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Three Things to Know: If NBA locker rooms are cleared for coronavirus, are arenas next?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) If NBA locker rooms are cleared for coronavirus, are arenas next? Everyone is trying to find a balance when it comes to Coronavirus/COVID-19 precautions… well, not everyone. We all know and see the panicked people raiding your local COSTCO because they envision this is the first step in the zombie apocalypse, or whatever.

The NBA doesn’t want to be the business equivalent of the hysterical surburbanite stocking up on toilet paper, bottled water, Purell, Lysol wipes, surgical masks, and more toilet paper (for some reason) as they prepare for the pandemic end times YouTube conspiracy-theory nuts have convinced them is coming.

The league doesn’t want to be whistling past the graveyard, either.

Monday the NBA — along with the NHL, MLB, and MLS — announced they were closing locker rooms to the media before and after games for the time being. The league has said this is a temporary step. “After consultation with infectious disease and public health experts, and given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice.”

Following that logic to its conclusion… it’s a health concern to have 20 or so extra people around a locker room for 45 minutes before a game, but it’s still okay to pack 20,000 people in a building for a few hours to watch a sporting event?

I’m not suggesting the NBA should start playing games in empty buildings, as has happened in Italian soccer (and elsewhere). The opposite, actually. I think that would be a dramatic overreaction. The CDC has said this should be a community-by-community decision. The canceling of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells — a big part of the tennis tour — makes some sense, that is an international event that descends upon a community where people go to retire (nearly 2/3 of the Indian Wells population is 65 or older, the people most at risk to the disease). I’ve been to that event multiple times, let me politely say the crowd there skews much older than your average sporting event.

NBA games do not skew older, and the cities where NBA games are played have seen some cases but not the kind of outbreaks that have hit places such as the Seattle area. We are not at the “close the arenas” place yet.

However, it feels like we are closer to that than people realize.

Of course, the league is going to be quicker to close locker rooms (the media does not make the teams money directly) compared to keeping out fans (who do generate income for the teams when they walk through the door), but they have started down the road to get there. The NBA is consulting with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well as other experts on the course of action. Still, as the number of cases inevitably grows in urban centers — where teams are located — the NBA and its franchises will have to make some tough choices.

Can you imagine NBA games being played in empty arenas? It’s happened during major East Coast weather events before. Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer can envision it.

NBA teams had to submit plans to the league today on steps to limit player/fan exposure at games, and for potential next steps. The conference call between the league and teams comes on Wednesday. After that, we should have some clarity, as much as anyone does with this disease right now.

2) Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic were putting up highlight plays in win over the shorthanded Bucks. Milwaukee, on the second night of a back-to-back (and third road game in four nights), sat just about everyone you can name on that roster Monday night: Giannis Antetokounmpo (sprained knee), Eric Bledsoe (knee), George Hill (leg), Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, and Donte DiVincenzo were all out.

The Bucks deserve credit for keeping it close, but the Nuggets got the 109-95 win. What was impressive for Denver wasn’t just the win, it was the highlights.

Jamal Murray had a Dunk of the Year candidate — until the bad call against him.

There is no way that is an offensive foul. The Bucks’ D.J. Wilson was moving, not vertical, not in the restricted area, and Murray did not use his off arm to create space.

Nikola Jokic’s football passes have become a thing and he did it again on Monday night.

Here is Murray to Jarami Grant — and the officials let this one count.

It’s a good win for Denver as they try to chase down the Clippers for the two seed in the West and hold off the Jazz (who are now two games back).

3) Toronto beats Utah and Rudy Gobert is a frustrated man. There were a lot of things the Raptors did right visiting the Jazz on Monday night. One was getting Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka going, both of them had 28 points on the night.

Another thing Toronto did right was isolating Rudy Gobert when the Jazz had the ball. Gobert finished the night with six points on four shots, Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley did a poor job of finding him in the flow of the offense.

Gobert wasn’t getting touches, then he got in a little tussle with OG Anuoby that somehow led to an ejection with less than a minute to go in the game (this is a soft ejection in my book).

Gobert was emotional and worked up after the game, saying in the future if he’s going to get ejected, he’s going to get his money’s worth (via ESPN).

“I don’t think it makes sense to me. But next time, I’ll do justice myself so the official can eject me for a reason,” Gobert told reporters…

Gobert said Anunoby “tried to elbow me in the face.”

“And the guy that’s getting paid to protect the other players didn’t do his job,” Gobert said, referring to the officials. “There was a little altercation, and we both got ejected when I didn’t do anything back, pretty much, which I don’t understand.”

Not sure I blame him.

Utah had righted the ship and won five in a row before this loss. They need all the wins they can get down the stretch, they sit as the Four seed in the West, now two games back of Denver for the three seed, but also just one game ahead of Oklahoma City and falling back to the five seed where they would start the playoffs on the road.

Are plans for a play-in tournament just to get Zion Williamson in the bubble?

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The cleanest, most straightforward, fewest extra people in the “bubble” way for the NBA to return to play is to invite the 16 teams already in the playoffs — eight from each conference — and skip right to the postseason.

However, there is a lot of momentum around the league for a play-in tournament with 20 teams (or more). Specifically, one that brings in the four teams in the West clumped three-and-a-half to four games behind Memphis for the last playoff spot (Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, and San Antonio).

Why those teams? Because they had a real chance to catch the Grizzlies if play had not stopped?

Or, is it because the league wants Zion Williamson — its bright young star who spiked ratings and interest when he returned from injury mid-season — in the bubble? On ESPN’s Hoop Collective podcast, Brian Windhorst said some other teams seem to think the play-in plan is all about Williamson.

“Let me just say how do you get to 20 [teams in the bubble] though? Because if you just go by the straight records, because to me, this is what I’ve already heard, alright. I’ve already heard people in this league say this is an elaborate game to get Zion Williamson into this bubble…

“I’m not saying the NBA is going this route, I’m just saying I’ve already heard this scenario that no matter what happens, the cutoff line will be the Pelicans. They’ll be in.”

Windhorst is very well connected and I don’t know who his sources were for this, but if you’re with the Wizards or Hornets (or maybe even Bulls and Knicks), you would push for the nine and 10 seed in each conference to be in the bubble, not the next four best records (which are all in the West).

The NBA is a star-based league, of course getting its hottest new property into more televised games is a discussion taking place. You’d be naive to think otherwise. Whether Zion and the Pelicans end up in Orlando ultimately is another question.

All the lobbying and leaking of restart plans to the media — and even the pronouncements of Damian Lillard saying he will play if there’s no shot at the postseason — are spin. This is teams lobbying for what is best for them and their chances. Elite teams like the Lakers and Bucks want no part of a soccer-style group stage that is more likely to produce upsets, they want something more traditional. The Bucks are no fans of 1-16 seedings because then they would have to go through both the Clippers and Lakers to win it all (while the Lakers should love that plan, it sets up perfectly for LeBron James and company). Teams back different play-in plans that better lineup for them. It’s all politicking.

This Friday, in a conference call with owners, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is going to lay out a series of return-to-play options. A week or two after that, the owners will get on a conference call again and vote. Until then, everyone is going to lobby for their own self-interest.

That restart likely has teams reporting to Orlando for training camps in mid-July with games starting in late July or early August. How long the season runs depends on the format chosen. Next season almost certainly will start around Christmas (or maybe a week or two earlier, at most).

When a retired Michael Jordan showed up, dominated a Warriors practice

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It was the winter of 1995, major league baseball was on strike and Michael Jordan — at that time still a member of the Chicago White Sox organization — refused to be a scab and cross the picket lines.

“Mike was thinking about coming back (to the NBA), he was getting that itch again, it was a lockout in baseball, and he just wanted to play some basketball,” NBA legend Tim Hardaway told NBC Sports.

The Last Dance documentary covered how Jordan was secretly taking part in Bulls’ practices at that time. What it didn’t cover was the time Jordan flew out to California to see his friend, Rod Higgins (a Warriors assistant coach), and absolutely dominated a Warriors practice.

“It was kind of embarrassing for a guy to take that many months off then to come into our practice and dominate the way he did,” Hardaway said. “But of course, he’s MJ.”

Warriors players tell the story on The Sports Uncovered podcast, which launched today by NBC and takes a unique look at some of the most significant moments in sports. Like Jordan saying, “I’m back.” You can listen to the podcast below or download it at Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your pods.

Jordan was always looking for a test, and the Warriors at the time provided one: Hardaway was one of the game’s great scorers (but was still coming off a torn ACL) and trash talkers, and Golden State had the game’s “it” up-and-coming player in Latrell Sprewell.

Hardaway takes the story from there.

“[Jordan] and [then Warriors assistant coach] Rod Higgins are really good friends, he just came to visit Rod and said, ‘Hey, Rod, you think [Don Nelson] would let me just come to practice and with y’all?’ And Rod asked him and coach was like, ‘s ***, why not, of course.’

“He just wanted to see where he was at, where his skills was at — and of course they was still there. The same skills, without much rust, that he left with. He was practicing with us, and I came up and was egging him on, ‘Let’s see what you got, s***, let’s see it.’ He said, ‘Alright, now, I’m still MJ.’ And I was like, ‘You had guys throwing balls at you, you been out two years, I heard you been shooting around but this here, this is the real deal now, you got to come and lace your s*** up.”

“It was him, Rony Seikaly, Chris Mullin, some other point guard, against me, Sprewell, some other guys, and man, we was playing for like two hours, and I wanted to go some more because he was bustin’ our a**. He wouldn’t let Sprewell dribble the ball at all — he kinda knew exactly what Sprewell could do, what he couldn’t do, his weaknesses and his strengths.

“It was like he never missed a beat, man. He was out there shooting fadeaways, dunking, playing defense, getting through screens, denying, jumping through passing lanes. It was a little rust, of course, but once he got going each game he got stronger and stronger, his timing got better, you could just tell. He was kinda tired at the end, but it was something to see.”

Hardaway, always the competitor, didn’t want to stop.

“I was kinda upset because I think his team took it more seriously than our team,” Hardaway said. “But he came in and put on a show in practice…

“He said ‘I can play all night, but you all have a game tomorrow and I don’t want to wear you out.’ I was not playing that much anyway so I wanted to get as much run as I can.”

Find out more about that legendary practice, and Jordan’s return, on The Sports Uncovered podcast.

 

NBA veteran Jason Terry takes job as assistant coach at Arizona

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Jason Terry played four years for the legendary Lute Olsen at Arizona, winning a national championship in 1997 and averaging 21.9 points a game his senior year. The Jet went on from there to play 19 years in the NBA, winning a Sixth Man of the Year award in 2009, and he was part of the 2011 Dallas Mavericks championship team.

Terry had moved into the front office side of the business and was serving as the assistant GM of the Texas Legends, Dallas’ G-League affiliate. Now, however, he is jumping back to his alma mater, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This is a smart hire by Arizona and head coach Sean Miller. High schoolers going to a major D-1 school all have NBA dreams and having a respected NBA veteran who can say “this is what it takes” on staff is a big plus. Besides, Terry was a smart player who knows the game and had a mentality suited to coaching.

For Terry, he’s back in a place he likes, he’s young (42) and has a world of options ahead of him.

Scott Foster says it’s going to be different officiating without fans in building

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The noise from 18,000 people can cover up a lot of sounds in an NBA arena. So when a back-bench assistant coach yells “bulls****” after a call he doesn’t like, the official never hears it and the game moves on.

Not when NBA games restart in fan-less facilities in Orlando in a couple of months. Without those fans, referees are going to get to hear that coach. And a whole lot more.

It’s going to be weird for referees in Orlando, just like for players, veteran official Scott Foster said recently on NBA TV.

I know I don’t want everything that we normally say to each other going out. But normally we’re all in a professional manner out there. But it is going to be different. There’s going to be some assistant coaches that we haven’t really heard from before sitting in the second row that we’ll be able to hear now, so there’s going to be some adjustment there. And then I think we’re going to need to really talk about and analyze what is OK for the public to hear and how we’re going to go about our business.

But it’s definitely going to be a different thing. I’m definitely looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a really unique experience for the referees, players, coaches, everybody who’s going to go through this.”

It is going to be unique. Everybody is going to hear everything, and that is going to be very different from most nights when coaches have to go to hand signals because it’s too loud just to call out a play. It’s going to lead to some awkward and tense moments.

Everyone is going to have to adjust to the new reality, and that includes the referees, too.