Sunday NBA grades: LaMarcus Aldridge looks good, as to Blazers

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while telling your wife to be you want to spend $3,000 to live tweet your wedding

source:  LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers. Aldridge returns to the lineup and the struggling Blazers rattle off three straight wins. It’s not a coincidence. Aldridge finished with 28 points (10-of-20 shooting) against the stout front line of Memphis, and he was the fulcrum of the Blazers offense that put up 105 points on the night. He also had a good defensive night. This was a big win for Portland, giving them a game on Golden State (which unexpectedly lost to the Knicks).

source:   D.J. Augustin, Chicago Bulls. With the game on the line Augustin came alive — 15 of his 33 points came in the fourth quarter (he scored more than half of the Bulls 29 in the fourth quarter) as the Bulls held on to beat the Celtics. Augustin’s quickness was on display on the shot that proved to be the game winner with the game tied 96-96. Augustin got the ball out top Joakim Noah came out to set a pick and Augustin took a step toward Noah then used a crossover to go the other way that shook Rajon Rondo just enough for Augustin to have space and he rose up and drained the three.

source:   New York Knicks playoff hopes. The Atlanta Hawks keep presenting the Knicks with chances to catch them (Atlanta lost its sixth straight Sunday) in the stumbling, bumbling Eastern Conference playoff chase. The Knicks finally took advantage of it with a big road win over the Warriors Sunday — the Knicks are now just 1 game back of the Hawks (the Cavaliers are 1.5 back of the Knicks). The Warriors were sloppy Sunday — remove Curry from the mix and the Warriors shot 31 percent and were turnover prone — but the Knicks played good enough defense when they needed to and they got good nights from J.R. Smith (21 points) and Amar’e Stoudemire (15 points, 13 boards, some solid defense) to get the win. The Knicks schedule the rest of the way is tougher than Atanta’s, but so long as the Hawks keep losing the Knicks can have hope.

source:   Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. His season has been this good: He scored 31 against the Jazz and I almost didn’t include him here because that seems almost pedestrian for him. But the fact he put up those numbers on 9-of-13 shooting shows you just how efficient he has been this season. This is his 38th consecutive game with at least 25 points. That’s ridiculous. That’s your MVP.

source:  The Lakers are screwing with other team’s playoff chances, their own lottery odds be damned. While some people forget Kaman has some skills inside and the undersized Suns front line had no chance of stopping him, which is how he ended up with 28 points, 17 rebounds, and six assists. Kendall Marshall and Jodie Meeks played well for LA but the Lakers’ win was mostly the Suns imploding and shooting 38.5 percent overall and 8-of-36 from three (22.2 percent).

Thunder’s Dennis Schroder will leave bubble next month for birth of child

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Oklahoma City guard Dennis Schroderjust like Boston’s Gordon Hayward and Utah’s Mike Conley — has a pregnant wife due to give birth to his child while he is in the bubble.

Just like those guys, Schroder said he is leaving the bubble to put family first when it is time. Via Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman:

“I’m not gonna leave my wife by herself while she’s having a second baby,” Schroder said. “(Dennis) Jr. is still 17 months old, so I’m for sure gonna go there and support her and try as much as I can to be there for my family…

“For me it’s tough,” Schroder said. “I love my teammates, I love basketball, but family comes first all the time. I’ll try to make something happen with the organization. I sacrifice a lot for my team, but like I said, we still gotta get on the same page that I can see my family maybe when the baby is coming. We’re going to make it work.”

The baby is due in “3-4 weeks,” which is mid-August.

Schroder is absolutely doing the right thing prioritizing his family. Nobody should criticize his decision.

That said, if he is gone for some of the first round of the playoffs, which start Aug. 17, it would be a blow to the Thunder, who almost certainly will be in a difficult matchup in the middle of a crowded West (currently they would face Utah in a 4/5 matchup, but with the middle of the conference bunched together the seeding games likely change that).

Schroder is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate averaging 19 points per game while shooting 38.1% from three. The Thunder are at their most dangerous with a three-guard lineup where Schroder is paired with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a rotation that can’t happen with Schroeder gone.

Schroder can return to the team. He has to get tested every day he is outside the bubble, but because this is an excused absence and the league has been notified, upon his return Schroeder will have a four-day quarantine (so long as he continues to have negative tests). Players who leave the bubble without notifying teams face a 10-day quarantine.

Oklahoma City is going to need Schroder and his crafty game if they are going to be a playoff threat that moves beyond the first round in Orlando.

 

Orlando’s James Ennis admits he had COVID-19, is now recovered and practicing

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Add James Ennis — who has started most games at the three for Orlando since being traded there at the deadline — to the list of players who had COVID-19.

Ennis is recovered and Wednesday returned to practice but admitted to reporters in a zoom he was one of the players who had tested positive for the disease. From Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.

James Ennis is an example of why the NBA started its testing in the home markets of teams back on June 23: find the players who had the virus, get them treatment as needed, help them recover, and keep the virus itself out of the NBA campus/bubble in Orlando. How well that ultimately works remains an unanswered question, but the Ennis is an example of the concept working.

Ennis’ move into the starting lineup in Orlando not-so-coincidentally timed out with when the Magic offense took off (a 117.8 offensive rating after the All-Star break, best in the NBA). Ennis, the lone Long Beach State player in the NBA now, provides shooting to space the floor on the wing (career 35.4% from three), and that opened up driving lanes for Aaron Gordon and room for others to operate. He quickly became a critical piece of the Magic offense. Ennis was traded to Orlando from Philadephia at the deadline for a second-round pick.

Orlando enters the NBA restart as the eighth seed in the East, but with a realistic shot to pass a depleted Brooklyn team for the seven seed. Healthy, with an explosive offense and balanced roster, the Magic will not be an easy out in the first round of the playoffs.

Coaches, players compare NBA Orlando restart to USA Basketball experience

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Formulating a plan to get a team ready for the restart of the NBA season wasn’t as difficult as one might expect for Indiana coach Nate McMillan.

Turns out, he’s been through something similar to this before.

Spending an extended stretch away from home during the summer, while unprecedented as part of an NBA season, isn’t exactly a foreign concept for those with USA Basketball experience like the Olympics and the World Cup. Plenty of players and coaches at Walt Disney World see parallels between those experiences and this challenge.

“I had that opportunity to work with the Olympic team and preparation was very similar to what we’re going through here,” said McMillan, who was an assistant under Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski on the USA Basketball staff from 2006 through 2012. “Having a training camp, basically, at a hotel and getting ready for a 45- to 60-day season. … We’re going to have three scrimmage games, eight so-called regular season games and then we’re in the playoffs so it’s very similar to preparing to play for the gold medal.”

Players who have been through the World Cup or Olympic grinds agree that there’s a level of familiarity with this sort of schedule and situation.

“It helps tremendously,” said Toronto guard Kyle Lowry, who was part of the U.S. gold-medal-winning team at the Olympics in 2016. “In Rio it was a lot more strict and tighter because we were living on a boat. That experience was pretty awesome. … But living on a boat, to be in a smaller room and not have as many amenities it really kind of prepared me for this.”

Even players who have been part of USA Basketball’s events for younger players, like Under-18 or Under-19 tournaments internationally, know the drill when it comes to living in a hotel for a few weeks and not having a lot of latitude when it comes to being free to roam. Players at Disney cannot leave the campus because of coronavirus protocols, though the league has made plenty of entertainment options — fishing, golf, boating, table tennis and more — available to them.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said he would follow much of the same policies that the U.S. program used when he was an assistant on those national-team staffs, such as a heavy reliance on medical personnel to determine what days to have a hard practice and what days to take it a bit easier. Phoenix coach Monty Williams said he also refreshed his memory on national-team days when putting together a plan for his team’s stay at Disney.

“It has forced me to dig into the archives of that time with USA Basketball,” said Williams, another former national team assistant under Krzyzewski. “I’ve heard a lot of the players say that it reminds them of AAU, but for me it reminds me so much of my time in Spain at the World Cup. It’s a bit longer than the Olympics … and you have a lot of free time.”

Pacers center Myles Turner was with the U.S. team that competed in China last summer at the World Cup, a group that spent more than seven weeks together between training camp, exhibition games in the U.S. and Australia, and then the tournament itself.

The Pacers have clinched a playoff spot, so they’re assured of spending at least seven weeks at Disney this summer. It’s another long summer for Turner, and he’s not complaining.

“There is a lot of similarity in how it’s set up, but for me personally, I just think that it’s a great time for everybody to kind of stay focused,” Turner said. “There’s no distractions. Everybody’s locked in and focused. So, there’s really not a lot that can go wrong in a basketball sense.”

One difference at Disney is that nobody has family members with them until at least the second round of the playoffs. At an Olympics, it’s typical for family and friends to make the trip — and at last year’s World Cup, a small number of players also made arrangements for family to join them in China.

“This is a little bit different than that, but certainly the timing is similar and the timing for us as far as preparation is probably more like a FIBA-type schedule than it is like a training camp,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “You’re practicing for a couple weeks and then you’re playing a few games and then it really, really counts.”

NOTES: San Antonio assistant Tim Duncan is not with the Spurs at Disney; the team said he has remained home to help LaMarcus Aldridge with his rehab from season-ending shoulder surgery. … Of the 22 teams in the restart, eight opted to take Tuesday off from practice.

Jason Kidd reportedly wows in interview, but Tom Thibodeau still Knicks’ frontrunner

Jason Kidd Knicks
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Head coach of the New York Knicks was always Tom Thibodeau’s job to lose — the guy running the show now at Madison Square Garden used to be Thibodeau’s agent.

Jason Kidd may have come the closest to taking the job with an impressive interview, but Thibodeau is still likely to land the hob, writes Marc Berman at the New York Post.

While sources says Jason Kidd wowed Knicks brass with “a great interview,” it might not be enough to topple Thibodeau, whose relationship with Knicks president Leon Rose and senior vice president William Wesley should prove insurmountable. They repped Thibodeau at Creative Artists Agency…

ESPN’s Jalen Rose told The Post over the weekend that Kidd, now a Lakers assistant, is a better choice because of his potential in either developing stars such as Giannis Antetokounmpo or attracting them.

It’s mostly the latter that will keep Kidd in the mix. It remains unlikely that Antetokounmpo will both choose to leave Milwaukee and come to New York, but Kidd’s strong relationship with the Greek Freak would at least put the Knick in the running if the reigning MVP decides to look around. Beyond that, players respect Kidd, a Hall of Fame point guard.

Thibodeau has been the Knicks’ guy from the start. Whether he is the right fit is the big question. New York has a couple of players that could be part of a long-term rebuild — RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson — but also feels it is well positioned to trade for a star if one becomes available. A slow rebuild built around young talent isn’t New York’s style, more likely they will stockpile good young players, develop them, but when the opportunity to land a star comes trade them (think Anthony Davis to the Lakers style deal). The new coach needs to build a player-development program in New York to make that scenario work. Is that Thibodeau?

The sense around the league is he will get the chance. If it falls through, look for Kidd to get another shot.