Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

On one month anniversary of NBA shutdown we know little more than we did then

Leave a comment

It was one month ago today that Thunder trainer Donnie Strack, wearing a suit, raced up to the referees just moments before tip-off of Utah in Oklahoma City to tell them Jazz center Rudy Gobert had just tested positive for the coronavirus.

Soon after, the game was canceled. Games being played went on as scheduled, but that night the New Orleans game at Sacramento was called off because one of the referees had worked a Jazz game a couple of nights before.

That was the last day any of us saw NBA basketball live. The NBA was shut down.

One month later, we know little more than we did then.

“When we initially shut down, we were calling it a hiatus or a pause. There was no sense our country would be shut down. In some ways, I know less now than I did then…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said less than a week ago. “I’ve told my folks that we should just accept that for the month of April, we won’t be in a position to make any decisions. That doesn’t mean on May 1st, we will be. It’s just, honestly, too early to project or predict where we will be in the next few weeks.”

That hasn’t changed.

Ten NBA players — including Gobert and Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell, plus stars such as Kevin Durant and Marcus Smart — tested positive for the disease. Fortunately, none were seriously ill. Multiple people on team staffs, including Knicks owner James Dolan, also tested positive.

Nationally, more than 18,500 people have died from the disease — the United States has passed Italy for the nation with most deaths due to COVID-19 — and nearly 500,000 people have tested positive. While there are models and projections — which show the stay-at-home and social distancing orders are working — nobody knows for sure when the peak of the disease in the United States will be.

Nobody knows when life will return to something resembling pre-coronavirus normal.

Which leaves the NBA stuck in limbo, along with all major sports.

The health and safety of the players remains paramount, but there is no money coming into the league at the gate right now and teams are taking a financial hit (like nearly every other business nationwide). There have been team staff layoffs and salary reductions (with more to come). While that pain has yet to hit players with cuts in pay, that is coming. All of that will add pressure to Adam Silver to get the league playing again.

NBA staff — working from home, along with representatives of the players union — are trying to map out scenarios to return to play and find a way to crown a champion for this season.

The most likely way that happens is a “bubble” — bring all the players, coaches, training staffs, equipment managers, referees, plus broadcast crews and more — to one city, essentially quarantine them there creating a safe environment. Then games could be played, without fans, and televised. There might be some regular season games, although that seems like a long shot, and then a condensed playoff format.

This plan brings a lot of challenges. They have tried to do it in China and twice that basketball league had to push back its timeline.

Trainers who spoke to NBC Sports said they would like a month of a mini-training camp before games were played — needing time to ramp guys up and avoid injuries — but they don’t expect to get that. A scenario being bounced around would have two weeks of players in the bubble being able to work out individually (one player, one trainer, one half of the court) followed by two weeks of camp and some scrimmages. Then games.

That means telling NBA players they need to be isolated from their families and friends for more than a month to play these games. For teams advancing deep in even a shortened playoffs, it will be more than two months.

The NBA reportedly does not want to go deep into September with its playoffs, but working backward from that the league would need to create its “bubble” and get players in likely by about mid-June and playing in July.

For the NBA to pull this “bubble” off they need a venue — Las Vegas is the most-discussed destination — and they would need access to fast, accurate tests to detect the disease. The NBA and players union are looking at the testing availability, but finding tests that do not have a lot of false negatives has not been easy. Plus, the NBA does not want the perception it is pulling thousands of tests — and potentially the lab time to process them — away from hotspots of the disease that need them. As a nation, a lack of testing has hampered our ability to track and contain the virus; the NBA understands how that could look if tests are not widely and readily available.

There are other challenges with the bubble — keeping hotel staff, cooks, security, and everyone else around the bubble tested; players leaving the bubble to enjoy the distractions of Las Vegas or wherever — but the league is looking intently at this option.

Because it is their only option. Certainly for this season, maybe for the start of next season.

Who knows how long it will be before 18,000 people will feel safe and want to gather in an arena to watch LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo or anyone else play. Who knows when the kind of travel the traditional NBA schedule requires will be taking place. Unless the NBA wants to push the return of games until next December — something that comes with its own host of challenges, including NBA and MLB teams sharing regional broadcast networks — it’s tough to say what the start of next season will look like.

Right now, it’s tough to say what anything looks like.

Because one month since the NBA suspended its season, nobody knows what comes next. Nobody knows much more than we did a month ago.

 

NBA world reacts to Anthony Davis’ game-winner for Lakers

NBA reacts anthony davis
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

It might go down as the shot of the playoffs. The Denver Nuggets had battled back from 16 points down to take the lead behind a brilliant performance from Nikola Jokic, who had the team’s final 11 points. Throw in a Jamal Murray block and the Nuggets were up one with 2.1 seconds left.

Then Anthony Davis happened.

The Lakers won the game (going up 2-0 in the series) and the NBA world took to Twitter to react — including a lot of NBA players.

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Dates, times, matchups for all games

Leave a comment

And there were four.

The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsets galore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites at this point.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL, and to let the West catch up. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA has released an NBA Finals schedule to teams and their target is still a Sept. 30 Game 1. If either conference finals goes seven games that date will need to be pushed back.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Heat 106, Celtics 101
Game 3: Celtics 117, Heat 106 (Miami leads series 2-1)
Game 4: Sept. 23, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 5: Sept. 25, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
Game 6: Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
Game 7: TBD (ESPN)*
*If necessary

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets

Game 1: Lakers 126, Nuggets 114
Game 2: Lakers 105, Nuggets 103 (Lakers lead series 2-0)
Game 3: Sept. 22, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 4: Sept. 24, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Sept. 26, 9 p.m. (TNT)*
Game 6: Sept. 28, TBD (TNT)*
Game 7: Sept. 30, TBD (TNT)*
*If necessary

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0

Anthony Davis drains game-winner at buzzer to put Lakers up 2-0

Leave a comment

It looked like Nikola Jokic, the All-NBA Second Team center, was going to be the star of the game — he scored Denver’s last 11 points and had them up with 2.7 seconds to go.

Then Anthony Davis — the All-NBA First Team center — drained this game-winner, a three over Jokic at the buzzer to win the game.

This is why the Lakers got Anthony Davis (and gave up a lot to get him).

That shot gave the Lakers the 105-103 win to put them up 2-0 in the series. Game 3 is Tuesday night.

Davis carried the Lakers at the end of the game, hitting a couple of clutch threes, and finished with 31 points and nine rebounds. He has been the best Laker in this series, with 68 points and 19 rebounds through two games.

For the Lakers, it was a dramatic win in a game where they were sloppy with 23 turnovers, and where their defense came apart for stretches of the game. Good teams win ugly games, that’s how the Lakers have to view it.

Denver supporters may want to spin this as “look how much better we played” — and they did, slowing the pace down (97 possessions, via NBA.com) and getting inside more, taking advantage of switches — but the reality is the Lakers are only going to have bad outings once or twice a series and the Nuggets needed to take advantage. They didn’t, and this loss stings.

“This is the Western Conference Finals. No moral victories, no silver linings,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said postgame.

Davis’ good look to win the game came on the kind of defensive breakdown Denver has at times that other teams have not exploited these playoffs. Mason Plumlee was inserted for his size and defense, and he was on Davis, who simply runs across the top of the arc. Plumlee doesn’t stick with him, instead running over by LeBron James, who is just hanging out at the elbow (but Denver fears), and acts like there should be a switch. Torrey Craig can’t switch, if he does that LeBron has a free lane to the rim and an easy two. If it was an X-out style switch then Plumlee needed to trail Davis all the way to Jokic, he didn’t, leaving Jokic a ridiculously long closeout. Jokic read the play and got there to contest, but Davis had gotten a clean look.

Jokic had 30 points and nine rebounds for Denver, taking over the game when it mattered most and looking like an elite playoff performer. Jamal Murray had 25 points on 8-of-19 shooting and (as The Athletic’s John Hollinger noted on Twitter) was +16 in 44:14 minutes, meaning Denver was -18 in the 3:46 he was on the bench getting some rest. Denver got 15 points from Michael Porter Jr. and good minutes out of P.J. Dozier (although his five missed free throws in six attempts came back to bite the team).

Los Angeles got 26 points and 11 boards from LeBron and 11 points each from Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Lakers came out flat in this game except for LeBron, who had the team’s first 12 points. It looked like a close game until the Lakers went on an 18-3 run in the second quarter, with 8-0 of that coming with LeBron on the bench. The highlight of that was an Alex Caruso dunk that had the Lakers bench up and yelling.

Los Angeles stretched the lead out to as many as 16, but the Nuggets never quit.

Anthony Davis had to shut the door on them.

Watch Alex Caruso monster dunk, LeBron and Laker bench reaction

Alex Caruso dunk
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alex Caruso has sneaky hops. Fans relate to him because he doesn’t look like an NBA player — he doesn’t really give off the vibe of one when you see him hanging out in the Lakers’ locker room either — but watch him on the court and he is more athletic than people realize. Alex Caruso can sky and throw down a dunk.

Just ask the Denver Nuggets.

The best part of this? The reaction of LeBron James and the Lakers bench.

The Alex Caruso dunk was part of an 8-0 Laker run right as LeBron went to get some rest. Denver had done a good job early being right with the Lakers by controlling the pace and limiting the Lakers in transition. That fell apart in the second quarter, fueled by Denver’s seven second-quarter turnovers (13 for the half), which allowed the Lakers to get out and run.

And Caruso to dunk, firing up the team.