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By George, Pacers top Kings in OT

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Indiana Pacers trailed the Sacramento Kings 103-99 with 18 seconds left to play Friday night when they called timeout to draw up a play.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel was looking for a quick 3-point basket from All-Star game starting forward Paul George. George did even better, producing a four-point play and forcing overtime. Then he scored eight of his 36 points in the extra frame, leading the Pacers to a 116-111 victory over the Kings.

“You hit a shot like that, you have to have the momentum going into overtime,” George said. “That’s what we do so well is finish and close games out.”

George took an inbounds pass, drilled a 3-point shot from the right wing, drew a foul from Kings forward Derrick Williams and made his free throw with 15 seconds left. Kings guard Isaiah Thomas missed an 18-foot jumper under pressure and the game went to overtime.

George has made plenty of miraculous plays in his career but never a four-point play to force overtime.

“That will be the first one on my bucket list,” George said, smiling. “I practice shots like that. So that was just a normal shot I felt like, but I did feel like I got hit and got pushed from behind.”

Guard Marcus Thornton scored a career-high tying 42 points and guard Isaiah Thomas added 38 for the Kings (15-27), matching his career high.

“Tough loss man, tough loss,” Thornton said. “The plays we needed to execute we didn’t. They came up with the big stops. We did a lot in that game to win the game, so it’s tough.”

Pacers guard Lance Stephenson had 24 points and 10 rebounds. Forward David West scored 22 points and center Roy Hibbert had 11 rebounds and 10 points for Indiana (34-8).

The Kings played without two injured starters, center DeMarcus Cousins (sprained right ankle) and small forward Rudy Gay (strained left Achilles) — who were hurt Wednesday night against Houston. Cousins averages 22.6 points and 11.6 rebounds — both team highs — and Gay averages 19.8 points and 6.0 rebounds.

Aaron Gray started for Cousins, and Williams started for Gay.

“I’m very proud,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “Our guys came out and played their hearts out and they put themselves in a position to win the game. It was a game we should have won. I couldn’t be more proud of everyone who played tonight. This shows you a lot about our team.”

In overtime, West hit a 3-point shot, putting the Pacers up 108-106 with 3:56 left. After a Kings turnover, George extended Indiana’s lead to 110-106, capping a fast break with an emphatic dunk.

The Kings pulled to 112-111 on Thomas’ jump shot with 1:38 left, but Stephenson scored from close range, giving Indiana a 114-11 lead with 1:20 left. The Kings turned the ball over twice and George made two free throws, extending Indiana’s lead to 116-111 with 12 seconds left.

The Pacers were coming off a 124-100 road loss on Wednesday night to Phoenix, their worst defeat of the season, and narrowly avoided just their second two-game losing streak.

That surprising loss to the Suns, who made 11 of 16 3-point shots, had the Pacers ready for anything from the undermanned Kings.

“We didn’t overlook them,” Hibbert said. “We lost to Phoenix. this was like a comeback game for us. We didn’t take this team lightly. We went out there and played our hearts out. Guys made big shots.”

Thornton quickly filled the Kings’ offensive void when the game began, scoring 26 points in the first half and lifting Sacramento to a 60-50 lead. Thomas added 13 first-half points.

NOTES: Kings C DeMarcus Cousins (sprained left ankle) and F Rudy Gay (strained left Achilles tendon) did not play against Indiana and, according to coach Michael Malone, might miss at least one more game. “It’s honestly too early to tell,” Malone said before the game. “I know DeMarcus is dying to play. The good thing is both MRIs didn’t reveal anything to us serious. So I’m hoping (they return) in the next day or so, but it could be a couple games. We’ll have to re-evaluate it tomorrow with our training staff and see what they’re saying.” … Despite his team’s injuries, Malone said he still planned to “slowly increase” backup F Carl Landry’s playing time as he continues his comeback from a torn left hip flexor muscle. Landry appeared in just his third game this season Friday. … Pacers F Paul George appeared in his first game since being voted a starter for the Eastern Conference in the NBA All-Star game and being named in the pool of 28 players for the U.S. men’s basketball national team. “Couldn’t be more proud,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.

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

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Jazz offering Mike Conley $75 million over next three years

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According to veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein, the Utah Jazz are preparing to offer point guard Mike Conley a three-year, $75 million contract to remain with the team. Of course, the exact amount is a ballpark figure. Stein stated, “Utah has made retaining Mike Conley its top priority, league sources say, and is preparing a three-year offer said to be in the $75 million range.” The 14-year NBA veteran is a significant piece to the Jazz’s championship window, playing alongside superstar teammates, such as center Rudy Gobert and guard Donovan Mitchell. He helped the Jazz finish their regular season with the league’s best record of 52-20 (.722).

Utah went on to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies in five games in the first round of the playoffs. Though, the team lost four games to two in the conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Conley averaged 16.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and six assists per game in 51 games started. Then, in the postseason, he averaged 15.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. The 33-year-old also shot 44.4 percent from the field in the regular season. Last season, the 2007 fourth overall pick earned his first NBA All-Star selection.

On July 6, 2019, the Grizzlies traded Conley to the Jazz for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick. Furthermore, the Jazz can still trade Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles this offseason, if they wanted to improve their current salary cap situation. Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 cap holds, Mike Conley’s cap figure is $39,344,900. Cap holds are for pending free agents. Conley earned $34,504,132 last season.

The team’s current luxury tax space is $11,173,027. In addition to the aforementioned cap figures, Mitchell and Gobert have a combined cap figure worth 51.34 percent of the team’s total salary cap. These two players’ contracts alone are consuming a huge chunk of the team’s cap. Plus, on November 23, 2020, Mitchell signed a contract extension with Utah. He is set to earn $28,103,550 next season. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. He will earn $35,344,828 next season and $38,172,414 in the 2022-23 season.

However, if the team were to still trade Bogdanovic and possibly Ingles as well, this would clear up an additional 25.68 percent of the team’s salary cap. Bogdanovic’s future guaranteed cash amount total is $19,343,000. They are contributing role players who play together well with the team’s big three, but re-signing the most valuable players is the team’s main objective this offseason. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik might contemplate trading role players who are not worth their asking price. Competitive teams in both conferences have to trim the fat at some point.

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Jazz agree to trade Derrick Favors, first-round pick to Thunder

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First reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Utah Jazz are trading power forward/center Derrick Favors and a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a future second-round pick. The goal here was to help reduce their tax bill. While the six-foot-eight Georgia native does not possess any notable NBA awards or honors on his basketball résumé, in the 2020-21 NBA season, Favors averaged 5.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and a field goal percentage of 63.8 percent. The 11-year NBA veteran also recorded a free throw shooting percentage of 73.8 percent last season.

The 2020-21 Thunder finished 27-50 (.306), ranking 14th overall in the Western Conference. They could use another first-round pick. Plus, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, this trade will put Utah $13 million below the luxury tax. On November 24, 2020, Favors signed a three-year, $29.2 million contract with the Jazz. Favors is set to earn $9,720,900 next season. This is the second time in his career he has left the Jazz.

He played with them from the 2010-11 season to the 2018-19 season, before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on July 7, 2019 for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick. For the 2022-23 season, he has a player option of $10,183,800. The Jazz plan to also re-sign Mike Conley, so this was somewhat of a drastic move to help clear up cap space. On July 6, 2019, Conley was traded by the Memphis Grizzlies to the Jazz, in exchange for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick.

Moreover, scoring-wise, the 33-year-old point guard has not lived up to his performances from his last few seasons on the Grizzlies, but the Jazz need all the help they can get. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik will make it a top priority to re-sign Conley here soon. Conley earned $34,504,132 in the 2020-21 season.

According to Spotrac, Conley has a cap figure of $39,344,900. Center Rudy Gobert and shooting guard Donovan Mitchell have a combined percentage of 47.61 percent of Utah’s total salary cap. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the team. He will earn $35,344,828 next season.

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Wizards, Lakers agree to Russell Westbrook and Three-Player Trade Deal

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The Los Angeles Lakers have agreed with the Washington Wizards to acquire Russell Westbrook in a three-player trade, sending Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 pick in Thursday’s 2021 NBA Draft to the Wizards. According to ESPN, the Wizards are also giving up their 2024 and 2028 second-round picks as well. During last night’s draft, at pick No. 22, the Lakers sent Wildcats’ center Isaiah Jackson to the Pacers via the Wizards. At pick No. 15, the Wizards drafted Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert. In the second round, at pick No. 31, the Milwaukee Bucks traded NBA G League player Isaiah Todd to the Wizards via the Pacers.

On Thursday, Harrell decided to pursue his $9.7 million player option for next season. Yesterday, rumors surfaced across social media regarding a possible Lakers-Kings trade involving Harrell. Despite the outlandish predictions and mindless speculation from fans over these last couple of days, this trade move could work out great for both teams. Having said that, one person’s prediction is as good as anyone’s. The Lakers needed an accurate shooter. Westbrook might not be the missing piece.

Additionally, Westbrook is a 9-time NBA All-Star and three-time assists leader. In his MVP season back in the 2016-17 season, over the course of 81 games, he averaged a career-high 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. On Twitter, Westbrook tweeted, “I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, Caldwell-Pope averaged 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game in 67 games started for the Lakers. The 28-year-old shooting guard will make $13 million next season. As for Kuzma, in 68 games played last season, he averaged 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Kuzma is set to earn $13 million next season. For Harrell, in 69 games played last season, he averaged 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. The six-foot-seven power forward/center is also a six-year player. Instead of having one or two notable super stars, the Wizards having several contributing players might work out better in their favor.

Last season, in 65 games played in his only season spent on the Wizards, Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. The 32-year-old point guard finished the 2020-21 season with 38 triple-doubles, ranking first in the league and second highest in his own playing career. Westbrook also surpassed Oscar Robertson last season for the most all-time assists; Robertson accumulated 181 triple-doubles in 14 seasons. Now, the two-time NBA scoring champion has 184 career triple-doubles, the most all-time for any player. Furthermore, this is Westbrook’s fourth team in his NBA career.

He is the fifth former MVP in league history to play on four different teams over the course of four seasons or less, adding to the existent list of Bob McAdoo, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Derrick Rose. Moreover, on December 2, 2020, Westbrook was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 first-round draft pick. He is set to earn $44.2 million in the upcoming season. His player option for the 2022-23 season is $47 million. This trade deal will not be official until August 6th.

Per Bovada’s NBA Futures odds, the Lakers now have +300 odds of winning their eighteenth championship in the 2021-22 season. This is a move from 4/1 odds before the trade, leaping the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors, and they now have the second best odds behind the Brooklyn Nets (+250). Westbrook also has the best odds of leading the league in assists next season, with first place odds showing EVEN. He is ahead of James Harden (+150), Trae Young (+450), and Luka Doncic (+600). With +6600 odds, he also ranks 19th in the NBA for next season’s MVP odds, trailing Lakers’ teammates such as James (+1200) and Davis (+2800).

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