Five Things We Learned in NBA Tuesday Night: Anthony Davis, Pelicans deserve to be in playoffs

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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 dreaming about the best part of baseball season, the ballpark food

1) Anthony Davis and his Pelicans deserve to be a playoff team — and as of now they’re in. No doubt, Russell Westbrook has put up numbers this season. But so has Anthony Davis. From Day 1. Davis has averaged 24.4 points on 53.6 percent shooting, pulled down 10.4 rebounds a game and blocked three shots. He leads the league in PER (with a Jordan/Chamberlain-like number) and is fourth in win shares. He deserves MVP consideration.

And the Pelicans are playing like a team that deserves to be in the postseason. On Tuesday night, Davis scored 29 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, plus had four blocks and two steals to lead the Pelicans to a 103-100 victory over a Golden State team that wasn’t resting anyone. That win (combined with the Spurs routing the Thunder) makes New Orleans a playoff team, they are the eight seed half a game up on OKC. The Pelicans got there on Tuesday night because Davis got help: From Quincy Pondexter and his 20 points including 4-of-4 from three; from the officials with a bad call late. (The officiating in this game was shaky both ways.) However, it was the Pelicans playing hard and pushing the best team in the league that made them look like a playoff team. They’re not beating the Warriors in a seven-game series, but it would be entertaining. New Orleans deserves to be there.

2) Oklahoma City is going to need some help to make the postseason. The Spurs are making everyone look bad lately — just ask Steve Kerr and the Warriors — and following that trend San Antonio thrashed Oklahoma City 113-88 Tuesday night. It was a blowout from the opening tip. Gregg Popovich said it wasn’t a fair fight without KD and Ibaka, it didn’t look like it. This felt like the punch that could weaken their knees and bring down OKC’s playoff dreams crashing to the floor. As it is they are half a game back of the Pelicans — and New Orleans has the tie breaker. Meaning the Thunder are going to need a little help to get to the playoffs. Tuesday night, San Antonio did what it did because Kawhi Leonard tied his career record of 26 points — and he played just 24 minutes. All the Spurs’ shooters couldn’t seem to miss. OKC looked outclassed on the night the Pelicans stood toe-to-toe with the league’s best. Only one looked like a playoff team and they now have the upper hand.

3) Clippers move into a tie for three seed in West, but it’s not pretty. The Lakers played harder and frankly looked better than the Clippers for large swaths of Tuesday night. The Lakers seemed embarrassed by their Sunday performance — they should have been — and were looking to turn things around. The Clippers got enough from their starters — and nothing from their bench — to get a 105-100 win. Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick each had 27 points on the night. With that the Clippers moved into a virtual tie for the three seed in the West with Memphis. Those two teams play later Saturday and I would say that game could determine the three seed out West, but the Spurs (just half a game back of Memphis and L.A.) could have a say in that.

4) Miami stays alive in East playoff chase with win. Brooklyn has Brook Lopez playing like a guy who wants to get paid this summer. Indiana has the return of Paul George. Boston has real grit. And through it all the Miami Heat will not go away. Goran Dragic had 28 points, and Luol Deng chipped in 21 in a Heat win over the Hornets Tuesday night, another hard-fought victory. With that, Miami is just half a game back of Boston for the eight seed. Miami has Chicago and Toronto its next two games — those two tough games will determine their playoff chances.

5) Sim Bhullar makes some NBA history. The 7’5″ mountain of a man became the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA. It wasn’t much to see, just 16 seconds, and it doesn’t mean the NBA is going to take the place of cricket in that country’s hearts. But it’s a step. And you change things one step at a time.

LeBron James, Doc Rivers, others around NBA react to, participate in protests

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The NBA family spoke out loudly and quickly in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer.

Protests have erupted nationwide following Floyd’s death, and the NBA family is commenting on — and in the case of some players, participating in — those protests. That includes the biggest name in the sport today, LeBron James.

Pistons’ coach Dwane Casey made a powerful statement recently, and on Sunday Doc Rivers released this statement through the Clippers.

A number of players have been involved in the protest, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie of the Timberwolves, who were with former NBA player Stephen Jackson — a childhood friend of Floyd’s — during a protest in Minnesota.

The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown drove 15 hours from Boston to Atlanta to help lead a peaceful protest that started at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park. He was joined by the Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon.

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Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a brilliant op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times that talked about where the rage of the riots comes from in the black community.

“Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

“So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be murdered by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg of involvement of the NBA family, just like the protests are the tip of the iceberg of the frustration felt in black communities around the nation.

Jonas Valanciunas on return: “It’s kind of like coming back from the summer”

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Memphis is in when the NBA returns, and in whatever form it returns. The Grizzlies had earned the eighth seed in the West behind the standout play of rookie Ja Morant, and if the NBA goes with a play-in format for the final playoff seeds (as expected), there will be teams gunning for that slot.

Memphis’ veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas will be ready, he told Michael Wallace at the team’s official website. Valanciunas spent time in Memphis and Miami during the lockdown, checking in with family back in Lithuania, but is back in the gym getting up shots. He described the return process this way.

“It’s kind of like coming back from the summer. We’ve had two-and-a-half months off. But then again, I play with the (Lithuania) National Team every summer, so it’s not like you always have so much time off every summer. So it’s sort of like coming back and getting ready for training camp again, to get back in shape and into game rhythm. It’s unusual, with guys wearing masks and stuff, but it is sort of like getting yourself ready for training camp right now.

A lot of players feel the same way, that this was sort of like an offseason (just one where they couldn’t get in the gym and work on a specific skill or weakness). Now things are ramping up again. This is why players want a handful of games before the playoffs (or play-in tournament) start, to get their legs under them.

Memphis will have strong teams, and more veteran units, coming for their playoff spot in the form of Portland and New Orleans. Valanciunas says the Grizzlies will be ready.

We’re really motivated. We don’t need to find extra motivation. We’re young. We want to establish our names and build as a unit.

It’s going to be a unique format when the NBA returns, in what has been a season turned upside down. That, however, can be a bonding experience for this young Grizzlies team, something that makes them better faster.

Some NBA players reportedly expect families can’t come to Orlando until September

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Nothing is set in stone until the owners vote on Thursday, but the NBA’s return likely will have teams reporting to the “bubble” (or campus, or whatever term of art the league ends up using) in Orlando in mid-July. Games would start July 31 and run into late September and maybe even October.

For players, that’s a long time to be stuck in a hotel without seeing family or loved ones, so families joining the players has long been part of the plan. Except, now comes a note from Tim Reynolds at the AP that some players think their families may not be able to join them until deep into the postseason.

The smaller the bubble, the easier it is to maintain with extensive testing, which is why not all 30 teams are expected to be invited and the size of team traveling parties will be smaller. It has been expected that families wouldn’t be invited to join players at least until after the first round of the playoffs (when a lot of players left).

However, if games start July 31 and the league plans to play a couple of weeks of regular-season games, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot, then it will be September by the time the NBA gets to a final eight teams. Which will have players separated from their families for a couple of months.

It’s easy to understand the players’ frustrations with that. No matter what direction Adam Silver goes with this restart, there are going to be some unhappy teams and players.

 

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.