NBA coaches use break to prepare for possible playoff matchups

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With NBA games indefinitely on hold, there has been a lot of discussion about postseason possibilities — including by coaches around the league.

They’re preparing for what a resumption of the season that was shut down March 11 could look like in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Toronto coach Nick Nurse said he’s trying to prepare for every possibility that would allow the Raptors a chance to defend their title.

“We’re ready for whatever is thrown at us,” Nurse said recently during a conference call with reporters. “I don’t think it really matters. What matters is that we attack the title in whatever format it’s going to be presented in and we go for it.”

No one knows what will be thrown at the NBA or the rest of the sports world. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising against large gatherings make the calendar a major factor in how the league could resume its season.

The ideas are many, from a shortened version of the remaining schedule played without fans to the very real possibility of jumping straight into the playoffs to ensure a season is completed before the end of summer.

Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said he has spent part of this hiatus studying the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets — the Bucks’ two most likely first-round playoff foes — as well as other Eastern Conference teams.

Nurse had already begun thinking postseason before the season was suspended.

“When we hit March 1, we’ve got a kind of playoff prepping plan thing that kicks in,” the Raptors coach said. “We spread the teams around our staff members and they prepare a pretty detailed couple of hour video sessions.

“They would normally come into my office and start showing that to me one-on-one. It’s a two-hour video that we go through probably in about three hours on certain teams in the East and then a handful of them in the West as well.

“The coaches were started in on that already and they’ll continue on that. The only difference is there’s no real one-one-one time with me yet. They’ll probably just have to send me their edit and then I’ll just have to watch them and talk to them on the phone.”

If the NBA resumes the season with the start of the postseason, Nurse and Toronto would be the No. 2 seed in the East and would host No. 7 Brooklyn. Other matchups would be: No. 1 Milwaukee vs. No. 8 Orlando; No. 3 Boston vs No. 6 Philadelphia; and No. 4 Miami vs No. 5 Indiana.

In the West: No. 1 LA Lakers vs No. 8 Memphis; No. 2 LA Clippers vs No. 7 Dallas; No. 3 Denver vs No. 6 Houston; No. 4 Utah vs No. 5 Oklahoma City.

As good as the matchups look on paper, the play could be sloppy.

Celtics center Enes Kanter estimates it would take at least two to three weeks for players to get their bodies in game shape. Part of the reason, he said, is the time players have had away from the court.

Kanter believes a training camp-like period would probably be needed.

“You can’t just say ‘OK, we’re going to play the games a week later.’ Some players are doing some things. Some players are in their apartments not doing anything,” Kanter said during a conference call. “We need to make sure everybody is doing their stuff and is in good shape to go out there and compete if we jump straight into playoffs.”

Kanter said a training camp setting would also help players refocus. He said while he’s staying in shape, he’s also spending time reading, watching documentaries and teaching himself to cook and play the piano.

It’s clear time is not the NBA’s friend.

Monday marked the 26th day of the shutdown, a stoppage that has already cost the league more than 100 games. And the CDC is recommending that no in-person events involving 10 or more people be held through the end of April as the U.S. fights the spread of the pandemic. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Monday the league would not make any decisions about resuming the season until May at the earliest.

Kanter said if a decision is made to jump straight to the postseason, he hopes the length of the series won’t be affected.

“We’re competitors, man. We want to go out there and push through and finish the season,” he said. “It’s crazy because we have a really good chance to go out there and get a championship. So, it’s like for sure you want to go out there and compete.”

Dončić dodges suspension, NBA rescinds 16th technical

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets
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This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”

The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.

That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.

Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.

This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000  for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a  Mavericks loss.

Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.

MVP showdown off: 76ers to sit Joel Embiid due to calf tightness

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Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.

Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.

Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.

Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.

From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.

James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.

But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.

Joel Embiid not stressing about MVP: ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.’

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
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Joel Embiid is the MVP betting favorite — -160 at our partner PointsBet — heading into Monday’s showdown with the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (+180 at PointsBet).

Embiid campaigned for the MVP award the past couple of years but came up second to Jokić. This season, Embiid is not stressing about it. Or at least trying not to stress about it. Here is what Embiid told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.

Why hasn’t Embiid won the MVP? Outside of Jokić also being deserving and the complaints of Antetokounmpo and others that the criteria for the award are constantly changing (which suggests there are criteria for the award, but there are none officially), Embiid thinks it’s because he is not well-liked.

People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is … when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.

There’s no doubt he will leave the game remembered as one of the great 76ers and a “monster” on both ends when healthy. However, resume matters with legacy and an MVP award helps with that. Just not as much as being the best player on a championship team, something more difficult to pull off because it requires a lot of help (it’s up for debate whether Embiid has the help he needs around him to win it all, and if they can stay healthy enough to make that run).

This season the MVP race is a tight three-way contest between Embiid, Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450 at PointsBet). There are legitimate cases to be made for each member of this trio. However, with the Sixers surging (and the Nuggets stumbling a little), things may break his way this season.

Another dominant performance against Jokić with just a couple of weeks left in the season would stick in voters’ minds and help his cause.

Kyrie Irving has fan ejected during road loss to Hornets

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Sunday was not a good day for the Mavericks and Kyrie Irving.

In addition to losing their second-straight game to the Hornets (and fourth straight overall) to fall out of even the play-in out West, Irving had a Hornets fan ejected from the game Sunday. Irving pointed the situation out to the referee, and soon arena security was involved and the man was escorted out.

It is unclear what the fan said to Irving, but more players in recent years have taken this step with fans they feel had crossed the line of common decency. Irving addressed the situation in his postgame press conference.

Irving and the Mavericks heard boos from their fans at home last Friday during a loss to these same Hornets, and Irving’s response that night was more defiant in tone.

“So what? Just the way I feel about it. I’ve been in New York City so I know what that’s like. You obviously want to play well, but there’s only five people on the court who can play for the Dallas Mavericks. If the fans wanna change places, then hey, be my guest. Got years of work ahead to be great enough to be on this level. But our focus isn’t necessarily on the boos, it should be on the performance.”

That performance has been lacking — the Mavericks have lost four in a row, 7-of-9, and if the postseason started today they would be fishing in Cabo. Irving hasn’t been the problem (the Mavericks are 4.5 per 100 possessions better when he is on the court), but he hasn’t been the solution, either. Irving is a free agent after this season and said he and Luka Dončić are still getting used to playing with one another.