Three things we learned Sunday: The Lakers are playing fast, having fun, winning

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It’s still early in the NBA season, there’s a lot of small sample size theater going on, but we are starting to get a sense of who teams are and what they are about. That was true Sunday, here are three things we learned while you were being touched inappropriately by a ghost

1) The Lakers are playing fast, having fun — and winning. The Lakers love basketball.

It sounds simplistic, but that mantra is at the core of what Luke Walton has done to turn a young team into one of the must-watches of League Pass so far this season. The Lakers are unburdened by expectations, have been freed from the shackles of Byron Scott, there is no Kobe Bryant to soak up half the shots — and the result is entertaining and occasionally beautiful basketball. And they are winning. The Lakers are playing at the fastest pace in the NBA this season, averaging 110 points a game, and after a victory over Phoenix Sunday night they are over .500 at 4-3.

There have been transformations. Nick Young, Lou Williams, and Julius Randle are thinking pass — Young led the team with 24 points Sunday and has looked like a mature, complete player. A year ago, Randle would have gone right at Tyson Chandler in a little 1-on-1 they were having, instead at a crucial moment he kicked it out to Jordan Clarkson for a big three. Not that Randle isn’t going to the rack and finishing, too.

Walton also brought the Warriors switching all picks defensive mentality, and it’s working fairly well (the Lakers are middle of the pack defensively), particularly late in games. There’s a lot of Warriors actions in the Lakers offense now (more on that to come later today) — and that’s a good thing, it means ball and player movement, not isolation and stagnation. There are still steps the Lakers need to take — D’Angelo Russell is shooting 35.6 percent, the team as a whole is turning the ball over too much, and Brandon Ingram is a work in progress — but you can see the growth curve for this team. And you should see them; the Lakers have become fun to watch.

2) Harrison Barnes has been impressive despite Dallas’ record, leads team to first win. Harrison Barnes in the preseason had Mavericks’ fans asking “what did we get ourselves into?” With reason. But once the games have mattered he showed he has figured out how to be a No. 1 option and he has impressed — Barnes dropped a career-high 34 on the Bucks Sunday, the second time five games he put up 30 (something he did once his entire time as a Warrior). Sunday it included a driving layup with :13 on the clock to force overtime against the Bucks, then was a force in OT (with smaller players switched onto him) to get the Mavs the win.

Barnes is a work in progress — it still looks like he is thinking a lot out there, he’s not fluid and instinctive with his moves. However, he is fundamentally solid and is scoring almost an equal amount off the catch and off the bounce. He gets in a good triple-threat position with the ball and makes the smart decision. When he drives he explodes. And right now, he is killing it in isolation and from the midrange. Check out his shot chart for the season.

Barnes shotchart

Barnes isn’t playing in a way that makes you think “I need to vote for this guy to be an All-Star” but he is playing well. He just needs some help around him.

3) Utah looked much better on offense with Gordon Hayward back. Early on Sunday, Gordon Hayward looked like a guy who had been out injured, a guy trying to shake off the rust of missing much of camp and the start of the season with a broken finger. Because he was.

But with the game on the line late against New York, the Jazz rolled out a lineup of George Hill, Rodney Hood, Hayward, Joe Johnson, and Rudy Gobert (when Gobert fouled out Derrick Favors came in) and it was smooth. Just flat-out better than what the Knicks could muster. Hayward gives them another shot creator besides Hill, plus Hayward can space the floor from three and gives a good defensive effort. Hayward finished with 28 points on the game to lead the Jazz, and it was nice he got to ease back into the NBA by playing against the Knicks.

That Utah went 3-3 without Hayward is a very good sign for their playoff chances, I expect this team to be a top-five seed when we head to the playoffs, If they can just stay healthy.

Bonus Thing We Learned: We found out what happens when Kristaps Porzingis and Rudy Gobert run into each other in the paint. Damn. First this:

Then this.

gobertblock

LaMelo Ball among those participating in 2020 NBA Draft Combine

2020 NBA Draft Combine
Stacy Revere/Getty Images
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It may be virtual this year with “pro day” video being made, but some of the traditions of the NBA Draft Combine will be here in 2020.

Including the top players skipping it. Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, and Obi Toppin are among the big names sitting this one out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

One interesting note: LaMelo Ball is participating.

But that may be for the interview portion only, reports Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated.

The 2020 NBA Draft Combine will see players do team interviews via videoconference starting this week (and running through Oct. 16).  Players also can be part of an individual on-court program consisting of strength and agility testing, measurements (height, reach, plus vertical leap and more), shooting drills and a “Pro Day” video, and a medical exam, all conducted by league officials and the information (and video) given to teams. 

The 2020 NBA Draft is set for Nov. 18.

NBA Finals Schedule 2020: Dates, times, odds, where to watch

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It’s happening in October, not June, but the 2020 NBA Finals are finally here — and we have the schedule.

These Finals feature a team in the Lakers and a player in LeBron James who expects to be in the Finals — this is LeBron’s 10th trip to the Finals, only three other players had done that before him. The Lakers are making their 32nd trip to the Finals as a franchise and are going for their 17th title.

It also features a gritty Miami Heat team that nobody expected to be here, except themselves. Led by Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Goran Dragic, the Heat have thrived in the bubble in a way no other team in the East could match, plus Miami makes it rain threes.

The Lakers are fairly heavy favorites, -400, to win the series, while the Heat are +300 (Odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

As has nearly all the playoffs in the NBA’s restart bubble, the Finals will run every other day.

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

NBA FINALS

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat

Game 1: Sept. 30, 9 p.m. (ABC)
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

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

NBA playoff schedule 2020
AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
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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.

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

NBA FINALS

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Miami Heat

Game 1: Sept. 30, 9 p.m. (ABC)
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

Bam Adebayo sparks Miami fourth quarter run past Boston and into NBA Finals

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In the fourth quarter of a win-or-go-home game for them, the Boston Celtics cranked up their defensive ball pressure. Grant Williams was getting run and gave them more athleticism inside, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown were being aggressive on the ball, and Boston rose that pressure to a 96-90 lead. The Celtics looked like they would live to play another day.

Then Bam Adebayo took over.

He just started bringing the ball up and attacking downhill, just going to the rim.

“After we had the lead, Adebayo — and credit all of them — but Adebayo decided he’s just going to drive the ball, put us in a real bind with the shooters around him,” said Boston coach Brad Stevens. “And their physicality is something that I’m not sure we probably talked about enough. But just they’re strong, they’re physical, they’re tough, and him, in particular, dominated that fourth quarter. Even the plays where he didn’t score, his presence was so impactful. And it put us in a real bind with the ability to guard him.”

Combine that with rookie Tyler Herro not knowing he is supposed to wilt in big moments, and Andre Iguodala stepping up in big games as he is known to do, and the Heat went on a 24-6 run. Boston completely melted down on offense and started to try to make up their 7-10 point gap with one shot.

Miami was better in the clutch and with that earned a trip to the NBA Finals. The Heat won Game 6 125-113 to take the Eastern Conference Finals 4-2.

The NBA Finals, a high-powered matchup where LeBron James gets to face the team with whom he won his first title, begins Wednesday night.

Adebayo was the most frustrated of the Heat players after their Game 5 loss on Friday.

“I played like s***. Bottom line: I can’t. I’ll put that game on me. It’s not my teammates’ fault. It’s not my coaches’ fault. It’s me. I missed too many shots I should have made… I wasn’t being the defensive anchor I should’ve been.”

Adebayo’s teammates said that wasn’t true, but what mattered most on Sunday was Adebayo believed it and stepped up — 32 points on 11-of-15 shooting plus 14 rebounds.

“Bam’s one of the great competitors already in this association,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “He’s going to become one of the great winners in history just because he’s so competitive. He moves the needle in every single way.”

Most of this game between two of the better defensive teams in the bubble was all about the offense.

After missing a handful to open the game, the Celtics couldn’t seem to miss from three, at one point hitting 11-of-22 from deep. Marcus Smart was 4-of-8 from deep at that point, and when his shot is falling the Celtics are a threat. Jayson Tatum hit some too, but more importantly he was setting the table as a playmaker and that had Boston’s offense clicking. That and they had solved the Miami zone defense.

On the other side of the ball, Miami shot 56.1% as a team in the first half and Iguodala started 4-of-4 from three.

After three quarters it was 88-86 Miami, and it seemed like the side that found any defense first was going to win.

What Miami found was Bam Adebayo.

“They were just more aggressive,” Boston’s Marcus Smart said of the difference in the fourth. “They were getting whatever they wanted. Got to the free throw line, down the lane, open shots. That’s part of it. Unfortunately, we didn’t combat it. We didn’t respond the way we should have.”

For Boston, they took a step forward this season with the growth of Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker was a fantastic replacement for Kyrie Irving, and Smart was fantastic. However, the loss to the Heat showed they need more athleticism and depth inside, and they need to have Gordon Hayward healthy. While he returned from his sprained ankle and was on the court a lot in the series, he wasn’t moving and scoring the same way by Game 6. Against Miami, Boston needed vintage Hayward.

“This is just our first year together,” Walker said postgame. “This is going to be a fun group the next couple of years…

“I learned a lot just about the intensity of the playoffs. Every possession matters so much, things switch from game to game.”

The Celtics learned from those experiences.

The Heat are about to learn what the NBA Finals are like.