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Simmons plans to play for Australia at FIBA World Cup

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SYDNEY (AP) — Ben Simmons is set to play for Australia at the FIBA World Cup after confirming in an online video “I’m going to be a Boomer” for upcoming events.

Simmons’ NBA season ended when his Philadelphia 76ers were knocked out of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Kawhi Leonard’s Game 7-ending buzzer-beater for Toronto.

The NBA All-Star told his fans to stay tuned about upcoming events in the video he posted on Twitter but he later confirmed on Weibo, the Chinese social media channel, that he was “looking forward to representing my country Australia” in the World Cup. He’s likely to join the likes of Patty Mills, Andrew Bogut and Matthew Dellavedova in Australia’s squad for the World Cup, which starts Aug. 31 in China.

Simmons was criticized in Philadelphia for his lack of impact in the playoffs, but he used the video to thank fans for their support as well as outline his international intentions.

Australia coach Andrej Lemanis said Simmons’ decision to return after skipping the 2016 Olympics reflected the positive vibes within the national set up.

“The players are truly invested in the program and each other. They are always proud to wear the Boomers uniform and keen to represent Australian basketball on the world stage,” Lemanis said. “Ben is an amazing talent and his skill set will add significantly to the team.

“He has a phenomenal basketball IQ, an ability to create for himself and others and an obvious willingness to play in a team orientated environment.”

Australia’s Boomers have never finished higher than fourth in the World Cup or Olympics but are growing in confidence with an increasing number of players in the NBA.

The Boomers are scheduled to play warmups against Canada in Perth, Australia, on Aug. 16 and 17 and against the World Cup champion U.S. team in Melbourne on Aug. 22 and 24.



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Raptors on brink of first Finals berth in franchise history

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TORONTO — Twenty-one would be a very cool number for the Toronto Raptors. Before they get it, though, they’ll need to get one.

And one would be beyond cool. Off the charts, historic, potentially transformative and largely indescribable.

Twenty-one: That’s how many teams in NBA playoff history will have overcome an 0-2 start to win a best-of-seven series, if the Raptors manage to close out the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals. Whether it happens in Game 6 Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena or in Game 7 back in Milwaukee Monday, Toronto would buck outlandish odds — this is the 289th series to begin with the same team winning the first two games, so we’re talking a 7 percent likelihood (20 of 288).

One: That’s all that stands between the Raptors and the first NBA Final appearance in Toronto franchise history. One more victory in the next three days would validate the risks and twists of this 2018-19 season for the Raptors, while exorcising nearly a quarter century’s worth of demons.

One little win and Toronto finally will break through, capping a stellar six-year run of promising regular seasons and heartbreaking postseasons. They will have earned, in the face of so much uncertainty, their best shot yet at a championship, even if it means going through the mighty Golden State Warriors.

 

The Starters discuss what kind of adjustments the Bucks need to make to get their offense back on track.

When Raptors president Masai Ujiri traded for star forward Kawhi Leonard, he was gambling not just that Leonard could recover from the right quadriceps injury that scuttled his 2017-18. He was guessing that swapping in Leonard for former All-Star wing DeMar DeRozan could push Toronto to, well, right where they’re at. And he was hoping Leonard, a rent-a-player able to leave this summer in free agency, would enjoy the whole experience enough to let Ujiri pay him $220 million over the next five seasons.

It’s impossible to know where things stand on that last front, owing to Leonard’s inscrutability and a decision that’s still six weeks away. But the Raptors never have gotten this far, so there is an opportunity here to be savored, with more potentially to come.

“It would be a very, very long summer thinking about what could have been or what you could have done,” guard Fred VanVleet said, framing things a bit negatively after raining 7-of-9 3-pointers on Milwaukee in the 105-99 Game 5 victory. “So we’ve just got to go out there and have no regrets. … One win away from the Finals sounds pretty good to me.”

Sounds a little easier, maybe, than it actually will be. The Raptors are at home for Game 6 and the crowd at Scotiabank crowd, already dialed high, will be able to let it rip without any fear — immediate fear, anyway — of failure.

But Milwaukee will be desperate. Giannis Antetokounmpo has pledged that his team will not “fold.” And the Bucks have zero interest in a knock-knock year, believing all season that they were good enough to reach and win the championship.

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo after Bucks’ loss in Game 5: “We’re not gonna fold. We’re gonna go in, give it everything we got.”

They wouldn’t be human if they weren’t shaken by the three consecutive defeats Toronto has dealt them. The Raptors have managed to surround and partially stifle Antetokounmpo, while still firing out enough to bother Milwaukee’s 3-point shooters into repeated misfires.

The Bucks’ defense has been probed and poked like a cut-rate steak. They resorted again to some uncharacteristic switching in Game 5 but had most of their success inside the arc. Late in the pivotal loss, they got beat for five offensive rebounds, when grabbing two or three might have swung the outcome.

“It’s win or lose,” coach Mike Budenholzer said Friday in a conference call with reporters. “When you win, there are things that [still] are concerning and unsettling that you need to work on and improve. I think there’s just enough possessions where there’s a couple of rebounds that stand out.

“Can we do a little bit better job in some of our activity in certain situations. Offensively, I think at times can our spacing be better and our ball movement be better? But I would say it’s like a lot of games. We didn’t get it done.”

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Trail Blazers sign Stotts to extension through 2022

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PORTLAND (AP) — The Portland Trail Blazers have formally announced that coach Terry Stotts signed a contract extension through the 2021-22 season.

The extension was first revealed the day after the Trail Blazers were eliminated from the postseason by the Golden State Warriors, but terms were not released.

Stotts, Portland’s coach since 2012, led the team to its first appearance in the Western Conference finals in 19 years. The Blazers finished the regular season 53-29 to secure the third seed then got past Oklahoma City and Denver in the opening rounds of the playoffs.

The Blazers have made the playoffs in six straight seasons under Stotts.

The Blazers also announced Friday that President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey has signed to a contract extension through the 2023-24 season. Olshey joined the team in 2012 as general manager and was promoted in 2015.

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Durant initially thought injury was much worse

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Superstar Warriors forward Kevin Durant was forced to sit out the entire Western Conference finals with a calf injury suffered in the previous round, and it’s increasingly likely he’ll miss at least part of the upcoming Finals against either Toronto or Milwaukee as Golden State pursues its third straight title and fourth in five years. 

But it could have been much worse based on his split-second reaction to the injury he suffered late in the Warriors’ Game 5 victory on May 8 of their Western Conference semifinals series with Houston. 

While Durant was later diagnosed with a right calf strain, he initially feared — along with many watching — that he might have torn his Achilles tendon based on the non-contact nature of the injury. 

“I felt somebody trip me up,” said Durant, who spoke about the injury for the first time on Friday. “First thing that came to mind, “Boogie (Cousins) said, Kobe (Bryant) said…” that it felt like somebody kicked them (after they tore Achilles tendons).

“So the first thing in my mind was to slow down and process what happened. Then I started walking, and I could put weight on it, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought.”

But still bad enough that Durant has been out for more than two weeks, and has yet to be cleared for on-court activities. The Warriors announced on Thursday that Durant continues to make “good progress” with the injury, and is “hopeful” to return at some point during The Finals, which begin next Thursday and conclude, if it lasts all seven games, on June 16. 

“I’m just taking it a second at a time,” Durant said. “I don’t really know too much about this injury. I’m just leaving it up to the team doctors.”

The Warriors can at least count on the return of veteran reserve Andre Iguodala (calf), who is expected to return for Game 1, and perhaps All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins (quad), who the Warriors expect to return at some point during The Finals.  

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said both players participated in a full team scrimmage on Friday, with no restrictions on contact or playing time. Durant, he said, sat out as he continues to rehab. 

 

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