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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff believes he can make the franchise competitive immediately with a quick recovery from a 60-loss season.

That’s what his boss expects as well.

“We’re going into it with an optimistic view and we’re planning on success,” Bickerstaff said Wednesday, one day after having the interim tag removed from his title. “We’re planning on a playoff run. There’s no doubt about it.”

The Grizzlies announced Tuesday that Bickerstaff would remain their head coach after he worked the past 63 games of Memphis’ 2017-18 season on an interim basis. Bickerstaff began the 2017-18 season as an associate head coach on the staff of David Fizdale, who was fired in late November .

Memphis went 15-48 under Bickerstaff and finished the season 22-60, posting the second-worst record in the NBA and ending a string of seven straight playoff appearances. General manager Chris Wallace said he was encouraged by Bickerstaff’s approach during a season derailed by injuries.

“You learn a great deal about people in adversity, much more than watching them while they’re winning,” Wallace said. “J.B. was given a very difficult task this year when he took over as interim head coach and guided us through some very choppy waters. He kept the team together through very difficult times.”

Wallace also noted the Grizzlies shouldn’t have similar struggles next season.

Veteran guard Mike Conley should be healthy again after injuries to his left heel and Achilles tendon caused him to play just 12 games this year. Memphis’ poor performance this season also assures the Grizzlies an early pick in the NBA draft to join a nucleus that includes Conley and 33-year-old center Marc Gasol.

“Starting next year, we want to get back in the playoffs again and be a relevant team that’s pushing to win the Western Conference and go on,” Wallace said. “We think we’re well equipped to get back in again. We get Mike Conley healthy. Marc Gasol still has many good years in front of him. We’ve got a number of young players that have come on to develop. We’re going to have a top-five pick. We’re going to be able to use a midlevel exception.

“We’ve got a lot of tools to work with, and a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done.”

Bickerstaff, 39, is happy to have an entire offseason to prepare for his assignment, a luxury he didn’t have in his previous head-coaching stints.

He went 37-34 as the Houston Rockets’ interim coach in 2015-16 after Kevin McHale was fired. Then came the interim assignment with Memphis this season. Now he finally gets all the advantages that come with starting a season as a head coach.

“You truly can’t imagine how free and open and clear my mind is now because you have an opportunity to prepare,” said Bickerstaff, the son of former longtime NBA coach Bernie Bickerstaff. “In any situation that you’re going into, especially a high-pressure situation, the most important thing you want to do is have a moment to chart out your journey.”

Bickerstaff said Conley and Gasol give the Grizzlies a pair of “All-Star-caliber bookends” that make Memphis’ roster different from the typical lottery team. Bickerstaff also praised the way forward JaMychal Green has established himself in the NBA and noted the way younger players such as Jarell Martin, Andrew Harrison and Dillon Brooks developed during a trying season.

He expects Conley to come back with something to prove after an injury-riddled season.

“People have kind of forgotten just how good Mike really is,” Bickerstaff said.

Bickerstaff hopes the ballhandling abilities of Harrison, MarShon Brooks, Wayne Selden and Chandler Parsons could enable Conley to play off the ball on occasion next season. Parsons has dealt with his own injury issues, as he’s played a total of 70 games in two seasons with Memphis.

“We’d like to put (Conley) in more situations where he’s a secondary ball handler or a secondary playmaker, and the defense has shifted and all 10 eyes defensively aren’t just keyed in on him,” Bickerstaff said.

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LOS ANGELES — Having clinched a playoff berth, Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans are looking ahead.

They are one of five teams in the mix for the No. 4 seed in the wild West, and a win against the Spurs in their regular season finale would give the Pelicans home-court advantage.

“We know we’re not done,” Davis said after scoring 28 points in a 113-100 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night. “It wasn’t just our goal to get here, but to make some noise.”

Nikola Mirotic had 24 points and 16 rebounds in the Pelicans’ fourth straight victory. They’ll be making just their second playoff appearance in seven years, having earned it without big man DeMarcus Cousins, who sustained a season-ending Achilles injury on Jan. 28.

The Pelicans proceeded to lose four of five before winning 10 in a row.

“When he went down, everybody on the team just picked it up,” Davis said.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 20 points off the bench, DeAndre Jordan had 15 rebounds and Montrezl Harrell added 15 points for the Clippers, who have lost three in a row while being eliminated from playoff contention.

The Pelicans shot 51 percent from the field and 56 percent from 3-point range in the first half. The Clippers fought back from an 11-point deficit to lead 47-45 before New Orleans closed on a 13-2 run to lead 59-49 at the break.

The Pelicans were just getting rolling.

Their scoring binge continued into the third, and when it was over — a 33-6 spurt over both halves — they led 79-53. Davis had nine points, Mirotic eight and E’Twaun Moore seven.

“Anthony has taken this team and put it on his back,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “If we could have had a better record his name would definitely be in the MVP conversation.”

Davis stirred the crowd with an off the glass pass from Rajon Rondo that resulted in a one-handed alley-oop dunk in the run.

“That was exciting,” teammate Jrue Holiday said. “I’d rather him do that in the playoffs than now.”

Thornwell got a roar for a jam over DeAndre Liggins in the game’s final minutes.


Pelicans: They improved to 26-25 vs the West. … They won the season series 3-1. … New Orleans hasn’t made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2007-08.

Clippers: C Boban Marjanovic scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth. … Starting guards Austin Rivers (right elbow soreness) and Lou Williams (sprained right ankle) sat out, but are likely to return for Wednesday’s season finale.


Since shaving his beard last week, Mirotic has played like a new man. He came in averaging 28 points and shooting 56 percent from the field, compared to 14.6 points and 28 percent shooting with the beard he’d had since 2013. “You look like you’re 18 now, so you’re getting some calls,” Gentry told Mirotic.

Rookie C.J. Williams was signed to a multi-year contract after being a two-way player this season. The 28-year-old guard has appeared in 37 games for the Clippers — he started Monday — and 16 games for their NBA G League affiliate in Ontario. The North Carolina State graduate played in France, Greece and Italy and the G League before signing with the Clippers last fall. “I actually cried for about an hour,” said Williams, who surprised his visiting parents with the news. “You think of all the things you’ve done to get to this point.” Coach Doc Rivers said Williams is “a great, great person to have in your locker room. He came in and proved he’s an NBA player.”


“The MVP is (James) Harden. I’m going to announce it tonight.” — Rivers.


Pelicans: They host San Antonio to end the regular season on Wednesday.

Clippers: They host the Lakers on Wednesday in both teams’ season finale.

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Check out the team sites for the New Orleans Pelicans and the LA Clippers for more game coverage.

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MINNEAPOLIS — In the wake of his team’s second straight defeat, Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant remained optimistic about the defending NBA champions’ future but acknowledged that it is strange playing without Stephen Curry and several other key veterans.

“It’s weird not having Steph out there,” Durant said after a 109-103 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday. “And Andre [Iguodala] and D-West, Jordan [Bell], so we’re missing a lot, and we’re just kind of playing on the fly each possession.”

The Warriors’ injury list is as long as it has been in a while. Curry missed his second straight game because of an ankle injury. Iguodala missed his third straight game because of a left wrist injury. David West missed his fourth straight game because of an arm injury, while rookie Jordan Bell missed his third straight because of an ankle issue. Durant knows that 24-year-old backup Quinn Cook is doing the best he can, but the All-Star forward also knows that Curry and Cook are completely different players.


Iguodala sits again as Warriors lose to Wolves
Andre Iguodala sat for the third straight game with a sprained left wrist, as did Jordan Bell (sprained right ankle), leaving the Warriors’ bench thin in a 109-103 loss to the Timberwolves on Sunday.

“Quinn has been up and down in the G-League, so it’s something we got to deal with, something that we just got to figure out, work through,” Durant said. “And it’s actually been pretty fun trying to figure things out throughout the game. Everybody’s just coming together even better. We lost two in a row, but the energy on the bench was great, the coaching staff has been digging down deep trying to find things for us that will work because our offense is predicated on Steph and Klay [Thompson] kind of running around the 3-point line, knocking down 3-point shots and spreading out.

“Without Steph there, Quinn is asked to do a lot, so it’s definitely a different dynamic when you have, [as] opposed to Steph Curry, when you’re having Quinn Cook. He’s doing a good job stepping in and playing extremely hard, and I’m proud of him.”

Cook had 4 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in Curry’s place during Sunday’s game. Despite the latest setback, Durant and his teammates remain confident that they will be able to catch a rhythm once everyone returns. The Warriors are now two games behind the Rockets in the loss column for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

“We’re a veteran group, and we’ve got high-IQ players that know how to play,” Durant said, “You could plug D-West back in, Steph, Andre, they know how to play, and they’re watching the games as well. Steph is the system here, and he’s been a part of this since Steve Kerr’s been here. And D-West knows how to play and won a championship with us last year. Andre is in the same boat as Steph. Those guys are smart, and we’re looking forward to having them back because they definitely change our team and get us back on what we want to do out there as a basketball team. Because we have a system in place that maximizes everybody’s strengths, and you could see if you take a few guys out, it’s a totally different game. So I’m proud. Everybody’s trying to figure it out, but just to keep working, man.”

Durant dropped 39 points on the Timberwolves, but he and fellow All-Star Thompson combined to go just 19-for-54 from the field.
Kevin Durant is confident the Warriors will find their rhythm when Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and others return from injury. Stacy Revere/Getty Images

“We’re just in a tough stretch,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “And I’m really proud of our guys. I thought they battled again tonight, and we just didn’t have enough in the tank, but I’m very pleased with the effort. We’ll get some guys back here hopefully in the next week or two, and I’m very confident with where we’re heading. We’re just in a little bit of a tough stretch.”

Aside from getting their injured players back, the Warriors are hoping they can get back on track next week, with three straight games against teams with below-.500 records.

“It’s tough when you’re missing that many key guys,” All-Star Draymond Green said. “But I think those guys will get back in time enough for us to find a rhythm that we need.”

The message reverberated throughout the locker room. There is a little disappointment with the past two results, but the group remains confident in the belief that better times will come back soon.

“The season’s always a tune-up for the playoffs,” Durant said. “And if we had won this game, we wasn’t going to spray champagne in the locker room and be excited on the way back to the Bay. So in a loss we can’t hang our heads. We just got to keep playing, keep working, keep figuring things out, and we’ll be fine.”

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Which players should you build around and which players should you fade in DFS as we tip off Tuesday’s NBA action? Our experts have the answers.

Today’s panel includes ESPN Fantasy’s André Snellings and Kyle Soppe, and DFS expert Renee Miller.

Players to build around
Renee Miller — LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs

There are several interesting point guards and small forwards to spend on tonight, but nothing stands out quite as much as the matchup Aldridge gets with the Cleveland Cavaliers. While they have been a top-five matchup for power forwards all season, no team has given up more fantasy points to that position over the past five games than the Cavs. Meanwhile, Aldridge is the anchor this Spurs team needs with Dejounte Murray taking the reins from Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard being hurt or alienated, or whatever it is today. He’s coming off a terrible game for him (though he still double-doubled), and should bounce back nicely tonight in one of the few games expected to be competitive.​

André Snellings — LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs

Aldridge has been the focal point of the Spurs offense all season with Kawhi Leonard out. He’s coming off a down game where he netted only a 10-point/10-rebound double-double, but in the three games before that he averaged 25.3 points and 11.0 rebounds. He has an excellent chance to bounce back on Tuesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have been in a defensive crisis of late. They are allowing 121.9 points on 50.3 shooting in their past seven games, and have allowed the second-most fantasy points in the NBA to opposing power forwards over their past five games.

Kyle Soppe — Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings

Building around a young King is as scary as it sounds, but hear me out. First of all, opportunity breeds fantasy value, and given that Cauley-Stein has played at least 37 minutes in three of his past four games, he checks that box. And we aren’t talking empty minutes, as his average number of shots per game has increased each month this season and his season usage rate ranks just below that of Karl-Anthony Towns. So if we assume that WCS is going to be heavily involved, how can you possibly avoid him in a matchup against a Magic team that ranks 29th in rebounding and dead last in defending the paint? A double-double feels like a lock tonight with Nikola Vucevic continuing to nurse his hand injury, and Cauley-Stein’s defensive prowess on top of his sheer volume of shot attempts makes him the type of high-ceiling option that I’m rostering in both cash games and GPPs.

Players to fade
Renee Miller — Jordan Clarkson, Los Angeles Lakers

Clarkson is one of my favorites, but his salary is to the point where I’m not just thinking twice, I’m fading. That is more true than ever against the Boston Celtics tonight. Boston owns the league’s best defensive efficiency rating and plays at a much slower pace than the Lakers are accustomed to. On the season, Boston has limited opposing shooting guards to the fifth-fewest fantasy points, and they’ve been even better defensively during the past couple weeks. Clarkson was spectacular in the previous two games with Lonzo Ball and Kentavius Caldwell-Pope out (likely the case again tonight), but faces a much tougher test versus the Celtics.

André Snellings — Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Love is coming off an illness that limited him to only three minutes on Saturday. He was struggling even before the illness, averaging just 23.9 minutes per game in January with 12.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists. He was in the midst of arguably his best season in a Cavaliers uniform through December, but physical issues and a changing role have diminished him of late. He has the talent to bounce back at any given time, but that would seem unlikely on Tuesday against a strong Spurs defense that has allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing power forwards and the ninth-fewest fantasy points to opposing centers this season.

Kyle Soppe — Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder

I love what he brings to the table for this team, but given his low usage rate in a game that has blowout potential … I’ll pass. The Nets struggle in plenty of areas, but they are a top-10 defensive rebounding team, thus putting Adams’ point total at risk due to his reliance on putbacks. Even if you believe that Adams is a matchup-proof rebounder, what is going to stop the Nets from wrapping him up should he get the ball in a dangerous position (he has made just five of his past 19 free throws)? There is always the chance that the Thunder blow out the Nets because of Adams, but there is more risk at this price point in an offensively limited player than I am willing to take.

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The mercurial Washington Wizards, playing the NBA’s worst team Wednesday night in the Atlanta Hawks two nights after their best win of the season, needed a spark.

So Washington coach Scott Brooks went with a three-guard lineup midway through the fourth, with John Wall, Bradley Beal and Jodie Meeks, and Otto Porter Jr. at strong forward and Markieff Morris at center.

It didn’t work.

The Wizards, fifth in the East at 19-16, have been unable to shake a reputation for playing down to the competition.

They threw up their hands after the 113-99 loss to the Hawks (9-25).

Schroder, Ilyasova help Hawks get consecutive wins
Dennis Schroder scored 21 points, Ersan Ilyasova added 20 and the Atlanta Hawks won consecutive games for the first time this season with a 113-99 victory Monday night over the mercurial Washington Wizards.
“We talk about it. We say when we play these teams that are not above .500 or not one of the great teams, we go out there playing for stats,” Wall said, according to The Washington Post. “It’s simple as that. We can see it. I think we all can see it when we play.”

Although the Wizards are 10-6 against teams that are .500 or better, the best in the Eastern Conference, they also lead the NBA with 10 losses against sub-.500 teams. The 10 losses to sub-.500 teams are more than they had all of last season.

Despite a bigger, deeper lineup, Washington was outrebounded by Atlanta 53-40. The Wizards, trying for their first three-game win streak since mid-November after beating the Boston Celtics 111-103, also missed a chance to have 10 road wins and 10 home wins before Jan. 1 for the first time since 1978-79.

Wall said the problem for the Wizards isn’t a lack of frank communication.

“We say it all in the locker room. No matter what. We don’t sugarcoat it from anybody,” Wall said, according to the Post. “And we all let him know what it is. We just got to find a better job of providing and keeping it away.”

Beal said, “plain and simple,” the problem was the Wizards were being too selfish — on both ends of the floor.

“Sometimes even myself included,” Beal said. “Sometimes we do one-pass shots, no-pass shots. Two or three passes on one side of the floor versus moving on both sides of the floor. Teams are going to load up on me and John. That’s something that we should know by now. We got to do a better job of creating, putting the ball on the floor and moving it.

“I think everybody as a collective unit, starters and the bench, we’ve got to do better at it.”

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The Phoenix Suns are actively shopping disgruntled guard Eric Bledsoe and one of their target is Malcolm Brogdon of the Milwaukee Bucks, according to a published report.

Rumor CentralGery Woelfel of The Journal Times writes: “The scuttlebutt is, if the Suns got their way, they’d acquire Brogdon and either veteran big man John Henson or former Suns forward Mirza Teletovic.”

Woelfel reports the Bucks prefer to keep Brogdon, but are likely willing to include Matthew Dellavedova in a deal for Bledsoe. Dellavedova is making $9.6 million per year through the 2019-20 season.

While the Bucks and several other teams have been linked to Bledsoe, the favorite to acquire him could be the Denver Nuggets. There is speculation that the Suns may be willing to accept a deal from the Nuggets that includes Emmanuel Mudiay. The Nuggets would need to add at least another player to make the deal work within the trade rules of the NBA.

ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton recently wrote that a swap of Bledsoe for Mudiay and Kenneth Faried might be a fair deal for both the Suns and Nuggets.