Remembering Flip Saunders: Giver of gifts, eternal optimist

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) For those he knew well, and many he didn’t, Flip Saunders had a knack coming up with a little gift, a trinket, something simple he would pass along during a quiet moment to make a person feel special.

As Minnesota’s president of basketball operations, Saunders woke up the morning of the 2014 draft and had a premonition that he would select UCLA guard Zach LaVine with the 13th overall pick. He wrote LaVine’s name down on a piece of paper that morning. When Saunders’ vision came true, he pulled it out of his pocket and gave it to LaVine as his show of faith in their new union.

“I have it in my room still,” LaVine said.

More than a decade ago, when Saunders was crisscrossing Minnesota with Sam Mitchell as part of the Timberwolves’ annual offseason promotional caravan, he gave Mitchell, a player on the team back then, a coloring book for his young children that showed them how to do elementary magic tricks and gave them something to do on the long rides.

“Until this day,” said Mitchell, who took over as coach of the Timberwolves when Saunders fell ill, “I still have that book.”

Before he took over as head coach in his second stint with the Timberwolves, Saunders the executive hosted some fans in his suite for a game, including attorney Steven Terry, a fixture courtside at Target Center. After a night of talking basketball, Saunders gave him a Timberwolves coin and told him that he would buy Terry a drink every time they ran into each other and he presented the coin.

“I wasn’t close to him in reality,” Terry said. “It just felt like it. That’s a good person.”

And the coin?

“I keep it next to my desk at home,” Terry said.

Saunders, who died on Sunday at age 60 after complications from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, will be laid to rest at a private ceremony in the Twin Cities this weekend. The Timberwolves will say goodbye to their president, their coach, their minority owner, whose boundless optimism and prescient maneuvering was reviving interest in a dormant franchise.

The Twin Cities will say goodbye to one of their fiercest advocates, a Cleveland native who called this place home even when he didn’t have to.

The basketball world will say goodbye to a true ambassador, one who would buoy the spirits of recently fired coaches by inviting them to visit and collaborate, show up unannounced at a player’s camp and entertain the kids with magic tricks and spring for Girl Scout cookies for a few star-struck fans as they exited the arena after a game.

And his family will say goodbye to the patriarch who gathered everyone together at their cabin every Fourth of July for a spirited game of whiffle ball, followed his three daughters around the country for dance competitions and proudly watched his son work his way up the NBA coaching ranks.

Saunders gave long-suffering Timberwolves faithful a far bigger gift: hope.

He turned disgruntled star Kevin Love into rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins. He worked tirelessly with the business side to promote a team that has not made the playoffs since 2004. He convinced Kevin Garnett to come back home. And he did it all with ebullience.

“Whether it’s the players we have or the new $26 million facility and really the energy we’re having in town, there’s no team that’s won 16 games that has as much energy as we do,” Saunders said this summer.

He really believed that basketball could be great again in Minnesota, and that he was the one who could make it so. And not just in the NBA.

Before he returned to the Timberwolves in 2013, he thought he was going to be the next coach at his alma mater, the University of Minnesota. As he geared up for the possibility, he scouted the recruiting class, in particular a strong crop of Minnesota-born prep stars that included Tyus Jones, Reid Travis and J.P. Macura.

The Gophers job went to Richard Pitino, Jones went to Duke, Travis to Stanford and Macura to Xavier. In the ensuing years, Saunders would tell confidantes that he not only would have landed those three prized recruits, but also had a chance at superstar Jahlil Okafor, another Duke commit who wanted to play with Jones.

C’mon, Flip. Really?

Well …

“There definitely was a chance just because of what he means and what he is in Minnesota, especially in the basketball world,” Jones said this week. “So if he would’ve gotten the Gopher job, obviously not saying I would’ve went there, it definitely would’ve made it more appealing because I already had a relationship with Flip and I knew what he offered as far as a coach.”

Saunders ended up landing Jones after all. He traded for the Final Four MVP on draft night, elating a fan base that desperately wanted Flip to bring the high school legend back home.

You could say it was one of Flip’s last gifts.

Mine? It wasn’t a coin or a coloring book or a point guard. It was a pink baby bib with the Timberwolves logo on it given to me after the birth of my daughter Nita in March.

As I got her dressed last Sunday morning I grabbed a bib off the top of the pile that no longer fit. I reached into the drawer one more time and pulled out the Timberwolves bib – Flip’s bib – and wrapped it around her neck.

About four hours later, the announcement came that Flip had passed away.

There are a lot of bibs that will be discarded when my daughter stops drooling.

That one will be staying right here.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be sent to the Flip Saunders Legacy Fund, which is “solely devoted to aiding and supporting deserving individuals or groups and to continuing the positive impact of the life of Coach Flip Saunders.” P.O. Box 46410, Plymouth, Minn. 55446.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Date, time, matchup for every game

NBA playoff schedule 2020
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And there were four.

The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsets galore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites at this point.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL, and to let the West catch up. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA Finals will begin on Wednesday, Sept. 30, if Miami closes the Easter Conference Finals out in six games. If the series goes seven games the Finals will start on Friday, Oct. 2.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Heat 106, Celtics 101
Game 3: Celtics 117, Heat 106
Game 4: Heat 112, Celtics 109
Game 5: Celtics 121, Heat 108 (Miami leads series 3-2)
Game 6: Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 7: Sept. 30, 8:30 p.n. (ESPN)*
*If necessary

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets

Game 1: Lakers 126, Nuggets 114
Game 2: Lakers 105, Nuggets 103
Game 3: Nuggets 114, Lakers 106
Game 4: Lakers 114, Nuggets 108
Game 5: Lakers 117, Nuggets 107 (Lakers win series 4-1)

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0

LeBon James takes over, leads Lakers to NBA Finals with win

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The Denver Nuggets had come back from 3-1 down twice in these playoffs.

The Denver Nuggets had never run into LeBron James.

LeBron dominated this close-out game. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter. He put up a triple-double of 38 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. Defensively he shut down Jamal Murray (who was slowed due to a bone bruise on his foot) and made smart plays.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed a guy take over a game the way he did in the fourth quarter tonight, in person,” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said of LeBron.

LeBron did what the Jazz and Clippers had failed to do — he and the Los Angeles Lakers closed out the Nuggets in five games with a 117-107 win.

“He’s had a chip on his shoulder all year long,” Vogel said about LeBron. “Everybody has doubters. To be in the Eastern Conference and get there as much as he had and to come over to the Western Conference, it’s an enormous accomplishment to [reach the Finals] with a third team.”

The Lakers advance to the NBA Finals, which will begin Wednesday (if Miami closes the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday) or Friday (if there is a Game 7 in the East).

LeBron James made history with the win, becoming the third player in NBA history to make it to 10 NBA Finals, joining Sam Jones (11) and Bill Russell (12) of the 1950s-60s Boston Celtics.

The Lakers pulled ahead in the first half of Game 5 because of Nikola Jokic‘s foul trouble — he played just eight minutes in the first half after picking up three quick ones. The Nuggets were +3 in those eight minutes and -13 in the other minutes of the first half, which had Dever down 10 at the break.

The Nuggets fought back in the third quarter, in part thanks to a monster game from Jeremi Grant who had 20 points on the night (tied with Jokic for a team high). Despite a hobbling Murray, the Nuggets did what they had done all playoffs long and refused to fold.

“What more could you ask from a group?” Denver coach Michael Malone said after the loss. “What more commitment, sacrifice, just everything in the last 82 days that our team has gone through. The history that we’ve made. The adversity that we faced and never ran from, embraced it… I couldn’t be more proud.”

Anthony Davis had 27 points for L.A. The Lakers also had role players stepping up. Alex Caruso had 11 points and was 5-of-7 from the floor. Danny Green also scored 11.

However, in the end, it was LeBron James looking like the best player on the planet.

Now he is headed to the Finals with the chance to make history and win a title with three different teams.

 

Lakers’ Anthony Davis ‘good to go’ for Game 5 despite sprained ankle

Anthony Davis
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This was expected, but when the Lakers officially listed Anthony Davis as questionable for Game 5 with a sprained ankle, it raised a few eyebrows.

Davis will play in Game 5 Saturday night, coach Frank Vogel said pregame.

Anthony Davis sprained his ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 4, and while he stayed in the game there were questions about how it would respond the next day.

The Lakers are up 3-1 on a Denver team they know will not be easy to close out.

To do that, Los Angeles needs Davis: When AD has been on the court in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers have outscored the Nuggets by 9.4 points per 100 possessions, but when he sits, the Lakers are -21.3 (stats via NBA.com).

The Lakers want to close out in five games to get some added rest. The NBA Finals are expected to start next Wednesday, Sept. 30 (unless one conference finals series goes seven games, then it is likely Friday, Oct. 2). If the Lakers lose Saturday but win Game 6 Monday it would be a short turnaround (as it would be after a Game 7).

Denver, however, has played its best basketball whenever it has faced the prospect of packing its bags and going home.

New York congressman insults Knicks, James Dolan funds opponent

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Things are changing with the Knicks. Leon Rose is in the front office, Tom Thibodeau is the coach, and together they are talking about developing players and having a plan moving forward. It’s a reason for hope…

Then there’s James Dolan.

Max Rose, a Democratic congressman from Staten Island, echoed the voice for a lot of Knicks fans when he said: “I’m a Knicks fan to the day I die, but Dolan’s gotta sell. Right now, this is an absolute disgrace.”

We have seen how Dolan reacts to fans saying he should sell the team. In the case of Rose, he is fundraising for the Republican running against him. It would be easy to say “Dolan is a big President Donald Trump supporter and donates to GOP causes all the time” and this isn’t personal, except Dolan sent out an email to help raise funds for Republican candidate Nicole Malliotakis and the New York Post got a hold of it.

“Max Rose thinks he can make our team and my ownership his political platform,” Dolan wrote in a personal email to friends last week that was obtained by The Post. “I need to let him know that we will not stand for this. The best way to do this is to help his opponent. He is in a tight race for the US Congress in Staten Island. … Please join me in helping Nicole defeat Max Rose for Congress.

“It will help send a strong message to all NY politicians that the Knicks will not be their political ticket to reelection.

That’s personal. Dolan isn’t just asking other people to donate.

A $50,000 check from MSG Sports was cut Tuesday to “The Governing Majority Fund,” a PAC run by former Reps. John Faso and Jeff Denham, Dolan confirmed. The PAC’s mission is to help Republicans take back the House.

Rose represents New York’s 11th District, a solid Republican district until the 2018 midterms when it became one of 30 districts nationally that flipped blue. The GOP is trying to turn a number of those back, including Rose’s district.

Whatever you think of Rose’s politics (he’s a former Army Ranger, which helped him in a more conservative district), what he said about wanting Dolan to sell the franchise is what many Knicks fans are thinking. Dolan just doesn’t like to hear it. Maybe Rose and Thibodeau can turn the Knicks around — they certainly deserve a chance — but the team has struggled since Dolan became the owner and that’s not a coincidence.

Whatever Rose and Knicks fans want, it’s also highly unlikely Dolan sells the team, there are no rumblings about that around the league (and he certainly has had chances).