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Three Things to Watch in Playoffs Friday: Can Pacers, Heat, or Clippers force a Game 7

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Indiana, Miami, and the L.A. Clippers are playing for their playoff lives tonight — can any of them force a Game 7 on Sunday? Here’s what to watch for if they are going to:

1) Can the Pacers survive a couple of minutes when Paul George gets some rest? Paul George played 41:05 in Game 6, taking short rests at the start of the second and fourth quarters. That turned out to be too much — the Pacers were -18 in those 6:55 George got a blow. During his rest at the start of the fourth, Toronto started a 21-2 run that turned their 13-point deficit into a lead. The Pacers scored just one bucket in the first 9:30 of the fourth quarter. It wasn’t just George out to start the fourth as George Hill, Monta Ellis, and Myles Turner joined him in watching the start of the team’s downfall while sitting — Frank Vogel trusted a bench that has been good to him all season, and it let him down. Check out these numbers from Game 5: Rodney Stuckey 1-of-10 (and a turnover right in front of a taunting Drake), C.J. Miles 2-of-8, and Ty Lawson was virtually nonexistent. The bench must do better for the Pacers.

Don’t expect much trust of that bench — or George to get much rest — in Game 6. This is a game the Pacers can win, but they will need more offensive balance as DeMarre Carroll continues to be physical with George. Hill, shooting 57 percent in the series, needs to be a catalyst for a little more balance in the offense. Defensively, the Pacers need to slow the Raptors successful “small” lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Cory Joseph, Norman Powell and Bismack Biyombo — that group got stops and scored driving the lane to spark the fourth quarter run. The Raptors have struggled in closeout games recently, and the Pacers are feisty, but Indiana needs to get another big lead and not let up. They don’t want this to come down to a late Solomon Hill three again.

2) Can Miami knock down enough jumpers against Charlotte to survive another day? Forget the last play of Game 5 and if Dwyane Wade was fouled or not. It’s moot. The real question is Miami’s shooting, and sometimes a picture is worth 1,000 words (from Jesus Gomez at SB Nation):

Heat shot chart

After Nicolas Batum was injured and forced to sit, Hornets’ coach Steve Clifford doubled down on his defensive strategy, went big and decided to pack the paint on defense — cut off Dwyane Wade or Goran Dragic slashing into the lane, or Hassan Whiteside on the roll, make the Heat players beat them with jump shots. It’s worked. Miami’s offense has gone stagnant. Look at the scoring at the rim the last three games — Miami is shooting less than 50 percent at the rim. Miami has been an inconsistent team on the road all season and if they don’t find a way to stop the penetration of Kemba Walker (he’s getting to his spots on the floor) and Jeremy Lin, and if they don’t hit a few jumpers, the Miami players will be golfing with Ray Allen by this weekend.

3) Can Clippers get one game-changing, series-saving night from Jamal Crawford? Or Jeff Green? Or anyone? Injuries have swung this series, with the Clippers looking like Memphis West — they need someone to step up with a big night to extend their season. Anyone. That is not going to be Paul Pierce — I know he and Doc Rivers have a history, but the game has passed Pierce by and in 2016 he should not be getting many if any playoff minutes (Rivers needs to start Wesley Johnson or someone else). Usually, I’d say look for a big J.J. Redick night, but with his heel injury his is just not moving the same way, and that has been an issue for the Clippers all series because he is central to their halfcourt offense. One little combination to watch for Los Angeles: Pablo Prigioni and Cole Aldrich had real chemistry this season and showed a little in Game 5, Rivers needs to play them together and let them find a groove.

However, with the comfort of home, expect to see more of the fourth quarter Damian Lillard— who had 16 points for Portland in that frame, part of a 37-point quarter when the Blazers pulled away in Game 5. The Clippers reserves held their own for three quarters in Game 5, but the added minutes and responsibilities wore them down physically and mentally by the fourth, and Portland just got stronger. It’s hard to see how the Clippers win this game without someone just going off in heroic fashion for a night.

Bradley Beal, Mason Plumlee part of Alex Rodriguez’s bid to buy Mets

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Bradley Beal, a St. Louis native who is a die-hard Cardinals fan, may have to switch allegiance to the Mets.

Beal, the Wizards’ All-star, as well as Nuggets reserve big man Mason Plumlee, are part of a group of celebrity investors led by Alex Rodriguez and his wife working to purchase the New York Mets. From Vaughn McClure of ESPN:

Rodriguez, who last starred with the Yankees, and fiancée Lopez have put $300 million of their own money toward the bid. Other investors include future Hall of Fame offensive lineman Joe Thomas, who spent his entire career with the Cleveland Browns, two-time NBA All-Star Bradley Beal from the Washington Wizards, and Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee.

Beal’s group is competing against several other groups, with the first round of bids reportedly due Thursday. Josh Harris, owner of the Sixers, heads one group. Hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen has made a top bid so far of $2 billion. Rodriguez’s group reportedly bid $1.7 million. The first-round of bids is non-binding, but it starts the negotiations.

While the NBA has rules against owner/players in its own league, Beal is free to invest in other leagues. Beal would not be alone, LeBron James owns a piece of Premier League champions Liverpool, while a number of European players own small basketball clubs back in their native country.

Beal is not with the Wizards in the Orlando restart bubble, he is recovering from a shoulder injury.

WNBA MVP Delle Donne says league denied her medical waiver

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NEW YORK (AP) — Elena Delle Donne’s request to be medically excused from the WNBA season was denied, according to the league’s reigning MVP.

The Washington Mystics star said in a statement Monday that the independent panel of doctors the league and union agreed upon to decide whether players should be medically excused deemed her not to be “high risk, and should be permitted to play in the bubble.”

Had Delle Donne been medically excused, she would have earned her entire salary for the season. Now, if she chooses not to play, the defending WNBA champion Mystics wouldn’t have to pay her.

Delle Donne has battled Lyme disease since 2008. The disease is not included on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of underlying conditions that could put someone at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

“I love my team, and we had an unbelievable season last year, and I want to play! But the question is whether or not the WNBA bubble is safe for me,” Delle Donne said in the statement. “My personal physician who has treated me for Lyme disease for years advised me that I’m at high risk for contracting and having complications from COVID-19.”

Delle Donne’s statement was first obtained by ESPN.

“I’m thinking things over, talking to my doctor and my wife, and look forward to sharing what I ultimately plan to do very soon,” the 30-year-old said. “My heart has gone out to everyone who has had to choose between their health and having an income, and of course to anyone who has lost their job, their home, and anyone they love in this pandemic.”

The league declined to comment, citing privacy concerns about player health matters.

Delle Donne’s new teammate Tina Charles also was waiting for a decision from the medical panel. If both players miss the season, the Mystics would be down to 10 players on the roster.

“As with all of our players, we have and will support Elena throughout this process. The health and well-being of our players is of the utmost importance,” Mystics coach and general manager Mike Thibault said.

Charles and Delle Donne did not travel with the team to Bradenton, Florida, last week. The WNBA is using IMG Academy as a single site for its season which will begin on July 25.

There are a handful of players who are waiting to have their cases heard by the three-person panel. Phoenix forward Jessica Breland, who missed a year while at North Carolina to be treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was deemed high-risk and was medically excused, the Mercury said.

Philadelphia practices with Ben Simmons as power forward, Shake Milton at point guard

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It’s been rumored for a while, and now it seems to be happening.

Philadelphia has been practicing with Ben Simmons playing power forward, coach Brett Brown told the media on a conference call from Orlando Monday. Joel Embiid added that Shake Milton has been playing point guard, which would add shooting and make the Sixers starters a more dynamic and dangerous lineup. That also means Al Horford would be coming off the bench.

Embiid had nothing but praise for Milton, via Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadephia:

“He’s been amazing,” he said. “He’s been the starting point guard. I think he has a huge opportunity to help us accomplish what we believe we can. He’s been doing an amazing job, just running the team, and we’re going to need him to knock down shots, which he did before the league basically got shut down. He was on a roll. So we all need him to keep it going. But it’s been great.”

On paper, a lineup of Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Simmons, and Embiid should be a force — but it has played zero minutes together this season. A couple of weeks of practices and eight seeding games — ones treated more like an exhibition game than a regular-season game — may not be enough time to develop real chemistry.

Playing Simmons and Embiid as the frontline is the latest attempt to get their games to fit together. There remain doubters around the league the two can blend — unless Simmons can develop a reliable jump shot and three-point ball to space the floor — but the best chance may be to put three shooters around Simmons and Embiid. One of the three shooters needs to be a secondary shot creator. Maybe that can work, and for the rest of this season the Sixers can take notes on if this will work.

A healthy Philadelphia team — Simmons would have missed a lot of time heading into the playoffs with his back issue — is one of the dark horses in the East. If this team becomes as good on the court as it does on paper, if it can play like it’s a home game and not a road game (the 76ers were 10-24 on the road), they have a chance. This lineup may give them the best chance.

 

 

Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo to wear “Equality” on jersey

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While a couple of high profile stars — LeBron James and Anthony Davisare forgoing a social justice message on their jersey, Giannis Antetokounmpo has settled on one.

“Equality.”

That’s what the reigning MVP told reporters Monday, it’s the same message his brothers (Thanasis Antetokounmpo, also on the Bucks) will wear. Giannis would not get into why he chose “equality.”

Antetokounmpo, who grew up as a poor immigrant in Athens, is not going to complain about the bubble conditions. From Eric Woodyard of ESPN.

“I’m in a situation where I’m extremely blessed and I cannot complain. Obviously, it doesn’t matter where you are in life, there’s always something to complain, there’s always a problem and an issue,” Antetokounmpo said. “But I try to kind of not focus on that. So as I said, my apartment in Greece, when I was younger, with my four brothers, was way smaller than the suite that I have in the hotel, so I’m just trying to enjoy the moment.

“This is something special,” he continued. “Hopefully, this pandemic never happens again so we never are able to come back in the campus, but at the end of the day, this is part of history, so just being able to be here, participate in this, I’m just trying to be in the moment, trying to enjoy every moment, trying to enjoy basketball. I’m happy that we’re back playing basketball, something that I love doing, so there’s nothing really to complain about.”

If only every player had that mindset.