NBA coaches want to use platform to keep race conversation going, bring change

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MIAMI — The NBA plans to go to Disney World next month to finish a season, with a schedule calling for the 22 remaining teams to play more than 150 more games and for the league to eventually crown a champion.

Coaches are seeing potentially a bigger purpose as well.

Many players and coaches have spoken out in recent days following the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. But two coaches said Saturday that once the league arrives at Disney, they would expect the NBA’s visibility to be an asset again in the hope for actual change.

“I don’t think anybody is really ready to move on. And we shouldn’t,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “If anything, many times before, so tragically, there would be a similar incident of social injustice like this and then two weeks later people forget about it. This will be an opportunity for the entire association to land in one spot … to keep this conversation going and use our platform to make sure that this doesn’t go away.”

Spoelstra said he’s had numerous talks with other head coaches and some players in recent days about the best path the NBA could take next. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has talked at length about it in recent days as well, with numerous internal staff conversations on the topic going on this past week even as the league was finalizing the return-to-play proposal that the Board of Governors approved Thursday and players ratified Friday.

Orlando coach Steve Clifford also seems convinced that the league’s players and coaches will take some sort of action when the season resumes.

“I don’t think there’s any question,” Clifford said. “I think everybody’s priority right now and hope is that we can all be part of the change that’s so necessary in our country. We’ll have a collective platform where everyone can collectively send a message condemning racism, racial injustice, calling for police accountability. There will be a platform and I think we’re all thinking that way.”

Many of the league’s biggest names have used social media to condemn police brutality and racial injustice, and some NBA players have also appeared at demonstrations and marches around the nation in recent days.

The National Basketball Coaches Association has also said that it will work collectively to find answers and determine the best courses of action. It has not said if it has made any specific decisions yet, though said it intends to work with “local leaders, officials and law enforcement agencies” in NBA cities to influence change.

Spoelstra has been on several calls with political leaders in South Florida in recent days for that same purpose. He also said Saturday that the current racial strife in the country took him back to how Heat players responded in 2012 after the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen who was shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer – as well as countless other incidents.

“We all thought that that was going to move the needle and it didn’t and it broke your heart,” Spoelstra said. “And then when that happens over and over and over … what this is going to require is not even trying to evaluate, it’s just put your head down and get into this fight, and make it happen this time.”

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.