Five Takeaways from an NBA Thursday: Bulls pass first big test of season

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Usually, Thursday night around the NBA means two or three games, but there were a full five on the docket this week making it a full night. If you were too busy drawing cards to see who would be mayor and didn’t catch the games, here are five things to take away from a Thursday night in the NBA:

1) The Bulls had their first test of will of the Fred Hoiberg era on Thursday, and they passed with flying colors. After a 130-105 shellacking at the hands of the Hornets in Charlotte on Tuesday, the Bulls needed a win to prove they were capable of bouncing back from adversity. They were given an opportunity on a big stage against the Thunder on TNT, and they responded with a 104-98 win to remain undefeated at home.

“We knew coming in they were pretty hot,” Derrick Rose said after the game. “They lost their last two games, and we knew that they wanted this win. When you’re playing against a great offensive team like that, if you’re not playing any defense, they’ll smoke you with the way that they run, the freedom that they have, and just the talent that they have. So we just tried to put bodies in front of them and make it tough.”

Hoiberg made his first starting-lineup shift of the season on Thursday, moving Doug McDermott into the starting unit in place of Tony Snell. That adjustment itself didn’t matter much, but the Bulls played their most balanced game of the season. Rose and Jimmy Butler combined for 55 points, and Joakim Noah looked as good physically as he’s looked all season in 26 minutes.

“We competed really hard,” Noah said. “It was definitely an important win just because of the way we played the other night. We showed good character.”

More importantly, Rose conducted his postgame media session wearing a shirt featuring a much-memed photo of his son, P.J., from last playoffs:

—From Sean Highkin in Chicago

2) Can Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook get a little help here? Oklahoma City has lost three straight, and while it’s far too early to even be locating the panic button, one issue had raised its ugly head — depth. In the loss to the Bulls Thursday, the OKC bench shot 6-of-16 from the floor (37.5 percent), and every bench player was in the negative in +/-. (I hesitate to read too much into single game +/-, but when the entire bench struggles it’s a thing.) There were just 14 minutes when both Durant and Westbrook were not both on the court together Thursday, and OKC was -20 in those minutes. Serge Ibaka is a legit third star on the Thunder, Steven Adams a good defensive center (who had to leave the game early with back issues) but after that things drop off fast. Enes Kanter puts up points (11) but is such a defensive liability he was a -9 in the game, and that’s not a fluke. New coach Billy Donovan has some work to do to find rotations that work and improve the Thunder’s currently 22nd ranked defense — Westbrook and Durant are forces of nature, but they need more help to seriously contend for a title.

3) Dwayne Wade has scored at least 20 points in all four games he’s played this season. Dwyane Wade is looking good. To be fair, he’s looked good the past few years when he gets on the court, the challenge has been keeping his rickety knees on the court for extended periods. There will be rest and maintenance this season. But through four games Wade has scored at least 20 points in each contest (21.5 PPG average), has a very efficient true shooting percentage of .586, a PER of 25.9, is shooting 50 percent on his 2.4 attempts from three a game, and is looking like he has turned back the clock. Thursday night he had 25 as the Heat beat the Timberwolves 96-84 to improve to 3-2 on the season. If Erik Spoelstra can keep him fresh and bring this Wade to the playoffs, Miami is a lot more dangerous.

4) The demise of the Portland Trail Blazers has been greatly exaggerated. I like my crow a la mode. We’re just six games into the young season, but among the predictions I missed this season was I expected Portland to take a huge step back and be one of the worst teams in the West. Instead, they are 4-2 on the young season after a beatdown of Memphis on Thursday night, 115-96. They have done it with the fifth-best offense in the NBA — thanks to Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combining for 49.5 points a night and killing it off the pick-and-roll (especially with pull-up jumpers) — and a solid defense. The young front line of Mason Plumlee and Meyers Leonard has been impressive. We’ll see if this team can maintain a playoff-level pace of wins, but they are going to be better than I and a lot of others thought they would be this season. Portland is not gaming for a lottery spot, this is a team that wants to compete.

5) Al Jefferson is alive and well — and dropping 31 points on the Mavericks. Not everything was puppy dogs and rainbows between Al Jefferson and his coach Steve Clifford for Charlotte Thursday night.

Jefferson used his frustrations as fuel and dropped 31 points on 15-of-18 shooting on Dallas, leading Charlotte to a 108-94 win on the road. In vintage Jefferson fashion he was getting close and finishing — he was 8-of-8 inside three feet.

Victor Oladipo denies trade rumor he wants out of Indiana

Victor Oladipo
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It was a trade rumor that kind of came out of nowhere — maybe more as a thought exercise for Celtics fans hoping to move on from Gordon Hayward — but it got traction: Victor Oladipo reportedly wanted out of Indiana.

Not true, Oladipo said.

Oladipo jumped on Instagram Live with rapper Fat Joe and shot down the rumors (hat tip Clutch Points):

“I’m a Pacer. I’m a Pacer…

“Those rumors on the internet, I don’t know where they’re coming from, I’m just focused on getting my knee right for next year.”

Oladipo returned mid-season from his knee injury to a Pacers’ team that finished as the four seed in the East but got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat.

Oladipo never quite returned to his All-NBA form after coming back from injury and averaged just 14.5 points a game in the 19 regular season games he did play. Oladipo is owed $21 million next season, the last year of his current deal.

Whether he wants out of Indiana or not, at $21 million and with questions about just what level of player he is post-injury, there is not much of a trade market for Victor Oladipo. Indiana more than likely runs it back under a new coach — who has yet to be chosen — and banks on a healthy Oladipo helping the team make the next step.

Adam Silver: Goal is to start next season in January, in team arenas

Adam Silver
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The NBA bubble — which has worked and gotten the league to the NBA Finals — may be a one-off.

The goal for next season is a January start with games being played in team’s arenas, even if fans are not yet filling the buildings, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in his annual address before Game 1 of the NBA Finals Wednesday.

“As for fans in seats, it’s certainly our goal, but it’s dependent on some additional advancements. Rapid testing may be the key here,” Silver said. 

Silver refused to be locked down to any details — most people around the league expect a February start, or later — and said the league might have to return to a bubble, or hybrid-bubble, for part of next season. However, he hoped testing and technology would allow NBA games in NBA buildings, with players going back to their homes at the end of the night.

This is dependent on rapid testing and where the virus is in our nation as we get into December and January than it is on a vaccine.

“Based on everything I’ve read, there’s almost no chance that there will be a vaccine, at least that is widely distributed, before we start the next season,” Silver said. “So I do not see the development of a vaccine as a prerequisite.”

The other part of starting next season is figuring out the league finances and setting a salary cap. The league’s revenue took a serious hit with around 20% of home games canceled, then the playoffs delayed and moved to a bubble. Silver said salary cap and other negotiations are taking place between the NBA and the players’ union. The league has set a date for the 2020 NBA Draft — Nov. 18 — however, the start of free agency, training camps, and the tip-off date for next season are still open and being discussed.

“I don’t have expectations of labor issues… I think while no doubt there will be issues and difficult negotiations ahead, I think we’ll work them out as we always have,” Silver said.

Those are the future. For now, Silver was clearly proud that the bubble worked and that there could be a lesson there for the nation.

“The basic protocols that we’re all following are working,” Silver said. “I mean, the testing is only needed to demonstrate that at this point. By wearing a mask, by exercising appropriate protocols, hand washing, appropriate cleanliness, et cetera, by maintaining physical distance… that’s what’s working.”

Also of note from Silver’s press conference, he was asked about there being just four Black head coaches in the NBA right now after Nate McMillan (Indiana), Alvin Gentry (New Orleans), and Doc Rivers (L.A. Clippers), all were let go (there are currently six open coaching jobs around the league).  Silver said he has had talks with teams that have had openings, making sure a diverse field of applicants is considered, but added the NBA has not thought of adding a “Rooney Rule” to the hiring process.

“I know we can do better,” Silver said.

 

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

2020 NBA Finals preview
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It may be five months after they were originally planned, but the NBA playoff schedule has reached the point the 2020 Finals are here.

It is down to the final two. There is LeBron James leading the Lakers against the team where he first won his ring. And then there is the gritty Miami team that nobody expected to be here — except themselves.

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 for one two-day break between Game 4 and Game 5
Even more members of families for the players, coaches, and team staff are in the bubble for the Finals.

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

NBA FINALS

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat

Game 1: Lakers 116, Heat 98
Game 2: Oct. 2, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 3: Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
Game 4: Oct. 6, 9 p.m. (ABC)
Game 5: Oct. 9, 9 p.m. (ABC)*
Game 6: Oct. 11, 7:30 p.m. (ABC)*
Game 7: Oct. 13, 9 p.m. (ABC)*
*If necessary.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Conference Finals

Eastern Conference Finals

No. 5 Miami beat No. 3 Boston 4-2

Western Conference Finals

No. 1 L.A. Lakers beat No. 3 Denver 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

Miami injuries: Goran Dragic tears plantar fascia; Bam Adebayo tweaks shoulder

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The Los Angeles Lakers physically overwhelmed the Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals — and it led to some Miami injuries that could dramatically impact the rest of the series.

Miami Heat starters Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo both had to leave the game with injuries, not to return.

Dragic left the game in the first half not to return with what multiple reports have said is a torn plantar fascia. There is nothing official from the team, but this is a bad sign.

As Jeff Stotts wrote at In Street Clothes, it is possible to play through a torn plantar fascia but it is both very painful and limiting.

If he plays again this series, the Dragic that returns would be a shell of the Dragic that used his quickness to tear apart the Boston defense in the Eastern Conference Finals. Dragic’s ability to blow by his man in isolation and get into the paint helped make Miami’s offense a threat, and without this penetration they floundered against the Lakers’ length. Rookie Tyler Herro got the start in the second half for Miami Wednesday, and for the game he was -35 (tying the All-time NBA record for worst +/- with Kobe Bryant from Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals).

Another of the Miami injuries was to starting center Adebayo, who tweaked the shoulder that had bothered him in the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami.

There was no update from the team (as of this writing), but Tim Reynold of the Associated Press wrote Adebayo himself expects to play.

Adebayo is crucial for the Heat — he is their best defensive rebounder and the guy they will turn to in the crunch to cover Anthony Davis. He struggled against the length and physicality in

Having Dragic and/or Adebayo out will reduce the already-slim margin for error for Miami in this series to almost zero.

“We’re still expecting to win. We still know that we can,” Jimmy Butler said of the Heat mindset after the game. “Like I said earlier, we want [Dragic] out there with us. He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do, but until we can have him back, we got to go out there and we got to fight even harder. We got to try to cover up what he gives us and make up for it. We’re capable of it. We have to be capable of it. Moving forward with or without Goran we better hurry up and tie it up 1-1.”

The NBA continues its fast pace of games in the Bubbe: Game 2 of the NBA Finals is Friday night. Less than 48 hours away