eight gifted students. Every time he comes here, Oubre also sees himself.”

Jason Kidd, Bucks coach: “Sometimes as a coach, you want them to come together in training camp or at the start of the year. Sometimes the process takes a little longer. There’s no better time to become a team than the month of March and playing your best basketball going into the playoffs.”

Avery Bradley, Celtics guard: “One person that brings it every single day is [Boston center] Al [Horford]. He holds us all accountable. And he makes sure that we’re focused.”

Wizards' John Wall fined

Washington Wizards guard John Wall has been fined $15,000 for public criticism of the officiating, it was announced by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

Wall made his comments to the media postgame following the Wizards' 95-88 loss to the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena on March 31.

Dario Saric and Buddy Hield named NBA Rookies of the Month 

The Philadelphia 76ers’ Dario Saric and the Sacramento Kings’ Buddy Hield were named the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Rookies of the Month, respectively, for games played in March.

Saric, the 12th pick in the NBA Draft, earned the Eastern Conference honor for the second month in a row.  In March, Saric led all rookies in scoring (18.4 ppg), field goals made (115) and free throws made (54).  He also ranked second in rebounding (7.0 rpg), third in three-pointers made (28) and fourth in assists (3.4 apg).  The 22-year-old forward from Croatia scored at least 20 points in seven of 17 games and recorded two point-rebound double-doubles.  On March 24, Saric scored a career-high 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in Philadelphia’s 117-107 road victory over the Chicago Bulls.

Hield was also named the NBA Western Conference Player of the Month for December, when he played with the New Orleans Pelicans.  Acquired by Sacramento in a trade with New Orleans on Feb. 20, Hield led West rookies in scoring in March with 14.1 points per game.  The 23-year-old guard from the Bahamas made a rookie-high 37 three-pointers and averaged 4.1 rebounds for the month.  Hield, the sixth pick in the NBA Draft, shot 48.3 percent from the field, 42.5 percent from three-point range (third among all rookies) and 84.0 percent from the free throw line (second among West rookies).

Other nominees for the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Rookies of the Month were Boston’s Jaylen Brown, Brooklyn’s Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead, Denver’s Jamal Murray, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac, Miami’s Rodney McGruder, Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon, New York’s Willy Hernangomez, Phoenix’s Marquese Chriss and Tyler Ulis, and Sacramento’s Skal Labissiere.

Tracy McGrady leads Hall of Fame Class of 2017

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced the 11 members of the Class of 2017 to be honored September 7-9, 2017, during this year’s Enshrinement festivities in Springfield, Massachusetts.

This year’s class includes the all-time winningest boys high school coach Robert Hughes, WNBA icon and ESPN Analyst Rebecca Lobo, two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady, three-time Consensus National College Coach of the Year from Notre Dame Muffet McGraw, and two-time AP College Coach of the Year Bill Self.

Distinguished committees focused on preserving all areas from the game also selected six directly elected members. They include George McGinnis from the Veterans Committee, Nick Galis from the International Committee, Zack Clayton from the Early African American Pioneers Committee, and Mannie Jackson, Tom Jernstedt and Jerry Krause from the Contributor Committee.

“To be elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is an incredible achievement,” said Jerry Colangelo, Chairman of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Board. “The Class of 2017 has shown unwavering perseverance and dedication to the game and we are very pleased to honor them in Springfield this fall.”

Jimmy Butler and Stephen Curry named NBA Players of the Week

The Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler and the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, March 27 through Sunday, April 2.

Butler helped the Bulls to a 3-0 week behind averages of 32.5 points (second in the East) and 6.0 assists, propelling Chicago to seventh place in the Eastern Conference. On April 1, he hit two free throws with 2.1 seconds left, finishing with 33 points, to lead the Bulls to a 106-104 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. On April 2, he scored 39 points on 14-of-26 shooting to go with six rebounds and five assists in a 117-110 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Curry led the Warriors to a 4-0 week, extending their winning streak to 11 games behind averages of 31.8 points (second in the West) 7.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals. He shot 52.4 percent and connected on 20-of-42 three-point attempts. On April 2, he scored 42 points on 15-of-22 shooting and made 9-of-14 attempts from behind the arc in a 139-115 victory over the Washington Wizards. It’s the second consecutive season he’s recorded 300 three-pointers, and he remains the only player in league history to make 300 three-pointers in a season.

Other nominees for the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week were Charlotte’s Kemba Walker, L.A. Clippers’ Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, Portland’s CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas.

Mavericks' Devin Harris fined

Dallas Mavericks guard Devin Harris has been fined $25,000 for aggressively pursuing a game official and failing to leave the court in a timely manner following his ejection, it was announced by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident, for which Harris was assessed two technical fouls and ejected, occurred with 9:08 remaining in the second quarter of the Mavericks’ 121-118 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on March 29 at Smoothie King Center.

Timberwolves' Bjelica has foot surgery

The Minnesota Timberwolves announced that Nemanja Bjelica underwent successful surgery to repair a fractured navicular bone in his left foot. Bjelica will miss the remainder of the season.

Bjelica’s injury occurred during the second quarter of Minnesota’s 117-104 loss to the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, March 15.

Appearing in 65 games this season, Bjelica registered averages of 6.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 18.3 minutes per contest. The 6-10 forward owns career averages of 5.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 125 career games over two seasons with Minnesota.

Warriors to play two preseason games in China

The Golden State Warriors will play two preseason games in China against the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the NBA Global Games China 2017, it was announced by the National Basketball Association. The Warriors will face off against the Timberwolves on Thursday, October 5 in Shenzhen at the Shenzhen Universiade Center, followed by a rematch in Shanghai at the Mercedes-Benz Arena on Sunday, October 8.

“I have visited China every year since 2013, and the fans there are incredibly supportive of me, the Warriors and the NBA,” said Warriors Guard Stephen Curry, the NBA’s back-to-back most valuable player (MVP). “I’m excited about the opportunity to return to China, enjoy the country’s culture, and bring the excitement of live NBA games game directly to Chinese fans.”

Jason Kidd and Terry Stotts named NBA Coaches of the Month

The Milwaukee Bucks’ Jason Kidd and the Portland Trail Blazers’ Terry Stotts were named the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Coaches of the Month, respectively, for games played in March.

Kidd led the Bucks to an Eastern Conference-best 14-4 record, the franchise’s first calendar month with at least 14 victories since going 16-2 in February 1971.  Milwaukee had identical 7-2 records at home and away from the BMO Harris Bradley Center.  The road success featured wins over the East-leading Boston Celtics, the playoff-bound LA Clippers and the surging Trail Blazers.  The Bucks finished March in fifth place in the East – which is their current standing – after starting the month in 10th.      

Stotts guided the Trail Blazers to an NBA-best 13-3 record in March as Portland climbed into eighth place in the Western Conference.  Portland went 6-1 on the road, including victories against two West playoff teams, the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The Trail Blazers closed the month on a five-game winning streak, highlighted by a 117-107 home victory over the West’s third-place team, the Houston Rockets, on March 30.  Stotts’ team led the NBA in three-point field goal percentage (41.7) and ranked third in field goal percentage (48.7) and fourth in scoring (111.3 ppg).

Other nominees for the NBA Eastern and Western Conference Coaches of the Month were Boston’s Brad Stevens, Golden State’s Steve Kerr, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, Toronto’s Dwane Casey, Utah’s Quin Snyder and Washington’s Scott Brooks.

The Numbers

Washington Wizards: With Wednesday’s victory over the Lakers, Washington clinched its first division title in 38 years. The Wizards last won a division title in 1978-79, a season that ended with the franchise’s most recent Finals appearance.

Three-pointers: The NBA has surpassed 21,000 three-pointers in a season for the first time, breaking the single-season record of 20,953 set in 2015-16.

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: The 28-year-old center is on pace to shoot at least 70 percent from the field for the third straight season. The only other player in NBA history to reach the 70 percent mark in a season is Wilt Chamberlain, who shot a league-record 72.7 percent in 1972-73.

Knicks' Joakim Noah suspended for failed drug test 

Joakim Noah of the New York Knicks has been suspended without pay for twenty games for violating the terms of the NBA/NBPA Anti-Drug Program by testing positive for Selective Androgen Receptor Modulator LGD-4033, it was announced by the NBA.

Noah’s’ suspension will begin with the first NBA regular season or playoff game for which he is eligible and physically able to play.

Bucks' Greg Monroe fined

Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe has been fined $35,000 for shoving Los Angeles Lakers guard/forward Nick Young above the shoulders, it was announced by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

Young has been fined $25,000 for initiating the altercation by shoving Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon.  Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell has been fined $15,000 for entering the altercation and pushing Monroe.

The incident, for which all three were assessed technical fouls and ejected, occurred with 36 seconds remaining in the third quarter of the Bucks’ 107-103 win over the Lakers at Staples Center on March 17.

D-League news

Santa Cruz Warriors head coach Casey Hill was named NBA Development League Coach of the Month for games played in March and April.

Santa Cruz Warriors center Damian Jones was named the NBA Development League Player of the Month for games played in March and April.

Isaiah Taylor of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers was named NBA Development League Performer of the Week for games played Monday, March 27 through Sunday, April 2.

By Staff of and news services

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