Pelicans, not Thunder, show they’re ready to tangle with West’s best

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Stephen Curry’s final shot rimmed in and out.

Now, the Pelicans go from out to in.

New Orleans outlasted the Warriors in a thriller, 103-100, tonight to jump the Thunder – who got blown out by the Spurs – for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Pelicans (42-35) both lead Oklahoma City (42-36) by a half game and hold the tiebreaker thanks to a 3-1 advantage in the season series.

After tonight, New Orleans might also claim the backing of unaffiliated basketball fans.

The Pelicans won’t beat Golden State in a seven-game series, but they could sure create a few fun games.

New Orleans still runs through Anthony Davis, who had 29 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks and two steals tonight. But with role players like Quincy Pondexter (20 points on 6-of-7 shooting, including 4-of-4 from beyond the arc) stepping up, New Orleans is a more complete team than the Thunder.

Sure, Russell Westbrook if a force. But slow him, and Oklahoma City crumbles.

San Antonio jumped to a 35-10 lead tonight while frustrating Westbrook to 1-of-6 shooting. The Spurs cruised to a 113-88 win, and Westbrook finished with just 17 points, two assists and two rebounds.

The Thunder have lost four straight overall and eight straight to Western Conference playoff teams.

The Pelicans haven’t been much better against top teams, using a recent four-game winning streak over the Kings, Timberwolves, Lakers and Kings to get back in the postseason race. But tonight’s win shows New Orleans might be blossoming at the right moment. Given its remaining schedule compared to Oklahoma City’s, it might have to be.

Pelicans:

  • at Grizzlies
  • vs. Suns
  • at Rockets
  • at Timberwolves
  • vs. Spurs

Thunder:

  • vs. Kings
  • at Pacers
  • vs. Trail Blazers
  • at Timberwolves

There are parallels between these Pelicans and the 2009-10 Thunder, who, as the No. 8 seed in their first postseason in years, pushed the top-seeded Lakers to six games. New Orleans has that same type of potential.

As good as Westbrook has played since Kevin Durant’s season-ending injury, can he alone really steal more than a game against the Warriors? As Golden State has shown all season, beating a complete team is much more difficult than beating an elite individual (though the Warriors have the advantage of possessing both).

The Pelicans might have needed a bad call to win tonight – and, more broadly, that bad call to make the playoffs. But they didn’t need that a favorable whistle to challenge Golden and create an exciting environment in New Orleans.

Once Durant and Serge Ibaka get healthy, Oklahoma City should be a force again next season. Westbrook will still have a major say in how this season ends for the Thunder, who are far from eliminated.

But right now, it looks like the Pelicans’ time.

Report: NBA deprioritizing playing regular-season games for local TV

Steve Kerr and LeBron James before NBA game
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The NBA is financially incentivized to play more regular-season games to satisfy local-TV contracts.

How does that square with resuming play – currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic – with a play-in tournament and playoffs?

It doesn’t.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to one source, getting some teams to a magical number of 70 regular-season games had been a goal, but in the last week has taken on less of a priority.

This stoppage is going to cost the NBA a lot of money. There’s no way around that. Not every source of revenue can be preserved. It’s about finding the optimal setup.

Importantly, canceling games could allow the NBA to reduce player salaries through force majeure. Of course, the union would consider that action when negotiating how to proceed.

LeBron James advocated for playing some regular-season games before the playoffs so everyone could get back into shape. But Steve Kerr called it very unlikely the Warriors would play another regular-season game. Perhaps, playoff-bound teams like the Lakers will play tune-up regular-season games while Golden State – the only team officially eliminated from the playoff race before the hiatus – doesn’t. It’d be a little odd to have such different formats, though. (Then again, these are odd times).

Considering this report, we ought to give more credence to the idea that Kerr knows something about the NBA’s plan and that the regular season is finished.

Lakers update that all players ‘currently symptom-free of COVID-19’

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Nearly two weeks ago, the Lakers announced that two of their players tested positive for the coronavirus. “Both players are currently asymptomatic, in quarantine and under the care of the team’s physician… All players and members of the Lakers staff are being asked to continue to observe self-quarantine,” the Lakers said at that time.

On Tuesday, the team provided an update saying nobody on the team is showing any symptoms after a couple of weeks of quarantine.

“All Lakers players are currently symptom-free of COVID-19. The team will continue to follow the health and safety guidelines set by government officials, the Lakers and the NBA,” the statement said.

The Lakers’ players who tested positive were never publicly identified (in fitting with HIPAA regulations).

A total of 10 NBA players — plus five members of staff associated with teams — have tested positive for the virus that has upended life in the United States. None reportedly have had to be hospitalized. Players such as Marcus Smart and others have recovered and free from the virus.

The NBA remains suspended, with the league hoping to jump-start the playoffs in June, possibly with all the teams in one location.

Report: NBA won’t hold draft until after season

NBA draft
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The NBA draft is scheduled for June 25. Most expect that date to change as the coronavirus pandemic causes postponements around the world.

Apparently, the draft will come after the NBA season – whether the season is completed in a modified format or just cancelled.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I think everybody in the league feels it’s almost impossible to have a draft if you still have a season that’s ongoing.

You can’t have a draft while teams are still playing. You can’t have some teams able to do trades because their season’s done and then some teams unable to do trades because they’re still playing.

It doesn’t strike me as difficult to hold the draft before the season ends. Teams wouldn’t be allowed to trade current players. The restriction would apply across the board, just like the interrupted pre-draft process. That’s not ideal, but compromises must be made amid this chaos.

Importantly, holding the draft sooner could appeal to both sides of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

It’d be an opportunity to hold a revenue-producing TV event. Obviously, drafted players wouldn’t attend a mass gathering. But with sports fans starved for content, people would watch the selections. A handshake with NBA commissioner Adam Silver is only a small part of the festivities.

The National Basketball Players Association should also push for an earlier draft. Prospects want information sooner so they can prepare for their next step – whether that’s the NBA, returning to college or playing overseas. That said, the union has bigger priorities than potential future members.

So, it’s easy to see why postponing the draft has gained momentum, even if that’s not a no-brainer solution.

Kevin Durant, Donovan Mitchell headline televised NBA video-game tournament

Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell
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The NBA season isn’t returning any time soon.

So, the closest thing you’ll get to live basketball on television is a video-game tournament between NBA players. The bracket has been revealed.

The Boardroom:

1. Kevin Durant (Nets)

2. Trae Young (Hawks)

3. Hassan Whiteside (Trail Blazers)

4. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)

5. Devin Booker (Suns)

6. Andre Drummond (Cavaliers)

7. Zach LaVine (Bulls)

8. Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)

9. Domantas Sabonis (Pacers)

10. Deandre Ayton (Suns)

11. DeMarcus Cousins (previously Lakers)

12. Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)

13. Rui Hachimura (Wizards)

14. Patrick Beverley (Clippers)

15. Harrison Barnes (Kings)

16. Derrick Jones Jr. (Heat)

I have questions:

  • How does Hassan Whiteside have the same rating as Donovan Mitchell and a higher rating Devin Booker?
  • Does being extremely online bode well for Kevin Durant?
  • Is Donovan Mitchell, who spent his coronavirus isolation playing video games, in the best game shape?
  • Will Zach LaVine redeem himself?
  • Will players use their own teams? If so, will Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton both use the Suns, Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverley both use the Clippers? If not, the most interesting aspect of this tournament – to non-esports aficionados – could be reading way too much into which teams players pick.