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GameThread: Friday the 13th showdown features 8 teams in 4 games

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There are four games on tonight, and even the ones without direct playoff implications have something worth watching. Here’s how to follow along.


Atlanta Dream (10-9) vs. Indiana Fever (2-18)

When: Friday, July 13 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: McCamish Pavilion | TICKETS

How to watch: WNBA League Pass (worldwide streaming), FOX Sports Southeast Atlanta (Atlanta-area TV)

Injuries: None to report.

Storylines to follow

Last meeting: Dream 87, Fever 83 (July 1)

This has proven to be one of the more intriguing matchups this season, despite the fact that neither team is truly a power team. Both of the Dream’s victories over the Fever have been close, within five points, but the Fever shocked the league when their first win of the season came in a 32-point rout of the Dream in June.

It’s anyone’s guess which version of these teams will show up Friday, but the natural favorite is Atlanta, whose last two wins come over Washington and Phoenix. Tiffany Hayes and Angel McCoughtry have been putting up solid efforts for the Dream of late, with the entire starting lineup balancing each other out and picking up slack.

For the Fever, Cappie Pondexter has been a natural fit off the bench since joining the squad, but the team suffers from inconsistency among its starters. To have a chance in this one, as in their two wins, they’ll have to rely mainly on their defense.


Connecticut Sun (10-10) vs. Phoenix Mercury (14-7)

When: Friday, July 13 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Mohegan Sun Arena | TICKETS

How to watch: WNBA League Pass (worldwide streaming), NBC Sports Boston (New England-area TV)

Injuries: For the Mercury, Diana Taurasi (illness) is questionable.

Storylines to follow

Last meeting: Mercury 84, Sun 77 (July 5)

In an interesting twist, both of these teams that each once looked down from the top of the standings come into this meeting on losing streaks of three and two games, respectively.

While the Mercury’s situation isn’t as dire — they’re still in second place, while the Sun are barely clinging to a playoff spot — they’ll still want to turn things around to avoid falling into their second three-game losing streak of the season. With Sancho Lyttle out for the season and Diana Taurasi’s immediate return from illness questionable, the Mercury could be without these two key starters for the first full game this season.

Meanwhile, the Sun seem to want to come out of their recent slump, but find themselves struggling from the free throw line and allowing key opposing players to have big games. It’s these small differences that they’ll want to focus on in order to turn the possibility of yet another close loss into a solid win.


Washington Mystics (12-8) vs. Chicago Sky (7-13)

When: Friday, July 13 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Capital One Arena | TICKETS

How to watch: WNBA League Pass (worldwide streaming), NBC Sports Washington (D.C.-area TV), The U Too (Chicago-area TV)

Injuries: Astou Ndour (ankle) has been out and there is no official word yet on her return.

Storylines to follow

Last meeting: Mystics 93, Sky 77 (June 22)

The Mystics have had the Sky’s number this season, and neither of their meetings has been particularly close.

In their first meeting, no Chicago starter scored in double figures as the team shot under 30 percent, and in their second, Elena Delle Donne dropped 30 points in a game that Washington had in hand from the first quarter. Granted, the Sky have since welcomed Stefanie Dolson back to the regular rotation, and Diamond DeShields has emerged as a player to watch as her first WNBA season wears on.

At the same time, the Mystics remain in a three-way tie for third place in spite of their two-game losing streak, and Delle Donne remains a consistent presence — and thus a consistent threat, especially against her former team — at the top of the scoring sheet. This could be just the game that the Mystics need to get back on track and stay in the race for a top spot in the postseason.


Minnesota Lynx (12-8) vs. Las Vegas Aces (9-12)

When: Friday, July 13 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Target Center | TICKETS

How to watch: WNBA League Pass (worldwide streaming), Fox Sports North Plus (Minnesota-area TV)

Injuries: For the Lynx, Rebekkah Brunson (thigh) is questionable.

Storylines to follow

Last meeting: Lynx 88, Aces 73 (June 24)

Despite all the differences between these teams — their experience levels, their places in the standings, their records being near mirror images of each other — the way that the Lynx and the Aces have been playing lately suggests a potentially heated matchup to close out Friday’s action.

Las Vegas is rolling, its three wins in a row representing its longest winning streak of the season, and players besides (but, of course, in addition to) A’ja Wilson coming up big points-wise. Kayla McBride has averaged 24.3 points per game over the past three games, with Wilson not far behind at 23.3 points per game. With these two at their best, even the third-place Lynx could struggle to keep them off the board.

Sylvia Fowles has had some major results both in points and rebounds lately, with Maya Moore right beside her, but Minnesota has shown some uncharacteristic vulnerability in recent losses to the Sky and Fever. If all of the stars come out for both teams, this game will have truly deserved its final spot in Friday’s lineup.

Via Swish Appeal

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NBA

Hayward: Celtics confident in post-LeBron East

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward expressed confidence in his team for the 2018-19 season, as it faces an Eastern Conference that no longer has LeBron James, who moved to the Los Angeles Lakers in July, but now features Kawhi Leonard, who was traded to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.

“The East is still going to be a tough conference; I think a lot of people are writing the East off,” Hayward said during media appearances Thursday at a “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” event at an Xfinity Store 15 minutes west of TD Garden. “There were some surprises last year in the East, and there are still going to be teams that have young talent that gained a lot of experience last year that will be tough matchups for us. That said, I’m confident that we’ve got everything we need to make the run at the whole thing.”

On Wednesday, the Raptors acquired Leonard, the 2014 NBA Finals MVP, from the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for four-time All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan. Leonard’s arrival changes a Raptors lineup that has struggled for years in the postseason, particularly when James and his former Cleveland Cavaliers were their opponent. Cleveland swept Toronto in the conference semifinals the past two seasons.

Hayward said swapping DeRozan for Leonard changes the Raptors “a little bit,” but said he’s confident the Celtics will be ready for the new-look team.

“Toronto was a good team with DeMar, so with Kawhi, they’ll be just as good,” Hayward said. “He changes them a little bit. They’ll for sure be a good team. I still like our chances, and I feel like we’ve got enough to win the whole thing. He’s a guy that will add some toughness to their team defensively, a little versatility. He’s a two-time defensive player of the year, so he’s always a matchup problem out there on the wing. We’ll be ready for him.”

In October, during the Celtics’ opening game of the 2017-18 regular season against the Cavaliers, Hayward suffered a fractured tibia and a dislocated ankle in a botched alley-oop attempt from teammate Kyrie Irving. Hayward underwent surgery shortly thereafter and then another in March to remove a plate inserted in the first operation. The injuries and surgery sidelined the max-level player for the season.

Hayward reaffirmed reports that he intended to return the court by training camp in September. He said he believed he would be back at full speed by August “and then see how my ankle reacts to that.”

“I’ll be ready to go for sure,” Hayward said. “Since I’ve had my second surgery, I’ve been feeling a lot better. My ankle has reacted a lot better to different drills, strength movements and different things I’ve done on it, so the next step is go live and play against other people. Instead of just doing rehearse drills, I’m doing reactive drills. It’s doing a lot better.”

In addition to Hayward’s injury, the Celtics lost All-Star guard Irving — whom they traded for last summer after signing Hayward to a four-year, $128 million deal — to injury before the playoffs. Despite the losses of their two best players, the Celtics finished second in the regular season in the Eastern Conference, behind the Raptors, and then — in an effort led by young stars Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier and veteran big man Al Horford — second in the Eastern Conference playoffs after a close conference finals lost to the Cavaliers.

“[Kyrie and I] texted, we watched the games sitting right next to each other on the sideline,” Hayward said. “It’s one of the hardest things I believe you can do as an athlete: be injured and having to watch your team play; especially for me, because I chose to leave [the Jazz] and come play for the Celtics, then only to watch the Celtics play all year. It was extremely difficult.”

Irving and Hayward are both expected to return to a Celtics team that retained many of its best bench players, like Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes, in the offseason.

“We’ve got a lot of depth,” Hayward said. “We basically signed everybody back, so we’re going to run it back. I’m very excited, very excited for what we can do as a team. Last year was a great year, although we had some injuries, and obviously not for me individually, but a great year for the Celtics, as far as guys getting experience in being put in situations they probably wouldn’t have been put in. That’s invaluable, so I think we’re looking up.”

Via ESPN.com

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NBA

L.A. Clippers sign forward Luc Mbah a Moute

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The L.A. Clippers have signed free-agent forward Luc Mbah a Moute, it was announced Thursday by President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank. Per team policy, terms of the agreement were not released.

“Luc is the ultimate professional,” said Frank. “He is a very smart player and an outstanding defender who leads by example and provides a strong cultural presence in the locker room. Luc is a class act that we welcome back to the Clippers.”

Mbah a Moute, 31, appeared in 61 games for the Houston Rockets last season, averaging 7.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.18 steals in 25.6 minutes. The 6’8”, 230-pound forward spent the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons with the Clippers, averaging 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in 19.7 minutes over 155 appearances (137 starts). He holds career averages of 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds across 10 NBA seasons with Milwaukee, Sacramento, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Houston and L.A. 

A native of Cameroon, Mbah a Moute was selected 37th overall by Milwaukee in the 2008 NBA Draft after three collegiate seasons at UCLA, where he was named Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and a member of the Pac-10 All-Freshman team in 2006.

Via NBA.com

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NBA

Cousins shrugs off critics of move to Warriors

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OAKLAND, Calif. — DeMarcus Cousins, the newly signed member of the Golden State Warriors, said he isn’t bothered by those criticizing him for joining a superteam that has won three of the past four NBA championships.

In a sit-down interview with ESPN on Thursday, the four-time All-Star big man discussed the outrage over his decision, his timetable from an Achilles injury, his goals for the 2018-19 season and more.

“I didn’t really care, honestly,” he said about the backlash. “I don’t really care. … It trips me out to just see. It’s crazy like how angry people were.”

LeBron James agreeing to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers on Day 1 of free agency instantly became the biggest talking point of the period. However, on Day 2, Cousins’ agreement took the league by storm.

A healthy chunk of NBA fans expressed their displeasure, via social media, with the Warriors’ new addition. Furthermore, players joined in with remarks on social platforms of being shocked.

“It’s tweets [from players], but it’s nothing over the top,” Cousins said. “At least, not brought to my knowledge. But, it’s just kind of funny because before the whole thing started, I was just kind of wasted. I was damaged goods, not a winner, just everything negative. And soon as it happens, it’s like, ‘He’s too damn good to [be a Warrior].’ So, it’s just kind of funny how the narrative switches right away when things don’t go the way they expect it to.”

As soon as word leaked that Cousins was Bay Area-bound, players around the league began calling him to gauge his mindset, and some even attempted to influence him to change his mind.

Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum was one of the players who wanted to know what was going on.

“Shout out to my dog CJ,” Cousins said with a laugh. “I mean, it’s funny of course. But me and CJ have that type of relationship where we rap about all that type of stuff. In a way he was congratulating me, but at the same time he was dead serious [about what I was going to do]. But at the end of the day, I think he understood my situation and kind of where my mindset was with the whole situation. That’s my dog for sure.”

Prior to making his decision, he said he spoke to Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green about the possibility of teaming up.

“Draymond probably had the worst pitch,” he said while chuckling. “He was like, ‘Cous, I’m pretty sure me and you are going to fight.’ I’m like, ‘Draymond, Come on. Whoa. Whoa.’ But Draymond, that’s my guy. I respect him as a player, I respect him as a competitor. He’s one of the top in this business and just his approach to every game, I want that guy on my team every day. So, we talked, we kind of communicated about what we both wanted, which was winning games. He openly said he knows I wouldn’t get as many touches and I don’t give a, I don’t care. And the same thing for me. It’s about winning the games. I think me and Draymond will mesh well. I think we have a lot of similarities and the same way that he’s appreciative, hopefully I can receive the same thing.”

The 6-foot-10 center tore his left Achilles in January and has been rehabbing since. He previously said he wanted to return for training camp, but has scaled that desire back and will allow the Warriors’ training staff to progress him along slowly.

“I would like to be ready for training camp. I will like to be ready yesterday,” he said. “I want to be ready to go the beginning of the season. I miss the game. This is what I do. This is what I dreamed of as a kid. So, to be away from the game, it’s hard enough. I’m just ready to be back on the floor.”

Golden State inked him to a one-year, $5.3 million deal. It’s a low-risk move for an organization a month removed from sweeping the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

Cousins is aware of the negative perception that hovers over him stemming from chatter about him being a bad teammate and not being willing to play winning basketball. If he’s able to prove the pundits wrong in this setting, it could open the door for a prosperous 2019 free-agency summer.

“I’m just to the point where I’ve become numb to [criticism],” Cousins said. “I’ll put it this way: If you live your life to satisfy every person that critiques you, then you’ll drive yourself crazy. You will never satisfy everybody and what they feel you should do, especially being in this position. You’ll never satisfy them. There will be somebody that disagrees with what’s going on. I don’t care. I don’t care because anything and everything that’s being said and going on is harmless. I walk around with my head high, I walk around comfortable. I’m good. What are they going to do?”

“…Every day I wake up and I’m comfortable in my skin. I’m going to be myself regardless. Like I said earlier, I don’t live for another man’s opinion or another man’s critique. If it’s positive and I feel it will help and benefit me and you know the situation I’m in, you’re close to the situation, yes, I take that in and I let it register. I build from it. But Joe from Nebraska, I don’t care. Your words mean nothing to me, and that’s how I live. I can’t live for the next man’s opinion. That’s just not me. I’m comfortable. I’m comfortable in my skin.

“I’m here to play basketball. I’m here to play at the highest level. I’m here to win games. Everything else will take care of itself. That’s not my concern.”

Via ESPN.com

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