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Coaches, players compare NBA Orlando restart to USA Basketball experience

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Formulating a plan to get a team ready for the restart of the NBA season wasn’t as difficult as one might expect for Indiana coach Nate McMillan.

Turns out, he’s been through something similar to this before.

Spending an extended stretch away from home during the summer, while unprecedented as part of an NBA season, isn’t exactly a foreign concept for those with USA Basketball experience like the Olympics and the World Cup. Plenty of players and coaches at Walt Disney World see parallels between those experiences and this challenge.

“I had that opportunity to work with the Olympic team and preparation was very similar to what we’re going through here,” said McMillan, who was an assistant under Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski on the USA Basketball staff from 2006 through 2012. “Having a training camp, basically, at a hotel and getting ready for a 45- to 60-day season. … We’re going to have three scrimmage games, eight so-called regular season games and then we’re in the playoffs so it’s very similar to preparing to play for the gold medal.”

Players who have been through the World Cup or Olympic grinds agree that there’s a level of familiarity with this sort of schedule and situation.

“It helps tremendously,” said Toronto guard Kyle Lowry, who was part of the U.S. gold-medal-winning team at the Olympics in 2016. “In Rio it was a lot more strict and tighter because we were living on a boat. That experience was pretty awesome. … But living on a boat, to be in a smaller room and not have as many amenities it really kind of prepared me for this.”

Even players who have been part of USA Basketball’s events for younger players, like Under-18 or Under-19 tournaments internationally, know the drill when it comes to living in a hotel for a few weeks and not having a lot of latitude when it comes to being free to roam. Players at Disney cannot leave the campus because of coronavirus protocols, though the league has made plenty of entertainment options — fishing, golf, boating, table tennis and more — available to them.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said he would follow much of the same policies that the U.S. program used when he was an assistant on those national-team staffs, such as a heavy reliance on medical personnel to determine what days to have a hard practice and what days to take it a bit easier. Phoenix coach Monty Williams said he also refreshed his memory on national-team days when putting together a plan for his team’s stay at Disney.

“It has forced me to dig into the archives of that time with USA Basketball,” said Williams, another former national team assistant under Krzyzewski. “I’ve heard a lot of the players say that it reminds them of AAU, but for me it reminds me so much of my time in Spain at the World Cup. It’s a bit longer than the Olympics … and you have a lot of free time.”

Pacers center Myles Turner was with the U.S. team that competed in China last summer at the World Cup, a group that spent more than seven weeks together between training camp, exhibition games in the U.S. and Australia, and then the tournament itself.

The Pacers have clinched a playoff spot, so they’re assured of spending at least seven weeks at Disney this summer. It’s another long summer for Turner, and he’s not complaining.

“There is a lot of similarity in how it’s set up, but for me personally, I just think that it’s a great time for everybody to kind of stay focused,” Turner said. “There’s no distractions. Everybody’s locked in and focused. So, there’s really not a lot that can go wrong in a basketball sense.”

One difference at Disney is that nobody has family members with them until at least the second round of the playoffs. At an Olympics, it’s typical for family and friends to make the trip — and at last year’s World Cup, a small number of players also made arrangements for family to join them in China.

“This is a little bit different than that, but certainly the timing is similar and the timing for us as far as preparation is probably more like a FIBA-type schedule than it is like a training camp,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “You’re practicing for a couple weeks and then you’re playing a few games and then it really, really counts.”

NOTES: San Antonio assistant Tim Duncan is not with the Spurs at Disney; the team said he has remained home to help LaMarcus Aldridge with his rehab from season-ending shoulder surgery. … Of the 22 teams in the restart, eight opted to take Tuesday off from practice.

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.

Who gets in? Breaking down West play-in scenarios for each team

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Four days. Two games.

That’s all that’s left of the seeding games in the Western Conference, yet four teams are still in the chase for the final playoff spot. More accurately, four teams are left trying to get into the upcoming play-in series (with the ultimate reward of facing LeBron James and the Lakers in the first round).

It leads to a lot of play-in scenarios in the West.

Memphis and Portland control their own destinies, but should either stumble San Antonio and red-hot Phoenix — still perfect at 6-0 in the bubble — are lurking. Here are the standings heading into Tuesday’s games.

There is great value in being the eighth seed — it’s a two-game play-in series and the eighth seed only needs to win one to get into the playoffs. Just get a split and that team advances. The ninth seed team needs to win both legs of that “home-and-home” (that is all played in Orlando, but work with me) to advance. The play-in games are Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday.

The 10 and 11 seeds go home.

Let’s break down the West play-in scenarios and what each team needs, in order of their seeding spot. (Note: Each team plays Tuesday and Thursday.)

8. Memphis Grizzlies

Remaining games: Boston, Milwaukee

Scenarios: The Grizzlies control their own destiny, go 2-0 and they will be the eighth seed. Doing that against two of the top three seeds in the East is not as daunting as it looks, both the Bucks and Celtics are locked into their seeds and have nothing to play for, so the East teams may take their foot off the gas this final couple of games.

If the Grizzlies stumble, they still have a cushion. If Memphis splits their two games, Portland can pass it for the eighth seed if the Blazers are undefeated (by 0.00075 percentage points). However, the Grizzlies have the tiebreakers over the Suns and Spurs, so if Memphis goes 1-1 it still advances to the play-in (just possibly as the nine seed).

Should Memphis go 0-2, then Phoenix and San Antonio could pass them if they win both remaining games.

9. Portland Trail Blazers (0.5 games behind Memphis)

Remaining games: Dallas, Brooklyn

Scenarios: Portland also controls its own destiny. If it goes 2-0 it will be in the play-in series (maybe as the eighth or ninth seed, but in). The Blazers catch Dallas on a back-to-back Tuesday (but with a rested Luka Doncic who sat out Monday), and the Nets are locked into the seven seed and have nothing to play for.

If Portland goes 1-1, it gets complex — the Blazers could be the eighth seed or out of the playoffs entirely, but it’s out of their hands. Let’s break it down. The Blazers could split their games and still be the eighth seed if the Grizzlies lose both games and the Suns and Spurs go 1-1 or worse. Or, a 1-1 Portland team could be the nine seed if Memphis is 1-1, and Phoenix and San Antonio are 1-1 or worse. Finally, a 1-1 Portland team could fall out of the playoffs if the Grizzlies are 1-1 or better and either the Suns or Spurs go 2-0.

If Portland goes 0-2 it needs help — both the Suns and Spurs would also have to lose out, if either won a game Portland goes home early.

10. Phoenix Suns (1 game behind Memphis)

Remaining games: Philadelphia, Dallas

Scenario: Devin Booker is draining threes, talking trash, and has made Phoenix the story of the restart at 6-0 — and it still likely needs to go 8-0 to get into the play-in. Even that may not be enough.

If the Suns go 2-0 they could be the eighth seed but only if the Grizzlies go 0-2 and the Trail Blazers go 1-1 or worse. If Suns go 2-0 they get in the play-in as at least the nine seed if the Trail Blazers go 1-1 or worse, no matter what the Grizzlies do). But Phoenix could go 2-0 and still be out of the bubble on Friday if Memphis and Portland both also go 2-0.

If the Suns go 1-1 they need a lot of help — Portland going 0-2 and San Antonio going 1-1 or worse — just to make the nine seed. If the Suns go 0-2 they will be fishing in Cancun by Friday.

11. San Antonio Spurs (1 game behind Memphis)

Remaining games: Houston, Utah

Scenarios: The Spurs essentially have to go 2-0 to have any chance at the play-in and keeping their 22-season playoff streak alive. Lose one game and they can’t finish behind Memphis and would need the Trail Blazers and Suns to go 0-2 to get in as the nine seed. The most likely scenario for the Spurs getting in is they earn the nine seed by going 2-0 while both the Trail Blazers and Suns go 1-1 or worse.

San Antonio could, in theory, be the eighth seed if it goes 2-0 and the other three teams go 0-2, but those are some long odds.