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Three Things to Know: Pistons haven’t lost with Blake Griffin

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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) Pistons haven’t lost with Blake Griffin, won four in a row after a victory over Trail Blazers. This is why Stan Van Gundy traded for Blake Griffin — to wake up and shake up his team to make a playoff push. That’s not to say it’s all been Griffin, he has just been his usual self (when healthy) since coming to Detroit — 20.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in his three games in a new uniform. His shooting efficiency is slightly down, his rebounding marginally better, but he’s moving the ball, and with him the Pistons are passing better, leading to cleaner looks. Also, the team is defending well with him.

The result: Detroit has won its three games with Griffin, the team has won four in a row, and after a comfortable 111-91 win over Portland on Monday Detroit has moved into a virtual tie with Philadelphia for the final playoff slot in the East. What’s more, the winning should continue for the Pistons through a soft part of the schedule (Brooklyn is next, followed Friday by a Clippers team that could look very different after the trade deadline, then Atlanta).

If you want to see what Griffin brings to this roster, this play sums it up: He grabs the board, brings the ball up himself, and sees Andre Drummond (the NBA Player of the Week in the East) running the floor and hits him with an alley-oop. Guys will run, will cut and move off the ball with purpose if they believe they will get rewarded.

Or, Griffin can just hit a shot that would give you an “H” in H-O-R-S-E (even if it didn’t count).

I still have serious long-term reservations about the Griffin trade for Detroit, how it boxes them in financially long term and what the ceiling is for this team with him, considering his health issues. But in the short term (this season and next) Van Gundy wanted to make the Pistons a playoff team. Griffin can do — and is doing — just that.

2) Robin Lopez absolutely snaps, takes out his frustrations on a helpless chair in the hallway. Bulls center Robin Lopez was having issues with the officiating almost from the opening tip it seemed Monday night against the Kings, and through the second quarter his anger — and his verbal abuse of the officials — was rising. He was pushing getting a technical. He was acting like one of the officials told him the new Star Wars movie sucked.

Then he snapped. And I mean “get the man a valium” snapped. Lopez was called for contact with Willie Cauley-Stein trying to deny a pass, and LOST IT.

Lopez earned his ejection, then took his frustrations out on an innocent chair in the hallway.

A fine is coming, that is pretty much the definition of “not leaving the court in a timely manner.”

3) Utah has won six in a row, injected itself back into the playoff race in West. A couple of weeks ago we thought Utah was out of the playoff chase in the West and would be sellers at the trade deadline. Part of that is still true, there is a lot of interest in Rodney Hood around the league and there is a real chance he is in a new uniform before Friday, and Joe Johnson is trying to orchestrate a trade out of Utah.

However, the Jazz are back in the playoff mix, thanks to an offense that has taken off. Utah has scored 115.7 points per 100 possessions during a six-game win streak that continued Monday with a win over New Orleans — the Jazz offense the last six games has been better than the Warriors offense on the season (113.4 per 100). Meanwhile, Rudy Gobert is back and the Jazz defense is giving up less than a point per possession during the streak.

The Jazz are currently three games out of the final playoff slot in the West still, but need to pass a Pelicans team stumbling without DeMarcus Cousins, and a Clipper team that doesn’t have Blake Griffin and could be without more stars by Friday after the trade deadline, they have a real chance. Fivethirtyeight.com now gives Utah a 74 percent chance of making the postseason (better than the Clippers or Pelicans, both at 53 percent). Cleaning The Glass projects the Pelicans and Jazz to both finish with 43 wins and take the final two playoff slots, with Portland and the Clippers at 42 and on the outside looking in. Obviously, there is a lot of season left to go, but a Jazz team torn apart by injuries all season long has kept it together, and now they have a real shot at the playoffs. Quin Snyder deserves a lot of credit for that, as does rookie Donovan Mitchell.

Clippers guard Landry Shamet tests positive for coronavirus

Landry Shamet coronavirus
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Clippers’ guard Landry Shamet just a few days ago talking to the media: “There’s no option with no risk at this point.”

Saturday we learned that Shamet has tested positive for the coronavirus. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news.

This comes a couple of days after a positive test for one member of the Clippers traveling party caused the team to shut down its training facility (that may have been Shamet, it may not have been, the Clippers are not saying).

Shamet has to go through a 14-day quarantine and two negative tests 24 hours apart before he can join his teammates in Orlando, which he still plans to do. If there are no setbacks, he will be in Orlando and cleared well before the Clippers take on the Lakers on opening night.

The second-year shooting guard is an important role player for the Clippers, scoring 9.7 points per game but shooting 39.2% from three — he is critical to their floor spacing in certain lineups. He is exactly the kind of player that will need to have a couple of big playoff games — when defenses collapse on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — if Los Angeles is going to be a threat to win it all. As they believe they are.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert ‘in a good place,’ trying to move forward

Rudy Gobert
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There were the tweets from strangers.

“I hate you.”

“You ruined the whole world.”

“You deserve it.”

And there was the scorn from inside his own locker room, the presumption that he infected a teammate with coronavirus, the suggestion that his recklessness somehow caused the entire sporting world to come to an absolute standstill.

Utah center Rudy Gobert is still standing tall, after all that and more.

Plenty of eyes will be on Gobert when the NBA season, the one that shut down March 11 when he became the first player in the league to be diagnosed with the coronavirus, takes a giant step toward returning by having teams gather at the Disney complex in Central Florida over the next few days. The Jazz will be a fascinating case study during this restart, particularly regarding whether or not Gobert and Donovan Mitchell — a fellow All-Star who was diagnosed with the virus shortly after the shutdown began and did not hide his anger with Gobert about it all — can coexist peacefully again.

“I’m happy now. I’m in a good place, you know,” Gobert told reporters Friday. “And I’m happy that I get the joy back from playing basketball with my team and the competitiveness is back. I’m ready to try to go out there and try to win the championship. That’s the goal. And to be honest, after everything we’ve been through as a team and as human beings, it would be a great comeback.”

Gobert answered questions for about 11 minutes. He talked about the relationship with Mitchell. (“It’s never going to be perfect,” he said, acknowledging strains that have been no secret.) He talked about the potential of signing a lucrative extension — he’s supermax-eligible — with the Jazz, which could happen before next season. (“I don’t plan on leaving right now,” he said.) He talked about his recovery from the virus, which is ongoing, at least in how his sense of smell hasn’t totally recovered. (“Smelling, I took that for granted too. It’s back now, it’s back at 80%, I’m not worried,” he said.)

He spoke softly, calmly, thoughtfully. And even though he is the two-time reigning NBA defensive player of the year, he didn’t swat any question away.

“Obviously, when you have the whole world judging you and threatening you or sending you a lot of negative energy and stuff like that, it’s something that I would say is not easy as a human being,” Gobert said. “But at the same time, people just judge you on the perception they have and the perception they get. Sometimes it can be one picture, one video, one interview, one action.”

In this case, that’s pretty much exactly what happened.

A picture, a video, an interview, an action. It was the start of the downfall.

It was the morning of March 9: Before leaving a media session at shoot-around in Salt Lake City on Monday in advance of a game against Detroit, Gobert touched all the tape recorders that were placed before him on a table, devices that reporters who cover the Jazz were using. He meant it as a joke. When he tested positive two days later, it was no laughing matter.

The Jazz were in Oklahoma City, just moments away from starting a game against the Thunder, when word came that Gobert tested positive. The game was called off. The season was suspended that same night.

Just like that, Gobert was a center of negative attention.

“First of all, you make sure he’s OK,” said Orlando guard Evan Fournier, a fellow French national-team player, who reached out often to check on Gobert. “You know, you call him and once we’re on the phone or just talking, text, whatever, you just ask him a few questions. How is he feeling, blah, blah, blah. And then once he starts to open up and say things about how he sees the whole situation, then you just try to give your best judgment to him. And you know, that’s what I did.”

Gobert immediately started trying to show remorse. He donated $200,000 to a fund established to help those who work part-time at Jazz games, people who lost income because contests were canceled. More money — about $310,000 — went to families affected by the pandemic in Utah and Oklahoma City, plus in his native France. He taped a public-service announcement for the league.

“I won’t be able to control everyone’s perception of me, but I can control my actions,” Gobert said. “I can control, you know, the things I do for the people around me, for the community, the things I do for my teammates on the court, off the court. All that stuff, I can control and that’s what really matters to me.”

For his part, Mitchell said the relationship with Gobert has improved.

“Right now, we’re good,” Mitchell said Thursday. “We’re going out there ready to hoop.”

The Jazz have secured a playoff berth. They’ll be without the injured Bojan Bogdanovic for the remainder of the season, yet still have enough depth to be considered a contender in the Western Conference.

And Gobert expects he and Mitchell, on the court anyway, will be fine.

“As long as we respect one another and we both share the same goals and we both do what’s best for the team, that’s what matters,” Gobert said. “And, you know, I think over the last few years that’s what we’ve been doing and that’s what we plan on continuing doing.”

Celtics’ Gordon Hayward may leave bubble in September for birth of child

Celtics' Gordon Hayward
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The Celtics’ Gordon Hayward has been at his wife’s side for the birth of their three children, he’s not going to miss the fourth — even if that means leaving the bubble.

Hayward’s wife Robyn is due with their fourth child in September — very possibly while the team is still playing — and he said in a conference call with reporters that he will leave the bubble to be with her. Via Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

“There’ll be a time if and when we’re down there and she’s going to have the baby, I’m for sure going to be with her,” Hayward said of his wife, Robyn. “We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there…

“It’s a pretty easy decision for me on that,” Hayward said. “I’ve been at the birth of every one of my children, and I think there are more important things in life. So we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

“I know the NBA has a protocol for that type of thing, and hopefully I can do the quarantining and testing the appropriate amount of time and then be back with the boys.”

That protocol says that if Hayward notifies the team and league, is gone fewer than seven days, gets tested and is negative every day he is outside the bubble, then upon his return he will have a four-day quarantine (so long as he continues to have negative tests). This applies to all players who might need to leave the Walt Disney World campus for a family emergency or situation (Utah point guard Mike Conley‘s wife is due with their child in late August, for example).

If Hayward is gone longer or isn’t tested every day outside the bubble — or, if a player leaves the bubble without notifying teams — he has a 10-day quarantine upon his return.

The second round of the playoffs are set to begin Aug. 30 and will run as long as Sept. 13. The Eastern Conference Finals — which the Celtics have a good chance of making, but likely would need to beat out a strong Toronto squad — start Sept. 15 and run through the end of the month.

Hayward will be missed, and it’s not just his 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, or 4.1 assists per game, or the fact he shot 39.2% from three and is an important part of the Celtics’ floor spacing. It’s also that Brad Stevens uses Hayward in versatile lineups — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Hayward make a very switchable foursome — that can both defend and difficult for opponents to stop. Boston loses some of that versatility without him, Semi Ojeleye is not going to be able to give the Celtics the same quality minutes.

 

NBA releases scrimmage schedule for restart, games tip-off July 22

NBA scrimmage schedule
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We are 18 days away from NBA basketball.

Well, NBA scrimmages at least. On the Fourth of July, the NBA released the schedule of scrimmage games for teams, which begin July 22 and run for six days, leading up to the start of the season July 30.

Here is the full schedule, with each team having three scrimmage games, all against teams from the other conference or unlikely playoff matchups.

The details on the broadcasts of the NBA scrimmage schedule of games have not been released, but it’s safe to expect they will be available on the team’s regional networks at the least (with maybe a few games picked up nationally).

Teams arrive at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando starting next week. After players and team staff go through a 24-48 quarantine period (with two negative tests 24 hours apart), they will begin full team practices in the run-up to these scrimmages, and eventually the eight “seeding” games, which count as regular-season games.

Those seeding games start July 30 with a TNT double-header of Utah vs. New Orleans followed by the battle of Los Angeles, the Lakers vs. the Clippers (the top two seeds in the West heading into these games).