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NBA coaches preach flexibility as first real practices about to begin

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Practice facilities in the NBA have been open for a couple of months, with one major element missing from them.

No team has had an actual practice yet.

Most of the work that has gone on in those buildings during the NBA’s shutdown has been voluntary, and all of it has been of the individual variety – one player working at one basket with one ball. That changes starting Thursday, when the first handful of teams at the Disney complex will be permitted to have full-fledged practices again.

“Every day will be an adventure, a little bit of, `OK, here’s where we are today, this practice will reflect this, tomorrow’s practice might be totally different,”‘ Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “And that’s what makes it interesting. It makes it fun. But it’s a little bit like a training camp. Every year you know you lay out all these grand plans and about the third practice you go, `Ooop, they’re out.”‘

The teams that arrived at Disney on Tuesday, assuming quarantines are completed and other issues haven’t popped up, will likely be permitted to practice sometime Thursday. More teams arrive Wednesday and Thursday, so their first practice sessions, in theory, would be as early as Friday and Saturday respectively.

Teams will be assigned a three-hour window and be able to run practice on a pair of side-by-side courts, with training and weight rooms nearby. Disney staff will clean and disinfect everything after one team leaves, preparing it for the next team to arrive.

“Just like with probably everything the league is doing, I think it’d be wise to have a degree of flexibility sprinkled in with everything that you’re planning, a degree of being able to either back off or turn it up a little bit, either way,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said. “But to be honest with you, that happens a lot even in the normal season. There’s a plan for the first practice and we’ll see how it goes.”

Players haven’t even been allowed to play 1-on-1 yet at team facilities, per the rules of the individual workouts. That all changes at Disney, where teams will be able to practice for about two weeks before a series of three scrimmages begin on July 22.

The season resumes on July 30. Players have said throughout the shutdown that having only three weeks of actual practice to get ready for game action may not be enough – but that’s what the league ultimately decided the schedule would allow.

Most NBA coaches – D’Antoni, Budenholzer, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle and more – are going into this believing that plans have to be flexible.

“It’s not going to be a typical training camp where you jump in on Day One and just go full-bore,” Carlisle said. “Our players have done a great job of working on their individual conditioning with individual workouts with the coaches on the floor on a 1-to-1 basis … so I feel really good about where we’re at. But this is a different situation, it’s a different time, it’s a different set of circumstances.”

Toronto, the reigning NBA champion, has been on the road for a couple of weeks already, getting their individual work in at a pre-camp of sorts in Fort Myers, Florida. The Raptors couldn’t get their pre-Disney work in at home because of travel restrictions that would have applied to players coming into Canada from the U.S.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse said his players haven’t dreaded the 1-on-0 work that they’ve been limited to so far, saying his team has approached these weeks with “great professionalism” and that his plans for Disney are fairly loose right now.

“I don’t really know where we’re at,” Nurse said. “I can see individually. I think we look really good. But, what will that translate to when we get back into, you know, calling plays and running defenses and doing some things? … I know that I’m sensing they really want to play basketball.”

The Los Angeles Lakers arrive at Disney on Thursday, and while coach Frank Vogel isn’t looking forward to weeks and potentially months away from his family, he believes the individual workouts have gotten the Western Conference leaders ready.

He said those solo sessions have been designed in large part to get players back into some sort of practice shape, with the hope of being able to hit the ground running when everyone can finally be together again at Disney.

“We just want it to be as high as possible to minimize risk of injury and just further the conditioning along as much as we can,” Vogel said. “So, guys have been able to work pretty diligently the last few days or so. And, you know, we’re looking forward to wrapping this up and getting on that plane.”

NBA to name All-Seeding Games Teams, Player of the Seeding Games

Pacers forward T.J. Warren and Suns guard Devin Booker
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The NBA already held voting for its main awards, retroactively ending the regular season March 11 and defining the eight games for each of the 22 teams continuing at Disney World as “seeding games.”

So, the league found a new way to honor standout players from this portion of the season.

NBA release:

The NBA announced today that it will name the … NBA All-Seeding Games Team and the … NBA Player of the Seeding Games to honor top performers for games played July 30 – Aug. 14 during the 2019-20 season restart at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

A panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who have been on site covering the season restart will select the … NBA All-Seeding Games Team and the … NBA Player of the Seeding Games.  The media panel will vote for five players for the All-Seeding Games First Team and five players for the All-Seeding Games Second Team, choosing a total of 10 players at any position from either conference.

The … NBA All-Seeding Games Team and the …. NBA Player of the Seeding Games will be announced Saturday, Aug. 15 before Game 1 of the Western Conference Play-In, which tips off at 2:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Is it silly to to give awards for such a small sample of what effectively amount to regular-season games? Yes.

Is it also fun? Heck yes.

My early picks:

Player of the Seeding Games

All-Seeding Games First Team

All-Seeding Games Second Team

Kyle Kuzma: ‘Jesus could be in front of me, and I’d probably still shoot’

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Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma hit a game-winner over the Nuggets’ Bol Bol, who’s 7-foot-2 with a 7-foot-7 wingspan.

Bill Oram of The Athletic:

Kuzma has overcome so much to reach this point. Of course, he’s confident.

Would Kuzma start on some teams that don’t have LeBron James and Anthony Davis at forward? Yes. Most teams? That’s a stretch.

Regardless, Kuzma doesn’t want to find out what his role would be on a lower-profile team. And the Lakers are happy to have him, too.

LeBron, via Oram:

“In order for us to win a championship, he has to be our third-best player,” James said. “And if I’m struggling or A.D.’s struggling, he has to be our second-best player on any given night. We can’t win a championship if Kuz doesn’t play well.”

It’d work well if Danny Green is the Lakers’ third-best player. His perimeter defense and spot-up 3-point shooting complement stars like LeBron and Davis.

Kuzma creates his own shots in a way Green can’t, and Kuzma’s size makes him an effective defender at times. But he doesn’t mesh quite as neatly with stars. Kuzma can better provide a boost when LeBron or Davis is having an off night. There’s value in that. But how often will the Lakers want to have the ball in Kuzma’s hands rather than LeBron’s or Davis’ – even as much as Kuzma believes in himself?

Donald Trump: NBA ‘in big trouble, bigger trouble than they understand’

President Donald Trump
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In an interview on Fox Sports Radio, President Donald Trump played all his greatest hits on the NBA – teams kneeling for the national anthem, the league’s involvement in China.

Trump on NBA teams kneeling for the national anthem:

I think it’s been horrible for basketball. Look at the basketball ratings. They’re down. They’re down to very low numbers – very, very low. People are angry about it. They don’t realize. They don’t want – they have enough politics with guys like me. They don’t need more as they’re driving down, going up for the shot. They don’t need it. And there was a nastiness about the NBA, the way it was done too. So I think that they –   the NBA is in trouble. I think it’s in big trouble, bigger trouble than they understand.

And frankly, ice hockey which is doing very well, they didn’t do that. They respected the mores. They respected what they’re supposed to be doing. And they’re actually doing very well, as I understand it.

You have to stand for your flag, and you have to respect your flag and your country. You’re making millions of dollars a year to be playing a sport you’d be playing anyway if you didn’t make – they’d be playing it on the weekends. And they have to respect their country.

Kneeling during the national anthem is a patriotic gesture that calls attention to serious problems plaguing our country – racism, particularly through police brutality. The United States would become an even better country by addressing those issues.

In a United States that values freedom, the president should not be saying “you have to stand for your flag.” That runs toward authoritarianism.

NBA ratings are down because [insert a reason that fits your agenda here]. It’s a complicated situation with numerous factors.

Are some people turned off by the NBA’s increasingly visible political actions? Yes. Would some people lose interest in the NBA if the league shut down players and coaches who kneeled during the national anthem and spoke about the most important issues confronting the country? Yes.

NHL players did kneel during the national anthem. Not like the mass demonstrations by NBA teams. But some NHL players have kneeled.

Yet, Trump and many of his followers give more credence to some protesters than to others.

Which gets to China.

Trump on NBA players and coaches criticizing him:

I haven’t noticed them sending things back at me but I will say that I wouldn’t be that surprised. Some are very nasty – very, very nasty – and frankly, very dumb. But I haven’t noticed that. But I will say this: The way they cater to China, the way they bow to China, it’s a disgrace frankly. And they make a lot more money here than they do from China. But we have a system that allows you to disrespect your system, and that’s too bad for them. Too bad for them. They don’t appreciate what they have here.

The NBA has been complicit in abuses in China. It is disgraceful. The way otherwise-outspoken NBA people have been silent on China and Hong Kong – given the financial incentives – has been suspect.

But the NBA is far from the only American entity with business interests entangled in China. The league shouldn’t become a punching bag that distracts from a far wider issue.

The next two questions Trump faced in the interview practically begged him to denounce China for reducing freedom in Hong Kong. He did not.

Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell Tweets he’s back inside NBA bubble

Clippers big Montrezl Harrell
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The Clippers, who have coasted to a 3-3 record at the restart, are about to get a burst of energy off the bench.

Montrezl Harrell is back in the bubble. He Tweeted this out Monday:

Harrell was granted leave from the bubble to help take care of his grandmother — who he was very close to — when she fell ill. She eventually died, and Harrell poured out his emotions on social media for fans. The Clippers told Harrell to take as much time as he needed before coming back.

Harrell is back now, and if he tested negative the last seven days outside he bubble he will be in quarantine on the Walt Disney World Resort property for four days, then he can rejoin his team — possibly for Friday’s seeding game against Oklahoma City, but certainly in time for the playoffs.

Harrell is a leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate who averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game for the Clippers this season. More than the numbers, he brought an improved defense and relentless energy off the bench that lifted the Clippers nightly. The Harrell/Lou Williams pick-and-roll remains one of the smoothest and most dangerous in the league.

Harrell also gives Doc Rivers a lot of versatility and options on how to close games — the Clippers can go big, go small, and do either well. It’s that versatility that makes them a dangerous playoff team.

The Clippers needed Harrell back to unleash all of it, and now he is there and ready to go.