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Steve Kerr wonders if NBA players will play in Tokyo Olympics

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Golden State coach Steve Kerr was supposed to be in Tokyo for the Olympics this summer. And now he’s supposed to be there for the rescheduled version next summer.

Then again, Kerr isn’t certain if he — or anyone else from the NBA — will be there at all.

With the next NBA season not expected to start until at least Dec. 1, that calls into some serious question whether that could overlap with postponed Olympic qualifying tournaments that some nations will need to endure in June 2021 and the Tokyo Games themselves the following month. And Kerr, who is slated to be an assistant under San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich for USA Basketball in Tokyo, said Tuesday that he doesn’t have any idea how the schedule will work.

“Believe it or not, I haven’t had a single conversation with Pop about that,” Kerr said. “And the reason is because we don’t know. We’ve been talking almost daily now for the last couple of weeks and before that we were speaking once every few weeks. So, we haven’t even had a single conversation because there’s nothing to report.”

The U.S. is among eight teams who have already qualified for the 12-team men’s tournament at the Tokyo Olympics, which were pushed back a year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Americans had a ton of interest from top NBA stars for this summer; now with things delayed a year, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo has said he and Popovich will wait until the NBA schedule plans for 2020-21 become certain before mapping out an exact plan to build the roster.

FIBA pushed back the dates for the four remaining qualifying tournaments to June 29 through July 4, 2021, meaning they would end 19 days before the rescheduled start of the delayed Tokyo Olympics. There will be four different six-team, winner-goes-to-the-Olympics tournaments hosted by Canada, Croatia, Lithuania and Serbia.

Toronto coach Nick Nurse is scheduled to coach Canada in that qualifying tournament and, he hopes, the Olympics. But he expects that international travel is one of the last things that will return to normal, or whatever the new normal will be in a world dealing with COVID-19.

So, he’s like Kerr and left wondering what’ll happen.

“It’s complicated, is my best thought,” Nurse said. “I just don’t know enough to tell you what next season is going to look like. I don’t know. When’s it going to start? I think they’re talking about pushing it back, but I don’t know if they’re going to play games closer together. I don’t think so, that’s kind of a thing that everybody’s been happy that they continue to spread them out and lessen the back-to-backs and all those things.

“But if they do that, then it’s probably going to run into the Olympics, or really close to it, right? Lots of things that I don’t have a crystal ball on,” Nurse added.

Nurse, Popovich and Kerr surely aren’t the only coaches wondering on this point. Golden State associate head coach Mike Brown is set to coach Nigeria in Tokyo, Toronto assistant Sergio Scariolo will coach Spain and Philadelphia coach Brett Brown will coach Australia. Nigeria, Australia and Spain have joined the U.S. as having earned Olympic berths already, along with host Japan, Argentina, Iran and France.

And at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, a record 46 players from the NBA participated. Had the Olympics gone off this summer as planned, even more NBA players could have been there depending on which teams won the final four qualifying spots.

If the 2020-21 NBA season starts in December, that would likely mean a May finish to the regular season and serious potential for a schedule collision — NBA playoffs going off at the same time as the Olympic qualifiers and perhaps the Olympics themselves. The NBA has told players that it is planning for a December start to the season, given that this season’s NBA Finals once things restart next month at the Disney complex near Orlando, Florida could last until Oct. 12.

But one way the NBA could alleviate the potential for an Olympic problem is to get away from the player-friendlier scheduling models used in recent seasons that greatly lowered back-to-backs and eliminated the dreaded stretches of four games in five nights. If the league did that, it could buy some time and possibly make the Olympics fit on some player and coach schedules.

“They’ve talked to us on our team calls that it might be a condensed schedule next year, more so than in the past,” said Atlanta general manager Travis Schlenk, whose coach — Lloyd Pierce — is also scheduled to be a USA Basketball assistant next summer along with Kerr and Villanova’s Jay Wright.

Whether that’ll happen or not is anyone’s guess. Until that is known, it is very much a waiting game.

“We’re just sort of waiting to hear what the news is,” Kerr said. “If the news is good and we’re going to be able to take part, we’ll be ready to roll. And if not, we’ll deal with it later.”

Patrick Beverley injures calf, Clippers say they will be cautious with return

Patrick Beverley injury
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Injuries and not having their whole team together at once — allowing little chance to build real chemistry — was the story of the pre-hiatus Clippers. Nothing changed once they got inside the bubble.

The latest news: Point guard Patrick Beverley left the Clippers’ loss to the Suns Tuesday with calf tightness and did not return to the game. How serious is it?

“I don’t think it’s bad,” Doc Rivers said to reporters postgame. “We’re going to be very cautious, I can tell you that.”

The Clippers are always cautious with the return of players. Don’t expect to see much of Beverley for a couple of games.

Los Angeles sits as the two seed in the West, one game up on three-seed Denver. However, what really matters in a restart without home-court advantage is both Houston and Utah (the four/five seeds) are three games back. It’s improbable the Clippers give up that much ground in the five remaining seeding games.

Los Angeles now just needs to make sure it’s ready for the playoffs.

The Clippers had six players in-and-out of the bubble during training camp and are just now getting close to whole. Los Angeles did get Lou Williams back from quarantine on Wednesday — he addressed his chicken-wing fueled absence — but remain without Montrezl Harrell, who is grieving the loss of his grandmother.

Now Beverley will miss some time. The Clippers are 1-2 in the bubble, but both losses were tight ones (to the Lakers opening night and on Devin Booker‘s game-winner Tuesday). The Clippers are playing good defense but still look like a team that just needs to get healthy, and develop a little chemistry, before we know just how good they really are. It’s just a question of if and when they get the whole roster together.

Rajon Rondo returning to Florida to continue injury rehab

Rajon Rondo injury
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Rajon Rondo is coming back to Floria to continue his injury rehab — but not inside the bubble. Yet.

The Laker point guard fractured his thumb during practice before the season started, requiring surgery expected to sideline him 6-8 weeks, the team announced at the time. Three weeks into that, he is coming back to Florida for rehab, coach Frank Vogel told the media (via Dave McMenamin of ESPN).

Rondo is likely a few weeks from being back on the court. So long as he tests negative for seven consecutive days before returning to the NBA’s “bubble” campus, he will only be in quarantine for four days. While he can do some conditioning work during his rehab he’s still going to need some time to work back into game shape.

Rondo came off the bench for the Lakers this season, averaging 7.1 points and five assists a game. More importantly, he was the guy running the offense when LeBron James was off the court. Dion Waiters has stepped into that role, and the pairing of him with Alex Caruso and Kyle Kuzma has looked good so far (small sample size alert).

The Lakers have locked up the top seed in the West, they don’t need Rondo for the seeding games. However, when the playoffs start, Vogel and the Lakers will need all hands on deck to get through a deep and talented West.

Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic, Devin Booker show bubble is for the young

Luka Doncic Devin Booker
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Devin Booker drains game-winner, bubble Suns undefeated

Devin Booker desperately wants to be mentioned among the best guards in the league — and he puts up the raw numbers to be in that club. It has been his defense and the fact his team is still woeful that has kept him from getting membership.

Not in the bubble.

Phoenix is 3-0 at the NBA restart after Booker drained a turnaround game-winner over Paul George — giving Booker 35 points on the night — to beat the Clippers.

The Clippers helped beat themselves. The Suns had the ball with 31 seconds to go and the Clippers — Kawhi Leonard in particular — defended them well, forcing Ricky Rubio into a difficult, high-arcing shot he missed. Ivica Zubac did a good job grabbing the rebound, but then he hurried the outlet pass and Mikal Bridges tipped it, Deandre Ayton grabbed it, and the Suns got to reset and take one more shot. Then, on that shot, Zubac came out high to double, giving a lane to Booker to drive, and the rest is history. The Clippers are 1-2 in the bubble and not impressing anyone.

The Suns and Booker are impressing everyone.

2) Luka Doncic‘s historic triple-double reminder Mavericks are playoff threat

Those stumbling Clippers mentioned above most likely will face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs — and that has upset potential. In part because the Clippers have yet to find the chemistry and cohesion in the bubble — or have their key players all together — that they had the weeks before the league was shut down.

And in part because Luka Doncic can take over a game — and maybe a series. Doncic put up a ridiculous line of 34 points, 20 rebounds, and 12 assists, leading the Mavericks to an overtime win against the Kings. Doncic, at age 21, became the youngest NBA player ever with a 30-20-10 stat line, beating Oscar Robertson (23).

Doncic will be an All-NBA player this year (first or second team) and will get bottom-of-the-ballot MVP votes — he is an elite, franchise cornerstone player. Dallas is building a dangerous team around him (Kristaps Porzingis as the pick-and-pop partner, Tim Hardaway and Seth Curry as shooters, Dwight Powell doing the dirty work, and more) that seems a year or two away. But if youth is being served in the bubble, maybe not.

3) Jaren Jackson Jr.‘s injury changes feel of race for eighth in West.

The Memphis Grizzlies entered the restart with huge advantages — a 3.5 game lead for the eighth seed in the West, plus only having to win one-of-two games in a play-in series.

However, Memphis has started 0-3 in the bubble, and now this — young star center Jaren Jackson Jr. is out for the rest of the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee. It’s a blow to the Grizzlies, who have been competitive in those losses but now have lost their second-best player.

Memphis suddenly doesn’t feel safe as the eighth seed, not after Carmelo Anthony‘s dagger helped Portland beat Houston Tuesday night.

Portland is now just 1.5 games back of ailing Memphis for the eighth seed, with San Antonio (2 games behind Memphis) and New Orleans (2.5 back) lurking. Portland has three tough games coming up — Nuggets, Clippers, 76ers — while New Orleans has Zion Williamson playing more minutes and a soft schedule ahead. The race for the eighth spot in the West — the only real race in the bubble — feels wide open with five games to play.

And youth may be served.

Carmelo Anthony sinks dagger into Houston, Portland gets win

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Damian Lillard scored 21 points and Carmelo Anthony hit a big 3-pointer late to help the Portland Trail Blazers to a 110-102 victory over the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night.

The Blazers led by one before Lillard made one of two free throws. Anthony’s three then extended the lead to 107-102 when less than a minute to go.

Lillard raved about the contributions of Anthony, who found a home with the Trail Blazers after spending several months without a team last year following a brief stint with the Rockets.

“I think it’s more disappointing that people are surprised by it,” Lillard said. “He’s a Hall of Famer … he’s a great teammate and that’s what we expect from him.”

Coach Terry Stotts loves how Anthony has evolved to help his team.

“Earlier in his career, the ball would have been in his hands to start with,” Stotts said. “He has assimilated to his role and this team. He loves the game. He loves the camaraderie, he loves being in the NBA.”

Lillard added two free throws and Anthony, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds, made one in the final minute to secure the victory for Portland, which is fighting for a playoff spot.

“We understand what’s on the line and we know what we got to do to to give ourselves a chance in the postseason,” Lillard said. “And that’s what we’re doing.”

James Harden led Houston with 23 points and nine assists on a night he was slowed by foul trouble.

“I couldn’t be as aggressive as I wanted to being in foul trouble,” he said. “But we had a lot of open shots that if we make those those it’s a different ballgame.”

Jeff Green added a season-high 22 points as the Rockets lost for the first time in the bubble after winning their first two games.

The Blazers were up by six midway through the final quarter after CJ McCollum and Lillard made consecutive baskets. But Green scored all Houston’s points in a 7-1 spurt that tied it at 98 a minute later.

McCollum finished with 20 points as the Blazers pulled within 1 1/2 games of eighth-place Memphis.

“Our biggest problem with the whole game is first of all we didn’t come out with a lot of energy, and our defense was pretty slow to start,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said.

The game was tied again later in the fourth when Gary Trent Jr. made a 3-pointer to put Portland up 103-100. A driving layup by Harden cut the lead to one with about 2 minutes to go.

Danuel House made a 3-pointer to get the Rockets within two midway through the third quarter. Lillard then scored all of Portland’s points in a 9-3 run that pushed the lead to 82-74 with about 3 1/2 minutes left in the third.

Lillard had a three-point play and then sank 3s on consecutive possessions to allow the Trail Blazers to build the lead. Harden spent the last five minutes of the third quarter on the bench after picking up his fifth foul on the three-point play by Lillard.

Hassan Whiteside had four points for the Trail Blazers late in the third, but Austin Rivers capped the quarter with a 3-pointer to get Houston within 86-80 to start the fourth.