Zion Williamson scores 32, but Danilo Gallinari’s hot shooting late gets Thunder win

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NEW ORLEANS — Danilo Gallinari scored 29 points, Chris Paul had 14 points and 12 assists, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New Orleans Pelicans 123-118 on Thursday night.

Zion Williamson scored 32 points for New Orleans, his second straight game scoring more than 30. It is Williamson’s sixth straight game scoring at least 20 points.

However, Gallinari’s clutch shooting — he had 11 points in the fourth quarter — kept the Pelicans at bay.

New Orleans, which trailed by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, rallied behind Williamson’s dominant inside play to take several slim leads inside the final six minutes.

But after Lonzo Ball’s corner 3 gave the Pelicans a 111-110 lead, Gallinari hit a fall-away in the paint and followed up by rattling in a 3. He added free throws and a left-wing pull-up in the final minutes, the last making it 121-115 with a half-minute left.

Dennis Schroder scored 22 points for the Thunder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 17 points. Thunder center Steven Adams capped his 11-point, 11-rebound, three-block night with a clutch jumper in the paint that made it 119-114.

JJ Redick scored 24 points for the Pelicans, who saw their three-game winning streak snapped in a compelling, highlight-filled contest that saw 22 lead changes and 12 ties.

Both teams shot better than 48%, but New Orleans was done in by 17 turnovers that the Thunder converted into 24 points. Oklahoma City committed just nine turnovers.

Williamson delighted the crowd on both ends of the floor. He rejected Abdel Nader’s floater in the paint with a volleyball-style spike out of play. His dunks included one on a putback and another on an alley-oop feed from Frank Jackson.

Paul had nine of his assists in the opening two quarters, the last of those coming in a rather unusual way. Paul unloaded the ball to Adams in the back court in the final seconds of the half, and Adams hurled the ball right into the hoop from beyond half-court.

The shot, which gave the Thunder a 66-58 lead, was the first 3-pointer of Adams’ career. He celebrated it with a brief, smiling shimmy before jogging with teammates toward the tunnel to the locker room.

Bookie: Derrick Jones Jr.-Kevin Durant video-game result leaked, tilted betting

Kevin Durant and Derrick Jones Jr.
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Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr. beat Nets star Kevin Durant in an NBA video-game tournament.

Their matchup was televised Friday night on ESPN. But Jones said they played and record the game earlier, according to a since-deleted tweet by Ira Winderman of the South Florida SunSentinel.

That pre-taping has opened the door to a scandal.

Cool Media PR:

The NBA 2K Players Only Tournament over the weekend caused a headache for sportsbooks because it was pre-taped, and information was ultimately leaked.

“We initially made Durant the favorite to win the tournament, but he was taking very little action over the course of the first 24 hours,” Robert Cooper, Odds Manager at SportsBetting.ag, said. “When we posted the first-round matchup lines and the bets were completely one-sided toward Jones Jr., it became obvious that someone knew the outcome of the game.”

That’s a major allegation.

The NBA is embracing gambling, trying to draw the related revenue while remaining secure. That’s easier said than done, and this episode should serve as a grave warning for the league.

Before going forward, this situation alone is serious. There ought to be major questions facing everyone involved.

Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey, likely lottery pick, declares for NBA draft

Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey
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Kentucky sophomore Ashton Hagans declared for the NBA draft yesterday.

Now comes the main attraction from Lexington.

Tyrese Maxey:

Maxey will likely be a lottery pick, though that requires significant projection to justify.

The guard sometimes looks like a premier scorer. He handles the ball well and create his own shot. He shot well from outside before Kentucky and made 83 percent of his free throws last season. But he connected on just 29 percent of his 3-pointers. That 3-point percentage must – and could – increase majorly in the NBA.

Maxey’s inside game is more advanced. He can change speeds, and his floater is effective.

He’s also a solid defender who plays hard. His approach to the game is commendable – and it has to be. Maxey is not an especially explosive athlete. That gives him a narrow needle to thread as he enters the NBA.

At 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, Maxey could settle in at either guard position. His potential is highest at point guard, where he’d have the ball in his hands more. But he must distribute better – another skill he showed flashes of but didn’t sustain consistently.

2020 PBT Awards: Rookie of the Year

Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson and Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant
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The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

1. Ja Morant, Grizzlies

2. Zion Williamson, Pelicans

3. Kendrick Nunn, Heat

That Zion somehow lived up to — if not surpassed — his over-the-top hype is “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” stuff. He is (barring injury) going to be the best player out of this class. That, however, is not what Rookie of the Year is based upon, it’s the best rookie of this past season. Morant wins that based on one simple stat: 59 > 19. Or, to use a coaches’ cliché, availability is the greatest ability. Williamson was injured much of the season while Morant averaged 17.6 points and 6.9 assists a game, turning a team that was expected to be one of the NBA’s worst into a playoff team (as of when play was suspended). Morant is special too, and he had the better season.

Dan Feldman

1. Ja Morant, Grizzlies

2. Zion Williamson, Pelicans

3. Kendrick Nunn, Heat

Ja Morant is my runaway winner. I want to reward the rookie who produced the most this season. That was clearly Morant, who led the Grizzlies into playoff position – a rarity for a rookie point guard. He was electric. Zion Williamson was even better, but in just 19 games, he didn’t come close to matching the overall contributions of Morant in 59 games.

The actual close race was between Williamson, Nunn and Memphis big Brandon Clarke for the rest of the ballot. Even in his limited availability, Williamson still significantly altered more games than the other two.

Kendrick Nunn gets credit for carrying a much bigger load than Clarke, who was exemplary in his more-limited role.

Keith Smith

1. Ja Morant, Grizzlies

2. Zion Williamson, Pelicans

3. Kendrick Nunn, Heat

Had Zion Williamson been able to play the rest of the season, and if he dragged New Orleans past Memphis and into in the playoffs, I may have given him the nod. As it stands, it’s Ja Morant’s award to win. Not only was his play terrific all season, but he had Memphis as the surprise of the year. No one had the Grizzlies as a playoff team, and when the season was suspended, they had a 3.5 game lead. A lot of that is owed to Morant. Kendrick Nunn is a distant third, but his first year in the NBA has been one of the biggest surprises in recent memory for a single player. A G League player who had to scrap his way into the league and a full-time starter, Nunn earned this third-place finish.

Top seeds continue to fall while Bucks, Lakers dominate NBA 2K Players Tournament

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We’re through the first round of the NBA 2K Players Tournament — eight players are out, eight remain — and a few trends have emerged.

Starting with: Being the best at basketball does not make you the best at 2K.

This tournament was seeded based on the players’ 2K player rankings, and the top seeds have fallen hard. Sunday, the latest was Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, who was the No. 4 seed overall but fell to No. 13 Rui Hachimura of the Wizards 74-71. Mitchell missed a three — taken by Spencer Dinwiddie — at the buzzer to tie it. But he handled it well.

That means the top seed (Kevin Durant), three seed (Hassan Whiteside), and now four seed have lost. The only top-four seed remaining is Trae Young.

Another trend: Players want the elite teams. In the eight first-round games, the Bucks or Lakers were selected four times each. After that, the Clippers were selected twice (once by Montrezl Harrell on Sunday). Only a couple of players have chosen their own team, and Devin Booker was not about to be one of those.

Here are the first-round results:
• No. 16 Derrick Jones Jr. 78, No. 1 Kevin Durant 62
• No. 10 Deandre Ayton 57, No. 7 Zach LaVine 41
• No. 2 Trae Young 101, No. 15 Harrison Barnes 59
• No. 14 Patrick Beverley 84, No. 3 Hassan Whiteside 54
• No. 8 Montrezl Harrell 71, No. 9 Domantas Sabonis 53
• No. 13 Rui Hachimura 74, No. 4 Donovan Mitchell 71
• No. 5 Devin Booker 85, No. 12 Michael Porter Jr. 75
• No. 6 Andre Drummond 101, No. 11 DeMarcus Cousins 49

Drummond used the Lakers to crush Cousins, but still doesn’t understand the power of Alex Caruso. Boogie tried to explain.

As for insights into actual basketball games, Booker said he would rather go up against the Bucks than the Lakers in a series.

Play in the tournament returns Tuesday night.