NBA Playoffs: Atlanta bigs feast on Bogutless, answerless Bucks

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JSmith_Slam.jpgWithout Andrew Bogut, the Hawks front line was supposed to dominate the series, but that was not really the story in game one.

It was in game two.

The Bucks had no answer for the combination of Al Horford and Josh Smith — together the pair scored 41 points on 70.8 percent shooting and pulled down 24 rebounds. Or there’s this stat: In the 30 minutes they were on the floor together Atlanta outscored Milwaukee by 22 points, the rest of the time the Bucks won by 12 (that stat via Hoopinion).

The Hawks won 96-86 and now have a 2-0 lead in the series. And you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks the Bucks can win four of the next five.

It was another case of both teams really playing good team defense, but the Hawks just having far more weapons they could turn to. Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford go cold, just get it to the two athletic big men. The Bucks need to get some easy baskets, like some in transition, but the Hawks barely turn the ball over (just 11 percent of their possessions in this game).

Early on (just like game one) this looked like an Atlanta route. In the first quarter the Hawks got the shots they wanted, while their defense forced the big guns of Milwaukee to take shots they didn’t love … and it was still close because Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was a force on the glass and was making his shots. He’s not a scorer, and he and Kurt Thomas were taking the early shots, but they were making them. Nothing Atlanta can do but a tip o’ the hat.

Then the Bucks bench started to outplay the Hawks, a 12-2 run led by Ersan Ilyasova (good chance he will not pass up playing the FIBA World Championships in Turkey this summer). It took the Hawks starters to stop the run, but the game remained closer than it looked on the stat sheet for the first half.

In the third quarter, nothing could save the Bucks, as they scored just 16 points. In game one Brandon Jennings kept Milwaukee in it, but as we suggested might happen he went cold — 3 of 15 shooting on the night. Carlos Delfino was no better at 4 of 12 and was making questionable decisions all night, like trying to post up Al Horford. The Bucks won the fourth quarter, but it was far too little, far too late.

Two games into the series, and there really are no surprises. Both teams are playing good defense. The Bucks are scrappy and will not go down easy. Jennings is capable of a gun game, but at the end of the day — or 48 minutes in this case — the Hawks have more talent, they can exploit the weaknesses of Milwaukee.

The series shifts now to Wisconsin, where the Bucks will try to change that. It’s pretty hard to see how, though.

Report: Eight non-restart teams near deal for second NBA “bubble” in Chicago

NBA bubble Chicago
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The eight teams with the worst records in the NBA, the ones not invited to Orlando for the NBA’s restart — Warriors, Timberwolves, Cavaliers, Hawks, Pistons, Knicks, Bulls, and Hornets — have been asking the NBA to organize workouts and games for them, so they don’t lose ground to the teams in the bubble.

ESPN’s Jackie MacMullen reports that is close to coming together in the form of a second NBA bubble in Chicago.

The details are still being hammered out, and teams continue to push for an alternative plan that would enable them to hold mini-camps within their local markets and to explore the idea of establishing regional sites where teams could scrimmage against each other.

This second bubble likely would take place in September, while the playoffs take place down into Orlando. Not every team is fully on board.

 

The eight teams had been concerned that going from March to December without meaningful games — while the other 22 teams had training camps and played at least eight games — would put the development of their young players and cultures behind. Teams pushed for practices and some organized games, although some franchises have pushed harder than others.

Michelle Roberts, the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, reportedly is insistent that if the eight teams get together in Chicago the players be protected by the same protocols in place in Orlando.

“Unless we could replicate in every way the protocol that’s been established for Orlando, I’d be – I’m being tame now – suspicious,” Roberts said last week in a conference call with reporters. “I think there are conversations that could be had if there’s anything we can do with the other eight teams. I know there are some players, particularly young players, that seem concerned they’re not getting enough [opportunities]…

“But I am very concerned and frankly, my concern aside, our players, our teams are very concerned about any — in terms of play that doesn’t have the same guarantees of safety and health that we’ve provided for the teams in Orlando. So yeah, never say never, but there’s a standard. It’s a standard that’s got to be met.”

Mark Tatum, the NBA’s deputy commissioner, quickly agreed with Roberts.

Expect an NBA Chicago bubble to come together in some form. Some of the eight teams on the outside — the Atlanta Hawks with their young core, for example — have pushed hard to get their players opportunities for games and workouts. Each of the eight teams are in different spots, however, and have different motivations. Golden State likely will not send Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, this would be about getting younger players some extra run.

 

Donovan Mitchell on Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert: ‘Right now, we’re good’

Jazz stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert
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Following their coronavirus diagnoses, Donovan Mitchell was clearly upset with Jazz teammate Rudy Gobert.

Gobert said he and Mitchell were good. Jazz executive Dennis Lindsey said Mitchell and Gobert were good.

Now, we’re actually hearing from Mitchell himself.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

This goes WAY further than anyone else speaking for Mitchell.

Mitchell was entitled to carry a grudge for a while. Gobert’s reckless actions made him more likely to contract and spread coronavirus.

At minimum, Mitchell is willing to say publicly he’s on the same page as Gobert. That’s meaningful. Teammates needn’t be best friends to succeed. But they generally perform better when they set their differences aside. However he actually feels about Gobert, Mitchell is setting a tone of putting the team first.

This isn’t surprising. Mitchell has shown he can remain focused and work hard amid adversity. Gobert plays a supportive style that makes life easier for teammates (though he has sometimes drifted from it this season). These are professionals who were always likely to reach this point.

Of course, this coexistence could be fragile. Among the biggest variables: How will Utah perform in the resumption at Disney World? Winning tends to bond teammates more tightly. Losing can exacerbate wounds.

At least the Jazz will enter Orlando with their chemistry – relatively – intact. After all they’ve been through, that’s something.

Report: Kings lead assistant Igor Kokoskov to become Fenerbahce head coach

Kings assistant coach Igor Kokoskov
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The Kings are trying to end their historic playoff drought.

They’ll make that push as lead assistant Igor Kokoskov has one foot out the door.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Jason Jones of the The Athletic:

Kokoskov had a rough go in the NBA spotlight. After working his way up the coaching ladder and becoming the Suns’ head coach in 2018-19, he got fired after only one season. Phoenix gave him an ill-equipped roster, notably passing on Luka Doncic in the draft – perhaps despite the input of Kokoskov, who coached Doncic on the Slovenian national team. Maybe Kokoskov wasn’t a good-enough coach. He didn’t build a strong affirmative case. But getting only season in his first head-coaching job was a tough break.

Fenerbahce (Turkey) is a premier overseas job. Kokoskov will succeed a legend in Zeljko Obradovic, who recently drew attention for this, um, motivational speech.

For Sacramento, the timing is tricky. Luke Walton is still in charge. But with traveling parties limited for the resumption at Disney World, teams need the coaches in attendance to pull extra duty. Maybe Kokoskov is up for it. It’d also be completely natural if he’s at least somewhat distracted by his next job.

NBA: Nine more players tested positive for coronavirus

Nets center DeAndre Jordan
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Of the 302 NBA players tested for coronavirus June 23, 16 tested positive (5.3%).

Nets center DeAndre Jordan said he learned of his coronavirus diagnosis five days later. He wasn’t alone in testing positive around then.

NBA:

In tests conducted of 344 NBA players between June 24-29, an additional nine players have tested positive for the coronavirus.   Twenty-five of 351 players have tested positive since testing began on June 23.

In tests conducted of 884 team staff between June 23-29, 10 have tested positive for the coronavirus.

If the NBA’s plan is working, the infection rate among players should decrease as they spend more time in the league’s system of isolation protocols and frequent testing. That appears to be happening. Nine is less than 16. But the exact progress is difficult to track.

It’s unclear how many players who tested positive in the first round of testing were also tested in the second round, let alone how many of them again tested positive in the second round. The 344 players tested in the second round might have had just nine positive tests (2.6%). Or the 344 players tested in the second round might have had 25 positive tests (7.3%).

It’s also unclear how many of the previously announced 16 players have recovered. So, even the total result – 25 of 351 players testing positive (7.1%) – is difficult to contextualize. COVID-19 Projections estimates 0.8% of people in the United States currently have coronavirus. The website also estimates 6.0% of people in the United States have or have had coronavirus. The NBA is not including the many players who tested positive before June 23, making it even more difficult to find a comparison point.

That just 10 of 884 staff members tested positive (1.1%) is encouraging, especially because they tend to live in big cities where teams are located and where coronavirus has tended to hit harder.