Can a full 82 game season be saved? Maybe, but it shouldn’t.

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Thursday morning’s 4 a.m. press conference following a marathon 15-hour negotiating session between the NBA and its players took a few interesting turns.

Specifically when discussion turned to how much of an NBA season there would be if a deal could be reached soon. (That’s a big if, there’s a lot of ground to cover and the hardliners keep blowing any progress made up, but let’s go with it for now.)

Union director Billy Hunter said he thought a full 82-game schedule could be fit in if the two sides reached a deal by “Sunday or Monday.” He added that there would have to be more back-to-backs and a very condensed schedule, but he was working on it.

NBA Commissioner David Stern was more diplomatic.

“We’re going to knock ourselves out….” Stern said. “If we can make a deal this week, whether that is 82 games or not, is really dependent on so many things that have to be checked. We have building issues. We have building issues versus hockey issues. We have travel schedules. We have all kinds of things that are difficult for us. We have the sheer volume of games that have to be compressed and the amount of back-to-backs that players could be asked to play.”

From whatever day the league and players reach a handshake agreement, it will take about a month to start playing games. Maybe that can be condensed into three weeks, maybe, but a month is what happened when games were missed with the 1998-99 lockout.

It’s almost the end of October now. If a deal were to be reached this weekend games likely would start around Dec. 1 — a full month after the NBA’s scheduled start. Teams would need to make up about 14-16 games each to get in a full 82 games. With Olympics looming next summer — team USA was expected to open camp around July 4 — the league cannot push its schedule back far into June.

Cramming in 82 games is a bad idea.

Additional back-to-backs will lead to worse basketball. Already for every NBA team there are what are called “scheduled losses” where coaches look at the schedule, see four games in five nights and that last game is against a well-rested team and they know what is going to happen. Or they get a back-to-back where the second game is at altitude in Denver. Coaches know that means an almost certain loss. There are other such scenarios.

A condensed 82-game season would mean more of those. It would mean some back-to-back-to-backs as was seen in 1999.

What matters more when the players come back is good basketball. Quality play that wins the fans back.

If games are to start around Dec. 1, put in a 70-game schedule. Yes, maybe the Lakers or Celtics will not travel to your town for a season. Maybe the schedule will be a little off balance. But the games will be spaced out to provide quality play.

And that is what the NBA needs right now — to remind people how good the game is. Not to meet some artificial number of games played.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.