CHICAGO — The basketball gods threw everything they could at the Cavaliers. Somehow, some way, they’re headed to the Eastern Conference Finals.
With Kyrie Irving suffering a knee injury in the second quarter, Cleveland got an unlikely boost off the bench from Matthew Dellavedova, who scored a team-high 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting. That’s the kind of help LeBron James has been getting all series, ever since Kevin Love went down. Earlier in the series, it was Iman Shumpert stepping up. Thursday, it was Dellavedova.
The turning point came in the second quarter, when Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic clotheslined Shumpert and was whistled for a flagrant foul. At that point, the Bulls trailed by one. From there, the momentum shifted and the Bulls scored six points over the next 12 minutes.
“I think that second quarter has been a problem for us the whole series,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. “That took a lot out of us, but I thought the fight was there in the third quarter. We had a shot at it again. We could not get it to even striking distance, and could not get it under 10.”
Indeed, the Bulls scored 31 points in the first quarter and just 42 over the next three. With Irving out and James playing an inefficient game, Chicago could not capitalize. They were outrebounded 53 to 32 and shot just 20 percent from three-point range and 37.5 percent from the field. The Cavs shot 12-for-27 from three, including a combined nine three-pointers from Dellavedova, J.R. Smith and James Jones.
It wasn’t a pretty game, just as most of the series wasn’t pretty. But the Cavs prevailed in spite of everything, and are now poised to make the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2009 (it will be James’ fifth time in a row after making it four straight times with the Heat). They’ll face either Washington or Atlanta to play for a trip to the Finals. They will be without Love. Whether they’ll have a full-strength Irving is very much up for debate.
But they’ll have James, the best player on the planet, and plenty of underheralded role players ready to step up. And for that, you have to like their chances.
Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)
But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.
Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.
The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.
Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.
But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:
What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.
These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.
Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.
Mo Bamba has fallen behind Khem Birch as the Magic’s backup center (to Nikola Vucevic). At the NBA’ resumption at Disney World, Bamba has played in only two of Orlando’s four games, receiving just four and six minutes. Magic coach Steve Clifford cited the 22-year-old’s conditioning.
Bamba wants you to know the full story: He had coronavirus.
Bamba received word of his positive test on June 11
The illness temporarily robbed him of his senses of smell and taste, made him unusually fatigued and caused muscle soreness.
“Part of me is reading the temperature of the room and just knowing that there are definitely going to be questions, and sometimes you’ve just got to address them with honesty,” Bamba said. “In this case, I think it’s best for them to have that context and have that understanding of what, exactly, is going on.
“I want people to know that I’m still working as hard as ever, if not even harder, and I’ll get through this.”
Bamba thought he had endured the worst by the time the Magic entered the NBA bubble on July 7. But the false positives required him to have an additional three-day in-room quarantine while his teammates practiced together on July 9, July 10 and July 11.
I appreciate Bamba being so forthcoming. It was easy for people to suspect he didn’t train properly during the hiatus. Though medical privacy should also be valued, transparency often alleviates the worst suspicions.
At least 54 NBA players have tested positive for coronavirus. Does that number already include Bamba? It’s unclear.
After going quiet during most of the shutdown, the league has announced the number of players who’ve tested positive since June 23. Maybe Bamba continued to test positive on June 23 or later. Or perhaps he’s an additional case from the quiet period. There definitely were some cases in that timeframe.
False positives are an issue – an unavoidable one. It’s unfair Bamba was stuck in his hotel room, not training, longer than necessary. But the NBA can’t risk allowing a potentially contagious player into the bubble. Better to err on the side of safety.
The No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, Bamba improved steadily from an underwhelming rookie season. He still needs more work to become a quality NBA player. This is a setback, and one that makes him unlikely to contribute much the rest of this season. Hopefully, he’ll be able to pick up next season where he left off when this season got suspended.
Three Things to Know: What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.
That was 76ers coach Brett Brown, who has had to deal with a lot of injuries to players during his tenure in Philadelphia. But this one hurts a little more because of the timing. The Sixers will be without Ben Simmons for a while after he suffered a subluxation of the left patella — his kneecap essentially dislocated then popped back into place — against Washington.
The 76ers were adjusting to playing Simmons at power forward during the restart in Orlando. Now there are just questions.
How long will Simmons be out? That’s the big one and the answer is nobody knows for sure. The Sixers are evaluating treatment options. As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes notes, Allen Crabbe had the same injury earlier this year and missed 11 days (three games), but he had no damage to the ligaments or rest of the knee. That’s the most common outcome for this injury and it would have Simmons back around the start of the playoffs. However, if there is any ligament damage, Simmons could be out much longer. (The early reports were the MRI came back clean, but that doesn’t tell us much about the real level of damage other than it wasn’t severe.) Philadelphia has always been cautious when it comes to bringing its stars back from injury.
Who starts for Philadelphia while Simmons is out? That’s one Brown has to decide by today (Friday) and the game against Orlando. He could plug Al Horford back into the starting lineup — the Sixers were +1.4 points per 100 possessions this season with Embiid and Horford on the court together without Simmons (it was -0.7 with all three and the floor spacing was a mess). Or, Brown could keep Horford on the bench and go with another wing such as Matisse Thybulle or Furkan Korkmaz.
Philadelphia seems locked into the six seed in the East (they are one game back of five seed Indiana with four to play, but the Pacers beat the Sixers last Friday and have the tiebreaker, so it is in practice a two-game lead).
Philadelphia is 6-5 this season without Simmons, and while they can plug other players into the four they will not have Simmons’ elite defense, nor his passing skills, and the new player will not be the same threat in transition. Philadelphia is just not the same threat in the East without Simmons.
2) Portland is in control of ninth seed in West after win, New Orleans loss
There is going to be a play-in series in the West — and Portland is going to be in it.
That win has Portland half a game back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West — and the 0-4 Grizzlies face a tough game against the Thunder Friday. The West could be tied by Saturday morning.
Portland looks to be a lock for the play-in.
Can anyone else crash that party? Sacramento earned it’s first win in the bubble on Thursday, knocking off Zion Williamson and New Orleans, meaning now both the Kings and Pelicans sit 2.5 games back of the Grizzlies with four to play. Both need to win out and hope Memphis continues losing to have a chance to get into a play-in with Portland.
The undefeated-in-the-bubble Suns and the Spurs both sit two games back of the Grizzlies and with a chance to make a play-in. Just as with the Kings/Pels, the Suns and Spurs essentially need to win out and count on the Grizzlies continued stumbles to have a chance.
This was expected, but the Bucks made it dramatic. Miami led this game by 23 points in the first half, but both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton turned it on — both finished with 33 points each — and Milwaukee came back to get 130-116 win. With that, the Bucks officially wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the East.
While this is good for the Bucks — who now get an easy first-round playoff matchup against Brooklyn or Orlando — they know they will be judged on the playoffs. This is a Finals-or-bust team. And Milwaukee fans don’t want to think about the options for bust.
Milwaukee has eased into games in the NBA restart, not worrying about wins now and rather being healthy and firing on all cylinders when the games matter. They have that luxury with the lead they built up in the East, but they need to flip the switch eventually. As they did coming back on the Heat.