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Pat Riley says Andre Iguodala is still ‘elite’

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MIAMI — In deciding whether to pursue a trade for Andre Iguodala, the Miami Heat went all-in on research. They talked to people who knew Iguodala. They watched what he did last season. They took a deep dive into the analytics.

And they came to a determination.

“He’s elite,” Heat President Pat Riley said.

Simple as that. That’s why Iguodala is now in Heat colors, and a team that wasn’t even good enough to make the playoffs last season is thinking big as it gears up for a run at the 2020 postseason. Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill all joined the team for a game-day shootaround practice in Sacramento on Friday to get their first taste of what life with the Heat is like.

“He’s an elite defender, an elite team defender, elite assist-to-turnover percentage, he ranks up into the top of those areas that are real tangible,” Riley said. “You don’t lose that in seven months. And probably it was a blessing in disguise that he didn’t play for seven months.

Iguodala last played an NBA game in June, when he scored 22 points in the last game of last season’s NBA Finals. He was traded by Golden State to Memphis in early July, and never played for the Grizzlies while waiting to be moved elsewhere – that start of what became a seven-month process.

“I still like I feel like I still have a lot of time left,” the 36-year-old Iguodala told reporters in Sacramento after the shootaround. “I surprised myself just taking the time off and seeing how bouncy my legs got to be. Once the body started recovering a little bit better. Now it’s just about finding NBA game shape. It’s hard to really practice that. It shouldn’t take too much time.”

Iguodala was the 2015 NBA Finals MVP and went to each of the last five title series as part of the Golden State Warriors. The Heat haven’t been to the finals since 2014, missed the playoffs in three of the last five years and went into this past offseason without a retired Dwyane Wade and with no cap space to sign free agents.

That didn’t stop them. They landed Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade with Philadelphia, hit on their assessments of rookies Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro, watched Bam Adebayo develop into an All-Star, are getting Sixth Man of the Year-level contributions from Goran Dragic in his new off-the-bench role, and saw immense improvement from Derrick Jones Jr. and Duncan Robinson – beneficiaries of the team’s constant commitment to development.

And now they add Iguodala to a team that’s already off to a 34-16 start, firmly in the race for home-court in the first round of the playoffs.

“I think what it says is that we really feel that this group has earned the right to really make this all about now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And we’re bringing in three veteran players that have a lot of experience. Andre obviously bringing championship pedigree, somebody who has played in so many big moments … that championship experience is invaluable. You can’t put a price on it.”

Crowder said he noticed how the Heat were playing on opening night, when Memphis lost to Miami. He didn’t like the outcome so much, though liked what he saw.

“It just feels like they’re having fun with it,” Crowder said in Sacramento. “They’re playing very hard, a very competitive group. I just want to add on to that. I’m a competitor. I like to win. I like to do whatever it takes to win. I’m here to have fun and get some wins.”

Hill said it’s no secret what the Heat are shooting at.

“They have championship inspirations,” Hill said. “You’re talking about a prestigious franchise that has done it. And the leadership of this ship has done it multiple times.”

The leader of that ship is Riley, a nine-time champion overall and a three-time titlist with the Heat. He makes no secret about it: the trade was done with eyes on getting closer to contending for yet another ring. The Heat got some cap room in this trade as well, which opens up the buyout market this season. They’ll have more money than expected this coming summer, then enough to add a max player to the mix in 2021.

They are trending the right way again.

“A lot of good things have happened,” Riley said. “And we hope they continue to happen.”

Watch Damian Lillard put up 51 on shorthanded 76ers

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Everything is back to normal for Damian Lillard.

The All-Star point guard scored 51 points after a frustrating finish a night earlier, and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Philadelphia 76ers 124-121 on Sunday.

On Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Lillard missed a pair of free throws with 18.6 seconds to go and a 3-pointer with 9.5 seconds left in a 122-117 loss. Clippers players Paul George and Patrick Beverley were seen laughing at Lillard’s misfortune.

Lillard got the last laugh Sunday by scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter.

“It wasn’t really so much my performance yesterday and I wanted to perform a certain way today,” he said. “It was like, we let one slip that we should have had yesterday, and I’m a big part of why it got away from us. So tonight, I was like ‘That’s not going to happen.’”

Portland bounced back and pulled within a half-game of Memphis for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers increased their chances of qualifying for the play-in series, which will start Saturday.

The 76ers lost much more than the game. All-Star center Joel Embiid left in the first quarter with what the team called a left ankle injury, and he did not return. He contested a shot, then backed up and stepped awkwardly into the stanchion. He had been averaging 30 points per game since the restart.

76ers coach Brett Brown wouldn’t say whether Embiid would miss time.

“I’m going to learn more physically,” Brown said. “I don’t know enough to comment on it.”

It was more bad injury news for the 76ers. All-Star point guard Ben Simmons is out indefinitely with an injured left knee.

Josh Richardson scored a season-high 34 points and Alec Burks added 20 for Philadelphia. The 76ers would have moved into a tie with the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with a win.

Without their stars, the 76ers fell behind by 17 in the second quarter and trailed 67-58 at halftime.

The game tightened up late. Philadelphia’s Al Horford hit a 3-pointer to trim Portland’s lead to 122-121. Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic made two free throws with 10.2 seconds remaining to put his team up three. Richardson missed a 3-pointer for Philadelphia, and the 76ers couldn’t get another shot off after a scramble for the rebound.

“I thought our guys fought,” Brown said. “I really thought the spirit of the group was fantastic. We called upon many different players that I think played with a spirit and a passion that you’re proud of.”

Zion Williamson, New Orleans eliminated from playoff chase; Kings, too

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There was no team hyped like the New Orleans Pelicans heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando. They had Zion Williamson healthy (or so they thought), and they had been playing the best of any of the teams in the playoff chase just before the coronavirus shut the league (and nation) down. A basketball-starved nation dreamed of a LeBron James vs. Zion showdown in the first round.

The reality of the bubble was not so kind to those dreams or New Orleans.

The Pelicans lost to the Spurs on Sunday, 122-113, despite 25 points from Williamson. Combined with the Trail Blazers beating the 76ers 124-121, the Pelicans became mathematically eliminated from reaching the nine seed and getting into a play-in series in the West.

The Pelicans are out of the playoffs. New Orleans will go through the motions of two more games in the bubble, but don’t be surprised if key players rest. The Pelicans went 2-4 in the bubble with offensive struggles holding the team back.

The Sacramento Kings also have been eliminated, extending the franchise’s playoff drought to 14 years. The last time the Kings were in the playoffs was 2006.

The Memphis Grizzlies sit as the eighth seed in the West, with Portland the ninth seed and just half-a-game back. San Antonio (one game back of Memphis) and Phoenix (1.5 games back) are both alive in the playoff chase still.

New Orleans getting eliminated ends J.J. Redick‘s playoff streak at 13 seasons, the longest of any active player and tied for seventh-longest all-time (the record is a tie at 19 between Karl Malone and John Stockton, who did it together). Getting eliminated is what leads to a 1000-mile stare meme.

 

 

 

 

Joel Embiid will not return to 76ers game due to left ankle injury

Joel Embiid injury
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Philadelphia’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad bubble continues.

Joel Embiid went back to the locker room during the first quarter of the 76ers game against the Trail Blazers and will not return to the court due to a left ankle injury, the team announced, via Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

There are no other details yet on Embiid’s condition. He has been far-and-away the best player on a Philadelphia team that has struggled through the NBA’s restart in Orlando.

The 76ers have already lost Ben Simmons, likely for the rest of this season, due to knee surgery.

Despite the injuries and rough play, Philly was 3-1 entering Sunday. However, the one loss was to red-hot T.J. Warren and Indiana, which essentially locked the 76ers into the six seed (and a likely first-round meeting with Boston).

Embiid is averaging 30 points a game in Orlando and put up a ridiculous 41 points, 21 rebounds line against Indiana.

If Embiid misses much time, the Sixers’ chances against any team near the top of the East are slim. At best.

Play-in series guaranteed in West after Toronto beats Memphis

NBA play-in
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It’s now official: There will be a play-in series to determine the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Memphis’ 108-99 loss to Toronto on Sunday means that it’s no longer possible for more than a four-game difference in the standings between the eighth- and ninth-place finishers in the West when the seeding game schedule ends later this week.

By the rules the NBA set for this season’s restart, there had to be more than a four-game cushion for the No. 8 team to get the final playoff spot outright. The league decided to add the play-in series option in an abundance of fairness, since about 14% of the regular season schedule was eliminated because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Memphis remains alone in eighth place, even after Sunday’s loss. Portland is one game behind and is in the nine seed (with a Philadelphia Sunday night). San Antonio (who beat New Orleans Sunday) and red-hot Phoenix are 1.5 games back of the Grizzlies. New Orleans is now two games back and with a difficult road to the postseason.

No team has clinched a spot in the play-in series; the Grizzlies could have assured themselves of no worse than that had they beaten the Raptors on Sunday.

Game 1 of the play-in series will be Saturday, with Game 2 — if necessary — the following day, Aug. 16. To advance and face the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, the eighth-place team will have to win one of the two games and the ninth-place finisher would have to go 2-0.

ABC will air Game 1 of the play-in series on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EDT. Game 2, if necessary, would be Aug. 16 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN.

There will be no play-in series in the Eastern Conference; Brooklyn and Orlando have secured what were the last two available spots on that bracket, with Washington — the only other team that came to Disney with a chance of qualifying in the East — already eliminated.

The playoffs begin Monday, Aug. 17.

“Obviously, that’s what everybody’s goal is,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said Sunday.

The matchup for the play-in will be known no later than Thursday. There are four seeding games on Friday, the last day of the regular season, though none of them will have any bearing on the West matchup.