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#pounditFriday, August 14, 2020

Stories by Darryn Albert:

Zion Williamson says minutes restriction is ‘very tough’

Zion Williamson

Zion Williamson’s bubble experience has been more like a bubble-wrapping experience thus far, and he is having difficulty with the imposed limits.

The New Orleans Pelicans star opened up to reporters on Sunday about the minutes restriction that the team has had him on for their seeding games.

“It’s very tough, to be honest, because as soon as I start to break that sweat, I look over, that horn is for me and I have to come out the game,” Williamson said, per Andrew Lopez of ESPN. “Also, when I do catch the flow of the game, like I said, that horn goes off and it’s for me.

“It’s still fun but I guess, like you said, it’s not to that full extent as y’all are used to seeing,” he went on. “I’m a competitor, I want to stay on the court. When I’m coming out of the game, my competitive side of me that I want to stay in. I guess that does affect the fun a little bit, but not too much.”

The No. 1 overall pick has been limited to playing in bursts thus far in Orlando and is mostly off the floor to close out quarters. Williamson was held to 15 minutes in Thursday’s loss to the Utah Jazz and 14 minutes in Sunday’s loss to the LA Clippers (though that game was a blowout).

The Pelicans are fighting for their playoff lives right now, so every game is very important. That may also be part of why Williamson is struggling with the playing restrictions, but the team may not be lifting them any time soon.

Bill Russell took funny swipe at Twitter user who did not know he was still alive

Bill Russell is still alive and well, and he had to personally remind a Twitter user of that much this weekend.

During Sunday’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Portland Trail Blazers, the account @fakemikemulloy tweeted about a sequence where Marcus Smart blocked a shot and kept the ball in play. The tweet then mentioned that “Bill Russell is looking down from heaven smiling.”

The retired Celtics legend himself then replied to the tweet saying, “Just in case anyone cares, I am still alive, at least I was the last time I checked. I’m watching @celtics vs @trailblazers @NBA @NBAonABC.” Russell also referenced Paul Pierce, who appeared at the game as a virtual fan, saying, “Hey @paulpierce34 can you let them know I’m still hanging in there.”

Russell turned 86 years old earlier this year. He still keeps active though on Twitter, often providing commentary about NBA games and social issues.

The 11-time NBA champion has also become quite the savage in his old age, and Sunday’s funny tweet from Russell was yet another example.

Report: Yoenis Cespedes had been upset with Mets over playing time

Yoenis Cespedes’ sudden opt-out of the 2020 campaign may not actually have been all that unforeseeable to those in the New York Mets organization.

The Mets slugger unexpectedly failed to show up for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Braves, and the team later announced that he was opting out of the season due to coronavirus-related concerns. Joel Sherman and Mike Puma of the New York Post now report however that Cespedes had been frustrated with his playing time and had already twice confronted Mets officials in the first nine games of the season over benchings.

The report states that Cespedes’ contract, which had been restructured after his 2019 ranch accident, was heavily incentive-laden and based largely on at-bats. The 34-year-old was said to be concerned that the benchings would prevent him from reaching those performance bonuses.

Cespedes, the former All-Star, had hit .161 with two homers and four RBIs in eight games this season after heel surgeries and a broken ankle caused him to miss most of 2018 and all of 2019. He was receiving a guaranteed $6 million prorated as well as prorated incentive levels for the shortened season but will now be foregoing his remaining salary by opting out.

Earlier in the day, there was concern for Cespedes’ well-being, but it turns out this may be more of a case of some drama and frustration boiling over.

Luka Doncic expresses support for ex-Real Madrid teammate coming to NBA

Luka Doncic would like to see one of his former European teammates make the leap to the NBA.

After Friday’s game against the Houston Rockets, the Dallas Mavericks star expressed support for ex-Real Madrid teammate Facundo Campazzo, who is rumored to be potentially leaving the Spanish team to come to the NBA.

“I’m [going to be] glad [if] he comes here,” said Doncic of Campazzo, per Antonis Stroggylakis of Eurohoops. “He deserves to be in the NBA and I hope he succeeds [making the NBA].”

Campazzo, a 29-year-old Argentinian point guard, averaged 9.9 points and 7.1 assists a game in 28 EuroLeague games this season. He was teammates with Doncic on Real Madrid during the 2017-18 season.

Storggylakis adds that the Mavericks are actually among the teams with reported interest in acquiring Campazzo. If so, he would not be the first of Doncic’s former Real Madrid teammates to join him in Dallas.

Report: Lauri Markkanen privately ridiculed Bulls offense for much of season

Lauri Markkanen’s production for the Chicago Bulls tailed off noticeably this season, and he apparently made his frustrations with the offense known.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported Saturday that the 23-year-old privately ridiculed the team’s offense for much of the year. Cowley also says fellow young star Zach LaVine felt somewhat handcuffed by the offense and that he could have done more despite a strong individual season.

Markkanen’s numbers were down across the board in his third NBA season, as he put up 14.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on 42.5 percent from the field (all career-lows). Making matters worse was head coach Jim Boylen’s supposed response to Markkanen’s concerns about touches.

While Chicago’s new front office regime has expressed its commitment to Markkanen’s development, Boylen may be staying on as Bulls coach, so there could still be a big gap to bridge with Markkanen.

Jimmy Garoppolo takes funny T-shirt war with George Kittle to next level

Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle continue to have one of the best quarterback-receiver relationships in the NFL.

The San Francisco 49ers tandem took their funny T-shirt war to the next level this weekend. Garoppolo showed up to team camp on Saturday wearing a shirt of Kittle … wearing a shirt of him. Take a look:

Kittle soon tweeted his enthusiastic approval of Garoppolo’s fashion choice.

The battle began back in January when Kittle wore a hilarious T-shirt of a shirtless Garoppolo after the 49ers won the NFC Championship Game. Now Garoppolo has commemorated that exact occasion with a T-shirt of his own.

Of course, Kittle has also been trolling Garoppolo in other funny ways lately, so you had to figure that payback was due at some point.

LeBron James wishes Sabrina Ionescu well after injury

The new face of the WNBA is getting some well wishes from the current face of the NBA.

New York Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s WNBA Draft, went down with a scary-looking ankle injury during Friday’s game against the Atlanta Dream. She had to be helped off the court and did not return to the game.

Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that X-rays on Ionescu’s ankle were negative and showed no fracture.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James tweeted his good wishes to Ionescu.

The 22-year-old Ionescu was selected by the Liberty after a standout four-year career at the University of Oregon. She entered play Friday averaging 22.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game in her first two contests.

Ionescu was close with the late Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, and now she is getting some love from another basketball giant as well.

Edwin Diaz thinks his mechanics are out of sorts

Edwin Diaz has had a nightmarish start to the 2020 season, and he is opening up a bit about his early struggles.

During Thursday’s loss to the Boston Red Sox, the New York Mets reliever allowed four of the five batters he faced in the ninth inning to reach base, effectively closing the door on a Mets comeback. Diaz told reporters on Friday that he feels off with his mechanics.

“It was a little bit surprising how the outing went,” said Diaz, per Justin Toscano of The Record. “It had been five days since I last threw. I didn’t feel like I had my mechanics in order.”

Diaz added that was open to pitching “whenever” and would prefer to do so more frequently instead of having long layoffs.

Mets manager Luis Rojas also said he and Diaz had a “healthy conversation” about Thursday’s outing and that the 26-year-old is willing to pitch in whatever spot the Mets ask, per Anthony DiComo of MLB.com.

The former All-Star Diaz now has a 7.71 ERA in three appearances so far this season. He was a centerpiece of the Robinson Cano trade with the Seattle Mariners after leading the AL in saves in 2018, but now his continued hold on the Mets closer job appears to be getting tenuous.

Not long ago, some questioned Diaz’s fitness for the New York life, and now those concerns could be coming to light once again if he keeps struggling.