NBA Notes: Lakers not rushing Kobe's return

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NBA Notes: Lakers not rushing Kobe's return

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers are heading into training camp still unsure when Kobe Bryant will be on the court this season.

General manager Mitch Kupchak says Bryant was at the Lakers' training complex almost every morning this summer, working aggressively to return from mid-April surgery on his torn left Achilles tendon.

Although the 35-year-old Bryant has made steady progress in his recovery, the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history hasn't yet returned to the Lakers' practice court for any basketball work.

The Lakers aren't pushing Bryant to return. They've got enough work to do as coach Mike D'Antoni patches together a team in the wake of Dwight Howard's departure.

Kupchak says Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are fully healthy, but will ease into training camp workouts (see full story).

Thunder: Westbrook's status unclear
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti says the timetable for All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook's return from a knee injury remains uncertain as the Thunder open training camp.

During his "state of the franchise" news conference Wednesday, Presti fielded many questions about Westbrook's status.

Westbrook tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee during Game 2 of the first-round playoff series against Houston.

Westbrook had surgery April 27 and hasn't been fully cleared medically yet. Presti says it would be "irresponsible" to say when that might occur, but didn't dispute the notion that Westbrook could miss the Thunder's season opener Oct. 30 at Utah.

Presti says Westbrook has been cleared to participate in portions of training camp, which starts Saturday, but the decision to release him for unrestricted activity "will be a medical decision" (see full story).

Wizards: Team eyes return to playoffs
WASHINGTON -- Asked whether he feels any extra pressure to reach the postseason, Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman fiddled with his eyeglasses on the table in front of him and looked straight ahead.

"Well, that's what we want: We want to get to the playoffs," Wittman said. "Do you think this is the first time I've been on a one-year contract? No. It doesn't mean anything."

Wittman and team President Ernie Grunfeld -- both men have deals that end after the upcoming season -- held a joint news conference Wednesday and made pretty clear what the aim should be for point guard John Wall and the rest of the Wizards.

"We want to build on what we started to establish last year. Obviously, our initial goal is to be a playoff contender and ultimately, by the end of the year, make the playoffs," Grunfeld said.

Washington went 29-53 last season, missing out on the postseason for the fifth consecutive year (see full story).

NBA: Knicks, Nets to share '15 All-Star festivities
NEW YORK -- New York City has been selected to host the NBA All-Star weekend in 2015, with the game played at Madison Square Garden and the slam dunk contest and other skills events held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

NBA Commissioner David Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the official announcement at a news conference Wednesday.

The league has been working with the Knicks and Nets for months on the plan to split the events.

The league last split sites for its midseason showcase in 2010, when the Saturday events were in the Dallas Mavericks' arena and the game was held at the Cowboys' stadium.

The NBA All-Star game was last played at Madison Square Garden in 1998 (see full story).

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

Best of NBA: Grizzlies dominate throughout, crush Warriors

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Marc Gasol and Tony Allen scored 19 points each and the Memphis Grizzlies rolled over the Golden State Warriors 110-89 on Saturday night for their sixth straight win.

The Grizzlies led by as many as 30 points in the second half - the biggest advantage by any Warriors opponent this season. Seven Memphis players finished in double figures.

Kevin Durant led Golden State with 21 points, while Stephen Curry added 17 points and Ian Clark finished with 10 points. Curry and backcourt starter Klay Thompson (eight points) were a combined 8 of 28 from the field, including 3 of 14 outside the arc.

Memphis built a double-digit lead early, led 61-38 at halftime and kept building in the third quarter (see full recap).

Butler, Wade lead Bulls to 105-100 win over Heat
CHICAGO -- Jimmy Butler scored 31 points, Dwyane Wade added 28 against his former team and the Chicago Bulls held off the struggling Miami Heat 105-100 on Saturday night.

Butler scored Chicago's final 10 points to help the Bulls come out on top after Miami pulled within one.

Wade keyed a big third-quarter run in his second game against the Heat, and the Bulls hung on after handing San Antonio its first road loss two nights earlier.

Goran Dragic led Miami with 21 points and 11 assists. An energetic Hassan Whiteside added 20 points after being benched for part of Friday's blowout loss in Cleveland. Tyler Johnson scored 15, but the Heat dropped their fifth straight (see full recap).

LeBron scores 44, reaches assist mark as Cavs down Hornets
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 17 of his season-high 44 points in the fourth quarter and reached another career milestone as the Cleveland Cavaliers won their fourth straight, 116-105 over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday night.

James did it all, adding 10 assists and nine rebounds in 43 minutes. He took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 straight during one stretch to help the Cavs hold on.

As the final seconds ticked off, James stood at midcourt and spun the ball on his index finger as the crowd roared.

James, who moved into ninth place on the career scoring list Friday, recorded his 7,000th assist in the first half, becoming the first frontcourt player in NBA history to reach the plateau. James is the only player with 27,000 points and 7,000 assists (see full recap).

George has 37 points to lead Pacers over Blazers 118-111
INDIANAPOLIS -- Paul George scored a season-high 37 points to lead the Indiana Pacers over the Portland Trail Blazers 118-111 on Saturday night.

George made five 3-pointers, and Thaddeus Young hit six 3s while getting 24 points and nine rebounds. Myles Turner added 14 points for the Pacers, who had lost five straight regular season games to Portland.

C.J. McCollum made a career-high seven 3-pointers and had a season-best 34 points for the Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard had 33 points behind five 3s.

George scored 13 straight points in the fourth quarter for Indiana. He was fouled on the go-ahead basket with 4:36 remaining and completed the three-point play to give the Pacers a 108-105 lead (see full recap).

Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor to play Sunday, Joel Embiid out (right elbow)

Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor to play Sunday, Joel Embiid out (right elbow)

CAMDEN, N.J. — Two bigs back, one big out.

Nerlens Noel will make his regular-season debut Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Noel has been out since the preseason after undergoing elective arthroscopic left knee surgery in October.

Jahlil Okafor also will return following a bout of gastroenteritis, which sidelined him for the last three games. Neither Noel nor Okafor will have minute restrictions. 

Joel Embiid, on the other hand, will not play Sunday. He will miss the game because of minor inflammation in his right elbow, which he suffered in Thursday’s game against the Pelicans. The decision also is in conjunction with the load management plan the Sixers have mapped out for him. Embiid did not practice Saturday and will not travel to Detroit. 

“It’s very minor and we expect him back soon. Not much concern at all,” Brett Brown said of Embiid, adding, “I think it’s far more precautionary than anything people should get nervous about.”

With Embiid out, the addition of Noel will help the Sixers when they battle the Pistons and big man Andre Drummond, who is averaging a dominating 15.0 points, 13.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks this season. Noel will come off the bench as he gets reacclimated to the team and the flow of the game. 

“I felt great [to be cleared to play],” Noel said. “I was anticipating it so I got my mind right and this is what I’ve been working for throughout the whole rehab process. I’m feeling good and looking forward to it.” 

The Sixers are mindful of the fact Noel has not played in a regular season game since the finale last April. He has been working on getting his wind back up, and the Sixers will watch it closely in-game when determining his playing time. Noel said he has a “good starting foundation” with his conditioning. 

“You can do as much as you want on a treadmill,” Brown said. “You can do as much as you want one-on-zero … but there is nothing that’s like an NBA game. Everything goes faster, everything goes quicker, you have emotions involved which can also drown how fast and how long you can go. Those things are just part of him coming back into it, and we’ll manage him accordingly.”

Noel’s debut is the first step for him, regardless of how many plays. His athleticism will give another look to the lineup. Brown foresees having Noel back will allow the Sixers to play faster and protect the rim with a greater “bounce.” 

“We miss playing with Nerlens, just his presence,” Okafor said. “He’s an athlete. Obviously we miss him on the defensive side. We miss him as a leader vocally. It’s just going to be great having him back on the floor.”

The Sixers could counter the Pistons with the combination of Noel and Okafor, a duo they struggled to utilize together last season. Brown’s decision will be based on matchups. He pointed out a situation in which Drummond and Jon Leuer are on the court would be more favorable than one in which Tobias Harris is playing power forward. 

“You just try to pick your moments where you can maybe pair those guys up,” Brown said. “I think it will be a more genuine conversation as Nerlens starts playing more with us. He’s just really come back into it. But we come back and you play Toronto and you have all three bigs available, then it becomes another level of a conversation. I do look forward to it when we have an opportunity to intelligently match up with other people and we’ll play it out like that.”

The Sixers' next game after Sunday is Wednesday against the Raptors, when they expect to have their bigs ready to go.