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2014 NBA Draft: Embiid stands tall in center rankings

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Kansas’ Joel Embiid is poised to be an immediate defensive force in the NBA, and he’s a strong contender to land with the Cleveland Cavaliers with the No. 1 overall pick. But Embiid is the only likely lottery pick among centers, leaving teams in need of talented big men sifting through a crop of talented but largely unknown players from overseas.

The top center prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft.

1. (No. 3 overall) Joel Embiid, C, Fr. Kansas

Overview: Last season’s back injury is a big concern, but many believe if Embiid can prove he’s healthy, his 11.2 ppg, 8.1 rebs and 2.6 blocks per game at KU make him the likely No. 1 pick to Cleveland. At 7-feet with a 7’5″ wingspan, Embiid has scouts salivating over his already proven shot-blocking ability and potential on offense.

Analysis: Many had teammate Andrew Wiggins pegged as the No. 1 pick, but by midseason the talk had shifted to Embiid before he suffered a back injury. Embiid likely will take a few years to start making the offensive impact he’s capable of, but his athleticism and ability to block shots should translate immediately into the NBA.

2. (20) Jusuf Nurkic, C, Int. (Bosnia)

Overview: Standing 6-11, 280 pounds with a 7’2″ wingspan, Nurkic was not well known but turned into a surprise player in Europe earlier this year. His balance and footwork are very good for his size and he excels in fundamental situations like the pick and roll.

Analysis: Nurkic’s touch and feel for the game set him apart from other big men. He’s very good below the rim, can shoot with both hands in the paint and isn’t scared of contact. His biggest flaws are a lack of great athleticism and defensive skills. However, he’s a very skilled offensive big man and those are hard to find.

3. (33) Isaiah Austin, C, Soph., Baylor

Overview: Austin was originally thought to be a one-and-done player for the Bears, but decided to stick around at Baylor for his sophomore year. The gangly 7-footer has the size and mobility NBA teams are looking for, but needs to add some weight has hasn’t lived up to expectations.

Analysis: Austin has shown flashes of immense talent offensively but hasn’t been consistent. He struggles around the basket due to his lack of weight and strength; he has put on about 25 pounds over the past year, which should help him become more physical. Talent-wise, he’s a first rounder, he just needs add consistency.

4. (39) Walter Tavares, C, Int. (Cape Verde)

Overview: Raw 7-3 prospect with a long wingspan and big hands. His defensive prowess and shot blocking has people interested. Tavares has only been playing organized basketball a few years and has been making his way up the ranks in Europe. He’s a project, but there is definite potential.

Analysis: In the short amount of time Tavares has been playing, he has shown he can clearly be a defensive presence. His athleticism, along with his height and long arms allows him to not just block shots but cover anywhere around the basket. He’s steadily improving, which has earned the attention of NBA scouts.

5. (51) Artem Klimenko, C, Int. (Russia)

Overview: Athletic, rangy 7-footer has emerged from obscurity since announcing his intention to enter the draft. Since declaring, he has generated enough interest to probably get drafted.

Analysis: The first thing you notice about Klimenko is how fluid he is for someone almost 7-feet. He’s extremely mobile and runs exceptionally well for a guy his size. The rest of his game, along with the competition he has been playing against, are pretty much a mystery at this point, but the NBA loves athletic big men, and Klimenko is just that.

6. (52) Nikola Jokic, C, Int. (Serbia)

Overview: The 6-11, 19-year-old Serbian stands out on the offensive end of the floor, where he possesses a natural feel for the game. He’s not overly athletic but excels below the rim, where his balance and footwork set him apart from other big men his size.

Analysis: The term “old school” comes to mind when watching Jokic play. He’s extremely creative for a guy his size when he has the ball in his hands. Jokic is also a nightmare to guard 1-on-1 in the low block because of his offensive skillset and ability to score. At just 19, Jokic’s potential has people taking notice.

7. (59) Jordan Bachynski, C, Sr. Arizona State.

Overview: The solid but not spectacular Bachynski stands 7-2 with a long wing span, and over his four years at Arizona State he steadily improved and finished his senior year with a NCAA tournament berth. Bachysnki’s size coupled with his fundamentally sound game will get him looks from some NBA teams.

Analysis: Bachynski’s size alone will get him looks, but the best part of his game is in the areas you normally wouldn’t look at. He moves well without the ball, sets great screens and plays with a high IQ. The Canadian big man is a coach’s dream and could find himself in a backup role somewhere.

8. (65) Moussa Diagne, C, Int. Senegal.

Overview: Extremely raw 7-foot prospect with a 7’5″ wingspan who has only played organized basketball for roughly three years. His ability to block shots is what has grabbed attention. He’s athletic and improving, which has NBA people intrigued at how good he could become.

Analysis: Diagne is a natural athlete, runs and jumps well, and is explosive around the basket. He still has a ways to go on his learning curve, but what he has accomplished in the three years he has been playing is impressive.

9. (78) Sim Bhullar, c, Soph. New Mexico State.

Overview: The massive 7-5, 360-pound Bhullar decided against returning to New Mexico State for his junior year, but he will need lose weight and focus on conditioning to have any shot in the NBA. He is skilled, led New Mexico State to a WAC title and if he can drop some weight he’ll definitely have interested people in the NBA watching.

Analysis: Bhullar has talent but staying in school would have been far better for his NBA prospects. He’ll get looks because of his size, but his weight and conditioning are big red flags. He’s a talented big man who can score and used his size to his advantage in college, but he’s not ready for the NBA just yet.

10. (80) Alec Brown, C, Sr. Wisconsin Green Bay.

Overview: A Horizon League First Team selection and Defensive Player of the Year winner, Brown has shown a smooth shooting stroke that extends out to the NBA 3-point line. Outside Wisconsin fans likely wouldn’t know who Brown is, but the big man is making a name for himself in pre-draft workouts.

Analysis: Brown has made the most of his pre-draft workouts; he’s 7-1, can shoot from the perimeter and people are starting to notice. The NBA loves big men who can shoot and space the floor, and Brown does just that. The big

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair

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If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.

Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.

Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.

“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”

Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.

Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?

“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”

The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.

“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”

Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.

“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”

Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.

Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.

“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”

The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.

Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.

“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.

Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.

The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.

Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.

NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.

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NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return

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Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.

Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.

“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”

Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.

“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”

In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.

–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.

He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.

Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.

–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.

“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”

Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.

“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.

–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.

The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.

Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.

–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.

Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.

In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.

–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.

Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.

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Ginobili sprains ankle as Spurs rout Timberwolves

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SAN ANTONIO — The fourth and final meeting of the season between the San Antonio Spurs and the Minnesota Timberwolves looked a lot like the first three.

Forward Kawhi Leonard scored a team-high 15 points as San Antonio defeated Minnesota 123-97 Sunday night at the AT&T Center. The only downside for the Spurs was losing guard Manu Ginobili due to a sprained right ankle.

Leonard was one of seven San Antonio players to score in double figures as the Spurs (41-24) completed a season sweep of Minnesota (14-51). The average margin of victory in the games as 23.

The Spurs earned their seventh win in eight games.

Guard Kevin Martin scored 19 points and guard Zach LaVine added 18 for the Timberwolves, who were missing many players on the final game of a four-game road trip. Minnesota lost its fourth game in a row.

“We moved (the ball) well, but it wasn’t a fair fight,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “Their guys are devastated by their injuries, so I thought we had good focus under the circumstances. They still played the right way, so that was the best part of the game.”

The Spurs pulled away in the third quarter behind a 13-0 run. The Wolves only shot 27.3 percent in the third, and the Spurs made 63.6 of their field goals while outscoring Minnesota 33-13 in the period.

“That’s what great teams do,” Martin said. “We knew they were going to do that. Kawhi Leonard had a first half that he probably didn’t want to have, and I’m sure Pop let him know about it. He came out in the second half and changed the whole game.”

Ginobili had to be helped off the court late in the third quarter, and he did not return. He was hurt with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs up by 30 points.

Ginobili was taken immediately to the locker room and did not put any weight on his right leg, and he will be out for a to 10 days, Popovich said. Ginobili finished the game with 11 points in 19 minutes.

San Antonio forward Jeff Ayres sustained a rib contusion in the second half and also sat out the rest of the contest.

Sunday night marked the first time San Antonio stepped back on the court since a 128-125 overtime loss to the Cavaliers on Thursday that included a 57-point performance by Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving. The loss snapped the Spurs’ six game winning streak.

Minnesota dressed only eight players. Forward Kevin Garnett (knee), guard Ricky Rubio (ankle) and center Nikola Pekovic (ankle) were all ruled out by coach Flip Saunders before the game.

“It wasn’t a fair fight,” Saunders said. “We just weren’t alert mentally, as far as trying to play. They just mauled us basically.”

The Spurs took advantage of Minnesota’s depleted lineup and jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead behind guard Tony Parker, who made his first four shots of the game and finished the night with 11 points and eight assists. Minnesota trailed 60-50 at halftime.

The Spurs led by as many as 39 points in the fourth quarter.

Even though San Antonio was facing a team without a full complement of players, forward Tim Duncan said the final game of a 5-1 homestand was a sign of good things to come.

“We’re turning that corner,” said Duncan, who finished with 10 points, six rebounds and six assists. “I think we’re heading the right direction. The huge loss last game, I felt like we gave that one away. But other than that, we’re on the right track.”

San Antonio will hit the road for back-to-back games in New York on Tuesday and in Milwaukee on Wednesday. The Timberwolves head home to face the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night.

NOTES: San Antonio moved percentage points ahead of the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers for fifth place in the Western Conference standings. The Clippers lost Sunday, while the Mavericks were idle. … Minnesota F Kevin Garnett (knee) missed his fourth game in a row. … Spurs G Manu Ginobili was back in action against Minnesota after battling a stomach illness that caused him to miss the team’s game against Toronto on Tuesday and play less than 10 minutes against Cleveland on Thursday.

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