NBA Playoffs: It’s not Kobe’s ankle, it’s Chris Paul breaking them

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Game 5 is about ankles.

The one getting all the hype is Lakers guard Kobe Bryant’s left ankle. His foot is still attached, so he’s playing. That’s not the question.

He twisted his ankle (and foot) at the end of Los Angeles 93-88 loss to New Orleans in Game 4 and has since refused to get an X-ray or an MRI.  That can be taken as a sign that his ankle is not that bad, or that he is stubborn. Take your pick. Maybe even some of both. But it could backfire.

If Kobe’s ankle isn’t right, his shot will be flat and he won’t be of much help defending Hornets point guard Chris Paul tonight in Game 5. And that could be trouble for the Lakers. Maybe.

The other ankles are the ones Paul keeps breaking.

He has torn up the Lakers defense this series, and in the Hornets’ two wins he has been absolutely dominant in the second half. His crossovers are breaking ankles and creating space, but more importantly they are forcing defensive rotations and then he is finding the open man.

Who is knocking it down? In the first half of Game 4, Trevor Ariza didn’t even need Paul’s help (he got plenty of isolations) and made plays. The Hornets will need more of that.

The Lakers were 2-2 in their first-round series against Oklahoma City last year, too, but found their footing in the next two games. History may well repeat itself.

That footing has less to do with Kobe’s ankle and more to do with the Lakers getting back to pounding the ball inside (then making those shots). Hornets center Emeka Okafor was able to keep Andrew Bynum — the real key for these Lakers this series — in check. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom were off.

The Lakers need to get a lot of points in the paint, more importantly they need to own the boards. They are the bigger team, but they were outrebounded last game. Paul had as many as Odom and Gasol combined (13). What Pat Riley told the Showtime Lakers years ago remains true for these Lakers today: rebounds equal rings.

The Lakers need to make Paul work — they had success in Game 2 with ball denial — and they need to be physical with him. They are the bigger team; they need to wear him down. He is the Hornets’ chance. Even slow him to average and the Lakers can win. But when he breaks out, he is a perfect key to unlock the Lakers.

At this point, this series is not about adjustments. It’s about execution. Paul has been the master; the Lakers have been spotty. If the Lakers play like that again, their dreams of a three-peat will be in sudden and serious jeopardy. Because we know CP3 will bring it.

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.