Associated Press

NBA playoff picture after Sunday: Orlando, Brooklyn earn tickets to playoff party

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Every night between now and the end of the 2018-19 NBA regular season, we will take an updated look at the NBA Playoff picture — what the standings look like, the potential matchups, who clinched, who moved up and down, all to set the stage for the NBA’s second season.

SUNDAY’S SCORES
Raptors 117, Heat 109
Spurs 112, Cavaliers 90
Thunder 132, Timberwolves 126
Hornets 104, Pistons 91
Nets 108, Pacers 96
Mavericks 129, Grizzlies 127
Rockets 149, Suns 113
Bucks 115, Hawks 107
Magic 116, Celtics 108
Knicks 113, Wizards 110
Warriors 131, Clippers 104
Trail Blazers 115, Nuggets 108
Pelicans 133, Kings 129
Lakers 113, Jazz 109

• The Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic are going to the playoffs. With their wins and the Miami Heat’s loss, Brooklyn and Orlando have punched their tickets for the postseason. Neither were projected as likely playoff teams before the season and it speaks to the turnaround in both organizations that we are here.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

X – Clinched Playoff Spot, Y – Clinched Division, Z – Clinched Conference

Sunday’s playoff movers and clinchers:

• The top five spots in the East are locked in place now: 1) Bucks, 2) Raptors, 3) Sixers, 4) Celtics, 5) Pacers.
• Boston and Indiana will face each other in the first round, starting in Boston.
• Brooklyn and Orlando have qualified for the playoffs. For both Brooklyn and Orlando, this represents a milestone in an effort to turn a floundering organization around and it should be celebrated. Coaches Kenny Atkinson and Steve Clifford did impressive work.
• Detroit, Charlotte, and Miami are in a fight for the final playoff spot, however, only Detroit controls its own destiny. If the Pistons win their final two games (Tuesday against the Grizzlies and Wednesday at the Knicks) they are in. The Hornets (who beat the Pistons Sunday to stay alive) and Heat need help, starting with the Pistons dropping at least one game.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

X – Clinched Playoff Spot, Y – Clinched Division, Z – Clinched Conference

Sunday’s playoff movers and clinchers

• The Warriors have secured the No. 1 seed, meaning for the final time the West playoffs will go through Oracle Arena.
• That is the only seed locked in place in the West. We have known who the eight playoff teams are for a while but every other seed could still change.
• Denver rested its three biggest stars and lost to Portland, combine that with Houston’s sixth win in a row and the Rockets are just half a game back of the Nuggets for the No. 2 seed.
• Portland’s win and Utah’s surprise loss to the Lakers means the Trail Blazers have a magic number of one (Portland win or Utah loss) to secure home court in the first round. Those two teams almost certainly will meet in the 4/5 series, but it is not a lock yet.
• Wins by the Spurs and Thunder saw them jumping the Clippers, who fell from the six to the eight seed on Sunday. The Spurs and Clippers are now tied at 47-43 with one game to play, but since San Antonio has the tiebreaker it is the seven seed. Both of those teams are just half a game back of the Thunder, who have one fewer loss but two games to play still.

IF THE PLAYOFFS STARTED TODAY:
Detroit at Milwaukee
Orlando at Toronto
Brooklyn at Philadelphia
Indiana at Boston — series clinched

L.A. Clippers at Golden State
San Antonio at Denver
Oklahoma City at Houston
Utah at Portland

TUESDAY’S BIGGEST GAMES:

• The NBA is dark Monday so the NCAA can have the floor for its championship game. Here are the big games for next Tuesday.

• Memphis at Detroit (7 pm ET). The Pistons control their own destiny in the race for the eight seed in the East, but they need to win out to secure it. Memphis is trying to win (they owe Boston a first-round pick and want to convey it this year, which means the pick needs to land outside the top 8, the odds of that improve dramatically if the Grizzlies keep winning) and will not be a pushover.

• Philadelphia at Miami (7:30 pm ET). Miami has to win to keep any dream of a playoff berth alive (and they need help, but lose and it doesn’t matter). The Sixers are locked in as the three seed, without motivation they may rest key players.

• Denver at Utah (9 pm ET). The Nuggets are just half a game up on the Rockets for the two seed, after resting key players and losing on Sunday the Nuggets may want to go hard for the win on Tuesday. The Jazz almost certainly are the five seed, but their slim chance of the four seed is alive only if they win out.

• Houston at Oklahoma City (9:30 pm ET, TNT). This is a potential first-round matchup (it would be the matchup if the playoffs started today). With a win, Houston would lock up at least the three seed and keep alive their dreams of wresting the two seed away from Denver. OKC could finish anywhere from 5 to 8, but it doesn’t want to lose and end up eighth and facing the Warriors in the first round, a win helps with that.

Teams forced into difficult choices to trim traveling parties for restart

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The 22 teams participating in the NBA restart were all at the Disney campus together for the first time Friday.

None of them, however, made it to the Orlando, Florida, area with their usual travel party.

Leaving families behind for several weeks — or maybe even three months, depending on how deep a team goes in the playoffs — during a pandemic isn’t the only hardship that teams are dealing with during this restart. Space limitations within the quasi-bubble at Disney also meant that teams had to cut their official traveling parties down to 37, including players, so many people who usually travel with a club aren’t on this trip.

“We’re not able to take everybody — and that stinks, because of the amount of work that they all put in every single day,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “We’ve tried to identify how to be the most efficient we can be with people that can be excellent remotely as well. I think that that’s one of the things that we’ve had to identify. In some cases, their excellence remotely probably hurt their chances of going initially.”

It’s expected that as the bubble population shrinks after six teams are eliminated from playoff contention and then eight more are ousted in the first postseason round, teams will be allowed to bring in more staff.

But until then, while teams are playing games on-site at Disney, there will be plenty of work done back in home markets and home arenas as well. Some teams left player development coaches behind, some even left assistant coaches, and all teams traveled with only one media relations staffer and one equipment manager. In normal circumstances, some teams travel with as many as three people to handle media requirements and two for equipment.

“You know, it’s tough,” Orlando President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said. “We kind of shied away from some of the language that was being thrown around — the whole idea of essential (staff) and non-essential (staff). It’s not about that. This is a very narrowly defined circumstance, and it requires certain skill sets to address this circumstance.”

Players counted against the list of 37, and most teams brought the full complement of 17 players. That left 20 spots for coaches, assistant coaches, player development, video, security, strength and conditioning, athletic training, media relations and content creators.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said the process of figuring out who goes and who doesn’t was brutal.

“We already have had a model of everybody sharing responsibilities,” Spoelstra said. “We already had a meeting about this where there’s an absolute understanding that this is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. And that means bags, laundry, cleanup, everything … that’s not just for equipment managers, that’s everybody — coaches, trainers, weight room staff, head coach, coaches, we’re all going to be involved in every aspect of it.”

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan also expressed disappointment that tough decisions had to be made on the staffing end.

He completely understands the NBA perspective. Keeping the number of people in the bubble manageable is a key part of the NBA’s plan for being able to finish the season; the more people in the bubble, the more risk there is of something going wrong.

“Everybody deserves the opportunity, but for the safety of the league and the players we can’t do that,” Donovan said. “So, what we’ve got to do is understand, whether it’s myself or assistant coaches, we may have to be setting up video equipment, we may have to have one of our coaches filming practice in Orlando. There’s things that we’re going to have to do that are going to be outside the box that will normally been taken care of.”

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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Built for this 💪

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.