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Three Things to Know: Thunder, Spurs, Pelicans in playoffs, but questions abound

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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) Where we are out West: Thunder, Spurs, Pelicans all win and secure playoff berths. Winner of Denver at Minnesota Wednesday gets the last spot. A lot of questions about the Western Conference playoff chase were answered Monday night — three teams reached the magic number of 47 wins and locked up spots. What we don’t know is seeding — Utah could finish anywhere from the three to eight seed, depending upon the next couple of days. Friend of this site Matt Moore helped sum up the confusion.

But at least we know seven of the eight teams in the party. We also know that Denver and Minnesota will play Wednesday with a playoff spot on the line. That’s because, despite a lackadaisical effort in the first half, the Timberwolves came back to beat the Grizzlies thanks to 18 points and 14 boards from Karl-Anthony Towns (who battled foul trouble all night). Denver handed Portland its fourth straight loss, setting up a Nuggets/Timberwolves winner-and-you’re-in showdown Wednesday.

The Thunder looked like they enjoyed the South Beach nightlife a little too much the night before and fell behind 23-5 early to the Heat Monday. However, Oklahoma City fought back and punched its ticket to the playoffs thanks to a Russell Westbrook triple-double and 27 points from Paul George, propelling them to a win in Miami.

The Spurs trailed the Kings by 14 points midway through the fourth quarter vs. the Kings, but Manu Ginobili sparked a comeback that led to a 98-85 win, and with it the Spurs are in the playoffs for the 21st straight year. The Pelicans went into Los Angeles and beat the Clippers, securing their playoff spot — something that would have seemed impossible when DeMarcus Cousins went down with a torn Achilles, but Anthony Davis has played at an MVP level since then.

Maybe the most important game of the night in the West was Denver getting clutch plays down the stretch from Nikola Jokic (who had a triple-double) and Jamal Murray to beat the Trail Blazers. First, that win set up the one-game showdown between the Nuggets and Timberwolves Wednesday — winner is in, loser goes golfing. Or to Cabo to go fishing. Or whatever they want to do, because they will have time on their hands.

It also was the fourth straight Portland loss, and that opened the door for Utah to snag the three seed — if the Jazz can beat the Warriors Tuesday night (no easy task, but Golden State has nothing to play for and may rest guys) then it sets up a Wednesday Jazz vs. Trail Blazers game where the winner gets the three seed, the loser falls to four.

2) Cavaliers clinch 50 wins, division title, but if they want three seed they need some help. For all the talk this season about the vulnerability of Cleveland — and with the way that team has defended, that talk is valid — it is still a very good team. The Cavaliers locked up the central division crown and picked up their 50th win of the season LeBron James drops 26 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds while Kevin Love scores a game-high 28 points as the Cavaliers beat the Knicks 123-109.

The Cavaliers are the four seed in the East, half a game back of the Sixers in the three seed (Cleveland is one game back in the loss column). They want the three seed because that puts them in banged-up Boston’s side of the bracket, meaning an easier road to the conference finals. However, Cleveland needs help. The Cavs need either the Hawks to snap the Sixers 14-game winning streak Tuesday night (good luck with that) or the Bucks to beat the Sixers on Wednesday night. A 76ers loss means the Cavaliers get the three seed (assuming Cleveland beats New York again on Wednesday); otherwise, the Cavaliers are the four seed and likely face Toronto in the second round.

3) Robert Pera is going to pay up and hold on to ownership of the Memphis Grizzlies. That may be a win for the status quo there. Minority owners frustrated with the majority owner and wanting more say is an NBA tradition right up there with Christmas Day games and a lack of defense in the All-Star Game. However, in Memphis two of the minority owners — Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus — had a unique situation where they were offered the chance to potentially buy out the majority owner Robert Pera.

It was a buy/sell clause and, in a nutshell, here’s how it worked: Kaplan and Straus each were allowed to make a bid and with that set a valuation for the Grizzlies franchise (an option both took back in October). From there Pera, the controlling owner, had two choices: let one of the two men buy out Pera’s 30 percent of the team at the valued price, or Pera had to buy out those two minority owners at that price. This was all behind closed doors, we don’t know what values Kaplan and Straus set for the team.

We do know Pera decided to pay up and keep the team, buying out Kaplan and Straus. The Grizzlies announced that Monday night.

What does this mean for the Grizzlies on the court?

We don’t know for sure, but the sense around the league is that Pera backs the status quo with the Grizzlies — that means keeping, not trading, Marc Gasol, and trying to put together a playoff team around him and Mike Conley (who should be healthy for next season). Pera has not wanted to break this team up, and while he’s a bit of an absentee owner (Pera spends a lot of his time overseas with business interests), he and Gasol are reportedly in regular communication.

It also means interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has a real shot to keep his job. Yes, Bickerstaff is 15-47 as the Grizzlies coach after they fired David Fizdale, but Bickerstaff has done what management asked in helping the team tank, and because of that it’s impossible to evaluate how well he could coach this team under normal circumstances. Other coaches may well be interviewed, there could be a change, but Bickerstaff is likely in play to stay.

Sacramento Kings turning former arena into coronavirus surge hospital

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If you’re old enough, you might remember Arco Arena as the home of the Sacramento Kings when they were a playoff team. Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Peja Stojaković, and company pushed the Shaq/Kobe Lakers to seven games in 2002 and won huge playoff games in the arena. Arco was where Jason Williams was dropping dimes without looking, and arena which later became known as the Sleep Train Arena, Power Balance Pavilion, and eventually the current Natomas Arena.

Now, it’s about to be a coronavirus surge hospital.

The Kings are making the arena available and it will house about 360 beds, the team announced on Friday. The team also is donating $250,000 to support area community organizations providing services to families in need in the area, plus donating 100,000 medical masks to state and local health agencies.

“On behalf of the entire Kings family, our hearts are with all who have been affected by this pandemic,” said Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé in a statement. “California always leads the nation and the world, and we applaud Governor [Gavin] Newsom’s strong and decisive leadership to keep Californians healthy and safe during this crisis…

“Our community has always come first, and that is more important now than ever,” Ranadivé continued. “The Kings are proud to help by providing additional space to accommodate a predicted surge in patients. We are also donating masks to help keep people healthy, and critical resources to area organizations that are addressing food insecurity and other issues as a result of the coronavirus. I have always been in awe of the resilience and ingenuity of the American people and firmly believe that together, we will defeat this invisible enemy.”

The Kings moved to the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento in 2015 and since then their former home and practice arena has mostly sat vacant. The Kings’ G-League team practices there at times, but like the rest of basketball they find their season suspended.

Hopefully, this arena helps save some lives in the California capital. That would be the most important thing ever to happen in the building.

WNBA postpones season

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban backed off his belief that the NBA could resume in May.

It’s just already clear, amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’ll be unsafe to hold professional basketball games that soon.

WNBA release:

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released the following statement:

“As developments continue to emerge around the COVID-19 pandemic, including the extension of the social distancing guidelines in the United States through April 30, the WNBA will postpone the start of its training camps and tip of the regular season originally scheduled for May 15.  While the league continues to use this time to conduct scenario-planning regarding new start dates and innovative formats, our guiding principle will continue to be the health and safety of the players, fans and employees.

Many top female players – including Los Angeles Sparks guard Sydney Wiese, who tested positive for coronavirus – play overseas during the WNBA offseason. That frequency of travel makes it even riskier for WNBA teams to gather any time soon.

The WNBA will still hold its draft April 17, conducting proceedings virtually. That could provide lessons to the NBA as it determines how to handle its draft.

Joel Embiid, 76ers owners pledging $1.3M for fighting coronavirus

76ers owner Josh Harris and Joel Embiid
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Joel Embiid just showed up 76ers owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer by pledging to pay team employees who were set to have their pay cut. Amid widespread backlash, the 76ers backtracked on their salary-reduction plan.

Now – with a portion of Embiid’s coronavirus-related donation unallocated and Harris and Blitzer looking to change the narrative around them – those three are working together.

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid, Sixers managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer are contributing a combined $1.3 million to Penn Medicine, establishing a funding campaign for COVID-19 antibody testing of frontline healthcare workers.

According to a Penn Medicine press release, “The pledge from Embiid, Harris and Blitzer will provide a much-needed boost for efforts to quickly identify health care workers who may have immunity to the new virus.”

This is great.

Some Utah Jazz employees laid off as part of cutback across owner’s businesses

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The Philadephia 76ers came in early, trying to force 20 percent cutbacks in salaries across the franchise’s staff. That lasted less than 24 hours before the backlash hit, the net worth of the team’s primary owner, Joshua Harris, was trending on Twitter, and the decision was reversed.

That stopped other owners from making a similar move or laying employees off for a while, but not long after the top 100 earners at the NBA League office — including Commissioner Adam Silver — were given a 20 percent pay reduction. The worsening economic crisis caused by the coronavirus shutdown of the United States is pushing NBA owners to act.

On Friday, the Utah Jazz — owned by the Larry H. Miller Group, which in total has more 80 different companies under its umbrella — sent this message to Adrian Wojnarowski ESPN:

“Due to the impact on our customer-facing businesses from this unprecedented pandemic, the (Miller Group) …. unfortunately had to make difficult decisions to reduce a small percentage of our workforce. Over the past several weeks, we have worked to manage and reduce costs, including executive compensation, and have reached a point where we have had to say farewell to a limited number of our valued employees.

“We have connected with our associates with outplacement services and aligned them with employers who have immediate hiring needs. We remain focused on helping our communities stay healthy.”

Reports out of Utah say these are layoffs that hit a lot of people and could be permanent.

It’s not fair, but little is fair right now. As noted, this is not just a layoff of some Jazz employees but also people at other businesses across the Larry H. Miller company.

Expect other NBA owners to follow suit soon, too. Not all, but some. Like owners of businesses of all sizes, they have been both hit hard in the short term and see a looming recession beyond the coronavirus. They will be looking to save money.