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NBA’s best-performing team this season, by far, getting little love entering playoffs

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About a month ago, Sam Amick of The Athletic named his sleeper pick for the 2019 NBA championship.

His choice: The league’s most dominant team.

The Bucks went an NBA-best 60-22. They ranked first in defensive rating, fourth in offensive rating and first in net rating. They have the likely Most Valuable Player in Giannis Antetokounmpo and likely Coach of the Year in Mike Budenholzer. Antetokounmpo could also contend for Defensive Player of the Year.

Why the heck are we classifying Milwaukee as a sleeper?

Oh, right. The Warriors.

Golden State is heavily favored to win its third straight title and fourth in five years. The Warriors coasted through the regular season, but they’re loaded and experienced. Nobody can match their talent: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Andre Iguodala.

Still, it seems the Bucks are getting overlooked. They’ve been the best team throughout the season. That ought to inspire more confidence.

Milwaukee outscored teams by 8.6 points per 100 possessions, per Basketball-Reference. That was 2.2 points per 100 possession ahead of everyone else.

Of the 23 prior teams to have a net-rating advantage of at least 2.0 over the rest of the field, 17 won the title. Six of the last seven won.

The only recent exception: The 2001 Spurs, whose net rating topped every other team’s by at least 2.6. They lost to the eventual-champion Lakers, who lagged 5.0 points behind in the regular season. Those Lakers are maybe the classic case of a team that cruised through the regular season then cranked up the intensity in the playoffs.

The Warriors could certainly do the same. Heck, they’re so good, they might not even need to.

But Milwaukee should be viewed as a formidable threat.

Here’s every team with a net-rating advantage of at least 2.0 over every other team in a season:

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The Bucks are commonly compared to the 2015 Hawks, another Budenholzer-coached team that won 60 games. Atlanta scraped through the first two rounds then got swept by the Cavaliers in the conference finals.

But the Hawks had the point difference typical of a 56-win team. They ranked just fourth in net rating, only 1.0 ahead of Cleveland. Milwaukee had the point difference typical of a 61-win team.

Sure, regular-season performance far from perfectly predicts playoff results. But Atlanta wasn’t nearly as impressive in the regular season as the Bucks.

And Milwaukee rated even better before resting players late in the season with the No. 1 seed already clinched. (Though, to be fair, that effect was also felt with prior top teams.)

On paper, this seems like 2015 in some ways. The Warriors demonstrated themselves as the clear top team, but few felt confident in them entering the playoffs. Now, we look back on that title as if were inevitable.

Maybe we’ll do the same with the Bucks after this postseason. They’ve looked the most like a championship team throughout this season. If I had any guts, I’d pick them to win the title.

But, like nearly everyone else, I just can’t bet on a team other than Golden State.

Mark Cuban backs off belief NBA season could resume in mid-May

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban
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Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has backed off his belief that the NBA season could resume in mid-May. In appearance on ESPN’s Get Up, Cuban said, “I have no idea” when the NBA could resume the 2019-20 season.

Last month Cuban said he thought a return to play could happen as soon as mid-May. That timeline likely included the NBA Finals being played in late-July, after the two-month suspension of play.

Cuban’s Mavericks were on the verge of making the NBA playoffs. That would have been the Mavs first postseason appearance after a three-year absence. Dallas hasn’t advanced out of the first round since winning the NBA championship in 2011.

Cuban also added about returning to play: “I mean, I haven’t had any conversations where anybody discusses an actual date.”

The NBA season has been suspended since Wednesday, March 11. That night games in Oklahoma City and Sacramento were postponed after players and officials were tested for coronavirus. The league was already prepared to play games without fans present, but suspended operations after positive COVID-19 tests.

Four Nets players who tested positive for COVID-19 showing no symptoms

Kevin Durant
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On a conference call with the media Wednesday morning, Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks shared some good news. The four Nets players who had tested positive for coronavirus are no longer showing symptoms.

Kevin Durant was one of the four Nets to come forward and say he had tested positive for COVID-19. Durant said at the time that he was feeling fine, but this report clarifies that he’s now clear of symptoms. Durant has been out for the entirety of the 2019-20 season as he rehabs from the torn Achilles’ he suffered during the 2019 NBA Finals.

Over a dozen NBA players tested positive for coronavirus since mid-March. About half of those players have been identified. Multiple reports have surfaced over the last two weeks of players being cleared of symptoms.

Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics was recently cleared of COVID-19 after a positive test. Reports are that he plans to donate his blood plasma to National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project for research on the blood of those recovered from coronavirus.

Watch Kevin Love talk mental health in time of coronavirus on “The Daily Show”

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Since coming forward with his own anxiety issues, Kevin Love has become a person at the forefront of a more public discussion of mental health in society.

Wednesday, he went on the social isolation edition of Trevor Noah’s “The Daily Show” and talked about how the isolation and loneliness caused by social distancing can be “devastating” at this time for people battling depression and anxiety.

“I think continuing to create community at this time, that’s a huge thing… speaking of social isolation, it has made navigating this time very, very different,” Love said. (See his full comments in the video above.)

Noah also asked Love about the return of the NBA — Love said he had no idea but thinks this makes it even more open to any team getting the title — and about the Cleveland forward becoming one of the first players to donate money toward a fund to help arena workers who have no job to go to right now.

“I thought it was important to take care of people who had taken care of me so long,” Love said of his donation.

Watch the video above. You get a real sense of how Love is trying to adapt to a new reality, just like the rest of us.

This Date in NBA History: James Harden goes off for then career-high 51 vs. Kings (VIDEO)

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The 2014-15 season is one of several years where James Harden feels he should have been MVP but was robbed by voters. It’s become almost an annual tradition.

Stephen Curry won the award that year — he was bombing threes on his way to 23.8 points and 7.7 assists a game, leading the 67-win Warriors to an NBA title — but Harden put up raw numbers that were right there, 27.4 points and seven assists a game.

Harden made his case for the award on Feb. 1, 2015, with a 51-point outburst against Sacramento that was, at the time, his highest-scoring game ever. He shot 16-of-25 from the field overall, a ridiculous 8-of-9 from three, and he got to the line 13 times. Sacramento had no answer.

Harden has scored more points since — he’s had 60+ point games each of the last three seasons — but this was his first 50+ point game, and to this day remains one of his signature games.