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In NBA going small and offensive, Orlando trying big and defensive

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LAS VEGAS — You can see the potential.

There was a moment Sunday night, in the first minute against Memphis, when Jaren Jackson — the best rookie through Summer League so far — drove the lane only to see Mohamed Bamba and Jonathan Isaac both rotate over into his path. The 6’11” Jackson changed his mind and decided not to go for the dunk and instead tried to throw an alley-oop to a baseline cutter. Bamba and Isaac both got up so high they blocked it anyway.

“(Isaac) got the credit for the block? Aw, come on,” Bamba joked after the game. Together, Bamba and Isaac are averaging 5 blocks a game in Las Vegas.

It’s just Summer League, but Orlando is interesting for the first time in years because they have zigged when the league has zagged — come October they can roll out a lineup of Bamba, Isaac, and just-resigned Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Simmons. Under the guidance of new, defensive-minded coach Steve Clifford, the Magic can go big, long, and defense-first in an NBA leaning more toward the Warriors’ model of small and offense first.

“The potential between me and (Isaac) is unreal, I think in Summer League we’re starting to bridge that potential into production with the small things we do,” Bamba said. “I think we got three 24-second shot clock violations (against Memphis).”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t even think (their defensive play in Summer League) scratches the surface in terms of where Mo is going to be in a year or two years, or where I am going to be in a year or two years,” Isaac said of the team’s potential. “Physically, mentally, game wise, you throw in AG and all those guys we have on our team now, and I think we will be a defensive nightmare for a lot of teams.”

Other players on the roster, such as Gordon and Simmons, can fit right into this defensive mold. The team is long and can protect the rim, but the big men such as Bamba and Isaac are athletic enough to switch — or at least show and recover — on point guards off a high pick-and-roll. Against this size and length, getting to the rim is not going to be easy. Bamba’s length just eats up guys driving the lane.

“That’s one of the things the league is going to — how hard can you make it (on drivers),” Magic summer league head coach Pat Delany said of what the team wants to do.

Isaac has been one of the standout players of Summer League so far, having gotten stronger in the past year, adjusting to the pace and style of the game, and just gotten healthy. Memphis’ Jackson has overwhelmed other young players he has gone against between both the Salt Lake and Las Vegas Summer Leagues, but Isaac held his own in that matchup, blocking shots and making life hard on Jackson. (To be fair, it was Jackson’s fifth game in seven days and he looked worn down at points.)

Isaac, about to enter his second NBA season, is one of the guys who looks ready to make a leap in games that matter starting in October.

Bamba also has impressed, and not just with his defense — he is shooting 60 percent in Summer League and against Memphis showed a smooth stroke on a corner three that caught everyone’s attention.

It’s not all been smooth sailing for Bamba — Monday night No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton pushed him around physically, slowed Bamba’s offensive game, and got to the glass (Ayton had five offensive rebounds on the night). Phoenix players such as Josh Jackson found driving lanes because Bamba couldn’t help off Ayton. That said, the defensive potential of Bamba and the Magic was still on display in the game, as Bamba had five blocks — including an Ayton hook shot early in the game.

Bamba understands there’s a lot of work to do.

“I just have to establish myself as a roller, it really opens up a lot for our team, even if I don’t necessarily get the ball it opens up guys in the corner or in spots as teams adjust to how we are playing…” Bamba said.

“I want to be a guy who comes in and has an impact immediately. One of my goals is to be Defensive Player of the Year, one of my goals is to be Rookie of the Year. One of my long-term goals is to be walking across the stage to get a jacket with a Hall of Fame patch. There’s definitely some work to do in between there.”

Not some, a lot of work.

But in Orlando, this Summer League has provided hope — something in short supply in recent years. The Magic are going to be interesting, and worth watching, because they are staking out a course different from the way the league is trending.

And it just might work.

LeBron James’ voting rights group converting arenas into polling places

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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

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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.”

Adam Silver: Restart broadcasts may need delay to keep cussing off air

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NBA players trash talk and swear more during a game than a Samuel L. Jackson character.

That’s not exactly insider knowledge. However, most of what is said is covered up by the ambient crowd noise and in-arena music at a traditional game. Nobody at home can hear Patrick Beverley‘s stream of consciousness.

But what is going to happen at the NBA’s restart in Orlando? With no crowds and less noise, and courtside microphones can pick up everything. Including language some fans may not want to be brought into their homes.

This is why the league many need a broadcast delay — similar to the seven-second delay used on some live broadcasts — so it can drop any offensive language, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at the Time 100 interview.

“I think often players, they understand when they’re on the floor, they’re saying certain things to each other because it’s so loud in the arena, they know a lot of it is not being picked up. They may have to adapt their language a little bit knowing what they say will likely be picked up by microphones and in all seriousness, we may need to put a little bit of a delay.”

One solution would be to have a live stream available to fans where nothing is dropped. There are those of us — hard-core NBA fans — who want to hear the trash talk, want to listen to the coaches call out the play as the defenders call out what is coming and talk about set picks, etc. We all what to hear what LeBron James is going to say to J.R. Smith on the court. That should be available to fans, along with the video game look and other customizable streams.

The league may have fan’s faces on video boards around the court and music pumped in, but this is just not going to look and feel the same. There may need to be a delay to keep some of the language off the air (that happens at sporting events anyway), but it would be fun to give the viewers the option, as ESPN did with The Last Dance.

Report: Rockets signing Luc Mbah a Moute

Rockets forward Luc Mbah a Moute
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Rockets forward Thabo Sefolosha is sitting out the NBA’s resumption at Disney World.

Enter Luc Mbah a Moute.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Like Sefolosha, Mbah a Moute is a versatile defensive forward who can make open 3-pointers and fits well into Houston’s system.

In theory.

Mbah a Moute, who played well for the Rockets in 2017-18, looked like a major loss when he left for the Clippers in 2018. But he has struggled to stay healthy. He hasn’t played in the NBA since October 2018. Houston worked out the 33-year-old in March – and didn’t sign him. That’s telling.

Expect Mbah a Moute to fall behind Robert Covington, P.J. Tucker, Jeff Green, DeMarre Carroll and Danuel House on the Rockets’ depth chart. It’d be a good outcome for Houston if Mbah a Moute helps in spot minutes.

But if Mbah a Moute proves to be effective in a Rockets uniform, that’d at least look quite natural. We’ve seen it before.