Five Things We Learned in NBA Tuesday: When Portland needs a win they can get one

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA, you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while thinking you needed to go worship some Norse gods

1) Portland may not be back on track yet, but they’ll take the win. Yes, Damian Lillard dropped 25, and LaMarcus Aldridge added 22 points and 10 boards, but don’t underestimate how much having Robin Lopez back helped the Blazers snap their three-game losing streak. He brought a different, needed energy to the squad. Down the stretch he altered shots in the paint and knocked down some key free throws. They are just better with him on the court — not that he made this win easy. Credit the improving Jazz (Quin Snyder is doing a good job) for making the Blazers work for their 102-101 win. But if Chris Kaman were still starting Portland would have lost this game. Lopez does the dirty work the Blazers need better than his sub. Still, Lillard is the one still putting on the show — and dunking on guys.

Rudy Gobert — who has developed into a quality rim protector and a nice young center — stood up for himself, by the way.

2) If anyone is going to catch Charlotte or Miami for the eight seed in the East it might be Detroit. After Tuesday night’s games the Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat are tied for the final two playoff spots in the East. Brooklyn is just 1.5 games back, but they are crumbling and trying to trade their best players, it seems unlikely they make a run (even if they do they finish the season with a brutal stretch of games). Detroit on the other hand… they are just 2.5 games back after beating Miami on Tuesday night, 108-91. The Pistons seemed an unlikely team to make a run  after Brandon Jennings went down with a torn Achilles, but Tuesday his replacement D.J. Augustin dropped 25 points and had 13 assists with no turnovers. That’ll do just fine. The Pistons continue to play well since Josh Smith became Houston’s problem. And if Detroit can hang around the playoff race remember this: It has a very soft schedule the last couple weeks of the season. Charlotte and Miami may want to put some distance between themselves and Detroit before that time.

3) Even James Dolan can’t watch the New York Knicks. Lowly Boston came to Madison Square Garden and had little trouble dispatching the depressingly bad Knicks. Is New York so bad even owner James Dolan can’t stay awake to watch them? Apparently (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

4) Hollis Thompson cannot be stopped (for a night, anyway). The question with the Sixers is always, from where will the offense come? Tuesday the answer was Hollis Thompson, who opened the night shooting 8-of-8 (four of those from three) on his way to a team-and-career high 23 points. You don’t see that every day. By the way, when the Sixers find offense they often win, as they did knocking off the Nuggets 105-98. Which brings us to…

5) In case you haven’t been watching, the Denver Nuggets have fallen and they can’t get up. The Nuggets have dropped 10 of their last 11 games, and in that stretch lost to the Sixers (on Tuesday), Celtics and Timberwolves. For a team that had playoff dreams before the season started — they thought they could get back close to the 57-win team of a couple years ago — this has been an ugly fall. It has gotten so bad coach Brian Shaw is suggesting the players are trying to lose games. Over at Eye on Basketball today our old friend Matt Moore did a fantastic job breaking down what is wrong with the Nuggets (as much as one can in fewer than 5,000 words).

The debate in Denver is whether the roster is a bad fit for Shaw, whether Shaw is unfit to coach, or if the players are inherently bad. Throw out the last one. The list of quality players in terms of talent on this team is significant: Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Randy Foye, J.J. Hickson, Darrell Arthur, even the rookies Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic, who weren’t supposed to play this season, can play. So can Nate Robinson and Timofey Mozgov who were traded.

But the roster doesn’t work with Shaw. The thought early on was that the problem was fit, that Shaw needed a back-to-the-basket post scorer, and that’s true. But this goes well beyond it. Shaw seems to have a fundamental failure to understand or connect with these athletes, players, not to belabor the point but who by and large won 57 games for George Karl two years ago. Shaw was brought in to give the Nuggets a better chance to win in the playoffs. Safe to say that not having your players purposefully trying to lose in your eyes is kind of a prerequisite for making the playoffs….

That’s the problem. It’s everything. The coach has coached badly, the players have coached badly, Shaw has thrown enough players under the bus to raise it high enough to change the tires on it, the players have failed to show basic levels of competitive spirit or competency. There’s no effective leadership, and so this is the mess.

Yikes.

Shaw will be out in Denver at the end of the year, but the issues that need fixing in the Rockies are much bigger than just that.

Oklahoma state Rep. threatens to increase Thunder’s taxes for kneeling during national anthem

Oklahoma City Thunder kneel during national anthem
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The Oklahoma City Thunder – like all NBA teams (minus a few individuals) – kneeled during the national anthem.

That powerful protest calls attention to racism, particularly through police brutality. It is highly patriotic to work toward ending those shameful practices. Though some have distorted the underlying message, the protests have largely worked. In the years since Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, Americans have developed a heightened sensitivity to racism and police brutality.

Of course, there are still many opponents of anthem kneeling. The demonstration causes a visceral reaction (which is also why it has been so effective). At this point, it’s hard to stand out among the critics of anthem kneeling who keep making the same, tired arguments.

Oklahoma state representative Sean Roberts found a way.

Roberts, via Oklahoma’s News 4:

“By kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the NBA and its players are showing disrespect to the American flag and all it stands for. This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation’s police, its ties to Marxism and its efforts to destroy nuclear families.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma. Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024.

Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family.”

This is outrageous.

It’s outrageous that the Thunder get such a targeted tax break. The franchise is a private company that should succeed or fail based on its own merits. While it’s easy for NBA fans (like readers of this site) to get caught up in the league, professional basketball isn’t actually important for the greater good.

It’s outrageous that a company’s tax status could depend on how its employees exercise their freedom of expression. The First Amendment still exists.

Ultimately, Roberts almost certainly doesn’t have the power to do what he’s threatening. This is grandstanding for political gain. It gets Roberts into national headlines and little else. Mission accomplished, I guess.

So, Roberts builds a reputation as another big-government politician – someone who wants to use the heavy hand of government to dissuade free expression.

NBA referee Brent Barnaky explains standing for the national anthem

NBA referee Brent Barnaky
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Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, Heat big Meyers Leonard and Spurs coaches Gregg Popovich and Becky Hammon drew plenty of attention for standing during the national anthem while nearly all NBA players, coaches and referees kneeled.

Referee Brent Barnaky also stood.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

This isn’t much of an explanation. Nor does it need to be. Barnaky explained that he wasn’t countering the message of kneeling players (opposing racism, particularly through police brutality). That’s sufficient for Barnaky to maintain his neutral positioning – important for an official.

For decades, nearly everyone stood for the national anthem. For many people, that was just about following norms. Even NBA players espousing social-justice messaging previously stood for the national anthem.

But Colin Kaepernick’s brave defiance caused some people to thoughtfully consider their national-anthem posture. So, while many people continued to stand for the national anthem because that’s just was done, some made deliberate choices based on their own values. Sometimes, that led to kneeling. Sometimes, that led to standing.

The thoughtful standers blended into the crowd… until kneeling became widespread in the NBA. Now, they’re the noticeable outliers within the league.

It can take courage to go against the grain. I commend Barnaky for that – and for voicing his support for social justice and peaceful protest.

Barnaky made a personal choice that can stand alone. It doesn’t undermine what anyone else is doing.

Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer and Thunder’s Billy Donovan win Coach of Year from peers

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer and Thunder coach Billy Donovan
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The Bucks (high) and Thunder (low) entered the season on near-opposite ends of the pressure spectrum. Despite their radically different situations, both teams have experienced success this season for a common reason:

They were well-coached.

National Basketball Coaches Association release:

Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer and Oklahoma City Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan are the 2020 recipients of the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award, the National Basketball Coaches Association announced today.

The Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award recognizes the dedication, commitment and hard work of NBA Head Coaches and is presented annually to a Head Coach who helps guide his players to a higher level of performance on the court and shows outstanding service and dedication to the community off the court. It honors the spirit of Michael H. Goldberg, the esteemed long-time Executive Director of the NBCA, who set the standard for loyalty, integrity, love of the game, passionate representation and tireless promotion of NBA coaching. It is unique in that it is the only award voted upon by the winners’ peers, the Head Coaches of all 30 NBA teams. This year’s voting was based on games played from the start of the 2019-20 regular season through games played on March 11.

The depth of coaching excellence in the NBA is reflected in this year’s voting as 8 Head Coaches received votes. In addition to Budenholzer and Donovan, the following Coaches also received votes: Taylor Jenkins, Nate McMillan, Nick Nurse, Erik Spoelstra, Brad Stevens and Frank Vogel.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse was third in the race — and just one vote away from creating a three-way tie, sources said.

This is not the main Coach of the Year. That’s voted on by media and will be announced later. This in a new award created by coaches a few years ago.

Nurse remains favorite for the NBA’s recognized Coach of the Year. (He was our unanimous choice.) It’s surprising he didn’t win this award. But it’s also easy to see how fellow coaches would be reluctant to honor an up-and-comer who supplanted Dwane Casey, a coach beloved by his peers and who won this award while getting fired by the Raptors in 2018.

That shouldn’t take away from Budenholzer and Donovan, though. Both had strong seasons.

After turning the Bucks into an elite team last season – winning this award and the NBA’s official Coach of the Year – Budenholzer has Milwaukee looking even stronger this season. The Bucks’ defense is historically dominant, and their role players fit so well around Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Donovan got dealt a tricky hand – an all-time great point guard in Chris Paul who’s past his peak but still in his prime and a point guard of the future in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Donovan made it work while squeezing in another point guard in Dennis Schroder. Donovan’s versatility remains an asset for Oklahoma City.

Raptors rookie Terence Davis arrives to game with hole in mask

Raptors rookie Terence Davis
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The NBA – with threat of fine and suspension – reminded everyone inside the bubble to wear their masks.

Why issue that warning now?

Maybe because of Raptors rookie Terence Davis.

Davis arrived to Toronto’s win over the Lakers on Saturday with a hole in his mask.

Perhaps, it was inadvertent. Accidental rips happen. But it’s hard to give Davis the benefit of the doubt after his social-media activity:

Undrafted, Davis has a lot of confidence in himself. He earned that in basketball. If the cut were deliberate, he ought to give more credence to actual coronavirus experts.

Masks are highly important for the general population. We often don’t know whether we have coronavirus. Testing is insufficient, especially of asymptomatic cases. So, everyone in the outside world should wear a mask to reduce the spread.

On the other hand, NBA players – like Davis – can reasonably know they don’t have coronavirus. The NBA’s program of daily testing and no close contact with anyone outside the bubble is designed to ensure a coronavirus-free bubble. That’s why five-on-five basketball games – an otherwise dangerous activity – can be played safely.

However, masks between games are an extra layer of protection. What if a player – intentionally or not – comes into too close of contact with someone outside the bubble who has coronavirus? Masks would limit the spread of coronavirus within the bubble.

All coronavirus precautions should be measured through a cost-benefit lens. Wearing an intact mask can be unpleasant, and it’s somewhat superfluous for NBA players inside the bubble. But the health of everyone inside the bubble plus all the money at stake makes it an easy call.

Wear the mask, and wear it correctly.