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NBA Fastbreak: DeMarcus Cousins works his way back from injury; Carmelo Anthony still in limbo

Before the Bucks and the Warriors met for the second time this season Friday night in Milwaukee, DeMarcus Cousins, Golden State’s big offseason gamble, went through on-court work while fans in the courtside seats watched.

One young fan held out a marker, and Cousins, breaking for only a second, grabbed and quickly signed an autograph — on the back of the child’s cell phone. The fan squealed in delight.

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Golden State coach Steve Kerr probably won’t be as high-pitched happy when Cousins returns from a torn Achilles tendon sometime in the next month or so. Cousins, who tore his Achilles on Jan. 26, has been participating in scrimmages during practices and soon he’ll head to the team’s G League affiliate in Santa Cruz for more intense practices. Once he comes back, the team will have a strict maintenance plan for Cousins.

But another person watching Cousins closely in warmups, ESPN commentator and former NBA All-Star Chauncey Billups, took it all in, knowing just what the big man was going through.

Billups, who tore an Achilles tendon in 2012 with the Clippers, said even when Cousins returns, his journey back is nowhere close to being over.

“With me, I got back from the Achilles in probably 10 months and feeling really good, but then there was a peroneal tendon that flared up and then there was my knee from overdoing it. Then there was the hamstring at one point,” Billups told The Times. “There were some residual things that happened around the injury that caused me to miss a lot of games — and it was everything but the Achilles.”

Billups said he reached out to Cousins to speak to him about coming back from the injury.

“It’s a tough deal,” he said. “…The one thing I know about us as players who are competitive, we’re always going to overdo it. And we always are going to think we’re there and we’re back. I did it. Kobe (Bryant did). Everybody. It’s just who we are. The key will be coach Kerr being able to limit him.”

No go for Melo

The best part of LeBron James’ reported interest in the Lakers adding forward Carmelo Anthony is where the report originated from.

The Athletic’s Joe Vardon, who covered James excellently in Cleveland, broke the news, which was quickly squashed by Lakers sources for The Times’ Broderick Turner. Anthony joining James with the Lakers has always been a longshot, a move that makes very little sense as long as James and Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers who play Anthony’s position, are healthy.

This mostly feels like James doing his close friend Anthony a favor. By leaking his interest, it shows support for Anthony, a Hall of Fame talent, who has no obvious landing spot after Houston announced it was “parting ways” with him Nov. 15. He still remains on the Rockets’ roster.

Does James really think Anthony can help the Lakers? It doesn’t matter. Management knows better. Everyone knows better. But by attaching his name to Anthony, James is trying to help a friend who has been left behind by an evolving NBA.

Bull switch

The Chicago Bulls fired coach Fred Hoiberg this week, a move that probably needed to happen. Hoiberg hasn’t been the team’s Steve Kerr since he was poached from Iowa State. But responsibility for the Bulls’ struggles shouldn’t fall squarely on his shoulders. The Bulls’ front office didn’t commit to Hoiberg’s style of play — pace, space and ball movement — instead saddling him with plodding players such as Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo. This season they’ve been ravaged by injuries.

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The Bulls now turn to Jim Boylen, who has the strange distinction of being one letter away from another former Bulls coach, Jim Boylan, to right the ship.

Tip-ins

First-place Denver, which had a massive win in Toronto this week, is staring at some real trouble because of a pair of serious injuries that drastically alter its rotation. Forward Paul Millsap, one of the NBA’s most underrated players for years, broke a toe Friday night. Early Saturday, ESPN reported that starting shooting guard Gary Harris will miss a month because of a hip injury. … Markelle Fultz has been diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a nerve issue that could be at the bottom of his public shooting woes. Philadelphia’s No. 1 overall pick in 2017 is out indefinitely. … Luka Doncic and the Mavericks have made a push to insert Dallas squarely in the playoff hunt, with future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki almost set to make his season debut after recovering from offseason surgery.

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