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Three Things to Know: Kobe wins an Oscar, Giannis Antetokounmpo just wins

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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) Kobe Bryant wins an Oscar for “Dear Basketball” animated short.
Kobe Bryant may be the tallest Oscar winner ever. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t keep that stat, but the tallest best actor ever is John Wayne/Gary Cooper/Jimmy Stewart at 6’3,” and Kobe has three inches on any of them. Pretty sure Shaq didn’t win an Oscar for “Kazaam.” Maybe some “Best Live Action Documentary” producer was once taller, but it seems unlikely.

Kobe’s retirement announcement was turned into a well-done animated short, part of the transition for Kobe from basketball player to “storyteller.” He’s produced two stories — both good, and both about himself. First was the “Muse” documentary, and then the animated short “Dear Basketball” with Disney animation legend Glen Keane and a score from another legend, composer John Williams. It works, check it out.

It’s a notable juxtaposition that Kobe — a man who had a high-profile rape trial — is celebrated in an Oscars where the #metoo movement and changes in Hollywood were also celebrated. That incident is part of Kobe’s legacy. While Bryant himself seems to have matured in his views since that time — his apology letter to the victim after the trial/settlement was surprisingly forthright — the fact his legal team ran a blame-the-victim, scorched earth policy in this case (which was eventually dismissed because she stopped cooperating with prosecutors) was a setback for rape victims everywhere that cannot be ignored.

We’ll see what stories Kobe goes on to tell that aren’t about him ( for example, LeBron James’ production company has produced “The Wall” for NBC, “Do or Dare” for Facebook Watch, some other stuff like a brilliant Long Beach Poly High documentary, and a couple of misses like “The LeBrons” with more stuff including Space Jam 2 on the way). But Kobe, whatever he does in Los Angeles, just finds ways to win.

2) Key playoff chase games in East: Bucks come from behind to beat 76ers, Pacers knock off Wizards. In the East, the playoff teams seem pretty much set — the ninth-seed Pistons are four games behind Miami, ground Detroit is not likely to make up having lost five-of-six (Charlotte showed some hope with a five-game win streak but then hit a tough part of the schedule, have lost three in a row, and are 5.5 games out of the playoffs).

What is not set in the East is the playoff seedings — 3.5 games separate Cleveland in third and the Heat in eighth. It’s a matter of how tough the path through the postseason will be for teams, and what matters most in these seedings is games between playoff teams, and we had two of them Sunday.

The Sixers were getting brilliant play from Joel Embiid (19 points, 8 rebounds), Dario Saric (25 points), and Ben Simmons (15 assists), but they didn’t play well as a unit on offense. Defensively, they joined the long list of teams that had no answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 35 (with nine rebounds and seven assists ) and led a 21-0 third-quarter run that made it a game and helped get the Bucks a key 118-110 win. The win moves Milwaukee (the current seventh seed) within half a game of the Sixers in the standings.

The other key game saw a potential first-round matchup where Indiana held off a late charge from Washington to get the 98-95 win — one that vaulted the Pacers to the four seed and has them just half a game back of the Cavaliers for third. Washington is currently the five seed. Indiana had staked out a big lead behind 33 points from Victor Oladipo, but Washington raced back and at the end a clearly gassed Bradley Beal and three good looks to either take the lead or tie the game at points, and just missed them all.

3) Tankapaloza game updates: Hawks beat Suns while Kings knock-off Knicks. If we’re going to talk playoff races, the most interesting and most contested may be the one to the bottom — three games separate the bottom eight teams in the league as they jockey for the best draft lottery odds. And that’s not counting the Knicks, who are five-games from the worst record but in a Kristaps Porzingis-less free fall. (That is not to say the players/coaches are actively trying to lose games, but these teams are playing youth, using odd lineup choices, and doing what they can to facilitate better lottery odds.)

Like the playoff chase, the games that matter most are the ones between tanking teams — because someone has to win — and we had two of those: The Hawks beat the Suns in just an ugly game of basketball, and the Kings knocked off the Knicks at home.

Here’s what you need to know about the Suns/Hawks game: there were 18 combined turnovers in the first 19 minutes. That sums up the quality of the game. There was also a scuffle, shoving, and ejections late, then a Taurean Prince game-winning three to give the Hawks a 113-112 win.

As for the Kings, their young players got a win on a Skal Labissiere three with less than two seconds to go (which Knicks fans saw as a win for their lottery odds hopes).

Damian Lillard opposes idea of later NBA season start running into summer

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At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference a few weeks back (although it feels like a lifetime ago), Atlanta  CEO Steve Koonin suggested the NBA should permanently shift its schedule to a mid-December start with the Finals running into August. The idea was to stop going head-to-head with the NFL and college football at the start of the season. Then the pushed back playoffs forced by the coronavirus have made that discussion more relevant. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said everything is on the table.

Damian Lillard is not a fan of the idea.

He likes the schedule just the way it is, something he said during a video conference with the media on Tuesday, hat tip to Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Portland.

“I just don’t see it. I mean, the season starts when it starts now, then February all-star weekend, getting toward the end of the season in April and then getting into the playoffs. You get that early June Finals and then you get to go off into your summer…

“You get to enjoy real-time summer,” Lillard said. “Our break is into the summer and then you get to come back as summer is leaving. I think that’s been perfect…

“It’s been perfect for us,” Lillard said. “So, for that to change and for things to be pushed back, I’m definitely not a fan of that and I don’t see many guys being a fan of that.”

Lillard is not alone in thinking this way, but Silver is more open to change than most sports commissioners. That said, changes that break with long-standing traditions are hard to make a reality.

There would be a lot of questions around a schedule change. Would the ratings still be as high for a Finals series in the heart of the summer? The NBA season no longer would sync with the NCAA or international leagues’ schedules, leading to questions about the draft and timing for players who want to test the waters. There would need to be reworked television contracts, both regionally and nationally. It could make scheduling a challenge at arenas used to having more concerts and other events in the summer.

Plus, all of this would need to be negotiated with the players union — and Lillard speaks for a lot of players on this issue.

If the NBA could somehow convince players that starting later meant more money in their pocket, those union negotiations would take on a different tone. But would the move increase revenue? That’s not an easy sell.

With this NBA season likely running late, the start of next season could be pushed back, and this theory could get a little bit of a test. Or, the next season could be shortened a little to get the league back on its regular schedule.

Which would make Lillard happy.

Report: NBA deprioritizing playing regular-season games for local TV

Steve Kerr and LeBron James before NBA game
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The NBA is financially incentivized to play more regular-season games to satisfy local-TV contracts.

How does that square with resuming play – currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic – with a play-in tournament and playoffs?

It doesn’t.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to one source, getting some teams to a magical number of 70 regular-season games had been a goal, but in the last week has taken on less of a priority.

This stoppage is going to cost the NBA a lot of money. There’s no way around that. Not every source of revenue can be preserved. It’s about finding the optimal setup.

Importantly, canceling games could allow the NBA to reduce player salaries through force majeure. Of course, the union would consider that action when negotiating how to proceed.

LeBron James advocated for playing some regular-season games before the playoffs so everyone could get back into shape. But Steve Kerr called it very unlikely the Warriors would play another regular-season game. Perhaps, playoff-bound teams like the Lakers will play tune-up regular-season games while Golden State – the only team officially eliminated from the playoff race before the hiatus – doesn’t. It’d be a little odd to have such different formats, though. (Then again, these are odd times).

Considering this report, we ought to give more credence to the idea that Kerr knows something about the NBA’s plan and that the regular season is finished.

Lakers update that all players ‘currently symptom-free of COVID-19’

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Nearly two weeks ago, the Lakers announced that two of their players tested positive for the coronavirus. “Both players are currently asymptomatic, in quarantine and under the care of the team’s physician… All players and members of the Lakers staff are being asked to continue to observe self-quarantine,” the Lakers said at that time.

On Tuesday, the team provided an update saying nobody on the team is showing any symptoms after a couple of weeks of quarantine.

“All Lakers players are currently symptom-free of COVID-19. The team will continue to follow the health and safety guidelines set by government officials, the Lakers and the NBA,” the statement said.

The Lakers’ players who tested positive were never publicly identified (in fitting with HIPAA regulations).

A total of 10 NBA players — plus five members of staff associated with teams — have tested positive for the virus that has upended life in the United States. None reportedly have had to be hospitalized. Players such as Marcus Smart and others have recovered and free from the virus.

The NBA remains suspended, with the league hoping to jump-start the playoffs in June, possibly with all the teams in one location.

Report: NBA won’t hold draft until after season

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The NBA draft is scheduled for June 25. Most expect that date to change as the coronavirus pandemic causes postponements around the world.

Apparently, the draft will come after the NBA season – whether the season is completed in a modified format or just cancelled.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I think everybody in the league feels it’s almost impossible to have a draft if you still have a season that’s ongoing.

You can’t have a draft while teams are still playing. You can’t have some teams able to do trades because their season’s done and then some teams unable to do trades because they’re still playing.

It doesn’t strike me as difficult to hold the draft before the season ends. Teams wouldn’t be allowed to trade current players. The restriction would apply across the board, just like the interrupted pre-draft process. That’s not ideal, but compromises must be made amid this chaos.

Importantly, holding the draft sooner could appeal to both sides of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

It’d be an opportunity to hold a revenue-producing TV event. Obviously, drafted players wouldn’t attend a mass gathering. But with sports fans starved for content, people would watch the selections. A handshake with NBA commissioner Adam Silver is only a small part of the festivities.

The National Basketball Players Association should also push for an earlier draft. Prospects want information sooner so they can prepare for their next step – whether that’s the NBA, returning to college or playing overseas. That said, the union has bigger priorities than potential future members.

So, it’s easy to see why postponing the draft has gained momentum, even if that’s not a no-brainer solution.