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Three things we learned Monday: Portland’s defense against the Clipper offense is combustable

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Here’s what you would have picked up watching a night around the NBA rather than focusing on Tom Brady doing Tom Brady things…

1) Portland drops fourth in a row, this time to Clippers, due to poor defense, blown chances.
Portland had its chances Monday night. This loss is going to eat at them. But once again, poor defense that is at the core of their troubles, and costly mistakes with the game in the balance late, earned the Blazers a fourth consecutive loss, 121-120 to the Clippers. Which stings. The Blazers came into this season high off making the second round of the playoffs last year and spending a lot of money this past summer, but the team clearly has taken a step back (and at 12-14 are only a playoff team in the West because the Kings/Lakers/Nuggets/Pelicans are worse).

Of course, the problems start with Portland having the league’s worst defense, surrendering 109.9 points per 100 possessions. Their guards are undersized and not strong defenders, their healthy bigs aren’t very mobile, and combined that gets a team in trouble in today’s NBA. Monday night in Los Angeles — against an efficient Clippers’ offense — they surrendered 119.4 per 100. Portland has struggled to defend the pick-and-roll all season, which is bad news against the “point god” Chris Paul, and it explains why 46 percent of the Clipper possessions ended up with a shot directly off that play (stat via Synergy Sports). The thing is, this was one of Portland’s better defensive efforts, the hustle was there, they just did it against an elite offense that is going to hit a lot of shots even if if they were contested (L.A. shot 43.3 percent on contested shots, 53 percent on uncontested, according to NBA.com). CP3 ended up with 21 points and 14 assists in the game as he found room to work, and the Portland guards are not going to slow him. Also, Blake Griffin had 26.

At the end of the game, Portland still had its chances but made costly mental errors. That starts with coach Terry Stotts, who was angry at a foul call on C.J. McCollum on a J.J. Redick three, and earned himself a technical for it — Portland was up 2 at the time and there was 4:14 left, but with the technical and then three free throws it was a four-point play. Portland was down two. It was a turning point — and obviously that point mattered in a one-point loss.

Another point that mattered: Portland was down one with 7.9 seconds to go, when McCollum fouled Redick before the ball was inbounded — meaning the Clippers got a free throw and retained possession of the ball. Redick hit the free throw, then when the ball was inbounded McCollum rightly fouled Redick again, and he again hit the free throws, making it a four-point game. Damian Lillard would hit a three at the other end, but that one point was the difference.

Portland went 1-4 on this now-completed road trip. They had this painful late loss, another close loss to Memphis, they blew a 20-point lead to Indiana, and fell apart in the third quarter in Milwaukee. It’s a tough trip, but it speaks to where this team is at right now. It’s a lot of things, such as the defense, or Evan Turner and Mason Plumlee needing to be better. But what this trip shows more than anything is how far the Blazers have to go before April to not only make sure they are a playoff team, but to be any kind of threat once they get there.

2) Raptors get win thanks to secret weapon lineup. Toronto got out early on Milwaukee Monday night and eventually cruised to a 122-100 win. Toronto’s starting lineup — DeMarre Carroll, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Siakam Pascal, and Jonas Valanciunas — played a strong 14 minutes, shot 59.1 percent when on the court together, and were +6 as a unit.

But that’s not the lineup doing the most damage for the Raptors this season, nor in this game. Lowry plus the bench players of Cory Joseph, Lucas Nogueira, Patrick Patterson, and Terrence Ross were +22 in 13 minutes, shooting 65 percent when on the court together. That group dominated the Bucks — and that’s not a fluke. As noted by NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, the Raptors’ Lowry-plus-the-bench lineup is outscoring opponents by 32.2 points per 100 possessions this season — the best five-man lineup rating in the league (of any that has played at least 100 minutes). Yes, better than the Warriors’ death lineup. Or the Clippers’ starters. Or the Cavaliers’ starters. Or any other power lineup you can think of. If you want to know why the Raptors are 17-7 and a clear second best team in the East, that five-man unit has a lot to do with it — and coach Dwane Casey is leaning on it more and more.

3) James Harden was amazing. Again. Houston wins. Again. The Rockets are the hottest team in the NBA, having won seven in a row, and there is no secret weapon lineup here — it’s all about James Harden. He is a perfect mesh in the Mike D’Antoni offense. Harden had 36 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds in the Houston win over Brooklyn Monday, 122-118.

Just watch the man go to work.

More details leak on NBA return format in Orlando, here’s a timeline breakdown

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The NBA is back.

Or will be. Soonish. Thursday the NBA owners approved a restart plan featuring 22 teams, with training camps opening in late June and games starting July 31.

What exactly will all that look like? What are the timelines, and how many games a day? Here’s a breakdown of what we know, with the latest details on format, plus some of the things we don’t yet know.

• June 15: International players who returned home called back to team market

• June 21: All players report to their team markets for workouts.

• June 22: Coronavirus testing of players and staff starts. Once teams report to the Walt Disney World facility the league wants to have daily testing. What we don’t yet know is what form of the test the league will use. While many coronavirus tests are very accurate, some studies suggest a person has to have the disease for a few days before it shows up on a test, and there are false negatives. Which is why the league wants daily testing.

• June 30: Training camps begin at team practice facilities.

• July 7: Teams travel to Orlando, continue their team training camps at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex there. The 22 teams invited are the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards from the Eastern Conference; and the Los Angeles Lakers, L.A. Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns from the Western Conference. It’s the 16 teams in playoff position when play was suspended, plus the six teams within six games of the postseason.

We do not yet know many of the health and safety protocols players will go through both on arrival at the Walt Disney World resort and facilities, save for the fact the league is doing daily testing. We do know players can golf and eat at outdoor restaurants, so long as they follow social distancing guidelines.

• July 31: NBA “seeding games” begin (the league is not calling these regular-season games). Teams will play eight games stretched over 16 days, with 5-6 games a day (played in the style of Summer League, with games starting as early as noon and extending into the evening, alternating between courts). There will be a four-hour gap on each court between games to allow time for sanitization, and then full warmups by teams.

• After the regular season, if the ninth-seeded team is within four games of the eighth-seeded team, they will have a two-game play-in matchup for the final playoff spot. The nine seed has to beat the eight seed in both games to advance (the eight seed team just needs to win one of the two).

• A full, traditional NBA playoffs follows with seven-game series in each round. Games will be played every other day (no back-to-backs in the playoffs). This will not see the long breaks often associated with the first round of the NBA playoffs (and, obviously, no need for travel days).

• October 12: The latest date for the seventh game of the NBA Finals.

• October 15: The 2020 NBA Draft takes place.

• October 18: NBA free agency opens

• November 10: Training camps open.

• December 1: The 2020-21 NBA season tips off.

Those last four dates — everything in the offseason — could be pushed back, with the NBA possibly starting as late as Christmas. Players were reportedly caught off guard by the fast turnaround. The league and players still have a lot of financial negotiations to go through after the coronavirus fallout, and the start dates likely will be part of that.

There are still a lot of health and safety questions to be answered, but Adam Silver has the owners and players on board to try and make this work.

 

NBA G League cancels remainder of season

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The NBA G League shut down play in mid-March, at the same time the NBA did after the positive coronavirus test of Rudy Gobert. However, without a big television contract or much gate revenue, there wasn’t the motivation to restart the G League season, as the NBA is doing.

Thursday the G League made the expected official, canceling the remainder of its season. It will finish without crowning a champion.

“While canceling the remainder of our season weighs heavily on us, we recognize that it is the most appropriate action to take for our league,” G League President Shareef Abdur-Rahim said in a statement. “I extend my sincere gratitude to NBA G League players and coaches for giving their all to their teams and fans this season.  And to our fans, I thank you and look forward to resuming play for the 2020-21 season.”

The Wisconsin Herd (33-10) and Salt Lake City Stars (30-12) finished the season with the best records.

The G League did take care of its players, which was the right thing to do.

With the NBA starting next season in December, the G-League will follow that schedule, with games through the winter and spring. There is a real possibility of expanded NBA rosters next season due to coronavirus fears, which will impact G League rosters as well, but there are a lot of details still to be determined.

Goodbye NBA regular season, hello NBA ‘seeding games’

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo
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The NBA regular season is over.

The league’s statement on its plan to resume the season made that abundantly clear.

The 22 continuing teams will play exhibitions, eight “seeding games” (not regular-season games) and maybe play-in games.

NBA release:

Each returning team would play eight seeding games, as selected from its remaining regular-season matchups.  At the conclusion of the seeding games, the seven teams in each conference with the best combined records across regular-season games and seeding games would qualify for the playoffs.

The 14 NBA Lottery teams would be the eight teams that do not participate in the restart and the six teams that participate in the restart but do not qualify for the playoffs.  These teams would be seeded in the lottery and assigned odds based on their records through games of March 11.  The 16 playoff teams would draft in inverse order of their combined records across regular-season games and seeding games.

Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press:

So, the lottery odds are set for the Warriors, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, Hawks, Pistons, Knicks, Bulls and Hornets. The Wizards can’t tank their way past Charlotte and Chicago.

That’s a good setup, which raises a question: Why doesn’t the NBA freeze records for the lottery with a month left in normal seasons? By not doing so, the league creates conditions for an annual tanking wasteland.

Calling these “seeding games” also positions the league to hold award voting soon. The NBA’s major awards – Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man of the Year, All-NBA, All-Defense, All-Rookie, Coach of the Year – are regular-season awards. If the regular season is over, those can be picked now. That could be a good way to fill time and attract attention before play resumes.

This is probably mostly semantics.* The term “seeding games” allows the NBA to differentiate these games for the lottery and awards.

*It could also allow the league to cancel more regular-season games and expand force majeure. But owners would still have to negotiate with players on how to pay them for these new “seeding games.” So, that’s probably a wash.

The term also makes enough sense. The 22 continuing teams are playing for seeding.

But what happens if two teams clinch certain seeds before their scheduled seeding game? Would that game still be played?

I’m confident the answer would be yes, even if “seeding game” would no longer be accurate.

“Tune-up games to generate more revenue” just isn’t as catchy.

Report: NBA sets dates for draft (Oct. 15), free agency (Oct. 18), next season (Dec. 1)

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NBA owners have decided to finish the season by holding games between July 31 and Oct. 12.

Now, the surrounding key NBA dates for training camps, free agency, NBA draft and the start of next season are filling in.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The NBA’s reported tentative plan to open next season on Christmas? It was apparently pretty tentative.

A Dec. 1 start to next season would mean an incredibly short break for teams that advance deep in the playoffs. But the NBA is already spending a lot of time not playing games and making money. There’s an urgency to getting revenue flowing.

There will also be a massive disparity in time off between the eight done teams and continuing teams for the key NBA Dates. Who knows how that will affect next season? This is an unprecedented situation.

Which is a good reminder: Coronavirus can disrupt the best-laid plans.