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Five Things to Watch in Playoffs Wednesday: Kevin Love at center, Clippers trapping Damian Lillard

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As we will every day through the rest of the playoffs — because we care about you and your NBA viewing experience… plus, it’s more interesting than another post about the Kings’ coaching situation — here are five things to watch heading into Wednesday night in the NBA.

1) Kevin Love is going to spend more time at center, will Detroit have an answer for it? In the fourth quarter of Game 1 with the Pistons up seven, Cavaliers’ coach Tyronn Lou went deep into his bag of tricks and broke out the small ball putting Kevin Love at center. It worked — Cleveland was +13 the rest of the way with that lineup and won the game. Andre Drummond struggled to chase Love out at the three-point line, and eventually Stan Van Gundy benched him (although he didn’t match going small, Aron Baynes was on the floor). It’s a small sample size from one game, but you can bet the Lue will dial this lineup again in Game 2 at some point — if something works in the playoffs you use it until the other team proves to you they stop it. No mercy.

Stan Van Gundy and the Pistons know it’s coming, but what are they going to do about it? This is not a team built to go small, and they are not the same without Drummond on the floor. Maybe play some zone. Certainly they need to punish Love defensively where he is weak, not just simple post ups but more likely have Drummond setting high picks and make Love defend the pick-and-roll. You know SVG will have a counter, but how well will it work? This is going to be the fun part of the chess match.

2) Can Detroit get into the paint with the Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond pick-and-roll? Cleveland’s game plan on the Pistons ultimately worked — do not let the dangerous Reggie Jackson/Andre Drummond pick-and-roll get into the middle of the paint, make the Pistons’ shooters — Marcus Morris, Stanley Johnson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, etc. — beat you with their inconsistent jumpers. The Pistons did just that for the first half and into the third quarter for a while, but when that didn’t work in the fourth Jackson tried to take it upon himself and get to the rim. Jackson had 10 fourth quarter points, but it wasn’t enough. Stan Van Gundy needs to get the Jackson playing downhill and Drummond better positions inside (Tristan Thompson did a solid job on him defensively). It will be interesting to see what Stan Van Gundy and staff draw up as an adjustment.

3) How will Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum deal with aggressive Clippers traps? The Trail Blazers knew it was coming — virtually every team does it to a degree, the Clippers were just more aggressive — but Portland’s guards did not deal with it well. The Clippers trapped to force the ball out of the hands of Lillard and McCollum — the pair still took 33 percent of the Portland’s shots, but that’s down from their 41 percent regular season average. Al-Farouq Aminu and Gerald Henderson both had more shots than McCollum and they didn’t make the Clippers pay the price for those traps (Aminu was 3-of-12 from the floor).

Welcome to playoff basketball — the Clippers will do all they can to take away those first two options of the Blazers’ offense. Expect some tweaks by Terry Stotts to get his guards better looks, but at the end of the day the other Blazers need to knock down their looks.

“It’s obvious they were really pressuring Damian and C.J., on pick-and-rolls, doubling them and forcing them to pass out,” Stotts said after Game 1. “We had some threes on the weak side, we had some rolls to the basket and weren’t able to finish them. But if they’re going to double team Damian and C.J., then other players are going to have to make plays for us.”

4) Is Portland’s defense good enough to slow Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan? While the Clippers’ defense did a respectable job limiting Portland’s first and second options — classic playoff basketball: make options three and four beat you — Portland did no such thing on defense. In Game 1 the Clippers got 28 points and 11 assists from Chris Paul, 19 points from Blake Griffin (who had his best game by far since returning from injury) while DeAndre Jordan added 18 points and 12 rebounds. Those are three All-Star/All-NBA level players, and they are going to put up some numbers, but Portland has to do a better job slowing them down.

The Trail Blazers switched a lot of pick-and-rolls in Game 1 but the Clippers were prepared and responded by posting up Griffin (against Aminu or anyone else smaller on him) and taking advantage of his size and power. Expect the Trail Blazers may move Aminu or Maurice Harkless to guard Paul but that still leaves either McCollum or Lillard to chase J.J. Redick off 47 screens and get worn down. It will be interesting to see how Portland adjusts, but they are not a team loaded with defensive stoppers. Stotts is a fantastic coach, but his is limited with what he can do defensively.

5) Can Charlotte get back to taking, making threes to drive its offense?
On the season, Charlotte was fourth in the league averaging 29.4 three-point attempts per game — and hitting 10.7 of those (36.2 percent). In Game 1 Miami did an excellent job of trying to take that away — Charlotte was 6-of-17 from three. And with that were never really in the game. I expect Charlotte will work to drag Hassan Whiteside into as many pick-and-rolls as they can — he prefers to lay back and protect the paint rather than hedge out, and if/when he does that should open up good looks for Kemba Walker from three. Nicolas Batum needs his looks from deep as well, and Charlotte’s ball movement was not nearly as good as it was during the regular season.

Charlotte was a much better home team than road one this season, but in this best-of-seven they need to win one game in Miami. To do that, they need to bring the long ball back. Chicks dig the long ball, Charlotte needs to, too.

Report: NBA ‘snitch’ hotline receiving multiple tips

NBA snitch hotline
Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
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When the NBA created a hotline for players to anonymously report violations inside the bubble, numerous questions emerged. How often would it get used? What consequences would told-on players face? Would other players resent how often Chris Paul called?

Some answers are emerging.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kings center Richaun Holmes and Rockets forward Bruno Caboclo are each quarantined after breaking protocols. It’s unclear how their violations were detected.

Yes, there is a culture against snitching. That this report is snitching about snitching is truly something.

But there’s too much at stake – health of hundreds of people and a lot of money – to take these protocols lightly. Everyone at the NBA’s Disney World campus is entrusting their safety (and, for players, whose salaries are tied to revenue, livelihood) to those around them. It’s important everyone involved acts responsibly.

Kings forward Harrison Barnes tests positive for coronavirus

Kings forward Harrison Barnes
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The Kings have been hit especially hard by coronavirus.

Buddy Hield, Jabari Parker and Alex Len all tested positive. Richaun Holmes is quarantined after violating the NBA’s bubble protocols at Disney World.

And now Harrison Barnes reveals he was diagnosed with coronavirus.

Harrison Barnes:

Presumably, Barnes was among the 19 players the NBA announced tested positive for coronavirus in July in home markets.

“Primarily asymptomatic” is a strange assessment. Does Barnes mean he’s mildly symptomatic?

The Kings already faced an uphill climb for making the playoffs. At best, several of their players are falling behind in training. At worst, Sacramento will have its rotation depleted when games begin.

Hopefully, Barnes recovers and joins the team as he hopes. He has a personal stake in it. Even during the lengthy hiatus, Barnes stuck with his pledge not to shave or cut his hair until the Kings reach .500 (or, as he amended it, make the playoffs) or the season ends.

Report: Pacers star Victor Oladipo’s remaining salary in dispute

Pacers star Victor Oladipo
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Among the continuing 22 NBA teams, players not playing in the resumption at Disney World essentially fall into two categories:

Pacers star Victor Oladipo lands in the gray area.

Oladipo, who returned from a year-long absence shortly before the season got suspended in March, said he was sitting out due to elevated risk of injury during a quick buildup. But he also traveled with the team to Orlando and is even practicing so well, Indiana is reportedly becoming increasingly optimistic he’ll play.

Is Oladipo healthy enough to play?

At stake for Oladipo:

  • $2,763,158 if the Pacers get swept in the first round
  • $2,993,421 if they play exactly five playoff games
  • $3,223,684 if they play six or more playoff games

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The union believes Oladipo, who went to Orlando with the Pacers and then cleared quarantine so he could practice, should be paid his remaining salary, sources said.

The league, largely in an effort to set a precedent in case other players who are deemed healthy want to leave Orlando and no longer play, believes Oladipo has opted out and should not be paid, sources said. His public comments about feeling healthy has only solidified the league’s position on the matter, sources said.

The Pacers support Oladipo’s decision and are willing to pay him the salary whether he plays or not, sources said.

Presumably, if Oladipo plays, he’ll get paid like anyone else playing in the resumption. This controversy lingers only if Oladipo doesn’t play.

It’s unsurprising the Pacers don’t want to pick this fight with their star player, especially as he approaches 2021 free agency. Trying to avoid alienating their own players but not necessarily eager to pay for services not rendered, teams collectively want the league to handle these issues.

If teams had ample discretion, the Wizards might have said Davis Bertans – who chose to sit out – had some lingering injury. NBA players are rarely perfectly healthy. There’s always some physical issue to point to. Bertans will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and they want to re-sign him. What an easy way to build goodwill – and maybe even get a discount on Bertans’ next contract.

Obviously, the league doesn’t want those type of shenanigans. That’s why on outside rulings on players’ health can be important.

Oladipo might not be the only borderline case:

Oladipo’s situation might take care of itself if he decides to play. But the league might inquire more deeply into other situations.

Report: Rockets star James Harden ‘feeling fine,’ might travel with Russell Westbrook

Rockets stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook
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When Russell Westbrook revealed he had coronavirus, speculation immediately turned to the Rockets’ other star who also didn’t travel with the team to Disney World.

James Harden is “feeling fine,” working out and might travel with Westbrook to Orlando, according to Shams Charania of Stadium:

Was Harden also diagnosed with coronavirus? Is he just waiting for his friend before entering the restrictive bubble? Is there another issue?

These questions beget even more questions.

If both players have coronavirus, they won’t necessarily recover on the same day. Would the first to get cleared wait for the other? Or is traveling together just an idea in case it works out?

If Harden is fully healthy and just waiting for Westbrook, how do their teammates inside the bubble feel about that? Those already at Disney World are spending more time away from friends and family in less-than-ideal conditions.

If there’s another issue… who knows?

The lack of transparency around the situation only invites rumors and guesses.

At least it’s good news that Harden feels fine.