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Three Things to Know: LeBron James isn’t resting, his Lakers aren’t losing

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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) LeBron James isn’t resting, and his Lakers aren’t losing. A lot of teams may have looked at the Lakers’ situation heading into Sunday night in Atlanta as the perfect chance to rest their star player: He had a sore elbow after a fall against Miami a couple of nights earlier, the Lakers are in the middle of 8-of-9 on the road (with tougher tests against Indiana and Milwaukee ahead), Los Angeles was facing a six-win team in Atlanta that is beatable without him, and the Lakers had a four-game lead in the West over the second-seed Clippers.

LeBron James played anyway.

It’s good for the Lakers he did because they needed his MVP-level performance — 32 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists — to get the victory on a night the Lakers were sloppy and just plain off: 5-of-31 shooting from three, and they turned the ball over on 20.8 percent of their possessions, more than one-in-five trips down the court. Los Angeles still won 101-96 in part because LeBron was making plays.

After the game, LeBron again scoffed at the idea of “load management” games. From his postgame interview broadcast on Spectrum Sportsnet:

“Y’all want me to sit out? … But why wouldn’t I play if I’m healthy? It doesn’t make any sense to me, personally. I mean, I don’t know how many games I got left in my career. I don’t know how many kids that may show up to a game that are there to come see me play — and if I sit out, then what? That’s my obligation. My obligation is to play for my teammates and if I’m healthy, then I’m going to play. If coach sits me out, then I’m not healthy and it’s just simple.”

The eye test says LeBron does not need a rest — he is playing at levels this early in the season we haven’t seen since his Miami days. He’s averaging 26.1 points, 10.7 assists (a career-high), 7.3 rebounds, is shooting 36.5 percent from three, and most importantly coach Frank Vogel is keeping him at around 34 minutes a night (their stated goal for the season).

Plus LeBron is a competitor, he wants to be out there. He’s talked about this before. He’s not going to sit if healthy, at least until the Lakers have essentially locked up whatever playoff seed they ultimately end up with.

However, to quote Mark Cuban, “the dumb thing would be to ignore the science… We’re not going, ‘OK, let’s just mess with the league and our meal ticket to fans to do something just because it might be interesting.’”

The NBA is a recovery league. That’s the coach’s cliche (I first heard it from Brett Brown, but others say it) and it’s true. The wear-and-tear on bodies — LeBron has already run 62.5 miles on hardwood floors during NBA games this season — combined with the thrown-off sleep schedules makes players increasingly susceptible to injuries as the season grinds on. Teams use biometric trackers on players — constantly checking their speed, explosiveness and more — looking for the signs of exhaustion to rest players before they get injured. That’s the goal of load management, to keep guys on the court, healthy and fresh, especially for the postseason.

No player in the league is better conditioned, or as concerned with rest and recovery, as LeBron. He gets it. But none of the league’s 450 players are immune to the marathon grind of an NBA season, especially any players turning 35 at the end of the month. The Lakers and LeBron can call it an injury or whatever they want, but making sure LeBron is right before something goes wrong (like it did last Christmas day) is not a bad thing. It’s the smart thing. It’s a call the Lakers and LeBron need to make together, but with their eyes wide open.

For now, LeBron keeps on playing, and the Lakers keep on winning.

2) Luka Doncic is out for at least a couple of weeks in Dallas. Now what for the Mavericks? It was a fluke play, Luka Doncic was driving the lane against the Heat and stepped on the foot on foot of Kendrick Nunn, and Doncic’s ankle rolled.

Doncic likely out for a couple of weeks at least with what team officials describe as a “moderate” ankle sprain. He could return just after Christmas, on the optimistic end of that timeline.

The bigger problem for 17-8 Dallas is the next four games on the schedule Doncic will miss: Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto. Four quality teams that would be difficult even with Dallas’ star player.

Dallas will not be the same in those games. In just his second season and at age 20, Doncic has exploded into crossover level NBA star with an MVP-level season: 30.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 9.3 assists per game. Doncic is as good as any pick-and-roll ball handler in the league (he shoots 12.4 times a game in that role and has a 60.7 eFG%) and is the engine for a Dallas offense that has been the best in the NBA this season.

Expect Rick Carlise to go with point guard by committee with a combination of Delon Wright, Jalen Brunson, and J.J. Barea. Both Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway are going to need to up their scoring, while Dallas also will need improved defense. The goal is not to give up much ground, if any, in the fight for home court in the first round of the playoffs. How well the Mavs can play without their star may have a big role in where they start the postseason.

3) Big-name trade rumors update: The Thunder don’t expect to move Chris Paul, the Heat want to move on from Dion Waiters. Sunday marked the day that most players who signed a contract over the summer can be traded, and the rumors will be flying over the next week (especially with team executives all gathering in Las Vegas later in the week for the G-League showcase).

Here’s an update on a couple of big names.

There is “no belief” within the Thunder organization Chris Paul will get traded at the deadline, something ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Sunday on the network’s “Woj & Lowe: Trade Season Special.” And that confirms what we and everyone around the NBA have reported all season. Why can’t they trade him? I can give you 85.6 million reasons — that’s how much money CP3 is owed for the two seasons after this one. While Paul is playing well this season, there are just not teams with either the cap space or stomach to take on that massive contract. Not now, probably not this summer. Look for the Thunder to trade Danilo Gallinari and maybe Steven Adams.

Dion Waiters is not getting traded from Miami, either, but Waiters’ third suspension from the team this season “has left Miami determined to move on,” reports Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. That sounds great, but there is zero chance he gets traded, Waiters is owed the remainder of his $12.1 million this season (minus $1.4 million in fines) and $12.7 million next season, no team is taking that money for him, unless the Heat want to attach a first-round pick to him as a sweetener, which they do not. Miami may buy him out, but there is no reason for Waiters to give the team a discount on a buyout. One way or another, if Miami wants to move on it’s going to cost them.

LaMelo Ball reportedly wants to play for New York Knicks

LaMelo Ball Knicks
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Ultimately, LaMelo Ball does not control where he plays basketball next season. On Aug. 25 the ping pong balls will determine the NBA’s draft order, then on Oct. 16 a team will select Ball and he will have to play in that city (or sit out all organized basketball for a year so he can re-enter the draft, which will not help his stock).

New York is reportedly high on Ball. It turns out, LaMelo Ball wants to play for the Knicks — shocking, I know — reports Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

As teams do their homework on players in the draft, there’s been a consistent theme about LaMelo Ball: multiple teams believe Ball and those in his circle prefer that he lands in New York. (Those teams have picks projected later in the first round than the Knicks, for what it’s worth.)

LaMelo’s father LaVar has said as much, very loudly, but nobody takes what he says terribly seriously. Plus, again, ultimately LaVar and LaMelo do not control the process. The ping pong balls and picks will fall where they may.

LaMelo is considered a likely top-five pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The Knicks have a 37.2% chance of landing a top-four pick, where they have a shot at selecting Ball. They also have a 50.4% chance of selecting seventh or eighth, when he is likely off the board (and whether Ball is worth trading up for is up for debate… at best).

NBC’s own Rob Dauster has said LaMelo Ball has the highest upside of any player in the 2020 NBA Draft. The potential for stardom, especially in the modern game, is there. He’s a 6’7″ guard with impressive handles and elite court vision, which combine to make him dangerous initiating the pick-and-roll. Ball’s supporters see a ceiling of a Trae Young, All-Star level of offensive impact for Ball.

Whether Ball can reach that ceiling is another question entirely. He lacks a consistent shot, especially from deep — he shot 37.5% overall and 25% from three in Australia.  In addition, his decision making needs work, his defense is unimpressive (and he seems disinterested), and there are lingering questions about his work ethic.

Ball is the classic high risk/high reward player — maybe he can be developed into an elite star, but his floor is also pretty low.

Knicks fans can debate amongst themselves if LaMelo Ball is the kind of player they need, but New York is where he wants to be.

NBA gets coronavirus test results quickly, unlike much of nation. Should they?

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The NBA’s entire bubble restart plan is built on testing — upon arrival in Orlando, players are quarantined in their rooms until they pass two coronavirus tests 24 hours apart, then they will be tested daily. Commissioner Adam Silver was clear during the planning of the league’s restart that if the league were taking coronavirus tests away from hot spots and people who needed them, then there would be no restart. The league took its PR hit on that back in March when teams were tested while people wondering if they had COVID-19 struggled to get tests. It came off as preferential treatment.

Silver has nothing to fear on this front, tests appear widely available nationwide.

Getting the results for those tests, however, is a different story — nationally, labs are overwhelmed with the increase in testing.

The NBA is getting its test results back from a lab within a day (or two at most), while much of the nation is waiting a week or longer for those same results.

Is that the same ethical issue for the NBA as not taking tests away from people? NBC’s own Tom Haberstroh dove into the issue, noting the NBA has moved away from Quest Diagnostics as its testing partner in Florida and is now using BioReference Laboratories, sources told Haberstroh.

The shift away from Quest is notable considering that on Monday, Quest Diagnostics issued a worrisome press release. Quest stated a recent surge in demand for coronavirus testing had caused delays in processing, with 4-6 day average turnarounds on COVID-19 tests for populations that do not fall into their “Priority 1” group. That group includes “hospital patients, pre-operative patients in acute care settings and symptomatic healthcare workers.” Average turnarounds for Priority 1 would be one day, the lab company said.

It’s difficult to see how the NBA and its personnel would be considered Priority 1 in the Quest designation. Being put in the normal population group, with 4-6 day turnarounds, would lead to significant delays and could jeopardize the league’s entire testing operation.

The good news for the NBA is that BioReference Laboratories (if that is who the NBA uses, nothing is official)  is turning tests around in about a day for the league (and Major League Soccer, which also has a restart campus on the Walt Disney World property). But it’s not that way for everyone.

BioReference is experiencing serious delays with the general public. As of Thursday morning, patients attempting to access test results on the BioReference website would be met with an alert that reads: “If you are looking for your COVID-19 PCR (swab) results please note that these may not be available in the patient portal for up to 5-7 days after collection. As always, we appreciate your business and thank you for your patience during this unprecedented time.”

To be clear: The NBA has not announced its testing partner in Florida, and it’s not officially known if the NBA is being put in “priority one” groups ahead of the general public for results. We don’t know for sure what system the NBA has in place.

What we know is what we see: Players had to pass two tests 24 hours apart to be done with quarantine, to practice, and be free to roam the campus the NBA set up on the Disney property. The first teams to arrive are practicing just 48 hours after they arrived. Meaning the NBA is getting fast test turnarounds.

It raises an ethical and moral question about preferential treatment. While the NBA is big business and there is a desire to have NBA games return, the league should not be put ahead of anyone else who is looking to get tested. Sure, the NBA and it’s players’ union have agreed to be part of a Yale University’s SalivaDirect test study, but that alone should not bump NBA players to the front of the testing line ahead of the general public.

Haberstroh has medical ethicists saying the same thing, but the real judge will be the public and the PR backlash. This could be another black eye for the league. We, as a nation, have always prioritized sport as entertainment, giving it a lofty status in our culture. But with people’s health on the line, that feeling may be very different for a lot of people.

 

 

Nets reportedly sign Donta Hall for restart games in Orlando

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Donta Hall went undrafted out of Alabama last June, then made the most of the opportunities he was given. The 6’9″ big man tore up the G League for the Grand Rapids Drive, averaging 15.4 points a game on 66.9% shooting, plus gabbing 10.6 rebounds a night. It was good enough to get him a call up to the Pistons and getting in four games for them.

Now he’s going to play in the NBA restart for the Brooklyn Nets, a story broken by Marc Stein of the New York Times.

The shorthanded Nets are without big men DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, and Nicolas Claxton (Jarrett Allen was the only center on the roster). Donta Hall will get the chance to impress the Nets — and other teams — and try to earn a contract for next season (he will be a free agent when the Nets are eliminated).

Hall is a tremendous athlete, he’s bouncy and long (7’5″ wingspan). If his skills develop, he has a role in the NBA.

The Nets were hit hard by injuries and had to make substitute signings such as Jamal Crawford and Michael Beasley. Here is what the final Nets roster looks like in Orlando.

After four months off, first NBA teams practice in restart bubble

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Nikola Vucevic had to raise his voice a bit to answer a question. He had just walked off the court after the first Orlando Magic practice of the restart, and some of his teammates remained on the floor while engaged in a loud and enthusiastic shooting contest.

After four months, basketball was truly back.

Full-scale practices inside the NBA bubble at the Disney complex started Thursday, with the Magic — the first team to get into the campus earlier this week — becoming the first team formally back on the floor. By the close of business Thursday, all 22 teams participating in the restart were to be checked into their hotel and beginning their isolation from the rest of the world for what will be several weeks at least. And by Saturday, all teams should have practiced at least once.

“It’s great to be back after four months,” Vucevic said. “We all missed it.”

The last eight teams were coming in Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers among them. Lakers forward LeBron James lamented saying farewell to his family, and 76ers forward Joel Embiid — who raised some eyebrows earlier this week when he said he was “not a big fan of the idea” of restarting the season in a bubble — showed up for his team’s flight in what appeared to be a full hazmat suit.

“Just left the crib to head to the bubble. … Hated to leave the (hashtag)JamesGang,” James posted on Twitter.

Another last-day arrival at the Disney campus was the reigning NBA champion Toronto Raptors, who boarded buses for the two-hour drive from Naples, Florida — they’ve been there for about two weeks, training at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers — for the trip to the bubble. The buses were specially wrapped for the occasion, with the Raptors’ logo and the words “Black Lives Matter” displayed on the sides.

Brooklyn, Utah, Washington and Phoenix all were down to practice Thursday, along with the Magic. Denver was originally scheduled to, then pushed back its opening session to Friday. By Saturday, practices will be constant — 22 teams working out at various times in a window spanning 13 1/2 hours and spread out across seven different facilities.

Exhibition games begin July 22. Games restart again for real on July 30.

“It just felt good to be back on the floor,” said Brooklyn interim coach Jacque Vaughn, who took over for Kenny Atkinson less than a week before the March 11 suspension of the season because of the coronavirus. “I think that was the most exciting thing. We got a little conditioning underneath us. Didn’t go too hard after the quarantine, wanted to get guys to just run up and down a little bit and feel the ball again.”

Teams, for the most part, had to wait two days after arriving before they could get on the practice floor.

Many players have passed the time with video games; Miami center Meyers Leonard, with the Heat not practicing for the first time until Friday, has been giving fans glimpses of everything from his gaming setup to his room service order for his first dinner at Disney — replete with lobster bisque, a burger, chicken strips and some Coors Light to wash it all down.

The food has been a big talking point so far, especially after a handful of players turned to social media to share what got portrayed as less-than-superb meals during the brief quarantine period.

“For the most part, everything has been pretty good in my opinion,” Nets guard Joe Harris said. “They’ve done a good job taking care of us and making sure to accommodate us in every area as much as possible.”

Learning the campus has been another key for the first few days, and that process likely will continue for a while since teams will be using all sorts of different facilities while getting back into the practice routine.

“We have to make the best out of it,” Vucevic said. “You know, this is our job. We’re going to try to make the best out of it. I really think the NBA did the best they could to know make this as good as they can for us. And once we start playing, you’re not going to be thinking about the little things.”