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Milwaukee Bucks take next step forward, open new practice facility

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MILWAUKEE (AP) Recruiting and retaining players in the NBA means more than just offering top-dollar contracts.

Money, of course, helps. But a shiny new practice facility, complete with a state-of-the-art weight room and even its own barber shop, can help build a case, too.

Consider the Milwaukee Bucks’ new downtown training center another step forward for one of the NBA’s up-and-coming teams.

“This is amazing,” general manager Jon Horst said. “This is going to change the way we do things.”

The Bucks held a grand opening ceremony on Thursday for the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Science Center, which is across the street from the construction site of the team’s new area scheduled to be ready for the 2018-19 season.

This upcoming season will be the last for the team at the Bradley Center, which is one block south of the new arena site. But when the Bucks return for practice in a couple months, they’ll report downtown instead of their old training facility in the Milwaukee suburb of St. Francis.

That facility was located on grounds owned by the Catholic Church. It was in a quiet area about a 15-minute drive from the arena with one practice court and increasingly cramped quarters, especially after a new ownership group bought the Bucks from former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl in 2014.

The spacious practice facility has two practice courts; a kitchen area overseen by the team’s personal chef and dietitian; and a cardio deck overlooking the strength training room.

Even a new conference room that will serve as a “war room” on NBA draft nights makes people smile. The conference room at the old training center only seated eight, so draft nights would be crowded.

“If you can’t get excited to come in here every single day, something’s really wrong with you,” Dave Dean, vice president of basketball operations, said in a bright work space where scouts and analytics experts will work outside general manager Jon Horst’s office.

Horst took the GM job in June after John Hammond moved to Orlando to become the Magic’s general manager. But Horst, who joined the Bucks in 2008, as the director of basketball operations, worked for years out of the old practice facility.

The new center will be a hub for new athletic performance research to be conducted by the Bucks and MCW researchers, the team said. Froedtert built a new health center on the same block that will be open to the public. The training center and arena have been focal points for other new development in downtown Milwaukee.

“As we stand here today, I can’t help but think that this land had been empty for a decade. … Thank you for the vision,” Alderwoman Milele Coggs said at the ceremony Thursday.

In the past, Milwaukee hasn’t been the most attractive free agent destination, especially since the team has struggled to win consistently, let alone play .500 basketball. Wisconsin winters can also be tough.

But the Bucks seem to have turned things around under coach Jason Kidd, having gone to the playoffs two of the last three seasons. The Bucks’ 42-win season last year was the franchise’s first above .500 since 2009-10.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has turned into one of league’s top players, while Malcolm Brogdon won the Rookie of the Year Award this year.

“Money always matters with recruiting with professional athletes, as does how successful you are or going to be matters,” Horst said. “Facilities (are) right there on that list. Facilities absolutely matters in professional sports.”

Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

Russell Westbrook suffers strained quadriceps, out Friday, could miss playoff games

Russell Westbrook injury
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The Houston Rockets are going to be a trendy pick to make a deep in the West playoffs, but that will be hard to envision if Russell Westbrook misses time.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey announced that an MRI revealed Westbrook has a strained quadriceps muscle in his right leg. He is not playing today (Wednesday) against the Pacers and will be out Friday against the 76ers as well. He will be re-evaluated before the playoff tip-off next week, but his status for those games is unclear.

Westbrook has been just a little off at the restart. He averaged 27.2 points per game during the regular season, but that has been down to 24.3 in the Orlando restart. His 53.6 true shooting percentage for the season (near the league average) fell to 50% in the bubble.

The Rockets have been a strong 4-2 in the bubble with their small-ball system and have held on to the four seed, but they haven’t completely found a rhythm yet (as we saw pre-shutdown. In a likely first-round matchup with Oklahoma City, Houston would need Westbrook and his explosive athleticism.

Without Westbrook expect more of Eric Gordon, who just returned to the rotation Wednesday from injury, plus Austin Rivers, Ben McLemore, even maybe Jeff Green — with a switchable roster Mike D’Antoni has a lot of options to soak up those minutes.

He just doesn’t have anyone as good.

Celtics sign coach Brad Stevens to contract extension

Celtics coach Brad Stevens
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The Celtics shocked by hiring Brad Stevens from Butler in 2013. He was a mid-major college coach, and even big-time college coaches rarely translated to the NBA. In fact, Stevens was viewed as such a college coach, rumors of him returning to that level persisted for years.

But Stevens has turned into a quintessential NBA coach. Despite taking over amid a rebuild, Stevens has won 56% of his games with Boston. It’s difficult to see him anywhere else.

Especially now.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics have signed head coach Brad Stevens to a contract extension, the team announced today.

Stevens, who previously signed a contract extension in 2016, is one of the NBA’s top coaches. He implements crisp schemes on both ends of the floor and communicates roles clearly to his players. At just 43, he could rival some of the longest coaching tenures in NBA history.

There are still questions about Stevens’ ability to coach stars. They might become more pronounced as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown ascend.

But that’s a first-world NBA problem – having a coach who raises his team’s level and premier talent young players who could lift it even higher.

Another week, still zero players test positive at NBA restart

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It’s starting to sound routine, but it shouldn’t — that the NBA is pulling off an impressive feat keeping COVID-19 outside the bubble (just watch other sports try to come back).

The league announced that 342 players were tested for COVID-19 on the NBA campus in the past week and there were zero confirmed positive tests. The league has had no positive tests inside the NBA bubble since it started.

It’s a testament to the tone Commissioner Adam Silver set (working with Chris Paul and the players’ union) setting a tone of patience and — to use a coaching cliche — not skipping steps.

The NBA began testing players in their home markets before they arrived in Orlando (that’s where a number of players tested positive, and were quarantined/treated in those markets). Once teams arrived in Orlando, players were quarantined and tested again.

The idea was simple — to keep the virus outside of the bubble — but the execution was not. Nor was making sure there was buy-in from the players (and, for the most part, there has been).

At least so far. There are about two months of games remaining through the end of the finals, and when family members arrive next month there will be new ways the virus could penetrate the bubble.

It isn’t time for an NBA victory lap yet, but so far so good.

Nate McMillan agrees to contract extension as Pacers coach

Nate McMillan extension
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The rumor that Nate McMillan was on the hot seat in Indiana? Turns out, about as accurate as the rumor Nicholas Cage is a time traveler.

McMillan and the Pacers have agreed to a contract extension, the team announced Wednesday (it was first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN). McMillan had one year remaining on his current contract. There are no details about the length or compensation. But McMillan isn’t going anywhere.

“What Nate has done in four seasons with our franchise merits this extension,” said President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard. “Between injuries and changes in personnel, he and his coaching staff have adapted and produced positive results. He also represents the franchise, the city and our state in a first-class manner.”

This is the right move by the Pacers, McMillan has been one of the better coaches in the NBA the past couple of seasons (he was fourth in Coach of the Year voting a season ago and will get votes again this season). He has gotten the Pacers to exceed their on-paper talent level a few seasons in a row. Talks to extend McMillan were likely in the works already, but the push to get a longer contract announced now — while the Pacers are still playing at the NBA restart in Orlando — likely was tied to that rumor going public.

The Pacers are the fifth seed in the East and will face the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs. That Indiana got there without a healthy Victor Oladipo — thanks to strong play from Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis for most of the season, then from T.J. Warren at the NBA restart — is a testament to McMillan’s coaching.

McMillan’s style isn’t flashy or modern — the Pacers are bottom eight in both three-pointers attempted and pace this season — but it works. The Pacers offense has been pretty average this season overall (18th in the league), which is not bad considering the team was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level). The Pacers also have found and developed good young players.

All of that ties back to coaching, which is why McMillan earned this extension.