Associated Press

Three Things to Know: DeMarcus Cousins drops 41, gets his revenge on Kings

2 Comments

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) DeMarcus Cousins returns to Sacramento, drops 41,gets his revenge. DeMarcus Cousins may wonder why he was so loyal to Sacramento , but he was reminded exactly why Thursday night — Kings’ fans. When Cousins was introduced pregame he got an ovation so loud it drowned out the boos from some of the fans (those boos were louder as he started to score more through the game). He was loved in Sacramento. And most fans understand you can’t blame a guy who had six coaches in seven years — plus two owners and three GMs — for being frustrated about the direction of the team.

The problems with Cousins in Sacramento were a two-way street, he was a headache to management and coaches as well, but on Thursday night in his homecoming Cousins reminded them why they worked so hard to keep him — he is a force of nature. Cousins had 41 points on just 25 shots, plus pulled down 23 boards in the game, and 14 of those points were in the fourth quarter when the Pelicans came back to win 114-106. Cousins got his revenge.

The Kings were hot early, racing out to a 25-6 lead over the Anthony Davis-less Pelicans. This was a game where the Kings’ future was on display — De’Aaron Fox had 14 points and 5 assists off the bench (it’s time to start him in a three-guard lineup), Buddy Hield had 12 as did Willie Cauley-Stein, and Skal Labissiere added 11. The Kings spread the scoring around with seven guys in double figures, and the team put up 70 points in the first half.

However, young teams are inconsistent ones and that big Sacramento lead faded in the third quarter, as the Kings shot 32 percent for the quarter. Jrue Holiday’s play also picked up — the Pelican point guard had 11 of his 20 points in the quarter, plus he dished out 7 assists on the night. Jameer Nelson gave the Pelicans some solid minutes as well in reserve and had 19 points.

In the end, the team with the dominant player won (as often happens in basketball). Cousins has averaged 33 points and 14.2 rebounds a game this season, looking a little lighter and more mobile than in previous years. He reminded Kings fans what they were missing, while those same fans saw their young team show both promise and remind them there is a long way to go this season.

2) Best ending of the season: Blake Griffin drains three at buzzer to beat Portland. Sorry Trail Blazers fans because I know this one stings, but this was the most dramatic ending to a game we have seen this season.

Portland had taken a one-point lead on a sweet C.J. McCollum floater with 43 seconds left. The Clippers came down, then after a missed three and offensive board, they had a possession where DeAndre Jordan got the ball with room to drive the paint from the mid-post, but instead he kicked it out to an open Danilo Gallinari at the top of the arc who decided not to shoot and dished it to Austin Rivers on the left wing — and if you give Rivers a chance to shoot he takes it. Rivers drove, earned a blocking call in the paint, and got his shot blocked and a finger gruesomely dislocated in the process. But while the cameras focused on his pain, the referees reviewed the blocking call they had made against Damian Lillard on the play and reversed it — charging on Rivers.

Portland inbounded the ball and McCollum was quickly fouled, but he only made one of two free throws, making it a two-point game and opening the door for this to happen.

 

Game. Set. Match.

Griffin is shooting 43 percent from three this season, and he has been fantastic.

The Clippers are 4-0 on the young season with wins over Utah and Portland. It’s a long season and they have to stay healthy, but this is a pretty good team Doc Rivers is coaching in Los Angeles.

3) Giannis Antetokounmpo puts up numbers but Celtics walk away with win. This is how hot Giannis Antetokounmpo has been the first week of the season — Boston can say they (mostly Al Horford) did a good job holding him to 28 points and 10 rebounds. Antetokounmpo was 10-of-21 shooting, and he had 13 shots in the paint to nine outside of it (before this game 81 percent of his shots had come in the paint).

It was fun to see the Bucks return to the MECCA for one game, although this game probably reminded older Bucks fans of a lot of games in that arena — a loss. There was the championship year in that building back in 1971, but there were some rough years that followed as well.

While Kyrie Irving had 16 of his 24 points in the first half, then made some key plays down the stretch, the Celtics really won this game with a 10-0 run by their bench early in the fourth that gave them some cushion. Horford, in addition to a strong defensive night, led the Celtics with 27 points. The Celtics were the more aggressive team, they got to the free throw line eight more times than the Bucks, and that got them the 96-89 win. That’s three straight wins for Boston, if you’re tracking these things.

Damian Lillard on players keeping strict bubble: ‘My confidence ain’t great’

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA is creating a bubble for its players at Disney World. Anyone who enters the bubble must pass multiple coronavirus tests beforehand. Everyone inside the bubble will receive frequently coronavirus testing and be distanced from people outside the bubble.

So why does it matter that coronavirus cases are rising in Florida?

Because the bubble has vulnerabilities. And if the bubble is penetrated by people who come into contact with the surrounding community, their likelihood of having coronavirus affects the odds of them spreading coronavirus within the bubble.

Disney employees who enter and exit the NBA campus (and NBA commissioner Adam Silver who plans to do the same) are required to stay distanced from players, but could get too close or even spread coronavirus via surfaces. Players could suffer significant injuries that require them to seek medical attention outside the bubble.

And players could sneak out of and back into the bubble or sneak in someone.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard expressed serious doubt that all the protocols and rules will be strictly followed by players.

“My confidence ain’t great,” Lillard said with a laugh Wednesday. “My confidence ain’t great because you’re telling me you’re gonna have 22 teams full of players following all the rules? When we have 100 percent freedom, everybody don’t follow all the rules. I don’t have much confidence. But hopefully it’ll be handled to a point where we’re not putting everybody at risk or in a dangerous position.”

“I know there’re going to activities for us and all that stuff, but I mean, I’m gonna be chilling. I feel like there’s still a possibility for something to spread within that bubble, just with so many people doing so many different things that we’ve got to follow to be safe, even though we’re not exposed to the public. So for me, it’s going to be: What time is practice, what time can I get in the weight room, what time can I get some shots up, what’s the plan for game day. And then I’m gonna be in the room. I’m gonna have my PS3, my PS4, I’m gonna have my studio equipment, my mic, my laptop, I’m gonna have all my books. That’s it, man. I’m gonna be in the room, chilling.”

“It was just so many rules where everybody was like, ‘Man, are we even playing? Is this even worth it?'” Lillard said.

Why are they playing? Money. A lot of money.

The restrictions are cumbersome. Five-on-five basketball games are generally an unsafe activity amid this pandemic. To counteract that, the NBA must implement tight protocols that greatly minimize the risk of anyone playing with coronavirus.

Will players abide? Lillard knows NBA players well and has doubts, which is why he’s taking extra precautions by staying in his room so much. There are videos and rumors of players not socially distancing.

If caught leaving the bubble, players will face a 10-day quarantine. That’s a strong disincentive.

But the temptation to live freely is strong, too.

Though many voiced reservations, players signed up for this. Hopefully, they follow the rules designed to keep everyone in the bubble safe.

They have at least one doubter, though.

Doc Rivers: Lou Williams expected to join Clippers for restart

Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Lou Williams
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LOS ANGELES (AP) — L.A. Clippers coach Doc Rivers says Lou Williams is expected to join the team for the NBA’s restart in Florida.

Williams has described himself as “50-50” on whether he would finish out the pandemic-interrupted season because he didn’t want to distract from the ongoing push for social justice in the wake of George Floyd’s death while in police custody.

“Obviously, up until we get on the plane, anything can happen,” Rivers said during a video conference with media Wednesday. “But I do expect Lou to be with us. I would be very surprised if he’s not.”

Williams, last year’s Sixth Man of the Year, was averaging 18.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists in 60 games before the league shut down in March due to the coronavirus.

Rivers said he doesn’t think any of the Clippers are opting out from resuming the season. The team heads to Orlando, Florida, on July 8.

“But listen, it is their choice and we support that,” the coach said. “There are so many reasons for everybody to play but there are also very valid reasons for guys to opt out. I don’t think many will. I think they are all invested in what we are trying to do. But again you don’t hold it against anyone on any team. This is extraordinary times and we just have to support each other.”

Guard Landry Shamet echoed other players’ feelings about traveling to Florida at a time when COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise in certain states.

“It’s obviously a concern, but we’re in the best possible situation and scenario to combat that,” he said. “If there’s a scenario where you feel more comfortable it would be being in a bubble. That’s as controlled as any environment can be, so that’s one positive that I’ve been thinking about.”

Rivers added, “I’m hoping when we get to the bubble it becomes the safest place in America.”

LeBron James’ voting rights group converting arenas into polling places

LeBron James Orlando
Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

ATLANTA (AP) — If basketball icon LeBron James gets his way, NBA arenas and other sports venues around the country will be mega polling sites for the November general election.

James and his voting rights group, formed this spring with other black athletes and entertainers, are joining with other professional basketball leaders and Michigan’s top elections official to push for mega voting sites to accommodate in-person balloting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

More Than A Vote, the James organization dedicated to maximizing Black turnout in November, shared its plans with The Associated Press on Wednesday after the Detroit Pistons became the second NBA franchise to announce plans to use its arena for voting later this year. In Georgia, Fulton County elections officials this week approved the Atlanta Hawks’ proposal to use State Farm Arena as a polling site. Plans call for the arena to serve as a countywide early voting site ahead of Election Day.

The idea, which comes after Kentucky used large facilities in its June 23 primary, is to use large spaces that allow for in-person voting while still enforcing social distancing guidelines. It also underscores the attention on the mechanics of voting amid the pandemic, with the intensity already reflected in both President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden warning that state and local officials have the power to “corrupt” the election.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson called her “partnership” with the Pistons an “blueprint for other teams and leagues seeking to advance our common goal of protecting access to the vote for all.”

Lloyd Pierce, head coach of the Atlanta Hawks, said the arrangement in his city ensures “high turnout” in a safe environment. Benson, Pierce and David Fizdale, former New York Knicks head coach, will advise NBA franchises and arena management entities around the country on how to replicate the existing deals.

The Milwaukee Bucks also confirmed they are willing to use their home arena as a voting site in the most populous city in the key battleground of Wisconsin.

The coordinated push is a turnabout, of sorts, in the often-partisan jousting over voting procedures.

Some Democrats panned Kentucky elections officials for limiting in-person June primary voting in the state’s two most populous counties to Louisville’s Exposition Center and the University of Kentucky football stadium in Lexington. Voting rights advocates argued in federal court that the plan, part of culling voting sites statewide amid coronavirus concerns, would harm minority voters.

A federal judge rejected their claims, and voting proceeded without the melee that some advocates had forecast.

Now, Benson, a Democrat, is pushing the arena model not as an example of potential voter suppression, but a way to fight it. “One of our greatest challenges in protecting voters’ access to democracy this November is identifying accessible locations where citizens can safely vote in person,” she said.

Amid COVID, that could outweigh potential logistical difficulties of large sites. Lines for such venues can still be long — just as with normal polling locations — as was seen in Lexington at some points on primary day. Voters also could face traffic jams or public transit hiccups given the number of people involved. General elections also have considerably larger turnout than primaries.

Nonetheless, there’s a growing bipartisan push for large-venue voting. NFL executive Scott Pioli last week presented the National Association of Secretaries of State a plan for widespread use of professional and college sports facilities.

James’ group is officially nonpartisan. But the NBA star has been open about its emphasis on the Black community, where Trump faces intense opposition for his white identity politics. James has not endorsed Biden, but he endorsed Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016.

In Milwaukee, meanwhile, the Bucks owners, the Lasry family, are major Democratic Party donors. Bucks executive Alex Lasry helped lead the effort that landed the Democratic National Convention in the city.

Missouri man freed from prison with help from WNBA’s Moore

AP Photo
Leave a comment

A Missouri man was freed from prison Wednesday after a county prosecutor declined to retry his case, punctuating years of work by WNBA star Maya Moore and other supporters who argued he was falsely convicted of burglary and assault charges.

Moore was on hand when Jonathan Irons, 40, walked out of the Jefferson City Correctional Center. She clapped as Irons approached a group of people waiting for his release. She then dropped to her knees at one point before joining a group hug around Irons.

He had been serving a 50-year prison sentence stemming from the non-fatal shooting of a homeowner in the St. Louis area when Irons was 16. But a judge threw out his convictions in March, citing a series of problems with the case, including a fingerprint report that had not been turned over to Irons’ defense team, according to The New York Times.

The Missouri attorney general’s office unsuccessfully appealed the judge’s decision, and the lead prosecutor in St. Charles County decided against a retrial.

Moore and Irons became friends after meeting through prison ministry, according to the Times. The 31-year-old Moore, a Jefferson City, Missouri, native who starred at UConn before helping lead Minnesota to four WNBA titles, put her career on hold last season to help Irons.

Moore said in January she planned to sit out a second season and miss the Tokyo Olympics. After Irons’ convictions were thrown out in March, she told the AP her plans hadn’t changed.

“’My decision to take another year was bigger than this case,” she said at the time. “But obviously this case was in the forefront of my mind. I’m looking forward when this is done to finally getting some rest and time with my family.”