NBA
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In-season stoppage now longest in NBA history

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The Cavaliers swept the Hawks in the 2015 Eastern Conference finals. The next night, the Warriors finished off the Rockets in a five-game Western Conference finals. With both series done so quickly, the NBA had a seven-day layoff until the NBA Finals were scheduled to start. NBA commissioner Adam Silver looked into moving up the NBA Finals. In previous years, the league built in a potential earlier NBA Finals start date for such scenarios. But – due to increased influence of television, both domestically and abroad – he found it infeasible. So, everyone waited more than a week without basketball.

The NBA is far more helpless to resume games now.

On March 11, the league suspended play (effective the following day) due to the coronavirus. That means we have gone eight straight days without an NBA game.

Already, that would be the longest in-season stoppage in NBA history, topping the seven days off before the 2015 NBA Finals. And this hiatus will extend far longer, smashing the record.

Of course, the season might already be finished. The goal is clearly to complete it, but we’re in the midst of a pandemic. Nothing can be taken for granted. If the season doesn’t continue, this wouldn’t count as an in-season stoppage.

Here’s every in-season stoppage that has lasted more than four days, including the potential current one:

NBA hiatus

Red: Current hiatus due to coronavirus

Orange: Layoff between conference finals and NBA Finals

Blue: All-Star break, which the league lengthened a few years ago

Green: The NBA opened its 1959-60 season with a special slate nationally televised on NBC – Boston Celtics vs. Cincinnati Royals on Saturday, Minneapolis Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons on Sunday. The league didn’t hold another game until the following Saturday – taking off the entire five-day work week.

Back then, the NBA put a larger share of its games on weekends. The Oct. 17 start date that season was the earliest the league had ever begun. That allowed another weekend for games to be played.

In fact, the early openers were so far outside the norm, the Knicks played a preseason game (against college stars) the same day the regular season tipped off, according to the indispensable Curtis Harris of ProHoopsHistory.

An Associated Press article previewing the season, provided by the NBA league office, even described the resumption of play on Oct. 24 as the beginning of “fullscale competition.” This looks like an attempt to market two games as high-profile, setting them off from the rest of the season.

It’s a reminder of a distant time, back when the NBA had firm control over its schedule. That was a different era.

A week-and-a-half ago.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.