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Three Things to Know: Has Michael Porter Jr. arrived in Denver?

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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) Has Micahel Porter Jr. arrived in Denver? If so, he may be stretch four the team needs. Just a few weeks back, during the G-League showcase event in Las Vegas, executives from a lot of teams expected the Nuggets to be buyers at the trade deadline. At the top of Denver’s list of needs was a stretch four to put next to Nikola Jokic. The kind of player who could score an efficient 25 points, getting buckets in the paint on bunny hooks or stepping out to the arc and nailing threes…

Exactly like the game Michael Porter Jr. had for the Nuggets Thursday night against a good Pacers team.

Going into the season, there was a lot of “Michael Porter Jr. will be the difference” talk coming out of Denver, a team largely banking on continuity this season. Porter had looked like a steal at No. 14 in the 2018 draft, but back surgery and some reports of a “diva” attitude had him sliding down the draft board. The big question with Porter was, what would he look like healthy? The man has battled two back surgeries, nerve issues in his foot, and a knee sprain. However, after sitting out last season, he was ready to go this season and… nothing. His jump shot was a mess, his defense was that of a rookie, and coach Michael Malone was stingy with the minutes. Porter made little impact on the Nuggets through the first third of the season, other than to have them taking a hard look at Danilo Gallinari and Kevin Love in the trade market.

Then Porter dropped 19 on Sacramento a few nights ago, which caught people’s attention. His corner threes, then the rest of his jumpers, started falling. On Thursday night in Indiana, Porter Jr. was the player Nuggets fans had hoped for and the team has needed — a difference-maker and versatile player at the four.

If Porter can continue with and build off that kind of performance it changes the calculous for Denver. The Nuggets are 24-10 and the two seed in the West, but despite the early wins their play was not striking fear in the hearts of opponents. Lately, however, Nikola Jokic looks like himself again (he played his way into shape?), the defense is improved this season, and with Porter is playing like the missing piece they need things feel different in Denver (they have won 10-of-12).

It’s too early to say Porter Jr. has arrived in Denver, we’re just talking two good games. But if he has, if this is going to be the new norm and not a fluke career night form Porter, the Nuggets start to look a lot more dangerous.

2) Something to watch: Paul George left Clippers win with a hamstring injury. The Clippers had little trouble with a shorthanded Detroit team Thursday night in a game that followed form and was not particularly worth noting except for one thing:

Paul George left the game in the second quarter not to return due to “hamstring tightness.”

The Clippers were up by six at the half and about to get serious and take over the game, there was no reason to risk anything and play George in the second half. So they didn’t. After the game, George was not showing a limp, reports Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. That’s a good sign.

Maybe it’s nothing. Hopefully, for the sake of fans of the game, it’s nothing. But hamstrings are the kind of things that linger if not treated, so this just becomes something to watch with the Clippers and one of their two stars.

3) The first round of NBA All-Star fan voting is in, so who will the starters be? As they should, NBA fans get the largest say in who should start the NBA All-Star Game. It’s an exhibition game to promote the league, so give the fans who they want… unless it’s Zaza Pachulia. After a coordinated effort to make him the starting center in the NBA showcase game a few years ago (a lot of that out of his native Georgia), the league added a media and player vote components to make sure nothing like that happens again. Which means it’s cute that this year fans cast a lot of ballots for Alex Caruso and Tacko Fall, but they will not start.

So who will start? Let’s break down the early returns from fan voting a little and project forward with what the media and players likely do.

Here are the Western Conference starters as voted by the fans: Luka Doncic (Dallas), James Harden (Houston), LeBron James (LA Lakers), Anthony Davis (LA Lakers), Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers).

I doubt that five changes. In the backcourt, Doncic is the leading vote getter in the West and second-place Harden is more than 500,000 votes ahead of third-place Damian Lillard. That’s not changing with the media/player votes. It’s basically the same in the frontcourt, where Leonard has a massive lead over teammate Paul George for the third starting spot. The media and players likely vote in the same five. This group is pretty much a lock.

The East is another story. The Eastern Conference starters as voted by the fans: Trae Young (Atlanta), Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia), Pascal Siakam (Toronto).

I could argue that, as entertaining as Young is as a player, he’s the leader of a 7-win team and doesn’t deserve to start the All-Star Game. Except, who is going to replace him? Second-leading vote getter Kyrie Irving has missed too much time to do well in the media and player votes, so if Boston fans don’t push Kemba Walker into a starting role (he’s nearly tied with Irving already), the press will put Kemba in as a stater again. After that, could the media/player votes push Ben Simmons or Bradley Beal far enough up the ladder to start in front of Young? Maybe, but most likely the Hawks guard holds down his spot.

In the East frontcourt, Antetokounmpo and Embiid are locks. Will the media/player vote push Jimmy Butler past Siakam? Maybe. It will be close. While one could make a case Jayson Tatum and Bam Adebayo should play in the game, neither are starters.

Still, expect some shifts in the starters in the East by the time the players get announced for the game at the end of the month.

NBA, players union working together to look at rapid testing devices for coronavirus

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If the NBA is going to create a “bubble” to restart the season — in Las Vegas or the Bahamas or wherever — there is a cargoship full of challenges, but they all start here:

How does the league test all the players, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, guys who mop the sweat off the floor, camera operators, hotel custodial staff, chefs, and maybe family members who also are inside this bubble? If one person carrying the coronavirus gets inside the bubble the entire plan comes apart.

The NBA and the NBPA (the players’ union) are working to find and check out new coronavirus tests that would be the first step to building the bubble, reports Baxter Holmes at ESPN.

Multiple league sources close to the situation said the league and players union have been looking at what those familiar with the matter describe as “diabetes-like” blood testing in which someone could, with the prick of a finger, be tested quickly, and results could be gained inside of 15 minutes…

The league sources stressed that this matter is in the exploratory phase and that there is no clear timetable as to when the efficacy of any such device might be proven.

“Rapid-testing results are key to return to work, return to sports, everything,” one NBA general manager told ESPN, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Whatever job you have and environment you work in, if you’re interacting with people, we’re all going to have to feel safe doing that. Sports isn’t any different.”

Holmes’ story discusses a test by Abbott Laboratories that is being looked at as an option, but others are being developed as well. However, with the desperate shortage of tests nationwide to assess the health of communities where outbreaks are occurring, how long it would be before there would be enough tests to use on a sporting event remains unclear. Right now there are much higher priorities.

The challenge in finding the right test is not just speed but accuracy — some existing tests have a false negative rate of 30 percent (meaning the test says a person does not have the virus when they are infected). It does the league no good to have a fast test that is not highly accurate.

To complete its season, the league would need to not only create a bubble but also maintain the integrity of the bubble for the two months or more it would take to run mini-training camps for about three weeks then play out a condensed version of maybe the regular season and the playoffs. Creating and maintaining the bubble does not involve only the teams and their staffs, it consists of the hotel staff that cleans the rooms, the cooks that prepare the food, security staffs, and others who likely would come in and out of the bubble. Plus, the league would need to make sure no players or staff decide to go outside the bubble in Las Vegas and play some craps or go to a club.

A rapid, accurate test is necessary to have any shot at making a return of the NBA — even just to televisions — possible. The league and players union are studying it. As they should.

But as Adam Silver said on Monday about the league as a whole, it’s just far too early to know if and when this might come together.

 

 

Adam Silver: No better feel for where NBA season stands than when play was suspended

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In a Twitter interview for #NBATogether with Ernie Johnson of TNT, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was asked if he has any better feel for where we are.

Silver answered, “The short answer is no.”

“When we initially shut down, we were calling it a hiatus or a pause. There was no sense our country would be shut down. In some ways, I know less now than I did then,” Silver added…

“I’ve told my folks that we should just accept that for the month of April, we won’t be in a position to make any decisions. That doesn’t mean on May 1st, we will be. It’s just, honestly, too early to project or predict where we will be in the next few weeks.”

Johnson asked if there was a date that it would be too late to finish the season and if the league was trying to finish the regular season.

“We haven’t made any decisions. In a perfect world we would try to finish the regular season in some form,” Silver responded. “In the first two weeks (of the hiatus) we were looking at specific scenarios. What I’ve learned is that it’s just too early to make those sorts of projections.”

“There does come a point in the summer where we would impact next season. Player safety and safety for everyone in the NBA family comes first. We may look at playing without fans. How would those games be televised? Would we go to a single site? We’re in listening mode right now. We’ve been contacted by several of those locations (for a single-site). It’s just too early to know anything right now.”

Johnson said he can live with the 2020 NBA season not having a champion if it’s for the greater good. Silver replied to that by saying, “Of course. Safety for everyone comes first. We’d love to be a part of restarting the economy. But it’s a public health matter. Health and safety have to come before the economic impacts.”

Silver finished up the interview saying he’s spent a lot of his downtime thinking about how to improve the NBA fan experience. He also said what’s been keeping him up at night is “the 55,000 jobs the NBA creates.”

Report: NBA teams given guidelines on pre-draft process

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Shams Charania of The Athletic reports NBA teams have been given parameters around the process leading up to the 2020 NBA Draft:

Per the report, teams can host virtual visits with prospects However, teams can’t ask those prospects to do any sort of live-video workout. Teams are also barred from hosting in-person workouts.

Each team is limited to up to four hours of virtual meetings per prospect. Teams are allowed no more than two hours with a single player in a given week.

The NBA Draft is currently scheduled for Thursday, June 25. Players have until Sunday, April 26 to declare as Early Entry candidates. Nearly 100 players have already declared as Early Entry candidates.

Some Early Entry candidates go through the draft process to find out about their chances of being drafted. This is a regular process, as each year several players will return to school, or overseas, in hopes of improving their draft stock.

Lakers guard Danny Green optimistic NBA season can be saved

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On his podcast “Inside the Green Room,” Los Angeles Lakers guard Danny Green expressed optimism the NBA season would resume. Green recorded his latest episode after NBA players had a call with the National Basketball Players Association.

“I think, by any means necessary, we’re going to try and salvage the season,” Green said. “And right now, we’re fighting. Most guys think that for sure we’re going to have a season. It’s just going to start later than we expected. And just trying to get the next season to be pushed back is not going to be as easy as people think it’s going to be. (Resuming this season) is probably going to start in mid-to-late May maybe, that’s what we’re hoping for at the earliest. Or maybe earlier than that, but that’s the earliest we’re looking at, mid-to-late May, and it’ll probably go through August/as late as September I, guess.”

These thoughts from Green are far more positive than recent thoughts given by several others around the NBA.

Broadcasters and league insiders have remained hopeful, but have said the NBA is approaching things with a sense of “realism” about saving the season.

Multiple NBA coaches, from Green’s own coach Frank Vogel to Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer, have said they are continuing to prepare as if the season will resume. The coaches who have spoken recently said they are preparing for both a shortened regular season, as well as going right to the NBA Playoffs. Budenholzer said he’s been spending time scouting both the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic, who are likely first-round opponents for the Bucks.