NBA drafts Isaiah Austin, who had been diagnosed with a career-ending medical condition (VIDEO)

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NEW YORK — Isaiah Austin was projected to be a second round pick in this year’s draft, before being diagnosed with a medical condition that forced him to end his basketball career before it could professionally get started.

Austin was invited to the draft as a guest of commissioner Adam Silver, which would have been enough of a classy gesture in and of itself.

But the league went over the top in the way it handled Austin’s situation, by calling his name and having him don a draft cap and come to the podium as if he had been actually selected.

It was an extremely touching moment, and Austin’s remarks in the interview room a few minutes later were every bit as heart-wrenching.

“It’s been a really tough week for me, and it’s been really rough,” Austin said. “I’ve had a tremendous amount of support from everybody around the world really, telling me that they’re praying for me and everything. I can’t thank everybody enough. very single person that has reached out, I really give my gratitude to them. It was one of the greatest moments of my life, something I’ll never forget. I love this game of basketball so much. It’s really changed my life.

“To be blessed to play this game for as long as I did, I’m just thankful. I’ve really had time to sit down and think a little bit, and God has truly blessed me because he could have continued to let me play basketball, but instead, he saved my life.”

Those were powerful words from Austin, but things got even more devastating when he detailed the process by which he found out about his diagnosis.

“My parents originally found out the information the night before,” Austin said. “As soon as they heard, they packed up their bags, and my family drove nine hours from Kansas City to Dallas where I was at. I remember that morning I woke up early and was in the gym working out. I got shots up, and then later that afternoon I was at Mo Williams’ house. He had a barbecue; I work I work out at his gym, so I’ve gotten to know him pretty well.

“I remember I was driving home with my high school coach, Coach Ray, and we’re doing the same thing that we do all the time, laughing and joking around. As soon as we pulled up to the house, I just noticed a variety of cars, and I noticed a couple of them that I recognized.

“I remember asking him what was up, and he couldn’t even look at me.I remember walking through the door, there was 10, 15 people there — my Baylor coaching staff, my pastor, a couple of my close friends and my family. The first person’s face who I saw was my mother’s. She was all the way in the back. I just remember seeing tears falling down her eyes, my dad’s arms around her. I knew right then exactly what it was because I remembered in Chicago they said I could have had this syndrome, and they did blood work on it. I just hadn’t gotten the results back.

“I wanted to break down and cry, but I didn’t because my little brother and sister were in the room. I wanted to show them that I could be strong for them and for my family because they look up to me. Later that night, I just remember I couldn’t sleep. It was devastating.”

Austin has a promising future that includes job offers from the NBA and his former schools; it’s just one that won’t include his dream of playing professionally, which was almost within reach. He’s keeping a remarkably positive attitude through it all, however, and hearing his name called on draft night was a dream come true nonetheless.

“When you’re playing basketball and growing up and you’re at a competitive high level, and you’re being recruited highly and everybody’s saying that you have such potential, that’s your dream to be able to walk across that stage and hear your name called,” Austin said.

“When he did it, my head just dropped, because, you know, it was almost too much for me to handle. Fortunately, he did, and I’m thankful for it.”

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Watch Damian Lillard put up 51 on shorthanded 76ers

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Everything is back to normal for Damian Lillard.

The All-Star point guard scored 51 points after a frustrating finish a night earlier, and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Philadelphia 76ers 124-121 on Sunday.

On Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Lillard missed a pair of free throws with 18.6 seconds to go and a 3-pointer with 9.5 seconds left in a 122-117 loss. Clippers players Paul George and Patrick Beverley were seen laughing at Lillard’s misfortune.

Lillard got the last laugh Sunday by scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter.

“It wasn’t really so much my performance yesterday and I wanted to perform a certain way today,” he said. “It was like, we let one slip that we should have had yesterday, and I’m a big part of why it got away from us. So tonight, I was like ‘That’s not going to happen.’”

Portland bounced back and pulled within a half-game of Memphis for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers increased their chances of qualifying for the play-in series, which will start Saturday.

The 76ers lost much more than the game. All-Star center Joel Embiid left in the first quarter with what the team called a left ankle injury, and he did not return. He contested a shot, then backed up and stepped awkwardly into the stanchion. He had been averaging 30 points per game since the restart.

76ers coach Brett Brown wouldn’t say whether Embiid would miss time.

“I’m going to learn more physically,” Brown said. “I don’t know enough to comment on it.”

It was more bad injury news for the 76ers. All-Star point guard Ben Simmons is out indefinitely with an injured left knee.

Josh Richardson scored a season-high 34 points and Alec Burks added 20 for Philadelphia. The 76ers would have moved into a tie with the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with a win.

Without their stars, the 76ers fell behind by 17 in the second quarter and trailed 67-58 at halftime.

The game tightened up late. Philadelphia’s Al Horford hit a 3-pointer to trim Portland’s lead to 122-121. Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic made two free throws with 10.2 seconds remaining to put his team up three. Richardson missed a 3-pointer for Philadelphia, and the 76ers couldn’t get another shot off after a scramble for the rebound.

“I thought our guys fought,” Brown said. “I really thought the spirit of the group was fantastic. We called upon many different players that I think played with a spirit and a passion that you’re proud of.”

Zion Williamson, New Orleans eliminated from playoff chase; Kings, too

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There was no team hyped like the New Orleans Pelicans heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando. They had Zion Williamson healthy (or so they thought), and they had been playing the best of any of the teams in the playoff chase just before the coronavirus shut the league (and nation) down. A basketball-starved nation dreamed of a LeBron James vs. Zion showdown in the first round.

The reality of the bubble was not so kind to those dreams or New Orleans.

The Pelicans lost to the Spurs on Sunday, 122-113, despite 25 points from Williamson. Combined with the Trail Blazers beating the 76ers 124-121, the Pelicans became mathematically eliminated from reaching the nine seed and getting into a play-in series in the West.

The Pelicans are out of the playoffs. New Orleans will go through the motions of two more games in the bubble, but don’t be surprised if key players rest. The Pelicans went 2-4 in the bubble with offensive struggles holding the team back.

The Sacramento Kings also have been eliminated, extending the franchise’s playoff drought to 14 years. The last time the Kings were in the playoffs was 2006.

The Memphis Grizzlies sit as the eighth seed in the West, with Portland the ninth seed and just half-a-game back. San Antonio (one game back of Memphis) and Phoenix (1.5 games back) are both alive in the playoff chase still.

New Orleans getting eliminated ends J.J. Redick‘s playoff streak at 13 seasons, the longest of any active player and tied for seventh-longest all-time (the record is a tie at 19 between Karl Malone and John Stockton, who did it together). Getting eliminated is what leads to a 1000-mile stare meme.

 

 

 

 

Joel Embiid will not return to 76ers game due to left ankle injury

Joel Embiid injury
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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Philadelphia’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad bubble continues.

Joel Embiid went back to the locker room during the first quarter of the 76ers game against the Trail Blazers and will not return to the court due to a left ankle injury, the team announced, via Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

There are no other details yet on Embiid’s condition. He has been far-and-away the best player on a Philadelphia team that has struggled through the NBA’s restart in Orlando.

The 76ers have already lost Ben Simmons, likely for the rest of this season, due to knee surgery.

Despite the injuries and rough play, Philly was 3-1 entering Sunday. However, the one loss was to red-hot T.J. Warren and Indiana, which essentially locked the 76ers into the six seed (and a likely first-round meeting with Boston).

Embiid is averaging 30 points a game in Orlando and put up a ridiculous 41 points, 21 rebounds line against Indiana.

If Embiid misses much time, the Sixers’ chances against any team near the top of the East are slim. At best.

Play-in series guaranteed in West after Toronto beats Memphis

NBA play-in
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It’s now official: There will be a play-in series to determine the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Memphis’ 108-99 loss to Toronto on Sunday means that it’s no longer possible for more than a four-game difference in the standings between the eighth- and ninth-place finishers in the West when the seeding game schedule ends later this week.

By the rules the NBA set for this season’s restart, there had to be more than a four-game cushion for the No. 8 team to get the final playoff spot outright. The league decided to add the play-in series option in an abundance of fairness, since about 14% of the regular season schedule was eliminated because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Memphis remains alone in eighth place, even after Sunday’s loss. Portland is one game behind and is in the nine seed (with a Philadelphia Sunday night). San Antonio (who beat New Orleans Sunday) and red-hot Phoenix are 1.5 games back of the Grizzlies. New Orleans is now two games back and with a difficult road to the postseason.

No team has clinched a spot in the play-in series; the Grizzlies could have assured themselves of no worse than that had they beaten the Raptors on Sunday.

Game 1 of the play-in series will be Saturday, with Game 2 — if necessary — the following day, Aug. 16. To advance and face the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, the eighth-place team will have to win one of the two games and the ninth-place finisher would have to go 2-0.

ABC will air Game 1 of the play-in series on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EDT. Game 2, if necessary, would be Aug. 16 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN.

There will be no play-in series in the Eastern Conference; Brooklyn and Orlando have secured what were the last two available spots on that bracket, with Washington — the only other team that came to Disney with a chance of qualifying in the East — already eliminated.

The playoffs begin Monday, Aug. 17.

“Obviously, that’s what everybody’s goal is,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said Sunday.

The matchup for the play-in will be known no later than Thursday. There are four seeding games on Friday, the last day of the regular season, though none of them will have any bearing on the West matchup.