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Three Things to Watch in NBA Thursday: Can Boston Garden ghosts help force Game 7?

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Only one game on the docket tonight but it’s from probably the best series of the first round — can the Atlanta Hawks close out the Boston Celtics on the road? Atlanta is up 3-2, and here are three things to watch:

1) How well is Isaiah Thomas moving? Thomas tweaked his ankle during the ugliness that was Game 5 for Boston, and the Celtics need him for Game 6 if they are going to extend this series. He has always said he was going to play, the question is how well he can play — Boston needs near 100 percent Thomas.

He’s the one Celtic who can create his own shots and set up others. In Game 5 the Hawks did a good job trapping and swarming Thomas off every pick-and-roll, taking it out of his hands and daring anyone else to beat them. Nobody did. In Game 6 look for Brad Stevens to do something Terry Stotts started doing for Portland vs. a swarming L.A. Clippers defense on Damian Lillard — isolations. It’s a break from what the Celtics did during the season, but Thomas himself mentioned the idea after the last game. Why bring another defender up into the play? If Thomas’ ankle is healthy enough for him to blow by guys in isolation, the Celtics offense is more likely bounce back.

2) Can Atlanta knock down its jump shots? The Xs and Os of this series are more complex, but in a lot of ways it comes down to this: Boston is daring Atlanta players not named Kyle Korver to shoot jumpers and beat them. In their Game 5 blowout win, the Hawks shot nearly 50 percent and had 13 three pointers total from seven different players. When those shots fall, when there is offensive balance like that, they are going to win. Can they do that on the road under pressure?

3) Can these Celtics summon the Garden magic? Closeout games are hard. Closeout games on the road are harder. But there is something about the Garden — the crowds, the ghosts, whatever it is this will be a tough one for the Hawks to win. That said, they have the right tools — including the Mike Scott/Paul Millsap lineups up front that have been very successful this series. Expect Scott to be the first big off the bench, subbing out Al Horford, again in this game. But can Boston get a huge game from Marcus Smart and Evan Turner, can Amir Johnson own the paint for a night, can Jae Crowder get back to doing his thing.

Historically, a series where the home team wins the first five games (as has happened in this series) sees the road team win Game 6 57 percent of the time. Boston needs everything in its bag of tricks to force a Game 7.

Sacramento Kings turning former arena into coronavirus surge hospital

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If you’re old enough, you might remember Arco Arena as the home of the Sacramento Kings when they were a playoff team. Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojaković, and company pushed the Shaq/Kobe Lakers to seven games in 2002 and won huge playoff games in the arena. Arco was where Jason Williams was dropping dimes without looking, and arena which later became known as the Sleep Train Arena, Power Balance Pavilion, and eventually the current Natomas Arena.

Now, it’s about to be a coronavirus surge hospital.

The Kings are making the arena available and it will house about 360 beds, the team announced on Friday. The team also is donating $250,000 to support area community organizations providing services to families in need in the area, plus donating 100,000 medical masks to state and local health agencies.

“On behalf of the entire Kings family, our hearts are with all who have been affected by this pandemic,” said Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé in a statement. “California always leads the nation and the world, and we applaud Governor [Gavin] Newsom’s strong and decisive leadership to keep Californians healthy and safe during this crisis…

“Our community has always come first, and that is more important now than ever,” Ranadivé continued. “The Kings are proud to help by providing additional space to accommodate a predicted surge in patients. We are also donating masks to help keep people healthy, and critical resources to area organizations that are addressing food insecurity and other issues as a result of the coronavirus. I have always been in awe of the resilience and ingenuity of the American people and firmly believe that together, we will defeat this invisible enemy.”

The Kings moved to the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento in 2015 and since then their former home and practice arena has mostly sat vacant. The Kings’ G-League team practices there at times, but like the rest of basketball they find their season suspended.

Hopefully, this arena helps save some lives in the California capital. That would be the most important thing ever to happen in the building.

WNBA postpones season

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban backed off his belief that the NBA could resume in May.

It’s just already clear, amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’ll be unsafe to hold professional basketball games that soon.

WNBA release:

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released the following statement:

“As developments continue to emerge around the COVID-19 pandemic, including the extension of the social distancing guidelines in the United States through April 30, the WNBA will postpone the start of its training camps and tip of the regular season originally scheduled for May 15.  While the league continues to use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats, our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees.

Many top female players – including Los Angeles Sparks guard Sydney Wiese, who tested positive for coronavirus – play overseas during the WNBA offseason. That frequency of travel makes it even riskier for WNBA teams to gather any time soon.

The WNBA will still hold its draft April 17, conducting proceedings virtually. That could provide lessons to the NBA as it determines how to handle its draft.

Joel Embiid, 76ers owners pledging $1.3M for fighting coronavirus

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Joel Embiid just showed up 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer by pledging to pay team employees who were set to have their pay cut. Amid widespread backlash, the 76ers backtracked on their salary-reduction plan.

Now – with a portion of Embiid’s coronavirus-related donation unallocated and Harris and Blitzer looking to change the narrative around them – those three are working together.

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid, Sixers managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer are contributing a combined $1.3 million to Penn Medicine, establishing a funding campaign for COVID-19 antibody testing of frontline healthcare workers.

According to a Penn Medicine press release, “The pledge from Embiid, Harris and Blitzer will provide a much-needed boost for efforts to quickly identify health care workers who may have immunity to the new virus.”

This is great.

Some Utah Jazz employees laid off as part of cutback across owner’s businesses

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The Philadephia 76ers came in early, trying to force 20 percent cutbacks in salaries across the franchise’s staff. That lasted less than 24 hours before the backlash hit, the net worth of the team’s primary owner, Joshua Harris, was trending on Twitter, and the decision was reversed.

That stopped other owners from making a similar move or laying employees off for a while, but not long after the top 100 earners at the NBA League office — including Commissioner Adam Silver — were given a 20 percent pay reduction. The worsening economic crisis caused by the coronavirus shutdown of the United States is pushing NBA owners to act.

On Friday, the Utah Jazz — owned by the Larry H. Miller Group, which in total has more 80 different companies under its umbrella — sent this message to Adrian Wojnarowski ESPN:

“Due to the impact on our customer-facing businesses from this unprecedented pandemic, the (Miller Group) …. unfortunately had to make difficult decisions to reduce a small percentage of our workforce. Over the past several weeks, we have worked to manage and reduce costs, including executive compensation, and have reached a point where we have had to say farewell to a limited number of our valued employees.

“We have connected with our associates with outplacement services and aligned them with employers who have immediate hiring needs. We remain focused on helping our communities stay healthy.”

Reports out of Utah say these are layoffs that hit a lot of people and could be permanent.

It’s not fair, but little is fair right now. As noted, this is not just a layoff of some Jazz employees but also people at other businesses across the Larry H. Miller company.

Expect other NBA owners to follow suit soon, too. Not all, but some. Like owners of businesses of all sizes, they have been both hit hard in the short term and see a looming recession beyond the coronavirus. They will be looking to save money.